John Wall, Derrick Rose, and the State of the Wizards

Note: This is a joint post by me (DJ) and Robbie O’Malley.  The first part is from me and the last part comes from Robbie.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the question: Is John Wall the Obvious Number One Pick for the Wizards?  In response to this question – and my discussion – I have seen at least two prominent answers.  The first comes from The Big Lead.  On Saturday this website offered the following quick post:

Because Somebody Had to Come Up With a John-Wall-Doesn’t-Go-First Scenario

Brace yourselves, people. “There is, though, a link between what we see in college and what we will see in the future. And that link – which we will illustrate with PAWS40 [Position Adjusted Win Score per 40 minutes] – suggests the following order: 1. DeMarcus Cousins: 15.61, 2. Evan Turner: 14.37, 3. Wesley Johnson: 13.40, 4. Derrick Favors: 11.20, 5. John Wall: 9.97.” A nice effort, but this is a reach of epic proportions. As is the Derrick Rose assertion late in the link.

And then on Monday, David Aldridge at NBA.com stated the following:

I like the Wages of Wins guys; they do strong work and can make compelling arguments. But in this case we will have to agree to disagree. Numbers in a vacuum, without any context (the Wizards, coming off of their disastrous, star-player-is-indicted season, cannot afford to take any kind of gamble with the first pick) are as meaningless as “gut feelings” without any empirical data (bolded words in the original).

Okay, I guess my post didn’t resonate well with everyone.  In response, I wish to do the following:

1.  Review my original argument.

2. Review the early career of Derrick Rose

3. Offer an evaluation of the Wizards from Robbie O’Malley, a writer at the WoW Journal who has volunteered to cover Washington (and is not impressed with the current Wizards and the ability of John Wall to have much impact in 2009-10).

Here is what I noted two weeks ago:

  • John Wall – relative to the other players considered top choices in 2010 – was not an outstanding college player.  Specifically, his performance at point guard was roughly equivalent to what an average point guard selected out of college since 1995 has offered.  That suggests – and it is only a suggestion – that we should not simply assume Wall will be an elite NBA player.
  • Derrick Rose also left college after one season and was the number one pick in the draft.  Relative to Wall, Rose posted better numbers in college.  But Rose – despite claims in 2008 that he was sure to be an elite NBA player – has yet to post the numbers you see from an elite point guard.

Just to be clear, here is what I am NOT saying:

  • Wall will never be an outstanding point guard in the NBA.
  • Rose will never be an outstanding point guard in the NBA.

My sense is that this is what people, though, are reading.   The argument, though, is more subtle.  All I am saying is that the Wizards need to figure out why Wall under-performed (relative to expectations) last year. Perhaps there is a perfectly logical explanation.  Then again, perhaps there is not. 

As for Rose, I get the sense that people think the Rookie of the Year in 2009 and a member of the 2010 All-Star team has already arrived.  I think the numbers, though, suggest otherwise.

To see my point, let’s compare Rose in 2009-10 to Chris Paul (who is the top point guard in the NBA) as a rookie.   In other words, let’s look at Rose at the age of 21 (in his second season) and Paul at the age of 20 (in his first season).

The Original Argument

As one can see, Paul was below average with respect to shooting efficiency from the field, blocked shots, and personal fouls as a rookie.  But he was well above average with respect to getting to the free throw line (and converting), rebounds, steals, and assists.  And relative to an average point guard, Paul didn’t turn the ball over much.  Consequently, Paul posted an outstanding 0.305 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes].

Now let’s look at Rose.  From the field, Rose is an efficient scorer.  And he gets to the line, but not quite as often as Paul (and Rose is a slightly below average free throw shooter).  Beyond scoring, Rose is about average on the boards, and below average with respect to steals and assists.  In essence, Rose is almost the opposite of Paul as a rookie.  Rose seems to focus relatively more attention on taking shots and relatively less attention on the aspects of the game that lead to wins.  As a consequence, Rose was only average across the entire 2009-10 season.  Yes, Rose did better after the New Year.  But even if we take the 2010 version of Rose as the “true Derrick Rose”, he is still not as productive as the elite point guards in the game.

Now this doesn’t mean Rose will never be an elite point guard. It simply means that at this moment, we don’t know if this is going to happen. So when people look at Wall and see Rose, maybe what they are seeing isn’t that great.

One last note on Wall before we move to Robbie O’Malley’s observations. No Division-I basketball team won more games this past season than the Kentucky Wildcats.  When you look at the numbers on this team, though, we see that DeMarcus Cousins –despite a reputation that is less than stellar – probably led the team in production per-minute (and might have been the most productive player overall).  Would the Wildcats had been so successful had Cousins spent his freshman year elsewhere? And if the Wildcats were less successful, would people still be sure that Wall was the obvious choice for the Wizards in the NBA draft?

Decision-makers in professional team sports must separate a player from his teammates.  If this is not done, the individual player will not be evaluated correctly.  I am not sure in the case of John Wall that this task has been fully completed.  And had Wall spent his one college season at Michigan – or another school that was not as successful as Kentucky – I am not sure everyone would be so certain that the Wizards choice in this draft is so easy.

