Month: December 2015

Wizards Update: Just the Numbers

four

As Dean Oliver first wrote, there are four key factors that determine who wins and loses in the NBA. In order of importance: shooting, rebounding, getting to the free throw line and turnovers. So far this season, the data suggests that variation in efg differential accounts for about 44% of variation in scoring differential; rebounding accounts for 26%, getting to the free throw line about 18%, and turnovers about 11%.

How are the Wizards doing? They’re 25th in efg differential, 24th in rebounding differential, 9th in turnover differential and 10th in free throw differential. All that combines to rank 23rd in average scoring margin, which means they haven’t played even as well as their 19th ranked winning percentage might suggest.

At this point, Basketball-Reference forecasts the Wizards to win about 36 games and indicates the team’s odds of winning the draft lottery (2.5%) are about the same as them making the playoffs this season (2.4%).

While the team embarked on an effort to play faster, the results through 25 games indicates they may still benefit by slowing down. The defense appears to be largely unaffected by pace, but the numbers suggest the team may be a bit more efficient in slower-paced games. The effect is small, but at this point the team needs every advantage it can get.

rtg by pace

Player Production Average

The ratings below are a metric I developed called Player Production Average (PPA). In PPA, players are credited for things they do that help a team win, and debited for things that don’t, each in proportion to what causes teams to win and lose. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes an adjustment based on the level of competition faced when a player is on the floor. In PPA, average is 100, higher is better, and replacement level is 45.

League-wide PPA scores through games played 12/20/15 are here.

PLAYER GAMES MPG 11/10 11/22 12/3 12/13 PPA
John Wall 25 35.1 153 129 136 168 157
Marcin Gortat 22 30.2 91 112 128 133 132
Otto Porter 24 32.3 144 158 104 116 107
Jared Dudley 24 26.9 36 92 90 85 98
Ramon Sessions 25 19.7 131 119 84 90 87
Bradley Beal 17 36.5 128 108 96 87 87
Nene Hilario 12 17.4 58 90 80 74 79
Gary Neal 23 22.4 23 49 64 75 78
Kris Humphries 20 18.1 90 121 95 80 78
Garrett Temple 23 18.0 38 106 57 54 70
Ryan Hollins 5 9.6 -40 60 59
Drew Gooden 6 12.8 99 51 57 56 56
Kelly Oubre 18 9.3 -103 -4 -40 -44 9
DeJuan Blair 14 9.5 -345 -129 -112 -45 -34

As I’ve been writing seemingly for years now, the Wizards continue to lack elite production. Click over to the full league numbers and you’ll find 11 players with at least 500 minutes who have a PPA of at least 200. Wall ranks 10th among point guards, but in a virtual tie with Reggie Jackson and Rajon Rondo.

This isn’t Wall’s “fault” exactly, he’s a very good player. But he needs more help than he’s getting. Beal ranks 24th among shooting guards, Porter 16th among small forwards, Gortat 18th among centers, and Dudley 31st among power forwards.

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Wizards Update: A Silver Lining

As if the 2015-16 Wizards season wasn’t crummy enough, the team released news over the weekend that Bradley Beal would miss at least a couple weeks with yet another stress reaction in his leg. While this was a bummer of a development — especially when combined with Beal’s fourth consecutive season of pedestrian production — I’m writing today not to induce depression, but to give hope.

Wizards point guard John Wall began the season well: after a strong performance against the Spurs, Wall’s PPA (see below) sat at a heady 184 — not an MVP candidate, but probably in the conversation for All-NBA, and definitely All-Star level.

And then, for some reason (possibly a previously undisclosed ankle injury) his production tanked. After four consecutive good-to-great games to start the year, eight of his next ten games rated below average in PPA. In two of the games (at Boston and home against Toronto), Wall rated a net negative; a scary place for the team’s star. After posting a -70 vs. the Raptors, Wall’s PPA for the season stood at a slightly below average 96.

And then…the calendar switched to December and Wall abruptly began playing like an MVP candidate. In the eight games since that -70, Wall has produced a PPA of 300 or better four times, and another three better than 200. His lone dud was a 74 against Phoenix.

