Ronnie Brewer Learns to Stop Listening to His Coach

Jerry Sloan – as noted back in October of 2008 – often tells the players on his team to focus on something besides their own scoring.  And players who go against this advice often suffer Sloan’s wrath.

Although a number of players have resisted such advice, Ronnie Brewer seemed to take it to heart.  Across his career Brewer has taken a below average number of shots from the field. Consequently, Brewer hasn’t been much of a scorer.  But when we look at his overall production,  we see that Brewer is consistently above average with respect to shooting efficiency, steals, and turnovers.  And when we put all these numbers together in terms of Wins Produced, we see in 2008-09 – as the following list of top shooting guards from that season reveals – Brewer ranked among the best in the game.

Dwyane Wade: 22.3 Wins Produced

Brandon Roy: 15.3 Wins Produced

Kobe Bryant: 15.0 Wins Produced

Mike Miller: 13.9 Wins Produced

Joe Johnson: 8.6 Wins Produced

Ronnie Brewer: 8.5 Wins Produced

Last season Brewer posted a 0.156 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes], a mark that actually exceeded what we saw from Joe Johnson.  This season Brewer is still posting above average numbers.  As Table One reveals, after 53 games Brewer had 4.9 wins and posted a 0.141 WP48.  Such production ranked fifth on the Jazz, and suggested it was wise for this team to employ Brewer as Utah’s starting shooting guard. 

Table One: The Utah Jazz after 53 games in 2009-10

Despite such wisdom for 53 games, though, the Jazz decided to go in a very diferent direction.  After defeating the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night (the team’s 11th victory in 12 games), Brewer was sent the next day to the Memphis Grizzlies.  In return, the Jazz received a protected first round pick in 2011.  Here is how this trade was justified by Kevin O’Connor (Utah’s general manager).

O’Connor says the Jazz have some depth at Brewer’s position, so they could afford to trade Brewer, their first-round pick from the 2006 draft. Brewer is making $2.7 million this season and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

“We felt like we gain an asset for drafts coming up,” Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor said Thursday. “We felt like we had a lot of players that were similar.”

So according to O’Connor, Utah already had players like Brewer.  And if we focus on scoring, this appears to be true.  Per 48 minutes, Brewer was scoring 14.8 points this season. The other potential shooting guards on the team – Wes Matthews and C.J. Miles – were scoring 18.2 and 20.4 points per 48 minutes.  Of course, part of the difference is that these players were taking more shots per 48 minutes.  If we focus on all that these players do – in other words, look beyond scoring — it’s clear that Miles and Matthews are not going to make up for the loss of Brewer.  Both players are below average this season, and the combined productivity of these players is in the negative range.

One suspects that Brewer’s contributions were simply not evaluated correctly by O’Connor. Scoring is easy to see and appreciate in a basketball game.  The object of the game is to put the ball in the hoop, so we tend to undervalue the people who are not doing this often.  But for the ball to go into the hoop, other stuff has to happen.  Steals and turnovers are important.  And when it comes to shooting, it’s efficiency that matters.  In other words, not making mistakes (committing turnovers and missing shots) is important.  But it is hard to see a player not make mistakes.  Consequently, Brewer is now going to avoiding mistakes for the Memphis Grizzlies.

It’s unlikely that Memphis will make the playoffs this season.  And furthermore, it’s unlikely that Memphis is going to start Brewer.  The Grizzlies starting shooting guard is O.J. Mayo, a player who scores 17.7 points per game (with a 0.075 WP48 after 54 games).  Yes, Brewer offers more production overall, but again, scoring is what dominates perceptions in the NBA (again we see this when we look at the free agent salaries, the NBA draft, the allocation of minutes, and the assignment of awards). 

So Brewer has learned a valuable lesson. Don’t listen to everything your coach says. When he recovers from his injury he will find himself coming off the bench for an inferior (although improving) team.  In essence, Brewer has been demoted.  All of this because he helped his team win by doing something other than scoring.

Let me close by noting that I obviously agree with Deron Williams. Here is how it was reported he reacted to the trade in the Salt Lake City Tribune (one of the papers delivered to my house each morning).

A day after the Jazz traded his self-described “little brother,” Deron Williams sharply questioned Friday the direction the team was going after the deal that sent Ronnie Brewer to Memphis for a protected first-round draft pick.

“I think if we’d make a trade it would be something a little different than that,” Williams said at the pregame shootaround. “You look at all the teams that are getting better around the West and we essentially get worse, if you ask me.”

Williams didn’t hide his frustration in talking to reporters and broadcasts, starting out by saying, “I really ain’t got nothing much good to say about the trade,” and declaring it was “pretty safe to say” his feelings were shared among the team.

Asked whether the Brewer trade affected his thinking about his long-term future in Utah, Williams uttered words that could reverberate in the team’s front office: “That’s why I signed a three-year deal.”

So apparently Williams doesn’t think Brewer will be easy to replace.  And it’s safe to say, if Williams departs the Jazz, he won’t be easy to replace either.

– 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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