Similarity Scores

Wizards Doppelgangers: The Ancients

nene fights

In the classic mode of a franchise finished with rebuilding, and ready to repeat their overwhelming success of the previous season, the Washington Wizards went out this offseason and got older. Yes, I’m sure they’d much prefer if we all thought of it as adding “veterans,” and that’s a fine way of looking at it, if you like.

Understand, I’m not against “veterans,” I’m just aware of the reality that athletes over 30 years old typically do two things: get hurt and get worse. Hopefully, Father Time will give the Wizards a reprieve until the summer of 2016 when Kevin Durant is a free agent.

It could happen.

Last week, I ran the Wizards young backcourt (John Wall and Bradley Beal) through my statistical doppelganger machine. Today, let’s look at the oldsters Washington has added in recent years: Nenê, Marcin Gortat, Paul Pierce, Andre Miller, Drew Gooden and Rasual Butler. (Please take a look back at that link above for notes about the method.)

PLAYER POS SEASON AGE TEAM SIM SCORE PPA SEASON PPA PEAK
Nenê PF 2013-14 31 WAS 100 102 176
Danny Manning PF 1996-97 30 PHO 90 107 157
Clifford Robinson PF 1997-98 31 PHO 90 131 143
Ruben Patterson SF 2006-07 31 MIL 89 126 165
Mickey Johnson PF 1983-84 31 GSW 88 83 145
Elton Brand PF 2009-10 30 PHI 87 100 224
Christian Laettner PF 1997-98 28 ATL 87 127 146
Jermaine O’Neal C 2008-09 30 TOR/MIA 87 93 166
Matt Harpring SF 2005-06 29 UTA 87 105 161
Frank Brickowski C 1992-93 33 MIL 87 117 123
Antoine Carr PF 1992-93 31 SAS 87 106 109

The good news is that these doppelgangers were pretty good players. Nenê had the second highest peak PPA behind Elton Brand’s 224. He also peaked about a year later than the average for this group. Frank Brickowski and Clifford Robinson each peaked past 30.

But, Nenê’s production has slipped the past couple years, as has his availability, and there isn’t much reason to think he’ll regain something close to that peak performance. His comps offer an ideal optimist vs. pessimist test: five of his ten most similar players performed better the following season, give performed worse.

PLAYER POS SEASON AGE TEAM SIM SCORE PPA SEASON PPA PEAK
Marcin Gortat C 2013-14 29 WAS 100 154 186
Bill Laimbeer C 1986-87 29 DET 93 154 175
Mike Gminski C 1989-90 30 PHI 90 129 170
Bill Laimbeer C 1988-89 31 DET 90 144 175
Dave Robisch C 1979-80 30 CLE 90 132 132
P.J. Brown PF 1998-99 29 MIA 89 127 150
Bill Laimbeer C 1985-86 28 DET 89 156 175
Billy Paultz C 1977-78 29 SAS 89 164 164
Tom Gugliotta PF 1999-00 30 PHO 89 147 176
Maurice Lucas PF 1981-82 29 NYK 89 149 149
Luis Scola PF 2008-09 28 HOU 88 143 143

Obviously, Gortat isn’t really an “ancient.” He’s just 30 years old, he’s played relatively few minutes for a player his age, and he’s a fitness fanatic. But, eight of the ten most similar seasons to the one Gortat posted last year were followed by a less productive season.

If I throw out the two least similar seasons from Laimbeer, each of the 10 seasons most similar to Gortat last season were followed by a season that was less productive. Bright side here: it’s not like these comps became catastrophic failures. In general, they remained productive…just not quite as good.