Wall’s PPA for October and November was 96. In December: 278. For context, here are the top five full-season PPA scores on record:

  1. Lebron James, MIA, 2012-13 — 282
  2. Stephen Curry, GSW, 2014-15 — 277
  3. Lebron James, CLE, 2008-09 — 275
  4. Michael Jordan, CHI, 1990-91 — 268
  5. Lebron James, CLE, 2009-10 — 267

Now, even posting a 278 the rest of the way won’t get Wall into this year’s MVP conversation because Curry’s PPA is another 70 points better, but still. Wall has been playing great the past couple weeks, and seems to be turning his season around. That’s a genuine reason for optimism.

Player Production Average

The ratings below are a metric I developed called Player Production Average (PPA). In PPA, players are credited for things they do that help a team win, and debited for things that don’t, each in proportion to what causes teams to win and lose. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes an adjustment based on the level of competition faced when a player is on the floor. In PPA, average is 100, higher is better, and replacement level is 45.

League-wide PPA scores through games played 12/03/15 are here.

PLAYER GAMES MPG 11/10 11/22 12/3 PPA
John Wall 22 35.0 153 129 136 168
Marcin Gortat 19 29.6 91 112 128 133
Otto Porter 22 33.0 144 158 104 116
Ramon Sessions 22 19.0 131 119 84 90
Bradley Beal 17 36.5 128 108 96 87
Jared Dudley 21 26.5 36 92 90 85
Kris Humphries 17 17.6 90 121 95 80
Gary Neal 20 22.0 23 49 64 75
Nene Hilario 12 17.4 58 90 80 74
Ryan Hollins 5 9.6 -40 60
Drew Gooden 6 12.8 99 51 57 56
Garrett Temple 20 17.6 38 106 57 54
Kelly Oubre 15 6.9 -103 -4 -40 -44
DeJuan Blair 12 8.5 -345 -129 -112 -45

If I could have one Christmas present for the Wizards, it’d be a starting quality power forward.

Who Are The Biggest Liars In Politics?

trump

Donald Trump: Biggest liar in politics?

A conservative friend told me today that he couldn’t possibly vote for Hillary Clinton because she is a “serial liar.” Another voiced agreement, saying, “The Clintons are some of the biggest liars in the history of American politics.”

At first this felt like one of those unmeasurable assertions. Except…there are fact checking websites like, PolitiFact. Others exist, but PolitiFact publishes a handy table providing a numerical breakdown of each person and organization it’s fact checked.

PolitiFact rates claims they’ve fact checked in one of the following categories:

– True
– Mostly True
– Half True
– Mostly False
– False
– Pants on Fire

To create a measure of political truthiness, I combined the first two as “truth” and the last three as “liar”.

Here are the TRUTH leaders from my self-selected group of news makers, according to the information published by PolitiFact (percentage of claims made by each individual that have been rated true or mostly true by PolitiFact):

  1. Bernie Sanders 53%
  2. Hillary Clinton 51%
  3. Barack Obama/Jeb Bush (tie) 48%
  4. Rand Paul 47%
  5. Chris Christie 40%
  6. Joe Biden 39%
  7. Marco Rubio/Sean Hannity/Mitch McConnell 38%
  8. Rachel Maddow 37%
  9. Scott Walker 34%
  10. Harry Reid 33%
  11. Paul Ryan 32%
  12. Mitt Romney 31%
  13. John Boehner 30%
  14. Ted Cruz 22%
  15. Nancy Pelosi 18%
  16. Donald Trump 7%
  17. Rush Limbaugh/Chain e-mails 6%
  18. Ben Carson 4%

In other words, 53% of the claims and assertions made by Bernie Sanders have been rated as true by the journalists at PolitiFact — the highest level (by a hair over Clinton) in this group. And kudos to Donald Trump for being slightly more truthful than anonymous chain e-mails and Rush Limbaugh. Ben Carson, the most honest student at Yale, rated as the least truthful — just 4% of his claims were rated as “true” by PolitiFact.

