Why Spencer Hawes could be the next LeBron James

Prior to this season, Spencer Hawes had not been a very productive player. He was below average in most statistical categories. And yet — just this past weekend — I added Spencer Hawes to my Fantasy Team. Why? To begin to answer this question, let’s first take a look at his career Wins Produced numbers:

Year Age Minutes WP48 Wins
2007-08 19 931 -0.047 -0.9
2008-09 20 2259 -0.041 -1.9
2009-10 21 1904 0.003 0.1
2010-11 22 1718 0.011 0.4
2011-12 23 133 0.388 1.1

Hawes has been shockingly and uncharacteristically productive so far this season. As a matter of fact, Hawes has produced more wins in his first 133 minutes this season than he did in all of his previous minutes combined. Given his career history, is this small sample size a sign of things to come, or should we expect significant regression to the mean in the coming weeks?

Truthfully, I must say that it’s more likely that Hawes will regress back down to his more typical production levels. But there is definitely a chance — and it’s hard to say how big of a chance — that Hawes has actually improved. This is because Hawes is still only 23 years old, and young players can improve significantly in their first few years in the league. Three recent examples of this are LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Derrick Rose:

Year Age Minutes WP48 Wins
2003-04 19 3112 0.069 4.5
2004-05 20 3388 0.228 16.1
2005-06 21 3361 0.211 14.8
2006-07 22 3190 0.196 13.0
2007-08 23 3027 0.257 16.2
Year Age Minutes WP48 Wins
2007-08 19 2768 0.009 0.6
2008-09 20 2885 0.126 7.6
2009-10 21 3239 0.219 14.8
2010-11 22 3038 0.155 9.8
2011-12 23 221 0.260 1.2
Year Age Minutes WP48 Wins
2008-09 20 3000 0.087 5.4
2009-10 21 2871 0.090 5.4
2010-11 22 3026 0.161 10.2
2011-12 23 174 0.243 0.9

Each of these players had/has improved significantly by age 23. Also of note is that each of these players played heavy minutes leading up to age 23. While Hawes’ jump would seem out of place amongst these other players’ jumps, Hawes played significantly fewer minutes than the other players. In fact, Hawes played just over half of the minutes that LeBron James did, 57% of the minutes that Durant played, and 77% of the minutes that Derrick Rose played (and in one more season than Rose). It’s not out of the question that Hawes needed more on court experience before he was ready to become more productive.

Of course, there are also examples of players who never become productive. Jason CollinsDarko Milicic, and Andrea Bargnani are examples of such players:

Year Age Minutes WP48 Wins
2001-02 23 1407 0.085 2.5
2002-03 24 1900 0.076 3.0
2003-04 25 2220 0.077 3.5
2004-05 26 2542 0.046 2.5

Darko:

Year Age Minutes WP48 Wins
2003-04 18 159 -0.216 -0.7
2004-05 19 254 -0.196 -1.0
2005-06 20 767 0.063 1.0
2006-07 21 1913 0.078 3.1
2007-08 22 1663 -0.033 -1.2
2008-09 23 1034 0.060 1.3
2009-10 24 685 0.015 0.2
2010-11 25 1686 -0.052 -1.8
2011-12 26 98 0.087 0.2
Bargnani:
Year Age Minutes WP48 Wins
2006-07 21 1629 -0.013 -0.4
2007-08 22 1861 -0.096 -3.7
2008-09 23 2453 0.002 0.1
2009-10 24 2799 -0.007 -0.4
2010-11 25 2353 -0.126 -6.2
2011-12 26 182 0.011 0.0

Unfortunately, this type of player is far more common than the previous group. And while there are a few cases of players improving after the age of 26, this doesn’t happen very often; if Hawes is ever going to step up his play, it will almost certainly be sometime during the next three seasons. I added him to my fantasy team on the off chance that his early play is a sign that it happens this year.

- Devin

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