A Quick Look At Something (Hopefully) Devoid of Meaning

otto porter

The Wizards exhibition season has ended and they’re hopefully in the training rooms and rehabilitation gizmos trying to get healthy for their regular season opener against the Heat next Wednesday.

What does the preseason mean? Roland Beech, then proprietor of 82games.com (and now working for the Dallas Mavericks) ran some correlations a few years back. His findings suggest that preseason provides some indication of a team’s regular season fortunes, but that the previous season’s winning percentage remains a better barometer.

Beech’s numbers showed the preseason matters most to teams who stunk the previous year. The strongest correlations between preseason record and regular season record were between teams that won 30 or fewer games the previous year. Second strongest were for teams winning 40 to 49 games (hello, Wizards).

The Wizards, of course, are going to be on the “preseason doesn’t matter” side of this discussion considering they were 11th in the Eastern Conference in preseason efficiency differential and 29th in offensive efficiency. The league scored 101.8 points per 100 possessions in the preseason; the Wizards scored 95.0.

On the bright side, Washington boasted the league’s 8th best defensive rating.

Below are the preseason estimated Player Production Averages (PPA) for Wizards who played at least 50 minutes. PPA is an overall rating metric I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win, and debits them for things that don’t. It’s a per-minute stat that’s pace-neutral, (normally) accounts for defense, and (normally) includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better, and (normally) 45 = replacement level.

I use “normally” in a few spots because the data necessary to calculate a player’s defensive contributions and/or the degree of difficulty factor aren’t available in the preseason. Plus, I don’t know if there can be such a thing as “replacement level” in the preseason.

PLAYER GMS MPG ePPA
james,damion 5 12.6 188
silas,xavier 3 17.7 145
porter,otto 7 26.6 110
miller,andre 6 18.3 96
temple,garrett 7 19.7 91
hilario,nene 5 19.4 90
wall,john 6 25.8 82
gortat,marcin 7 27.4 71
pierce,paul 5 19.6 51
seraphin,kevin 7 21.9 52
rice,glen 4 22.3 46
butler,rasual 5 15.6 32
blair,dejuan 7 21.3 -3
beal,bradley 3 20.7 -38

Do NOT use these numbers to make bold predictions or sweeping pronouncements. These represent a tiny sample size — a sample in which many players are basically going through the motions at least some of the time — and are presented just as a general barometer for how players performed in the preseason.

Looking back at last year’s preseason numbers and see that Bradley Beal had an outstanding preseason, but wasn’t as good in the regular season. Meanwhile, Trevor Ariza and John Wall were bad in exhibition games, but good in real ones. Some guys were about the same in both — Jan Vesely, Al Harrington, Eric Maynor, Kevin Seraphin and Garrett Temple.

This year…most of the team’s rotation players were unproductive. Wall had an ePPA below 20 most of the preseason until he had a good performance against the Knicks. Seraphin may yet have that breakout season so many are hoping for, but ended his preseason in the same general territory where he’s spent most of his young career.

The team’s bright spot in the preseason was Otto Porter. He was a little above average — encouraging progress from a second year player who was mostly overwhelmed as a rookie.

Now…real games.

Wizards Doppelgangers: The Young Backcourt

wall and beal

At this point in NBA history, there aren’t many “original” players. Today’s players are like players who have come before — in production, if not look and style. “This guy reminds me of…” is a game scouts and fans play, often to the point of absurdity.

Following in the footsteps of basketball statistical analysts like MikeG and Kevin Pelton, I’ve created a Statistical Doppelganger machine of my own. The Machine compares players across 14 categories, including age, minutes, box score stats and my own overall rating metric Player Production Average (PPA). Then, it combines those differences and…voila…players with the smallest differences leap to the top of the list — similar production at similar age.

The Machine uses pace-adjusted per-minute stats, but does not consider attributes such as height, weight or position.

I’ll post results for Wizards players leading up to the season. These “most similar” lists ultimately work their way into my projection for the team’s record this season, which I’ll publish closer to the season opener.

First up through the Statistical Doppelganger Machine: PG John Wall.

