Stars, Snubs, and Scoring

My latest for Huffington Post focues on the coaches’ original selections (not the injury replacements) of the reserves to play in the 2010 NBA All-Star game. Not surprisingly (at least, hopefully it’s not a surprise for readers of this forum), the coaches’ code was easy to break. Essentially, NBA coaches focused on the top scorers from the NBA’s winning teams.

Columns at HuffPo are limited to 800 words and it turns out I had a few more words to offer on this subject.  Consequently I thought I would continue the dicusssion here.

Let me start by noting that the story with respect to the NBA’s Rookie Challenge – as told a couple of weeks ago – is essentially the same.  Yes, the assistant coaches also focus on scoring (much to the chagrin of Ty Lawson).

Stars vs. Snubs

The focus on scoring means that some productive players are not going to Dallas this weekend.  And that leads to a related questions.  Specifically, Kevin Arnovitz at TrueHoop asked on Thursday if it was possible to create a better team than those selected to play in the All-Star game.  After reading the discussion, I thought it would be interesting to answer the question via Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48].

Let’s start with the quality of the original teams selected (this is ignoring the injury replacements).  Here is the original team in the East (WP48 after 41 games reported for each player):

Eastern Conference Starters (selected by the fans):

  • Allen Iverson [0.036]
  • Dwyane Wade [0.245]
  • LeBron James [0.420]
  • Kevin Garnett [0.266]
  • Dwight Howard [0.341]

Eastern Conference Reserves (selected by the coaches):

  • Rajon Rondo [0.276]
  • Joe Johnson [0.157]
  • Paul Pierce [0.209]
  • Chris Bosh [0.264]
  • Al Horford [0.242]
  • Derrick Rose [0.053]
  • Gerald Wallace [0.344]

The average WP48 for these twelve players is 0.238 (average in the NBA is 0.100, so this is a very good team).

To see if one can do better, all players in the Eastern Conference who played at least 700 minutes in the first half of the season – and who were not originally selected by the coaches and fans – were examined with respect to WP48.  The team was restricted to at least four guards (two must be point guards), four forwards, two centers, and two wild cards.  Here are the top remaining players given this criteria.

Eastern Conference Snub Starters

  • Luke Ridnour [0.167]
  • Andre Iguodala [0.234]
  • Matt Barnes [0.191]
  • Troy Murphy [0.315]
  • Joakim Noah [0.279]

Eastern Conference Snub Reserves

  • Raymond Felton [0.163]
  • Jose Calderon [0.149]
  • Luol Deng [0.156]
  • Josh Smith [0.272]
  • Ben Wallace [0.274]
  • David Lee [0.247]
  • Samuel Dalembert [0.232]

The average WP48 of this group is 0.223.  So that’s close.  But the Eastern Conference stars have a higher average.

Now let’s do the same in the Western Conference. Here are the starters and reserves.

Western Conference starters (selected by the fans)

  • Steve Nash [0.296]
  • Kobe Bryant [0.184]
  • Carmelo Anthony [0.160]
  • Tim Duncan [0.357]
  • Amare Stoudemire [0.144]

Western Conference reserves (selected by the coaches)

  • Chris Paul [0.372]
  • Brandon Roy [0.202]
  • Kevin Durant [0.240]
  • Dirk Nowitzki [0.150]
  • Pau Gasol [0.359]
  • Deron Williams [0.216]
  • Zach Randolph [0.255]

The average WP48 of this collection is 0.245. So this team has a higher average than either team listed above from the East.  Can we do better with the players originally ignored out West?

Again, the approach taken for the East is applied.  And here are the Western Conference Snubs:

Western Conference Snub Starters:

  • Jason Kidd [0.314]
  • Manu Ginobili [0.266]
  • Lamar Odom [0.275]
  • Kevin Love [0.431]
  • Marcus Camby [0.448]

Western Conference Snub Reserves:

  • Chauncey Billups [0.214]
  • Kyle Lowry [0.200]
  • Andrei Kirilenko [0.193]
  • Carlos Boozer [0.243]
  • DeJuan Blair [0.273]
  • Corey Maggette [0.188]
  • Chris Andersen [0.221]

The average WP48 of the Western Conference snubs is 0.272.  So out West, one can build a “better” team [at least better in terms of WP48].

The Bigger Picture

As I noted at Huffington Post, the fans and coaches primarily focused on scoring. Often this does lead one to find productive players (see LeBron James, Chris Paul, etc…). But often less productive players (see Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, etc…) can attract attention from their scoring that their overall production suggests is unwarranted.  Consequently, players who are quite productive end up being ignored.

Does this matter? After all, don’t the fans just want to see the best scorers?

If we only saw this pattern when it comes to selecting All-Stars, it probably wouldn’t be a very intersting story.  But we see the same focus on scoring for a host of other decisions in the NBA (free agent salaries, minutes, voting for the All-Rookie team, the NBA draft).  That suggests that NBA players are not being evaluated in terms of their contribution to wins, revenue, or profit (team revenue is really about wins, not scoring). And that suggests that even an environment where managers have an abundance of information on their worker’s productivity, consistent errors can occur.  Which might lead you to wonder, if NBA managers aren’t getting it exactly right, is your boss evaluating you correctly?

– 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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