Lebron James

The Surprising Problem for the Wizards

wall frustrated

One of The Official Narratives of the 2015-16 Washington Wizards season is that point guard John Wall is terrific, but is getting sideswiped by a substandard supporting cast. Last month, The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg lamented that, “The saddest thing here is that the Wizards might be in the process of sacrificing a year of John Wall’s prime.”

In Michael Lee’s excellent article at Yahoo!, Wall echoed Steinberg, saying: “I ain’t trying to waste a season.

Adam McGinnis and I touched on the subject during our podcast last week.

Alas, as is the case with many Official Narratives, there are problems.

  1. On a per-possession basis, Wall isn’t Washington’s most productive player. That honor goes to center Marcin Gortat. Because Wall plays five more minutes per game than Gortat, Wall leads the team in total production.
  2. Wall is not an elite player.
  3. The overall production difference between Wall (Washington’s top producer) and Gortat (second in total production) has been vastly overstated.
  4. The quality of Wall’s “supporting cast” isn’t bad.

Wall’s PPA (see below) is 148 this year. Among players with at least 500 minutes this season, he ranks 54th. Among point guards, he ranks 11th. Wall has had stretches of dominant play, but his performance continues to be plagued by the same bugaboos he’s had throughout his career: turnovers, poor shot selection and poor shooting. Gortat, by the way, ranks 29th in PPA.

Wall isn’t an elite player. For the past few seasons seasons (including this one, most of the year), he’s rated as a top 8-10 point guard and a top 40-50 player overall. That’s very good, but well short of the impact from elite point guards and elite players. He could be great — he was in December, for example. But his performance game-to-game is a mix of fantastic and horrible. Which averages out to very good, not elite.

The average PPA of top total producers for each team is 179 — 31 points better than Wall. Among those top 30 producers, Wall ranks 24th in per possession production — ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Nerlens Noel, Gordon Hayward, Tyson Chandler and Jordan Clarkson.

The average top producer has provided 22.0% of his team’s production. Wall is about average at 21.8%.

The average gap between a top producer and his team’s “number two” is about 4.5%. For Wall and Gortat, it’s 2.7%. Want a player who actually fits The Official Narrative? Try New Orleans where Anthony Davis has a PPA of 189, provides 26.3% of his team’s production, and (at 13.2%) sports the biggest drop to his team’s second most productive.

Since you’re wondering, the top five in total production shares:

  1. Stephen Curry, GSW — 29.6%
  2. Russell Westbrook, OKC — 26.7%
  3. James Harden, HOU — 26.4%
  4. Lebron James, CLE — 26.3%
  5. Anthony Davis, NOP — 26.3%

And, here’s the top five in drop-off to “number two”:

  1. Anthony Davis, NOP — 13.2%
  2. Stephen Curry, GSW — 12.7%
  3. James Harden, HOU — 8.5%
  4. Kawhi Leonard, SAS — 8.3%
  5. Kyle Lowry, TOR — 8.2%

Wall and the Wizards are 20th.

That’s all fine, you might be saying, but The Official Narrative isn’t necessarily that Wall’s “Robin” sucks, it’s that the roster lacks depth. That lack of depth means Wall has to carry a heavier load than other franchise leaders. Unfortunately, this is also wrong.

For this question, I calculated minutes-weighted PPA (mwPPA) for each team — after deducting the production of its top player. mwPPA provides a handy way of measuring the relative quality of each team’s roster.

The league average “supporting cast” posted an mwPPA of 92. The Wizards rank 14th so far this season with a 93. Since you were wondering, here’s the top five in supporting cast mwPPA:

  1. SAS — 124
  2. GSW — 121
  3. ATL — 107
  4. OKC — 105
  5. BOS — 104

So, to recap:

  • Wall isn’t elite.
  • The gap between Wall’s total production and Gortat’s is smaller than average for a number one to a number two.
  • The Wizards “supporting cast” is mediocre, not terrible.

The real problem for the Wizards is in that first bullet. Their problem: they don’t have an elite player.