PLAYER POS SEASON AGE TEAM SIM SCORE PPA SEASON PPA PEAK
John Wall PG 2013-14 23 WAS 100 139 139
Kemba Walker PG 2012-13 22 CHA 89 131 131
Tony Parker PG 2004-05 22 SAS 89 136 187
Steve Francis PG 1999-00 22 HOU 89 133 172
Baron Davis PG 2005-06 26 GSW 89 132 163
Kenny Anderson PG 1993-94 23 NJN 89 129 161
Stephon Marbury PG 1998-99 21 MIN 89 130 164
Isiah Thomas* PG 1987-88 26 DET 88 130 181
Brandon Roy SG 2007-08 23 POR 88 143 189
Robert Pack PG 1995-96 26 WSB 88 143 143
Kenny Anderson PG 1994-95 24 NJN 88 135 161

While Wall’s overall production the past two seasons was flat (he posted a PPA of 139 in both seasons), his statistical similars is a good group for the most part. The average peak PPA for this group is 163, with Brandon Roy and Tony Parker at the high end and Kemba Walker (who’s still extremely young himself) and Robert Pack at the low.

Note the presence of Hall of Fame PG Isiah Thomas, as well as several dynamic performers like Steve Francis, Baron Davis and Stephon Marbury. And keep in mind that while Marbury ended up as The Official Selfish Player of the NBA, he was a first-rate talent who was highly productive.

For those who might be worried by seeing the names of Kenny Anderson and Robert Pack, well…stop it. Anderson was a good player, but didn’t possess anything like Wall’s elite athleticism. Plus, Anderson’s performance drop-off wasn’t really until he’d reached his thirties — and more than 23,000 career minutes. Wall isn’t even halfway there yet.

Pack was a not bad player when he could stay healthy, which really didn’t happen once he became a starter. In his best season, he managed to appear in just 31 games. Wall played more games than that in his third season, when he missed the first 33 games with a stress injury in his knee. In his four-year career, Wall has played every possible game for the Wizards twice.

While I’m not giving away my projection for Wall (yet), these comps suggest good things. I expect Wall to improve this season, and to peak at an All-NBA level in the next few years.

Next up, Bradley Beal.

PLAYER POS SEASON AGE TEAM SIM SCORE PPA SEASON PPA PEAK
Bradley Beal SG 2013-14 20 WAS 100 96 96
Brandon Jennings PG 2010-11 21 MIL 90 108 140
Brandon Jennings PG 2009-10 20 MIL 89 95 140
Mike Miller SF 2001-02 21 ORL 89 106 140
O.J. Mayo G 2008-09 21 MEM 89 81 96
Jason Richardson SF 2002-03 22 GSW 88 91 157
Quentin Richardson SG 2003-04 23 LAC 88 97 123
Michael Finley SF 1996-97 23 DAL 88 94 138
Calbert Cheaney SG 1994-95 23 WSB 88 88 88
Jamal Crawford SG 2003-04 23 CHI 88 107 113
Dennis Scott SF 1992-93 24 ORL 87 89 141

While I’m a big believe in Beal, I was not thrilled by this group of similars. Brandon Jennings? Twice? Really? OJ Mayo? Calbert Cheaney? Blech.

If you want to throw out one of those seasons from Jennings, be my guest. Next on the list was Klay Thompson last season, Eric Gordon, and then a season from Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. None of whom significantly change the analysis.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this group, except…none of them are Ray Allen or James Harden, or players of that caliber.

For the most part, though, this isn’t a particularly impressive group. The average peak PPA is 128, which is about the level of an average starter. Only Jason Richardson from this list peaked at a level that typically earns a spot on the All-Star team. What’s kinda interesting is that there are “repeaters” on Beal’s rookie and second year lists.

Players showing up as similar in both seasons include:

  • Mike Miller
  • Jason Richardson
  • Dennis Scott
  • Michael Finley.

Again, not a bad group…just not as strong a list as I’d have hoped. Still, Beal is young and seems to have the work ethic to improve. My gut says his ceiling is higher than what the numbers are saying…but that could just be the fan talking.