On the LIAR leaderboard (percentage of claims made by each individual rated as Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire by PolitiFact):

  1. Obama 26%
  2. Sanders 28%
  3. Clinton 29%
  4. J. Bush 31%
  5. Biden/Paul 32%
  6. Christie 33%
  7. Rubio 40%
  8. Romney 41%
  9. Pelosi 43%
  10. Hannity 44%
  11. Ryan/McConnell 46%
  12. Walker 47%
  13. Maddow 48%
  14. Reid 52%
  15. Boehner 54%
  16. Cruz 66%
  17. Trump 75%
  18. Limbaugh 82%
  19. Carson 84%
  20. Chain e-mail 89%

If I make it into a ratio — TRUTH/LIAR, I get these results:

  1. Sanders 1.92 (truths per lie)
  2. Obama 1.86
  3. Clinton 1.78
  4. J. Bush 1.55
  5. Paul 1.47
  6. Biden 1.23
  7. Christie 1.22
  8. Rubio 0.94
  9. Hannity 0.86
  10. McConnell 0.82
  11. Maddow 0.77
  12. Romney 0.74
  13. Walker 0.73
  14. Ryan 0.70
  15. Reid 0.64
  16. Boehner 0.57
  17. Pelosi 0.42
  18. Cruz 0.33
  19. Trump 0.09
  20. Limbaugh/Chain e-mail 0.07
  21. Carson 0.05

So there you have it: the biggest liars in politics are Ben Carson, Rush Limbaugh, chain e-mails and Donald Trump.

In the interest of fairness, I’ll point out that the forgoing numbers don’t necessarily represent “lies” in the sense that each of these people knew they were saying something untrue in each of these instances. Some of these are likely factual errors.

In addition, the PolitiFact database includes only claims they fact-checked. Each of these people have made a gazillion claims, many of which could be true, false or something in-between. What’s presented by PolitiFact (and therefore by me) is analysis of claims that were controversial or iffy enough to indicate a need for third-party evaluation. (I use “third-party” intentionally because PolitiFact has been accused of having a liberal bias. That’s a subject for another day.)

Wizards Update: The Everyone Problem

worried wall

Good thing for the Wizards that the NBA season is long because if it ended today, they’d be out of the playoffs and looking at a 2.8% chance of getting Ben Simmons in the 2016 draft.

Washington is just 7-9 with a scoring differential (weighted for strength of schedule) that ranks 23rd — more than a point per game below 22nd ranked Sacramento. This isn’t what fans (or many analysts) expected after the team escaped the first round of the playoffs each of the past two seasons. Washington was supposed to be an Eastern Conference contender, an echelon below Cleveland, but still a force to be reckoned with.

Not so much.

Leaving aside the issue of whether those expectations were realistic, what’s wrong? Lots. As Dean Oliver wrote, there are four key factors that determine winning and losing in basketball: shooting from the floor (efg), turnovers, rebounding, and free throws. Shooting is the most important of these, and the Wizards are tied for 18th in shooting from the floor. They’re second worst at controlling the ball. They’re 27th in offensive rebounding. They get to the free throw line frequently (sixth best), but overall they rank 28th thus far in offensive efficiency.

The situation isn’t much better on defense. They’re 22nd in defensive efg, average in defensive rebounding, and do a good job of forcing turnovers and keeping opponents off the free throw line. But, making the other team miss is the decisive factor: they rank 20th in defense.

Who’s at fault? Everyone, really.

The front office assembled a roster without a starter-quality power forward. While they made a good trade for Jared Dudley (solid player in exchange for nothing), he’s a small forward they’re asking to masquerade as a stretch four. He can get by in the S4 role off the bench, but his lack of rebounding (low career numbers even for a SF), size and athleticism gets exposed against starters. Kris Humphries is a backup; Drew Gooden a bench-warmer; Nenê is aging and injured.

The team obviously established a goal of preserving cap space for free agents in 2016, but wasted short-term signings on Gary Neal, Alan Anderson and Ryan Hollins.

