Month: February 2016

A Bit More on the Trade for Markieff Morris

markieff-morris

In talking with fans, I’ve pulled up all kinds of information about Markieff Morris. Here are a few observations that came mostly from examining the claims made by folks who support the acquisition:

  • 2014-15 was the best season of Morris career. He posted a Player Production Average (PPA) of 102 (see below for a brief explanation). Among the 81 players identified by Basketball-Reference as PF who received at least 500 minutes, Morris ranked 36th.
  • Morris ranked 17th among PFs in total production last season, which would sound better if I omitted mention that he was second in total minutes played.
  • Last season, among the 27 PFs who played at least 500 minutes and had a usage rate of 20% or higher (I had Morris at 22.0% last season), Morris ranked 24th in offensive efficiency.
  • In the defense part of PPA, Morris rated slightly better than average last season. Not a good defender, but not terrible either.
  • Among those 81 PFs last season, Morris ranked 62nd in rebounds per 100 team possessions. This season, Morris ranks 49th among 66 PFs with at least 500 minutes.
  • While his work on the boards is a weakness, Morris could actually improve Washington’s rebounding by taking minutes from Jared Dudley. It was a bad idea for the team to rely so heavily on Dudley — a poor rebounder at SF — as the team’s PF. Dudley is the worst rebounding PF in the league. He trails second worst Luc Mbah a Moute by more than a rebound per 100 team possessions.
  • Morris has played badly this year. Some trade supporters have mentioned Morris averaging 20.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in the month of February. Two primary problems here — first: the “month” is five games so far, which is to say Small Sample Size Theater; and second: Morris has scored more by shooting more. His offensive rating in those five “good” games was a below-average 102 points per 100 possessions, and his rebound rate was below average. Overall, Morris posted a PPA of 86 in February. Better than the season average by a bunch, but still below the league average.
  • There’s a false narrative circulating that Morris saw his production drop last season (2014-15) after the Suns traded away their backcourt. His PPA was 147 15 games into the season. It bounced around in the 120-130 range, but trended down for the next 30 games. His PPA fell below 120 in the 48th game of the season — January 30 — and continued to decline from there. As of the last game BEFORE the trades, his PPA was just 103. With his new teammates the rest of the way, his PPA was 101. He finished the season with a PPA of 102.

markieff 2014-15 rolling ppa

Player Production Average (PPA) is a metric I developed in which 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.

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A First Look at the Wizards Trade for Morris

markieff

In a trade deadline deal, the Washington Wizards acquired power forward Markieff Morris from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for power forward Kris Humphries, forward/center DeJuan Blair, and a first round pick (protected through the top nine picks).

It’s a surprisingly high price to pay for a player who combines Morris’ lack of production with personality issues. It’s also a signal of the front office’s desperation to make the playoffs.

The issue, of course, is that first round pick. Humphries has been injured and below average this season; Blair apparently forgot how to play basketball when he arrived in DC.

What’s that pick going to be worth? Three or four years ago, I used PER to evaluate the expected value of draft picks. Picks 10-14 (where Washington’s pick is likely to fall when they miss the playoffs) have an average four-year PER of 14.5. Morris’ career PER: 14.8. In PER, average is 15.

According to PER, Morris’ peak (so far) was an 18.4 coming off the bench in 2013-14. He followed that up with a 15.8 last season, and an 11.1 this year. So hey, crummy players and a pick who might turn out to be average for a guy who’s been average and had some personal problems this year. Not bad, right?

Well, in my analysis Morris hasn’t been that good. According to Player Production Average (PPA), the metric I developed, Morris has a well-below average 79 (in PPA, average is 100, higher is better, and replacement level is 45). Here’s his year-by-year PPA scores:

  • 2011-12 — 52
  • 2012-13 — 70
  • 2013-14 — 97
  • 2014-15 — 102
  • 2015-16 — 27

What’s behind the difference between PPA and PER? Three key items:

  1. PER rewards players for taking more shots so long as they make about 28% of them; PPA does not.
  2. PPA accounts for defense; PER does not.
  3. PPA includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition faced; PER does not.

What to like about the trade? Morris isn’t old — at 26, he should be entering his prime years. And he’s signed at a flat $8 million per year for the next three seasons after this one. With the cap expected to rise $40 million over the next two seasons, that salary could end up being a relative bargain even with meh production.

What kind of player are the Wizards getting? I ran Morris’ best year (2014-15) through my statistical doppelganger machine — just waving away his crummy play this year. The machine kicked out names like Lamond Murray, Keith Van Horn, Tim Thomas, Morris Peterson, Al Harrington, and Thaddeus Young, with repeat seasons from Thomas and Harrington.

Bucks fans probably remember Grunfeld trading for Thomas, and then awarding him a massive contract — despite thoroughly pedestrian play from Thomas.

Best case scenario, the Wizards get the Morris of 2014-15. He was inefficient on offense and was basically average in the non-scoring part of his game, but he’ll at least be as good as Jared Dudley overall.

Quick addendum: I used PPA to project the Wizards record over their final 31 games assuming they’d get the Morris from 2014-15. That’s a PPA of 102, and represents the best he’s played over a sustained stretch.