Next up: The Old Bigs — Marcin Gortat and Nenê.

Wizards 2014 Playoffs Wrap-Up

NBA Washington Wizards vs Chicago Bulls Play-Offs Game 4

Trevor Ariza dominated in the playoffs despite low-blow karate chop from Mike Dunleavy.

Just in time for the start of training camp, here’s a look back at the Wizards run in the playoffs this year. For those with short memories, Washington beat the Bulls in round one, and lost to the Pacers in round two. It was a good couple weeks for a franchise that’s been among the league’s worst the past several years.

I’ve finally gotten around to crunching the data to produce the Player Production Average (PPA) numbers. PPA is an overall rating metric I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win, and debits them for things that don’t. It’s a per-minute stat that’s pace-neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better, and 45 = replacement level.

Like any stat extracted from a small sample size, there’s a grain of salt factor. For example, Bradley Beal led the team with 458 playoff minutes — the cut when I look at regular season numbers is usually 500 minutes. Only 21 players reached 500 or more playoff minutes this year. That said, here are the numbers:

PLAYER GMS MPG RS PPA PS PPA
Trevor Ariza 11 37.0 145 193
Marcin Gortat 11 34.7 154 148
Bradley Beal 11 41.6 96 139
John Wall 11 38.2 139 82
Trevor Booker 9 16.2 123 75
Nene Hilario 10 32.5 102 49
Drew Gooden 10 14.6 106 37
Martell Webster 11 17.7 77 35
Andre Miller 11 9.8 86 12
Al Harrington 7 8.4 24 -22
Garrett Temple 10 .9 24 -33
Otto Porter 3 2.0 15 -49
Kevin Seraphin 4 1.5 35 -274

RS PPA = regular season

PS PPA = post-season

The numbers reflect Ariza’s tremendous playoffs performance. A 193 in the regular season would be worthy of All-NBA selection in most years. Among playoff performers with at least 100 total minutes, it ranked third overall behind Lebron James (263) and Chris Paul (211).

Gortat’s production improved as the playoffs went on. His first round PPA was a shade below average, but his play against Indy in round two pulled his full playoffs rating into the vicinity of his regular season performance.

The team’s only other above-average playoffs producer was Beal, who was terrific in round one (152) and solid in round two. A promising post-season debut for a talented kid who will still be among the league’s youngest players when he starts his third season in a few weeks.

The post-season wasn’t so kind to Beal’s backcourt partner, John Wall. In the first round, Wall’s overall production wasn’t overwhelming, but he thoroughly outplayed Chicago’s guards. Indiana did a better job of forcing him out of comfortable plays, and Wall struggled.

Now-departed Trevor Booker was solid in the first round, but played little in the second round. Friend of the blog Ben Becker wondered if Washington might have won against the Pacers if they’d played Booker instead of Gooden and/or Harrington. And, that’s definitely possible. The games were close and hard-fought, and the Wizards got next to nothing from Gooden and less than nothing from Harrington. Booker was fifth on the team in per minute production during the post-season, but 10th in round two minutes.

Against the Pacers, the Wizards got good production from Gortat, and little else from the front-court. Using the trio of Nenê, Gooden and Harrington with so little court time for Booker may well have cost Washington a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Similarity scores coming soon.

The NFL’s Problem

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

Approximately nine years ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell found himself a good pick and shovel, and hacked his way through the tough outer skin of the NFL shield. He dug holes to the appropriate depth and placed into them something he did not understand. Then he shoveled some dirt back on top — a little at a time for nearly a decade — and congratulated himself on being so full of foresight, wisdom and leadership.

Driven by the best of intentions, Goodell unwittingly planted a field of public relations land mines when he appointed himself chief prosecutor, judge and appellate court magistrate of a vague “personal conduct” initiative to clean up the NFL. In the classic mold of ready-fire-aim leaders throughout history, Goodell decided that the only way to rein in the NFL’s “out of control” players was with the firm guidance of suspensions and official condemnation of the Commissioner’s Office.