So, put “front office” at the top of the “at fault” list — even without diving down the rabbit hole of botched draft picks and free agent acquisitions in previous years.

Next up: the coaching staff. This season, the team’s braintrust decided to enter basketball modernity by cutting back on two-point jump shots and taking more threes. This shift should have helped the offense run more efficiently even with the team shooting slightly worse from three-point range, but Randy Wittman and company confounded the issue by coupling changed shot selection with playing faster.

The problem: playing faster has nothing to do with playing better. Smart coaching emphasizes strategies that improve efficiency. Swapping two-point jumpers for threes, at-rim attempts and free throws is smart. Playing faster because it’s fashionable is not. (Especially when analysis of the team the past few years suggests the Wizards may have been better in slower-paced games.)

There’s room on the “blame bus” for the players, and rightfully so — virtually everyone who wears the Wizards uniform is under-performing. The only players with a PPA (see below) higher than last year are Otto Porter and Gary Neal, and Porter’s production has cratered since a promising start.

Despite back-to-back outstanding games (vs. Cleveland and the Lakers), John Wall’s PPA is 15 points lower than last season. Marcin Gortat’s production is down 42 points. Bradley Beal is “about the same” (down three points in PPA), but now in his fourth season still rates just average.

Kris Humphries, Jared Dudley, Ramon Sessions, Nenê, Drew Gooden, and Garrett Temple are all performing worse so far this season. All are showing double-digit drops in PPA.

For crissake, even DeJuan Blair, coming off the worst season of his career, is performing worse.

While they don’t belong on the “blame bus,” the Eastern Conference gets some credit for Washington’s poor start. Last season, a stat goober whose name I can’t remember (please take/give credit where it’s due if you read this and know who I’m talking about) estimated that top five teams in the East gained about three wins in 2014-15 because of the sorry state of the conference. This year, several Eastern teams improved while the Wizards attempted to be about the same.

How can the Wizards get better?

  1. De-emphasize pace. Stop worrying about trying to be like Golden State, and play at a pace that makes sense for the roster currently in place. Change the emphasis to valuing possessions and getting good shots, and look for offensive efficiency to rise.
  2. Get Wall and Gortat back to normal. Both are established veterans with production levels significantly better than what they’ve done thus far. It’s hard to believe they’re going to continue playing this poorly.
  3. Get improvement from Beal and/or Porter. Unfortunately, Beal continues to show improvement. He’s much the same player (in terms of overall impact) as he was in his rookie year. Porter started the season well, but has struggled since as teams developed a scouting report. Now it’s time for Porter to come up with ways to produce anyway.
  4. Make a trade. They don’t have a starter-quality PF on the roster.

The season is still young and the Wizards are probably going to start playing better. But, that’s what the Nationals kept saying, and then they ran out of games and the story of their 2015 season was they just weren’t good enough. For the Wizards, there’s an added concern because they need to be good enough to persuade a prominent free agent to join the young core.

Player Production Average

The ratings below are a metric I developed called Player Production Average (PPA). In PPA, players are credited for things they do that help a team win, and debited for things that don’t, each in proportion to what causes teams to win and lose. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes an adjustment based on the level of competition faced when a player is on the floor. In PPA, average is 100, higher is better, and replacement level is 45.

League-wide PPA scores through games played 12/03/15 are here.

PLAYER GAMES MPG 11/10 11/22 PPA
John Wall 16 33.7 153 129 136
Marcin Gortat 16 28.9 91 112 128
Otto Porter 16 32.1 144 158 104
Bradley Beal 13 35.5 128 108 96
Kris Humphries 16 17.6 90 121 95
Jared Dudley 15 24.7 36 92 90
Ramon Sessions 16 17.8 131 119 84
Nene Hilario 12 17.4 58 90 80
Gary Neal 14 19.6 23 49 64
Drew Gooden 6 12.8 99 51 57
Garrett Temple 14 15.8 38 106 57
Ryan Hollins 1 11.0     -40
Kelly Oubre 11 7.5 -103 -4 -40
DeJuan Blair 6 8.5 -345 -129 -112