What Upgrade?

Since the Washington Wizards signed free agent Eric Maynor on the opening day of free agency, it’s been widely accepted  that the team had found an upgrade at backup point guard from A.J. Price.

I’ve been over the data several times now, and I still can’t find justification for the belief that replacing Price with Maynor improves the team. It’s a different name at a higher salary, but better? Not unless Maynor improves significantly.

Through four seasons, Maynor has been pedestrian. As regular readers know, I’ve developed an overall rating stat I call Player Production Average (PPA for short). PPA is derived primarily from the box score, with each category weighted according to how it relates to a team’s scoring differential. In PPA, I account for defense, adjust for pace, and include a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor.

In PPA, average is always 100. Higher is better, and replacement level is 45. Maynor’s career PPA: 49. His PPA last season was 32. Even in Portland, where he was better, his PPA was 41. There’s some reason to think he’ll be a bit better this season, which will be his first full season back from a serious knee injury. His pre-injury PPA was 57, which is solidly above replacement level (though still a long ways from being a quality rotation player).

Maynor’s primary contributions are purported to be on the offensive end, which is a good thing since he doesn’t rebound (even for a PG), and his defense is average at best. The numbers reveal him to be inefficient offensively (a career offensive rating of 101 points per 100 possessions vs. a league average of around 105 during his career; an ortg of just 96 last season). He’s a slightly better assist man than Price, but it comes with more turnovers as well.

One argument I’ve seen is that Maynor is better than Price at running the team and getting it into proper sets. I’m willing to accept this claim with the proviso that for this “ability” to be meaningful, it would have to show up on the scoreboard — in the on/off stats. And, the data is, at best, equivocal.

For his career, Maynor’s teams have been slightly worse offensively when he’s been on the floor (to the tune of 1.3 points per 100 possessions — a small difference that could just be randomness). Going season by season suggests to me that the best conclusion to reach is that Maynor has little to no effect on his team’s offense. As a rookie, his teams (Utah and Oklahoma City) were worse offensively when he was on the floor. In his second year, OKC was a little better when he was in the game. In his brief third season (just 137 total minutes), OKC was much better +7.1 points per 100 possessions (but with so few minutes that the data is virtually meaningless).

Last season? OKC was worse offensively when he was in the game; Portland was better. In sum, his teams last season were the same whether he was in the game or out.

This is not to say the Wizards have lost anything great in Price. He posted a career-best PPA of 84 last season, and seems like an adequate reserve PG. Like Maynor, Price’s offensive on/off numbers don’t suggest an impact player. For his career, Price’s teams have been “about the same” whether he’s in the game or not (they’ve been 0.5 points per 100 possessions less efficient offensively when he’s been on the floor). Last season, the Wizards were bad offensively when Price was in the game (100.3 points per 100 possessions), and they were just as bad offensively when he was out of the game (100.2 points per 100 possessions).

At this point, I’ve been over the data several times. I don’t see anything to support the notion that Maynor is any kind of upgrade over Price. Maynor might make an extra dynamic play now and then, but it comes at the cost of more turnovers, fewer rebounds, and iffy defense.

And all of this is before even getting to the Wizards’ rush to sign Maynor on the first day of free agency, burning the biannual exception on a marginal player, and precluding themselves from using it on other (more productive) guards who signed elsewhere OR from using it to sign a reserve big man like DeJuan Blair.

As a fan of the team, I hope I’m wrong, but the only way this can be an upgrade for the Wizards is if Maynor plays significantly better in Washington than he has in his previous four seasons.

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