Goodell had fallen victim to a classic PR blunder: he believed the media. In some ways, his faith in the media was logical. There was a steady diet of media reports of off-field misdeeds. There was racial code word murmuring about broken homes and young men coming from “inner cities” or from “poverty.” Why, they just needed the stern hand of a Moral Authority, and who better than Goodell himself? So, Goodell cooked up a bold and aggressive fix to a problem that did not exist.

Had Goodell ordered a meaningful study of the off-field behavior of NFL players, he’d have found that they were overwhelmingly a responsible, law-abiding bunch. The data has been crunched by several different outlets — feel free to Google up your pick of them — and they show in different ways the same thing. Specifically, NFL players get arrested far less frequently than the general population, and far, FAR less often than males in the same general age group.

While players often are portrayed as if they’re pirates or bandits marauding through the nation’s peaceful streets, reality is that the NFL arrest rate is about 13% that of males age 25-29 in America. This is a good news story about NFL players, not reason for serial consternation.

The NFL’s biggest off-field problem is domestic violence — but even that is a relative success story. The NFL arrest rate for domestic violence is 55% that of males age 25-29, which means NFL players are considerably less likely to be involved in domestic violence than their age-group cohorts. It’s laudable that Goodell and the NFL are taking steps to address the issue, though it would be more credible if it wasn’t so clearly a panic move. Most reasonable people would agree that even one case is too many. But, even panic moves can sometimes be a good thing, and if the league’s efforts further reduces the number of domestic violence incidents…then good.

Back to my point, what Goodell failed to grasp when he appointed himself The Moral Authority was that he was feeding the stereotype monster. Big problems require bold solutions. Ergo, a bold solution means a big problem. So, in the public’s mind, Goodell’s long suspensions and hefty fines were because player behavior really was out of control. If even the Commissioner was tacitly acknowledging a big problem with the behavior of NFL players, the problem must have been MASSIVE. Unfortunately, Goodell’s strategy of administering “justice” wasn’t cleaning up a problem (player behavior was at least as good, if not better, than could be expected), it was exacerbating the perception of NFL players as a bunch of lawless thugs.

Had Goodell understood the league’s perception problem, he could have used the NFL’s influence with the sports media to introduce a different narrative that could have served as a counter to the inevitable off-field incident. (And yes, such incidents are inevitable as long as the NFL uses actual people to play the games.) The NFL could have used the data to show not just that NFL players are overwhelmingly responsible, law-abiding citizens, but that they’re MORE responsible and law-abiding than the average citizen. This makes a ton of sense considering some of the attributes that make a person elite at anything (including playing football): discipline, intelligence and hard work.

The perception that the NFL has a behavior problem is borne of this simple reality: there’s no beat reporter for waiters or bellmen or mechanics or bloggers or journalists or…you get the point. There are hundreds of reporters covering the NFL on a daily basis. Hundreds more commentate, opine and do part-time reporting. Those reporters uncover a wealth of information, and dutifully report it. But, in their reporting of facts, reporters don’t always provide a proper context — especially when that context runs counter to the narrative.

In this case, the narrative was that player behavior was poor. Each new arrest was reinforcement of the conclusion. Each new suspension or fine provided a punctuation to the story. Crime, justice, the possibility of redemption. The narrative was bolstered by plausible reasoning from opinion writers — broken homes, absentee fathers, kids these days, athletes who are spoiled, coddled, immature and selfish. The list goes on. But, the reasoning was meaningless because it was constructed on a false foundation. So many were determined to put an end to the lawless behavior of NFL players, that almost no one stopped to notice that the behavior was already excellent.

Worse, Goodell establishing himself as The Moral Authority opened himself (and the league he represents) to charges of “not taking X issue seriously” at nearly any time. Because the sentences were essentially arbitrary, all that was needed was a punishment that seemed light in comparison to some other action deemed worse. That happened this summer when Josh Cribbs was suspended a year after testing positive for marijuana (which was preposterous in itself, but that’s another story) while Ray Rice got two games for knocking out his fiance in an elevator.

In a sense, the truly honest answer is that the NFL doesn’t take a lot of social issues very seriously, and with good reason. It’s not their business. Their business model is to stage football games before massive crowds. Their business is to provide programming fodder for their television partners, and stories for web pages and print publications. Fixing what’s wrong with society would be nice, but it’s a job for which a sports league is ill equipped.