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 3/14/16 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 3/1 3/14
Marcin Gortat 60 30.2 91 112 128 133 132 138 147 145 148 151 172 169
John Wall 66 35.9 153 129 136 168 157 157 149 144 142 146 153 148
Otto Porter 59 30.1 144 158 104 116 107 115 122 127 130 130 134 126
Jared Dudley 65 27.7 36 92 90 85 98 103 100 105 99 104 106 98
J.J. Hickson 6 7.5  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  – -14 96
Bradley Beal 42 30.6 128 108 96 87 87 86 85 86 98 108 94 94
Nene Hilario 42 18.8 58 90 80 74 79 78 79 88 92 84 86 90
Alan Anderson 8 14.0  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  – 97 90
Ramon Sessions 66 20.3 131 119 84 90 87 89 88 91 90 89 88 85
Markieff Morris 14 26.0  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  – 41 58
Garrett Temple 64 25.4 38 106 57 54 70 63 68 79 79 69 59 56
Jarell Eddie 21 4.7  –  –  –  –  – 153 119 113 110 86 68 51
Kelly Oubre 53 10.7 -103 -4 -40 -44 9 37 43 39 36 29 22 25
Drew Gooden 28 10.6 99 51 57 56 56 56 38 47 34 31 26 22
Marcus Thornton 3 15.0  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  – -6
Ryan Hollins 5 9.6  –  – -40 60 59  –  –  –  –  –  –  –
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 69  69
DeJuan Blair 29 7.5 -345 -129 -112 -45 -34 -38 -38 -28 -6 -15  –  –

Wizards Update: All-Star Edition

Wall all star

All-Star rosters will be released tonight, and while Wizards point guard John Wall will likely be selected, he’s borderline at best, and wouldn’t make the team if I was making the picks. I’ve looked at the numbers several different ways — total production, per game production, per minute production — and Wall remains just on the fringes of the All-Star roster.

This is in no small part because of the fan vote, which picked the starters in each conference. In the East,  at least according to my analysis, Dwyane Wade, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are undeserving of All-Star status — even as reserves. This pushes all guards down one spot, and all front-court players down two. In my analysis, the next guard up for the East: John Wall. The next front-court guys: Greg Monroe and Al Horford.

In the West, the only poor choice was Kobe Bryant, who received a career achievement honorific. The next deserving front-court player was Blake Griffin, whose injury would have pushed to next man up Dwight Howard.

Here’s the way Player Production Average (my metric, see below) would divvy up the teams:

POS EAST WEST
G Kyle Lowry Stephen Curry
G Dwyane Wade Russell Westbrook
F Lebron James Kobe Bryant
F Paul George Kevin Durant
F Carmelo Anthony Kawhi Leonard
G Jimmy Butler Chris Paul
G Kemba Walker James Harden
F Paul Millsap Draymond Green
F Hassan Whiteside Anthony Davis
F Andre Drummond DeAndre Jordan
G Isaiah Thomas Damian Lillard
F Chris Bosh Derrick Favors

My guess is that Wall will probably be chosen over Walker and that Horford will make it over Whiteside. In the West, I’d anticipate Thompson over Lillard and Howard or Demarcus Cousins over Favors.

Those Mediocre Wizards

Talk about the Wizards potentially becoming trade deadline “sellers” inspired me to apply my “Real Trade Value” toy in an all-new way to measure the team’s pervasive mediocrity.

I haven’t written much about Real Trade Value, which is still a work-in-progress. RTV attempts to determine the trade value of each player in relation to the league’s MVP. In RTV, there’s accounting for age (younger players get a bonus; older players get a deduction), and total production and per minute production are given equal weight. So, RTV “likes” players who are young, productive and durable.

There’s no accounting (yet) for contract or position.

In RTV, the top value (this year it’s Stephen Curry) is set at 1,000. Other players are scaled beneath. The idea is similar to the NFL draft pick value sheet. A theoretical trade for Curry would cost 1,000 RTV points. Here are the players closest to each 100-point mark:

  • 1,000 — Stephen Curry
  • 900 — Kawhi Leonard
  • 800 — no one (here’s how outlandish Curry and Leonard have been: Curry’s RTV is 1,000; Leonard’s is 878; next closest is Westbrook at 721)
  • 700 — Russell Westbrook, Andre Drummond, Kevin Durant, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis
  • 600 — Greg Monroe, Hassan Whiteside
  • 500 — Al Horford, Kevin Love, Derrick Favors, Paul George, Clint Capela, Chris Bosh
  • 400 — Zaza Pachulia, Mike Conley, C.J. McCollum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Enes Kanter
  • 300 — Ryan Anderson, Bismack Biyombo, T.J. McConnell, Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague
  • 200 — Trevor Booker, Kyle Anderson, Frank Kaminsky, Jeremy Lin, Ramon Sessions
  • 100 — Mike Muscala, Jamal Crawford, E’Twaun Moore, Jameer Nelson, Kevin Martin
  • 0 — Vince Carter, Sasah Vujacic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Markieff Morris

Got all that? There’ll be a quiz later.

In terms of actual trade value, contracts and position almost certainly need to be included. But, for looking at franchise health — weighing productivity and health vs. age — it works reasonably well.

Here’s a table with the results, sorted by conference.

