The Ages of Wins Strikes the Celtics

On Christmas day the Boston Celtics defeated the Orlando Magic.  With this victory the Celtics record improved to 23-5.   Glen Davis played less than five minutes in that victory.  After that game, though, Davis has logged more than 10 minutes in all but two contests.  And the Celtics record has only been 9-12. 

In general I am skeptical of analysis that focuses on how a team does with and without a player.  Basketball is a game of five-on-five, so the outcome with and without a player can be about the player in question or about something else.  The efforts to untangle the player from all that comprises “something else” have not generally produced great results.  And in this particular case, I don’t think Davis playing has been the entire problem.  But as Table One notes, Davis really hasn’t helped much.

Table One: The Boston Celtics after 49 games in 2009-10

After 346 minutes, Davis has produced 0.2 wins and posted a 0.034 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes].  Yes, that mark is better than what Davis did last season.  But it’s still well below average.

To be fair, although Davis may be the biggest player, he’s not the biggest problem.  For the real problem, let’s start with what the Celtics are saying.

Here is Kevin Garnett’s take on the current state of the team:

“It’s motivation and we’ll figure a way to come out of it. We don’t lack any confidence. Our spirits are high. We have a little saying that we work hard and you put into it what you want to get out of it. Just as of late we haven’t been producing wins.  We’re going to continue to work, and that’s the only way to come out of this. It’s just unfortunate that we haven’t been on top a lot of these games as of late, but Doc tells us that nothing worth acquiring is easy.”

And here is Ray Allen:

“We still love who we are as a team, but I think we’re back where we were at the start of the season. We’ve got to build back who we are.”

So Garnett and R. Allen essentially argue that the problem is a lack of hard work.  Or at least, hard work will solve the team’s problems. 

The numbers, though, suggest a different story.  Let’s start with the starting line-up and the bench.  The starters — Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Kendrick Perkins — have produced 30.5 of the team’s 32.8 Wins Produced.   This means that the bench players have produced less than two wins.

When we look at the production of these bench players (who have played more than 100 minutes) we only see two players – Tony Allen and Shelden Williams – that are above average (and Williams hasn’t been leaving the bench lately).  Once you get past Williams and T. Allen, the remaining players on the bench have combined to produce -0.7 wins.  Last year’s numbers suggest that some of these bench players should be better.  Had the bench players not named T. Allen and Williams maintained what they did last year, the Celtics would have received about 4.9 wins from this collection of players.  And most of this production would have come from Eddie House and Rasheed Wallace, two players – on the wrong side of 30 — who have declined relative to last year.

Wallace and House are not the only players who are offering less.  The player who has posted the biggest drop-off is R.  Allen.  Again, R. Allen is on the wrong side of 30.  And so far Allen has offered 3.4 fewer wins this year than his production last year would suggest.  In fact, if R. Allen, Wallace, and House had maintained what they did last year, the Celtics would currently be on pace to win 68 games.

So when we look at the problems in Boston we need to look past Big Baby and the supposed lack of hard work, and focus primarily on age.  Again, R. Allen, Wallace, and House are older than 30 and all are posting declines relative to last year.  The numbers tells us that players do get much worse after 30 years of age.   Although some players can deny the impact of time for a period of time, at some point age will reduce the productivity of all players.

The big question is whether or not these players can briefly return to form in the playoffs.  If they can, Boston may still be able to win a title in 2010.  If not, it seems likely Boston’s decline will continue into the future (a future where everyone will be even older).

By the way, who proposed the title “Ages of Wins”?  Someone noted that title with respect to the issue of age and productivity in the NBA and they should get full credit (that is, if they want the credit).

– 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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