Those metaphorical land mines are detonating, and they’ll continue to go off as the investigation into the league’s handling of the Ray Rice incident continues. Best case for Goodell is a finding that he was merely incompetent in failing to view the video (which the league had in its possession) before handing down Rice’s sentence. The other option is that he’s also dishonest.

Goodell is scrambling now — to protect the NFL shield, but also likely to save his job. Goodell’s job was to avoid the negative headlines. In his zeal to fix a non-existent player behavior problem, he set in motion a chain of events that inexorably led to this.

Washington Wizards 2013-14 Wrap-Up

Marcin Gortat honored to hear he led the Wizards in PPA last season.

Marcin Gortat honored to hear he led the Wizards in PPA last season.

In the relentless quest to keep First Draft on the vanguard of current events, I’m going to post my final regular season grades for the Washington Wizards.

Psst — Hey dummy, the season ended in April. The Wizards went to the playoffs, beat the Bulls in round one and then got smacked by the Pacers.

Yeah, but this is incredibly timely in geologic terms.

So…umm…anyway, I’ve been away awhile. It’s been a crazy summer. To go full-on Dad-Brag mode, my son Joe became the first high schooler to reach the semifinals of two international euphonium competitions this year. He made the finals in one — along with four adults who (at minimum) had masters degrees in euphonium performance. While he’d never brag about it, I will. Happily. So how has he celebrated the success? More practice, of course.

Back to the topic of the day — the Wizards. The season has already been hashed and rehashed ad nauseum by now, so I won’t go too deep in the weeds. I’ve gotten a few requests for the final Player Production Average (PPA) numbers, which are below. I’ll have playoff numbers up soon, followed by results from my Statistical Doppelganger Machine, and then maybe even some observations about this year’s draft from Ye Olde Draft Analyzer (YODA).

See: vanguard.

PPA is an overall rating metric I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win, and debits them for things that don’t. It’s a per-minute stat that’s pace-neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better, and 45 = replacement level.

PLAYER GMS MPG PREV PPA
Marcin Gortat 81 32.8 153 154
Trevor Ariza 77 35.4 143 145
John Wall 82 36.3 138 139
Trevor Booker 72 21.6 119 123
Drew Gooden 22 18.0 114 106
Nene Hilario 53 29.4 100 102
Bradley Beal 73 34.7 89 96
Andre Miller 28 14.7 91 86
Martell Webster 78 27.7 80 77
Jan Vesely 33 14.2 68 68
Kevin Seraphin 53 10.9 37 35
Chris Singleton 25 10.0 32 33
Garrett Temple 75 8.5 25 24
Al Harrington 34 15.0 8 24
Glen Rice 11 9.9 20 20
Otto Porter 37 8.6 19 15
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 8 8

I’ll get more into this when I do similarity scores, but it’s worth mentioning that Wall’s PPA last season (2012-13) was the same 139. He accumulated accolades this season, but his actual production wasn’t at an elite level. I’d hoped (and expected) Wall’s production to be in the 160s range, and I’m a little concerned that it was flat (on a per minute basis). Still, aspects of his game improved (especially three-point shooting), and his ability to play nearly 3,000 total minutes was important for a team that bungled the backup PG spot so badly.

Also in the “cause for concern” bucket: Nenê’s production. His on/off numbers remained good (at least on defense), but my analysis suggests he wasn’t necessarily the cause. His overall production was about league average, which means he was below average for a starter (average for starters usually lands between 125 and 130).

I’d hoped for a bit bigger jump from Beal, but his final PPA for the season wasn’t bad for a guy who was still among the league’s youngest players. I continue to think he’s going to have a long and productive career with multiple All-Star appearances.

The Offseason

This offseason, the Wizards front office appeared to have a couple goals:

  1. Maintain.
  2. Preserve cap space for 2016.

With that in mind, they sat out the first round of the draft (because they’d traded the pick for Gortat), and (predictably) sold their 2nd round pick for cash.