TEAM CONF NBA RANK CONF RANK FRANCHISE HEALTH INDEX
BOS E 5 1 77
ORL E 6 2 75
ATL E 7 3 74
TOR E 8 4 74
CLE E 10 5 71
MIL E 12 6 70
IND E 13 7 69
CHO E 14 8 69
WAS E 19 9 65
NYK E 20 10 65
DET E 21 11 64
MIA E 24 12 62
CHI E 25 13 62
PHI E 27 14 59
BRK E 28 15 59
GSW W 1 1 100
OKC W 2 2 89
SAS W 3 3 84
UTA W 4 4 78
NOP W 9 5 72
DEN W 11 6 70
HOU W 15 7 69
LAC W 16 8 69
POR W 17 9 68
MIN W 18 10 67
SAC W 22 11 63
PHO W 23 12 63
DAL W 26 13 61
MEM W 29 14 52
LAL W 30 15 52

The last column is a “franchise health” index where the top team (Golden State) is set at 100 and other teams are scaled below. The Wizards rank 19th overall and 9th in the East. League average “index” score is 69, indicating they rate a little below average.

IF this measure has any predictive value at the team level (and that’s a HUGE “if” because I’ve done precisely zero research on that question), the Wizards have significant work ahead of them to upgrade the roster.

Player Production Average

The ratings below are a 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 01/27/16 are here.

PLAYER GMS MPG 11/10 11/22 12/3 12/13 12/21 12/30 1/6 1/13 1/27
Marcin Gortat 37 31.7 91 112 128 133 132 138 147 145 148
John Wall 43 35.7 153 129 136 168 157 157 149 144 142
Otto Porter 36 32.1 144 158 104 116 107 115 122 127 130
Jarell Eddie 11 6.9  –  –  –  –  – 153 119 113 110
Jared Dudley 42 28.7 36 92 90 85 98 103 100 105 99
Bradley Beal 22 32.9 128 108 96 87 87 86 85 86 98
Nene Hilario 22 18.4 58 90 80 74 79 78 79 88 92
Ramon Sessions 43 21.2 131 119 84 90 87 89 88 91 90
Garrett Temple 41 24.7 38 106 57 54 70 63 68 79 79
Kris Humphries 27 17.1 90 121 95 80 78 76 79 79 78
Gary Neal 35 21.1 23 49 64 75 78 74 75 78 71
Kelly Oubre 36 13.4 -103 -4 -40 -44 9 37 43 39 36
Drew Gooden 14 13.8 99 51 57 56 56 56 38 47 34
DeJuan Blair 26 7.9 -345 -129 -112 -45 -34 -38 -38 -28 -6
Ryan Hollins 5 9.6  –  – -40 60 59  –  –  –  –

The numbers aren’t too encouraging. Wall has followed up his Player of the Month December with a thoroughly meh January. If the Wizards are going to get back in contention for a spot in the playoffs, they need something closer to the December Wall than they’ve been getting.

Should the Wizards Fire Randy Wittman?

USP NBA: WASHINGTON WIZARDS AT DETROIT PISTONS S BKN USA MI

I was all set to write a piece arguing that it would be pointless to fire Randy Wittman. Yeah, he’s not a good coach, but in my view the team is performing about as I expected. The Wizards are neither good nor bad. They’re mediocre. Or, looked at another way, the Wizards are BOTH good and bad. Which is merely another way of saying the same thing: this is an average team.

They are what their talent says they are. I don’t believe that any coach could come in and transmogrify this roster into a…well…what exactly? a contender for the third seed? Blech.

What would “fix” the Wizards? Fewer two-point jumpers? More screen/roll with John Wall and Marcin Gortat? Better defined roles? A rotation that somehow includes developmental minutes for Otto Porter? A more solid defensive scheme? More consistent effort? Sure, any or all.

Some of that could be influenced by the coach, some not. My position has been that Wittman is a problem, not The Problem. And, “The Problem” is that the team doesn’t have enough talent, which is a result of a series of bad decisions by the front office. My thinking has been this: Don’t let Ernie Grunfeld off the hook. Make him live with the success or failure of the team he assembled — players AND coaches.

Except, let’s look at reality. Owner Ted Leonsis set the franchise goal for the season: Make the playoffs. In very large part because of a historically weak Eastern Conference, the Wizards will almost certainly accomplish that goal. While they’d be roughly the 11th best team in the West, they’re 5th or 6th best in the East. It would take a catastrophic collapse over their final 29 games to miss the postseason.

Assuming Leonsis is a man of his word, Grunfeld will be retained in the offseason. It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Washington makes the playoffs and Leonsis doesn’t bring back Grunfeld and The Coach.

