Month: February 2015

Wizards Update: Designed to Piss Off Charles Barkley

Drew Gooden celebrates being the biggest improver in this week's Player Production Average update.

Drew Gooden celebrates being the biggest improver in this week’s Player Production Average update.

Charles Barkley doesn’t like analytics. His argument works out to this: “I don’t know anything about analytics and I never will. Also, you stat people never played the game and couldn’t get girls in high school.”

Partial credit to the new number one on my list of people I’d like to meet at a poker table — I didn’t “get girls” in high school, perhaps because I was too busy playing basketball.

Of course, if we apply Barkley’s fatuous logic that only people who have played the game are qualified to offer opinions about the game, then only people who have done analytics would be qualified to offer opinions about analytics. Which means, by Barkley’s own Rules of Living, we should all shut the hell up — on a lot of things. Hmm, maybe he’s on to something.

Despite Barkley’s assertion that “analytics don’t work,” the facts are that in recent years, top teams have made extensive use of analytics to improve their teams. Of course, there are crappy teams that use analytics, but the same was true when teams were built by Men Who Stared At Players.

Analytics are not an end to themselves, and they’re not intended to eliminate people from decision-making. They’re tools to help inform decisions — sorta like being able to estimate odds in poker. You’re playing both the cards and the people across the table, but it’s a sucker who wagers without a good sense for their chances of winning. Which reminds me that Barkley really sucks at gambling.

Speaking of analytics, the Wizards could use some help. Despite dominating wins over sad-sack Brooklyn and Orlando, there’s a pervasive sense of gloom about the team lately. Since starting the season 22-8, they’re 11-13. The struggles weren’t a shock — it was the toughest part of the team’s schedule.

Heading into the All-Star break, areas for concern are much the same as they were when I wrote about them more than a month ago:

  • Age — Production has dropped significantly over the past month for the team’s oldest players, Paul Pierce and Andre Miller. Nenê has been doing better, but remains below average for a starter. The team has been terrific with him on the floor, however. And, in the “no shock” category, Rasual Butler’s production has dropped.
  • No Elite Producers — No, not even Wall, at least not on a per minute basis. His PPA (see below) is 166. That would rank fourth on the Atlanta Hawks behind Al Horford (203), Jeff Teague (190), and Paul Millsap (175). Among players with at least 500 minutes this season, Wall ranks 30th in per minute production. He’s 11th in total production, so I’ll take that as an argument in favor of “elite” status, even though he’s played the second most minutes in the league this year, and seven of the 10 ahead of him have played significantly fewer minutes. Wall IS playing well. But, I think there’s still major room for improvement.
  • Kevin Seraphin — He was better in January, but seems to have flattened out in February. Overall, he continues to rate right around replacement level. I think the team can get by with him against bad teams, but will need better play off the bench when they face tougher competition.
  • Lack of Progress From The Youngsters — Bradley Beal’s PPA has been hovering in the average range; Porter’s in the below-average-but-still-useful range. But, neither guy has taken a significant step forward, and now Beal is sidelined for a third time with a “stress reaction” in his leg.
  • Health — Beal with the stress reaction. Webster recovering from back surgery. Wall with the migraines and the (maybe) Achilles soreness, and/or ankle soreness. Humphries with the back. Nothing major yet, but these bumps and bruises can affect productivity, and there are always injury concerns with older players.

Weekly Player Production Average Update

Player Production Average (PPA) is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win and debits them for things that hurt the cause. PPA is 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 replacement level is 45.

The numbers under each date represent the player’s PPA for the entire season to that date. The number in the far right column (labeled PPA) is the player’s current PPA through games played last night. For a look at how players on other teams rate, visit here.

2015-02-12 -- Wizards PPA update

My apologies on the format, but I was running out of space for the full week-by-week PPA table. By the end of the season, we’ll all need a magnifying glass to read it.

A lot of consistency at this point. Most of the guys seem to have found their levels. My biggest worries are with the old guys, who seem to be wearing down as the season progresses. Hopefully they’ll be rejuvenated by this year’s extra-long All-Star break.

Wizards Update: The Losing Streak

gortat shaved mohawk

So little time today, but I want to get the numbers up and address one topic: the (apparently) Official Wizards Fan Talking Point that the the Wizards are a “good” team going through a tough stretch.

While there’s a certain appeal to that position, and its supporters could point to the team’s record as evidence, the numbers simply don’t agree. The key stat to understand relative team strength is scoring differential — even more than record. The guys at Basketball-Reference created a robust team strength measure they call Simple Rating System (SRS), which combines scoring differential and strength of schedule.

In SRS, the WIzards have bounced around a bit this season, climbing into the top 10 for a week early on, but steadily sliding since then. Now emerging from the toughest part of their schedule, Washington ranks 16th in SRS — now behind Milwaukee. Consider that the Bucks and Wizards have played schedules of identical difficulty (0.63 points per game worse than average), but the Bucks have outscored their opponents by 1.96 points per game — the Wizards 1.66. A small difference to be sure, but it’s meaningful over the course of the marathon NBA season.

The data says that Washington isn’t a bad team, but it’s not good either. It’s a little better than average with a record made superficially better by the woeful state of the Eastern Conference. Because of the weak conference, the Wizards still have a decent shot at a top three seed, and a reasonable chance of advancing past the first round.

But, the problem isn’t that they’ve “just gotten out of sync” or that they’re not playing hard enough. It’s that they’re just not that good. Their margin for success each night is slender, and on nights when they’re not playing at something close to their best, they’re vulnerable.

Weekly Player Production Average Update

Player Production Average (PPA) is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win and debits them for things that hurt the cause. PPA is 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 replacement level is 45.

The numbers under each date represent the player’s PPA for the entire season to that date. The number in the far right column (labeled PPA) is the player’s current PPA through games played last night. For a look at how players on other teams rate, visit here.

PLAYER GMS MPG 11/10 11/18 11/24 12/3 12/8 12/17 12/23 12/29 1/6 1/14 1/23 PPA
John Wall 50 35.9 185 180 180 168 167 175 171 171 167 172 167 168
Marcin Gortat 50 29.5 181 186 170 175 179 178 178 173 158 157 160 144
Paul Pierce 47 26.9 140 138 165 134 134 154 142 143 148 144 141 138
Nene Hilario 42 25.5 108 102 68 67 83 94 96 97 101 112 124 109
Bradley Beal 41 34.0 122 63 69 94 90 98 102 106 108 101
Kris Humphries 49 22.0 46 87 90 82 109 100 88 109 103 98 101 110
Rasual Butler 46 20.8 60 131 116 128 155 140 134 123 99 101 89 77
Andre Miller 48 12.2 72 69 92 103 102 101 89 85 97 94 84 81
Otto Porter 45 18.0 97 106 101 95 84 81 84 82 85 82 78 72
Garrett Temple 38 11.7 121 112 96 100 98 91 90 75 73 68 78 74
Kevin Seraphin 49 15.6 38 13 17 12 28 34 45 36 35 44 48 47
Drew Gooden 23 12.0 42 40 59 78 64 47 47 44 32 22 23 29
DeJuan Blair 14 4.6 -41 -40 -40 -74 -56 -47 -46 -34 2 16 19 19
Martell Webster 13 10.0 -150 -44 -67 3
Glen Rice 5 8.6 -120 -117 -117 -117 -114 -113 -111 -111 -110 -110 -110 -109

No big surprises here. As would be expected for a team in a four-game losing streak, production has dipped for several players. Biggest decliners: the old guys — Gortat, Nenê, and Butler. The only real “improver” was Humphries. For the Seraphin watchers, the big fella stabilized right around replacement level since the last update.