The State of the Wizards

Okay, enough on Wall and Rose.  Let me turn the rest of the post over to Robbie O’Malley.

Robbie O’Malley is a senior at Towson University (near Baltimore).  He is studying psychology but is also a sports junky. He is a big believer in statistics based evaluations but has – in his words – only a very basic understanding of the fields of statistics and economics. He has lived in Maryland his entire life and is a life long Wizards fan. He plays basketball in the summer every year and this year he will wear number11 (even though he says his game is much more Glen Davis than John Wall).

It’s about that time of the year where teams begin to assess how the team performed during the season and, based on their judgment, decide which direction the team should head in for the future. The Wizards have as much to figure out about their path forward as any team in the NBA. First, they were awarded the number one pick in the 2010 NBA Draft! I would have rather won it last year (Blake Griffin) but I’m generally excited for this years potential selections. After they decide on their draft strategy the Wizards will have to assemble the rest of the roster as well (they have only 6 players under contract for next season).

Before we begin discussing the future of the franchise a summary of the Washington Wizards of 09-10 is needed.

In 09-10 the Wizards had an efficiency differential of -5.3 which is a mark of a team that should win about 28 games (they were 26-56). They employed a league high 24 players! Luckily, most of a teams wins can be explained by talking about a few of its players. The Wizards were led in wins by SG Mike Miller, who had a .219 Wins Produced Per 48 minutes (WP48, .100 is average) and produced 8.2 wins.  Brendan Haywood – with .200 WP48 for 6.7 Wins Produced – was the team’s second most productive player. Neither of these two players, though, is signed with the Wizards for next season. Haywood was sent to the Dallas Mavericks during the season.  And Mike Miller is a free agent.  Miller does have a chance to return.  However, given how bad the Wizards are projected to be, Miller may look elsewhere.

Their next two most productive players were PF Antawn Jamison (.103 WP48/3.4 Wins) and SF Caron Butler (.079 WP48/3.05 Wins).  Like Haywood, both Jamison and Butler were also traded during the 2009-10 season.  These four players (Miller, Haywood, Jamison, and Butler) were responsible for about 21 wins. The Wizards as a whole won 26 games, so that gives you an indication of how well the rest of the team performed.

There are six players under contract for next season – PG Gilbert Arenas (.089 WP48/2.1 Wins), PF Andray Blatche (.044/2.1), SF Al Thornton (-0.040/-0.6), SG Nick Young (-.077/-2.3), C JaVale McGee (.072/1.45), and SF Quinton Ross (-.207/-1.13). These six combined for about 1.7 wins. This is not very encouraging when thinking about the team’s potential next season (in fact, Thornton, Young, and Ross were so bad they had a negative impact on the team). 

Moving past these six, SG Randy Foye (.029/1.0) and SF Josh Howard (0.084 WP48/0.16 wins) are restricted free agents and should be allowed to move on. I would make an effort to resign 6’7″ PG Shaun Livingston (.122 WP48/1.7 Wins).  He is young, can play multiple positions, and is considered a good defender.

The Wizards also have three selections in the upcoming NBA draft. The average rookie has a WP48 of .050. So, if the Wizards re-sign Shaun Livingston and keep all three draft picks, they will have ten players under contract for next season. A possible lineup would look like this…

First String

PG: John Wall (.050 WP48)

SG: Gilbert Arenas (.089)

SF: Al Thornton (-0.045) mark with Washington and the LA Clippers

PF: Andray Blatche (.044)

C: JaVale McGee (.072)

Second String

PG: Shaun Livingston (.106) mark with Washington and Oklahoma City

SG: Nick Young (-.077)

SF: Quinton Ross (-.165) mark with Washington and Dallas

PF: Rookie (.050)

C: Rookie (.050)

If we make the assumption that the starters play 36 minutes per game while the reserves play 12 (and don’t get injured), this team would be projected to go 12 – 70. Obviously that’s a very bad mark.

Now, what if Wall is much better than average (as many expect)?  If Wall manages to produce at the level of 09/10 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans (.158 WP48) — and not an average rookie — then the team projects to about 19 wins.   What if Wall is as good as Chris Paul, the 05/06 ROY?  Paul posted a 0.305 WP48 as a rookie.  If Wall is Paul, then Wall will produce 18.8 wins and the Wizards – with this cast of players doing as they did in 2008-09 – will win about 28 games.  Yes, even if Wall is everything people hope for, the Wizards – given the current roster – are still not that good.

Again, all of this also assumes that no one gets hurt.  If one is optimistic they might note that a) Andray Blatche did play a little better once he became a starter, b) Arenas wasn’t fully healthy but once upon a time (back in 2006-07) was an above average player, and c) the Wizards might make some other moves. 

So there is some hope.  Still, if the Wizards do not make drastic changes this off-season expect them to be very bad next season. The team at the moment has no particular strengths and could use an upgrade at every position.  And that means – if we can be optimistic for a moment – the Wizards can also expect to be in the hunt for another top draft pick in 2011!!

- Robbie O’Malley

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