I use “The Coach” intentionally, because the question for Wizards fans is whether you want to root for a team that’s stuck with Grunfeld and Wittman or a team that’s stuck with Grunfeld and Someone Else. My feeling is that Someone Else — whether it’s an interim coach who’s replaced by a “permanent” hire after the season or whether it’s an interim coach who “succeeds” and keeps the job — will be a better long-term option for the Wizards than Wittman.

So, even though Wittman has been saddled with a roster that doesn’t include a single player that ranks among the league’s 40 most productive players (Trevor Ariza is the highest rated Wizards player at 44), count me among the fans who’d like to see a new coach. Now.

Moving on to the update…  The table below presents results from my Player Production Average (PPA) metric. PPA credits players for things that contribute to winning and debits them for things that don’t — each in proper proportion. PPA is pace adjusted, accounts for defense and includes a degree of difficulty factor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and 45 = replacement level.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
Trevor Ariza 48 35.8 152 148
John Wall 53 37.1 149 140
Marcin Gortat 53 32.4 139 139
Trevor Booker 43 20.2 125 118
Nene Hilario 46 30.3 103 103
Martell Webster 51 29.1 94 91
Bradley Beal 44 33.2 86 90
Jan Vesely 32 14.7 72 69
Chris Singleton 14 10.6 60 60
Kevin Seraphin 40 11.8 32 44
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 21
Garrett Temple 51 11.5 13 20
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 8 8
Al Harrington 7 18.6 6 6
Otto Porter 23 9.3 4 -4

When looking at these numbers, keep in mind that PPA scores in the 140-150 range (like Ariza and Wall) are nowhere near elite levels of production. A typical MVP-quality season would have a PPA of 230 or better. This season’s MVP is likely to be Kevin Durant with a PPA of 261 (so far). Last season, Lebr0n James posted the best PPA in my database with a 284.

Wall had a feel-good All-Star weekend winning the dunk contest and playing well in the game. But, if he played in the West, he wouldn’t have been part of the All-Star discussion. He continues to have All-World potential, but his actual production is good — not great.

Biggest improvers in this update were Kevin Seraphin and Garrett Temple. Seraphin is now at replacement level. Temple continues to be among the league’s weakest PGs, but is at least a little less bad than he’d been.

Wall’s performance slumped leading into the All-Star break. Perhaps he was distracted by the coming festivities? Nenê’s production continues to hover around league average. Martell Webster’s play declined for a sixth consecutive update.

Era Translations: Oscar Robertson and Lebron James

When people try to compare players across eras in the NBA, they inevitably run up against the reality that the game has changed in fundamental ways. At the most basic level, teams shoot a lot less — but at a better percentage than they did in the 1960s.

In 1961-62, Wilt Chamberlain famously averaged 50 points and 25 rebounds for an entire season, but in a league that averaged 8619 field goal attempts per team. Last season, the league averaged 6660 FGA per team — about 23% fewer shot attempts. In 61-62, the league shot 42.9% from the floor. In 10-11, the league shot 45.9%.

That means an extra 600+ missed shots available for rebound in Wilt’s era. Another 600+ assist opportunities (although assists were awarded less liberally back then).

So, do we just give up? Do we trot out the old, “You just can’t compare eras…” trope?

No.

Definitely no. 

Positively no.

Decidedly no.

Nuh-uh.

Inspired by a question from my son, I dusted off my era translator spreadsheet and took a look at Oscar Robertson and Lebron James. My method is simple (at least I think so). It looks at a player’s share of his own team’s production and then applies that share to a hypothetical team’s production — in a different era. I swear it’s simpler than it sounds.

Let’s take Oscar Robertson’s monster 1961-62 season. This is the year the Big O averaged a triple-double for the year — 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game. Another way of looking at those numbers is to say that Robertson scored 25% of his team’s points, grabbed 17% of his team’s rebounds, and dealt 42% of his team’s assists.

Apply those percentages to the average team in the 2011-12 NBA, and we get per game averages of 24.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists. Not a triple-double, but still a monster player — a Lebron James-esque figure in today’s NBA.

So, what happens if we go the other direction and translate Lebron’s stats to Oscar Robertson’s team in 1961-62?

This year for Miami, Lebron has scored 26% of the points, grabbed 18% of the rebounds, and delivered 31% of the assists. Translation: 32.7 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists in Oscar’s era.

And there you have it — players compared across eras. Not by comparing skills or imagining what Lebron would be like if he was transported via time machine back to 1961, or what Robertson would be like if he’d been born in 1984 like Lebron. Instead, look at each player’s relative contributions to his own team and compare their relative dominance over the players of each player’s own era. Those impacts can be compared.

And in that comparison we can see that Lebron has an Oscar-like impact on today’s game. Kinda cool if you ask me.