They re-signed Gortat to a market deal for a solid big man. I wasn’t thrilled with the fifth year, but it was exactly in line with what I anticipated.

Departing were (in order of importance): Ariza, Booker, Singleton, and Harrington.

Incoming replacements were: Paul Pierce (PPA: 131), Kris Humphries (132), and DeJuan Blair (97).

They also inexplicably retained the services of Seraphin for another year.

The Pierce for Ariza swap is a step back for the Wizards. Pierce is still a pretty good player (and his production was better in the 2nd half of the season), but he’ll be 37 when the season starts, which is an age where production sometimes just falls off a cliff. Plus, older players tend to be injured more frequently, and the injuries can linger. It’s just a fact that older players do two things reliably: get worse and get hurt.

Washington’s need for contributions from Otto Porter, last year’s 1st round pick, are magnified by Ariza’s departure, Pierce’s age, and Webster’s back surgery.

The acquisitions of Humphries and Blair are excellent moves. Both come at bargain prices, and both are productive players. That duo should give the team sufficient frontcourt depth to weather Nenê’s fragility, and enough quality that they won’t miss Booker.

Overall, it was a good offseason for the team. The East doesn’t appear to be much stronger, and the Wizards could be a top four seed if they get significant improvements from any combination of Wall, Beal and Porter.

That Path to the Eastern Conference Finals

partingredsea08

In my last post, I alluded to a kind of parting of the seas for the Wizards in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The reasoning is pretty simple: the Wizards should be considered strong favorites over either the Pacers or the Hawks. That’s right, either.

If this was a “normal” NBA season, Washington would be a heavy underdog to the top seeded Pacers. But, if this was a “normal” season, the Wizards wouldn’t have been the fifth seed with 44 wins, Atlanta wouldn’t have been in the playoffs with a sub-.500 record, and Indiana wouldn’t have disintegrated over the last two months of the season (and wouldn’t have had to fight and claw to get to a seventh game against such a pedestrian opponent).

This is an abnormal season, though, and the weak Eastern Conference coupled with the stumble-bum Pacers at the top have given the Wizards their best chance of reaching the NBA’s final four since…1979.

That the Wizards would be favored vs. Atlanta is unsurprising. The Hawks weren’t much good during the regular season. They struggled after center Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle (again), and limped into the playoffs. The Pacers need a bit more explanation — which I provided nearly a month ago when I wondered whether Washington should tank for seventh so they could face Indiana in the first round.

If you want more detail, please click and read on that link. The upshot is this: since the All-Star break, the Pacers have been a very different team. They’ve actually had a negative scoring differential, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen for an extended stretch from a highly seeded team. Indeed, since the All-Star break, the Pacers have had the scoring differential of a 34-win team (over an 82-game schedule), just one game better than the eighth seed Hawks. Over that same time frame, Washington’s differential was that of a 52-win team.

Don’t go getting too excited about that differential: the Wizards played an incredibly easy schedule after the All-Star break. Still, it’s illustrative of the significant changes in the Eastern Conference. Since that All-Star break, the Wizards had the third best efficiency differential of the East’s playoff teams. The Pacers had the second worst.

So, what are the odds? Applying a combination of full season numbers, post All-Star break numbers, and playoff performance, I estimate Washington having the following chances of beating these possible Eastern Conference playoff opponents:

  1. Indiana — 64%
  2. Miami — 27%
  3. Toronto — 50%
  4. Chicago — 100%
  5. Washington — 0%
  6. Brooklyn — 67%
  7. Charlotte — eliminated
  8. Atlanta — 81%

The odds will fluctuate a bit after that seventh game, but the fundamental point remains: Washington is in a terrific position to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Getting farther is a dicier proposition, especially if they end up facing Miami.

Round One Wrap-Up

The 4-1 first round win over the Chicago Bulls is done, but there are still a few points worth making. While there’s been some chatter about how flawed the Bulls are (including by me), Chicago actually looked pretty strong entering the post-season. It’s trademark defense was excellent down the stretch, and its offense was about average. The Eastern Conference team with the best efficiency differential after the All-Star break? The Bulls.

