Bill Russell, Joakim Noah and What Wins Games

May 25, 2011 – Source: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images North America

Bill Russell is one of the most fascinating basketball players ever. Only two players have ever managed to earn MVP scoring less than 15.0 points per game and Russell is one of them. Of course, the aura of Russell is that he understood defense and winning games and wasn’t about being flashy and scoring points like his foil Wilt Chamberlain. In a recent interview he made a great comment:

A player who doesn’t get much attention and is one of my favorites to watch is Joakim Noah. The Bulls don’t utilize some of his skills. Not only is he a good rebounder but he’s an excellent passer. A good passer is more important to a team than a good shooter on offense.

These guys are among my favorites to watch. I like to see if they can take a guy’s skills and have them contribute to winning.

This comment is very apt. An average player with the same minutes as Noah would earn roughly 4 wins. The thing is that Noah earns his team an extra seven wins. Here’s a breakdown of how he does it.

Stat Wins over Par
Offensive Rebounds  3.0 
Assists  1.4 
Defensive Rebounds  1.0 
Two Point Shooting  0.6 
Personal Fouls  0.5 
Blocks  0.4 
Turnovers  0.4 
Free Throw Shooting  0.4 
Three Pointers  0.0 
Steals  -0.4 

It turns out Noah is the second best passing big man in the league behind Marc Gasol. In fact, it’s his second most productive stat.  In Russell’s time his resume was peppered with All-Star games, All-NBA teams and MVPs. This was a result of his high rebound totals and great defense. It also turns out he could pass too! Russell averaged over 4 dimes a game for his career.

Things are a bit different now. Noah, despite playing at star level for four seasons, has only one All-Defensive Team to his name. Players like Derrick Rose may get much of the recognition but I’m happy to see that Russell recognizes that players like Noah go under-appreciated and under-utilized, despite the fact that they do things that win games.


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