For the projection, I assumed perfect health (no one misses any games for any reason), and the following nine-man rotation:

  • Wall 36 mpg
  • Beal 33
  • Porter 32
  • Gortat 32
  • Morris 32
  • Dudley 28
  • Nenê 16
  • Sessions 15
  • Temple 12

After a bit of math, my PPA Wins Projection Machine says Washington will go 16-15 over its final 31 games. That would leave the team with a 39-43 record, and a likely ninth or tenth place finish. Odds are: Phoenix would get the pick in this year’s draft.

Reality vs. the Wizards

The Wizards are not going to make the playoffs this year. They’re not quite as good as they’ve been the past couple years, which is to say they’re a bit worse than mediocre.

Wizards fans — and perhaps the Wizards themselves — are hanging their dreams of postseason participation on some fragile hooks:

  1. the schedule gets easier, and
  2. key Wizards players have returned from injury.

Neither factor holds as much promise for the Wizards as adherents might imagine. The schedule does get easier, but the Wizards are five games below .500 because they’ve played below average basketball through their first 51 games, not because the schedule was difficult.

Before the All-Star break, Washington’s opponents were 0.67 points per game better than average. That’s the approximate quality of a 43-win team over an 82-game schedule. Against this very slightly better than average level of competition, the Wizards got outscored by 2.7 points per game. Which means Washington performed about two points per game worse than average.

The schedule does get easier. Opponents the rest of the way have been a point per game worse than average the rest of the way — about the quality of a 38-win team over an 82-game schedule. In other words, the Wizards are going from playing the approximate quality of an eighth or ninth place team to playing opponents the approximate quality of a ninth or tenth place team.

There are a couple problems, though. First, the Wizards have been worse by a point per game than the aggregate of their remaining opponents. And second, 17 of their remaining games are on the road, and the post All-Star break sprint starts with three games in three nights.

Run the numbers on their remaining schedule, and at this point they’d be the favorite in 11 of their remaining 31 games. If you believe (as I do) the real quality of the team is about average, they’ll probably win between 14 and 17 games the rest of the way – meaning they’d finish with 37 to 40 wins, and would miss the playoffs.

So what about the injuries? The Wizards have indeed lost the NBA’s highest number of player games to injury so far this season. Unfortunately, the players who missed games weren’t the team’s major producers of wins, and their replacements did a reasonable job filling in.

Prior to the All-Star break, I used PPA to quantify how much injuries cost the team. That involved reapportioning minutes (taking playing time from Garrett Temple, Gary Neal and others, and assigning it to players who missed time like Bradley Beal, Nenê, and others). Based on the performance levels of the players involved, I estimate the team would have won two additional games with perfect health.

Two wins is a significant number, but it wouldn’t change the overall trajectory of the season. Washington would be 25-26 – closer to eighth in the East, but still in ninth or tenth place. Even with an easier schedule the rest of the way, the numbers in this “ideal health” scenario would project the Wizards to finish with 41 to 42 wins, and a likely ninth place finish.

Washington still has a theoretical chance to finish eighth. Chicago and Charlotte have suffered injuries — Jimmy Butler’s being far more damaging to the Bulls than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s to the Hornets. But, the eighth seed in the East is going to need a minimum of 42 wins, and to do even that well, the Wizards would need to transmogrify from playing like a 37-win team to playing like a 50-win team.

Here’s a simple table showing the task the Wizards have created for themselves. It’s not impossible for them to make the playoffs, but it is highly improbable. The W82 column shows the quality level the Wizards would need to reach the target wins. So, to reach 44 wins this season, they’d need to finish 21-10, which is the approximate level of a 56-win team over an 82-game schedule.

TARGET   NEED   W82
W L W L
44 38 21 10 56
43 39 20 11 53
42 40 19 12 50

Player Production Average

The ratings below are from 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 2/11/16 are here.

PLAYER GMS MPG 11/10 11/22 12/3 12/13 12/21 12/30 1/6 1/13 1/27 2/11
Marcin Gortat 45 31.2 91 112 128 133 132 138 147 145 148 151
John Wall 51 36.1 153 129 136 168 157 157 149 144 142 146
Otto Porter 44 31.0 144 158 104 116 107 115 122 127 130 130
Bradley Beal 30 31.8 128 108 96 87 87 86 85 86 98 108
Jared Dudley 50 28.9 36 92 90 85 98 103 100 105 99 104
Ramon Sessions 51 20.4 131 119 84 90 87 89 88 91 90 89
Jarell Eddie 14 5.6  –  –  –  –  – 153 119 113 110 86
Nene Hilario 28 18.8 58 90 80 74 79 78 79 88 92 84
Kris Humphries 28 16.6 90 121 95 80 78 76 79 79 78 76
Gary Neal 40 20.2 23 49 64 75 78 74 75 78 71 70
Garrett Temple 49 25.6 38 106 57 54 70 63 68 79 79 69
Drew Gooden 22 12.4 99 51 57 56 56 56 38 47 34 31
Kelly Oubre 43 11.9 -103 -4 -40 -44 9 37 43 39 36 29
DeJuan Blair 29 7.5 -345 -129 -112 -45 -34 -38 -38 -28 -6 -15
Ryan Hollins 5 9.6  –  – -40 60 59  –  –  –  –  –

Beal has returned from injury playing well. Wall, Gortat and Porter continue to lead the team in production. The numbers indicate the Wizards actually have some decent professional players. What they lack is an elite producer. More on that coming tomorrow.