Washington’s first round victory wasn’t a case of getting a crappy opponent, it was a case of the Wizards outplaying a decent team. Give credit where it’s due: a big reason the Bulls looked so bad is that the Wizards were on their game.

Finally, here’s a look at the Player Production Averages (PPA) for the series. PPA is an overall rating metric I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win, and debits them for things that don’t. It’s a per-minute stat that’s pace-neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better, and 45 = replacement level. (Don’t pay much attention to the extreme scores at the bottom of the table — tiny sample sizes don’t mean much of anything.)

TEAM Player GMS MPG PPA
CHI Taj Gibson 5 30.8 210
WAS Trevor Ariza 5 39.0 193
WAS Bradley Beal 5 41.0 152
CHI Mike Dunleavy 5 32.6 139
WAS Trevor Booker 5 24.2 134
WAS John Wall 5 38.6 128
WAS Martell Webster 5 18.0 113
WAS Nene Hilario 4 35.8 107
CHI Joakim Noah 5 42.0 97
WAS Marcin Gortat 5 36.0 97
CHI Jimmy Butler 5 43.6 88
CHI Carlos Boozer 5 24.2 58
CHI Kirk Hinrich 5 33.4 22
WAS Andre Miller 5 10.4 10
CHI D.J. Augustin 5 28.2 5
WAS Kevin Seraphin 1 1.0 0
WAS Drew Gooden 4 9.0 -35
CHI Tony Snell 5 9.2 -47
CHI Nazr Mohammed 2 2.5 -189
WAS Al Harrington 3 2.3 -364
WAS Garrett Temple 4 0.3 -1889

Interesting that the most productive player in the series was Taj Gibson, who played just 30.8 minutes per game. Meanwhile, Chicago started Carlos Boozer and played him 24.2 minutes per game despite production that wasn’t much better than replacement level.

Also interesting to me is how the production numbers differ from popular perception. One “experts” poll named Nenê as Washington’s first round “MVP.” When it comes down to doing the things that cause teams to win, he rated sixth best for the Wizards — behind Ariza, Beal, Booker, Wall and Webster.

In total, eight players rated “above average” in this series. Six of those players wore Wizards uniforms. While Gibson was good throughout the series, the only other Bull above average was Dunleavy, and most of his production came in a single game.

Path Opening for Wizards to Make Deep Playoff Run

Ariza dominating

As enjoyable as the Wizards-Bulls series has been so far (for Wizards fans, at least), there’s a tangible feeling that Washington has drawn to an inside straight. (That’s a fancy poker way of saying they’ve gotten lucky.) Yes, I’m aware the Wizards have looked good in the playoffs — teams look good when they win.

I’m also aware that the “experts” at ESPN and TNT (and elsewhere) have declared this Washington as a near-perfect squad with “no weaknesses.” But, much (most?) of the commentary has been a veritable catalog of cognitive biases. Over the course of six months and 82 games, the Wizards were average. A perfectly average team playing against their schedule would be expected to win 43-44 games. They won 44. That’s not a team without weakness — it’s an average team.

In the playoffs, they’re beating the Bulls — a slightly better than average team overall this season, but also a team with a major flaw: one of the league’s worst offenses.

Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers have continued their post-All-Star break swoon and are struggling to keep pace with the sub.500 Atlanta Hawks. The Wizards should be favored against either team in a second round matchup. Which would put Washington into the conference finals against (probably) the Miami Heat.

It’s the 2013-14 NBA Eastern Conference, where being meh is good enough because nearly everyone else is meh-er.

In many ways, the Wizards this season are a fascinating experiment in perception. On one hand, there’s a solidly average regular season and no top-end production. On the other hand, there’s a likely first-round win against the Bulls and a good chance they make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Folks in the “they’re really not that good” camp can point to the historically weak conference and Indiana’s meltdown, which carved out the path. But…it’s not Washington’s fault their opponents suck. The only thing they can do is play their game and beat whoever’s put in front of them. Being average when others are bad might be a functional equivalent of being good.

