Trading away your second most productive player when you lose?

Editor’s Note: The recent trade between the Kings and Sixers has already been discussed from the Sacremento perspective by Mike Madden (a fan of the Kings).  Now we have the perspective of Sam Cohen, a fan of the Sixers.  One should note, this was submitted before the NBA draft. 

Sam Cohen grew up just outside of Philadelphia and is a life-long 76′ers fan.  He maintains his allegiances to the Philly sports teams despite having lived over the last 14 years in Boston, Anchorage, and now Washington, D.C.  Perhaps foreshadowing his interest in using Wins Produced as a tool to evaluate basketball players, Sam’s favorite players on the 76′er teams of the early 2000s were Eric Snow and George Lynch.  In his real life, Sam is a health care regulatory lawyer.

In 2009-10, the Philadelphia 76’ers won 27 games.  In 2008-09, the Sixers won 41 games.  Not exactly the big step forward that Sixer fans were looking for.  But it also wasn’t unexpected. 

In the 2008-09 season, the Sixers were led in Wins Produced by Andre Igoudala (12.46 WP), Andre Miller (12.03 WP), and Samuel Dalembert (7.13 WP).  And the season before that (2007-08), the Sixers were led in Wins Produced by the same trio (Igoudala: 11.14 WP, Miller: 10.18 WP, Dalembert:  9.31 WP).   Continuing a pattern, the same trio also led the Sixers in Wins Produced in 2006-07 (Igoudala: 11.61, Dalembert: 8.34, Miller: 7.41).  So when the Sixers didn’t resign Miller before the 2009-10 season and didn’t make any significant roster additions, Sixer fans could have taken a quick look at Wins Produced and resigned themselves to a long (and unproductive) season.  And that was even before the Allen Iverson and Eddie Jordan soap operas took center stage.

When we look at Table 1, we can see that this long and unproductive season is exactly what the Sixers provided.

As shown in Table 1, the Sixers could have expected the players on their roster to produce 26.60 wins this year based on their production in 2008-09 (and the minutes they played this season).  Instead, they produced 30.87 wins (although they only actually won 27 games).

The most straightforward story we could tell about this result is the story we began with- the Sixers let Andre Miller, a player who had produced 12 wins the previous season, leave.  And, not surprisingly, the Sixers lost about 12 more games than they did the season before.  But the numbers in Table 1 actually tell a slightly more complicated story.

Andre Miller and Louis Williams produced about 13 wins for the Sixers in 2008-09, primarily from the point guard position.  Thanks to the improved play of Louis Williams and the play of rookie Jrue Holiday, the Sixers received about 9 wins from the point guard position in 2009-10.  So trading away Miller was a big blow to the Sixers, but not nearly as big a blow as might have been expected going into the season.

The bigger blow was the play of the Sixers’ frontcourt players.  Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young , and Marreese Speights all played worse in 2009-10 than they had in 2008-09.  And, not shown in Table 1, was the loss during the off-season of Reggie Evans and his 3.59 Wins Produced from 2008-09.  All told, the declining play of the three returning players, coupled with the absence of Evans, resulted in 10.5 fewer wins in 2009-10.

For Sixers fans, the drop off in production from Brand, Young, and Speights is troubling for the future.  Brand’s poor showing in 2009-10 put the nail in the coffin to any thoughts that Brand’s diminished play in 2008-09 was the lingering result of his injury and that he would return to his formerly productive ways.  And after a promising rookie year, Young has now seen a decrease in his productivity for two straight seasons (at a time in his career when his productivity should be improving).  And while Speights only has experienced a small one-year decline, his failure to show improvement from his rookie season to his second season does not bode well for the future.

But not everything was bad news for the Sixers in 2009-10.  Andre Igoudala continued his stellar (and mostly unappreciated) play.  And noticeably absent from the discussion of disappointing Sixer frontcourt players was Samuel Dalembert.  Dalembert has been one of the Sixers three most productive players for the last few seasons.  With the departure of Miller, Dalembert continued his strong play and was the second most productive Sixer in 2009-10.  In fact, 2009-10 was arguably Dalembert’s best season as a Sixer (at least since 2006 when the WP numbers provided by Andres Alvarez begin).  From 2005-06 to 2008-09, Dalembert had a WP48 between .158 and .168 every season.  But in 2009-10, Dalembert posted an impressive .241 WP48 (and 10.75 WP). 

Unfortunately, this stellar production by Dalembert seems not to have been noticed by the Sixers’ coaches or front office.  The coaches played Dalembert almost the exact same number of minutes in 2009-10 as in 2008-09, which also happened to be fewer minutes than the much less productive Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young.  And now the Sixers’ front office has compounded the problem by trading Dalembert to the Sacramento Kings. 

Since getting rid of their second most productive player before the season didn’t improve the team in 2009-10, apparently the Sixers have now decided to double-down on this tactic for 2010-11.  Given the career year that Dalembert had in 2009-10, trading him at presumably the “height” of his trade value could have made sense.  But that clearly is not what the Sixers were doing.  Rather, they appear to have been trying to give Dalembert away, as evidenced by the fact that they traded him for a bag of chips.  Technically, they traded him for Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes, but given that both of these players had negative WP48 in 2009-10, I’m not sure that there’s a big difference.  In fact, the bag of chips would probably be more exciting.  At least I could eat the bag of chips.  (For a slightly more nuanced evaluation of the trade (with which I agree), you can see the discussion offered by Robbie O’Malley.

Hope springs eternal that new coach Doug Collins and the front office have a plan, but the early indications look no more promising than the season that the Sixers just finished.

- Sam Cohen

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