Who Besides Ed Stefanski Should be Unhappy in Philadelphia?

After 36 games, Philadelphia’s mark is only 11-25.  Apparently, such a record had made Ed Stefanski – president of the Philadelphia 76ers – unhappy.  And furthermore, he thinks every0ne – including Eddie Jordan (the team’s head coach) – is to blame.

There is a tendency in sports to credit everyone with a team’s success, and blame everyone when the team fails.  But statistics – which can separate a player from his teammates (and perhaps, separate a coach from his players)—give us the ability to assign credit and blame.  And therefore, it’s possible to offer some thoughts on who in Philadelphia should really be unhappy.

The Same Story in Philadelphia

Let’s start with Table One, which reports the Wins Produced for the Sixers thus far this season.

Table One: The Philadelphia 76ers after 36 games in 2009-10

Table One indicates that the Andre Iguodala and Samuel Dalembert are on pace to produce 23.8 wins.  The rest of the roster, though, is only projected to offer 7.3 Wins Produced this season.

For those familiar with the Wins Produced history of the Sixers, this is a very familiar story.  We have seen the following since 2006-07:

  • 2006-07: Iguodala, Dalembert, and Andre Miller produced 27.9 of the team’s 35 wins.
  • 2007-08: Iguodala, Dalembert, and Miller produce 30.4 of the team’s 40 wins.
  • 2008-09: Iguodala, Dalembert, and Miller produce 30.1 of the team’s 41 wins.

As noted in September, such numbers indicate that across the past three years, all players in Philadelphia not named Iguodala, Dalembert, or Miller have produced less than nine wins per season.  In sum, what we have seen the past three seasons is happening again in 2009-10.   

Assigning Blame

Last May the Sixers hired Eddie Jordan.  Stefanski said the following when Jordan was hired“I saw firsthand the immense impact Eddie Jordan had in helping the Nets reach two NBA Finals and as the head coach in Washington he consistently put his teams in a position to win on a nightly basis.  He embodies all the qualities I was looking for in the next head coach of the Sixers and we are very excited to have him in Philadelphia.”

So last May, Stefanski was “very excited” to have Eddie Jordan as his coach.  However, if we read a bit further past the point in the ESPN.com article where Stefanski is “very excited”, we see that it was not clear last May that Andre Miller was going to depart Philadelphia.  And as we now know, Miller was not retained.   Last season Miller produced 11.1 wins for the Sixers.  As noted, the trio of Iguodala, Dalembert, and Miller have produced most of this team’s wins across the past three seasons.  With just Iguodala and Dalembert remaining, the Sixers needed to find someone else to produce wins.

On an NBA team, it’s often a person like Stefanski who is charged with the task of finding “someone else to produce wins.”  In an effort to replace Miller, Stefanski drafted Jrue Holiday (as noted in the past, the Sixers could have had Ty Lawson).  Holiday’s production – as Table One indicates — is currently in the negative range (and Lawson is very much in the positive range). The team also added Allen Iverson, who is currently posting a 0.063 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes].  Fortunately, Louis Williams has been above average (average WP48 is 0.100).  But even with Williams producing more, Miller’s 11.1 wins from 2008-09 are not fully replaced.

The Sixers actually had to do more than just replace Miller’s production.  For the Sixers to improve on last season – which seemed to be the idea when the team changed coaches — more wins were going to have to be found.  But the only players the Sixers added to last year’s roster (who are actually playing) were Rodney Carney, Jason Kapono, Jason Smith, Holiday, and Iverson.  These five players were not above average performers last season (Smith was below average two years ago) and this year they are combining to produce -3.4 wins. 

Such numbers suggest that the coach is not to blame.  The players the Sixers are employing are – with few exceptions – playing as well as they did in the past.  In fact, Table One indicates that the Sixers are exceeding (by a small margin) what we should expect given past performance.  This suggests that for those wishing to assign blame the focus has to be on the person who picked the players.  And again, that person would be Ed Stefanski.

Now in Stefanski’s defense, Andre Miller is now 33 years old.  So Miller had to be replaced sooner or later.   Furthermore, it’s not clear that Stefanski should have known that Elton Brand – the player leading the team in salary paid — was not going to return to the form we saw before he got hurt with the Clippers.  In other words, had Miller stayed and been productive and Brand returned to form, the Sixers would currently be in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture (not that this would be a great achievement).  But Miller didn’t stay and Brand is simply not the Brand we saw in Los Angeles and Chicago.  Consequently, the Sixers are simply not that good.

So what do the Sixers need to be good?  Obviously they need more productive players. Yes, a coach can alter the productivity of players.  But in general, that doesn’t happen.  Therefore decision-makers – like Stefanski – should primarily focus on giving the coach a better roster. This means drafting better, or in other words, don’t choose players like Holiday over players like Lawson.  It also helps to sign better free agents, or in other words, don’t sign players like Iverson, Kapono, and Carney. 

Until different roster decisions are made, though, Stefanski will probably continue to be unhappy.  And since human nature often leads us to blame others for our problems, the unhappiness of Stefanski will probably lead to more unhappiness for Jordan, the players on the Sixers, and yes, fans of this team.

- DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.

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