For me, it’s clear that the Wizards are an average team that’s drawn a flawed opponent in the first round and has a very good chance of getting a flawed opponent in the second round as well. That said, being average this season and next is probably good enough to hang around in the playoffs for the next year or two before Washington’s older players decline and other teams rebuild sufficiently. Washington won’t be a realistic title contender (even if they make the Eastern Conference Finals), but it’ll be fun to see them playing in May.

In other words, have fun, but don’t go overboard revising conclusions drawn from six months and 82 games worth of data over a few weeks against a couple opponents. What would be cause for some revision? Beating the Heat and making it to the Finals.

At any rate, here are a couple looks at the Wizards-Bulls first round series through the first four games. First up, here’s Player Production Average. PPA is an overall evaluation stat I developed. It’s designed to credit players for things they do that help a team win and “debit” them for things that don’t — each in proper proportion. It’s a pace-adjusted, per minute stat that accounts for defense and includes a degree of difficulty factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and 45 = replacement level.)

Player TEAM G MPG PPA
Taj Gibson CHI 4 32.3 215
Trevor Ariza WAS 4 39.5 212
Mike Dunleavy CHI 4 32.3 168
Bradley Beal WAS 4 40.8 161
Martell Webster WAS 4 18.5 135
John Wall WAS 4 38.5 121
Trevor Booker WAS 4 24.5 99
Marcin Gortat WAS 4 36.8 86
Joakim Noah CHI 4 41.8 85
Carlos Boozer CHI 4 23.3 76
Nene Hilario WAS 3 34.7 74
Jimmy Butler CHI 4 43.8 70
Andre Miller WAS 4 10.8 63
D.J. Augustin CHI 4 29.5 43
Kirk Hinrich CHI 4 32.0 0
Kevin Seraphin WAS 1 1.0 0
Drew Gooden WAS 4 9.0 -33
Tony Snell CHI 4 10.3 -59
Nazr Mohammed CHI 2 2.5 -180
Al Harrington WAS 3 2.3 -346
Garrett Temple WAS 3 0.3 -1408

The top two producers have been Taj Gibson and Trevor Ariza. Mike Dunleavy’s high rating is largely a product of a single terrific game in a small sample size. Bradley Beal is having a good series. John Wall and Martell Webster have also been solid.

Folks have gotten excited about Nenê’s play, but the big man hasn’t really played all that well outside of game one.

Want to see why Chicago is struggling? Their only above average performers in these four games have been Gibson and Dunleavy. Noah, Boozer and Butler have been subpar. Augustin and Hinrich have been wretched — especially Hinrich who has given the Bulls 32.0 minutes per game of nothing.

Last, here’s a look at estimated wins added (call them eWins) for the series:

Player TEAM G MPG eWINS
Trevor Ariza WAS 4 39.5 0.68
Taj Gibson CHI 4 32.3 0.56
Bradley Beal WAS 4 40.8 0.53
Mike Dunleavy CHI 4 32.3 0.44
John Wall WAS 4 38.5 0.38
Joakim Noah CHI 4 41.8 0.29
Marcin Gortat WAS 4 36.8 0.26
Jimmy Butler CHI 4 43.8 0.25
Martell Webster WAS 4 18.5 0.20
Trevor Booker WAS 4 24.5 0.20
Nene Hilario WAS 3 34.7 0.16
Carlos Boozer CHI 4 23.3 0.14
D.J. Augustin CHI 4 29.5 0.10
Andre Miller WAS 4 10.8 0.05
Kirk Hinrich CHI 4 32.0 0.00
Kevin Seraphin WAS 1 1.0 0.00
Nazr Mohammed CHI 2 2.5 -0.02
Drew Gooden WAS 4 9.0 -0.02
Garrett Temple WAS 3 0.3 -0.03
Tony Snell CHI 4 10.3 -0.05
Al Harrington WAS 3 2.3 -0.05

This eWins approach uses total production to estimate each player’s individual share of team wins. It works reasonably well over the full season. For the series, it has the Wizards with a 2.4 to 1.7 eWins lead, which is reflective of a couple very close games (Washington’s overtime win in game two, and Chicago’s narrow game three victory.)