PLAYER POS SEASON AGE TEAM SIM SCORE PPA SEASON PPA PEAK
Paul Pierce SF 2013-14 36 BRK 100 131 173
Toni Kukoc PF 2002-03 34 MIL 85 113 164
Vince Carter SF 2012-13 36 DAL 84 107 200
Chris Mullin* SF 1997-98 34 IND 84 156 182
Sam Perkins PF 1996-97 35 SEA 84 119 147
Bob Lanier* C 1983-84 35 MIL 83 152 138
Chris Mullin* SF 1998-99 35 IND 83 168 182
Sam Perkins PF 1994-95 33 SEA 83 132 147
Sam Perkins PF 1995-96 34 SEA 82 114 147
Chucky Atkins PG 2006-07 32 MEM 82 111 111
Terry Porter PG 1998-99 35 MIA 82 114 211

Gotta say that Pierce’s set of doppelgangers may be the weirdest assemblage of players I’ve gotten from The Machine. I think the challenge here is that not very many players even last to age 36 (plus), so the pool is shallow. Note that Pierce’s most similar player has a Sim Score lower than the 10th most similar for Wall, Beal, Nenê and Gortat. In other words, the list above are kinda similar, but not super close.

Overall, this is a terrific group of players that tended to peak young (around age 25-26 — Pierce peaked at 24), but had long-lasting careers. As would be expected for a group of mid-30s athletes, most declined the following season. However, most remained decent players for another year or two.

PLAYER POS SEASON AGE TEAM SIM SCORE PPA SEASON PPA PEAK
Andre Miller SG 2013-14 37 TOT 100 89 172
Rod Strickland PG 2003-04 37 ORL/TOR 90 81 176
Terry Porter SF 2001-02 38 SAS 88 87 211
Mark Jackson PG 2002-03 37 UTA 86 66 181
Don Buse PG 1983-84 33 KCK 86 96 148
Toni Kukoc SF 2004-05 36 MIL 85 84 164
Muggsy Bogues PG 1998-99 34 GSW 85 111 153
Maurice Cheeks PG 1992-93 36 NJN 85 89 180
Rod Strickland PG 2002-03 36 MIN 85 95 176
Gary Grant PG 1997-98 32 POR 84 108 115
Rickey Green PG 1991-92 37 BOS 84 57 157

Miller’s comps are an interesting assemblage of good-to-great players. I was surprised to see Muggsy Bogues make the list, primarily because I’d forgotten the 5-3 Bogues played so many seasons. Just about everyone on this list had a good career, but…as should be expected for a group this old — all 10 either declined or were out of the league completely the following season.

PLAYER POS SEASON AGE TEAM SIM SCORE PPA SEASON PPA PEAK
Drew Gooden C 2013-14 32 WAS 100 106 169
Nazr Mohammed C 2010-11 33 CHA/OKC 86 98 150
Chris Wilcox PF 2010-11 28 DET 86 121 165
Antonio McDyess PF 2006-07 32 DET 86 115 175
Joe Smith PF 2005-06 30 MIL 85 89 143
Nazr Mohammed C 2009-10 32 CHA 85 150 150
Antonio McDyess PF 2005-06 31 DET 85 91 175
Jermaine O’Neal C 2012-13 34 PHO 83 83 166
Chris Kaman C 2012-13 30 DAL 83 101 130
Frank Brickowski PF 1991-92 32 MIL 83 107 123
Chris Gatling PF 1995-96 28 GSW 83 82 131

For Gooden, I wonder whether these comps are particularly meaningful given that he was signed late in the season and played in fairly few games. This group basically split between those who declined the following season and those who got better. The net effect is that the group average was “about the same.” So, it could be a case of lather-rinse-repeat with Gooden this season — albeit with more total minutes.

PLAYER POS SEASON AGE TEAM SIM SCORE PPA SEASON PPA PEAK
Rasual Butler SG 2013-14 34 IND 100 63 89
Steve Kerr PG 1999-00 34 SAS 92 59 124
Jalen Rose SF 2006-07 34 PHO 89 72 117
Matt Bullard PF 1998-99 31 HOU 87 49 98
Jaren Jackson SG 2000-01 33 SAS 87 44 90
Anthony Bowie SG 1997-98 34 NYK 86 72 97
Eric Piatkowski SG 2004-05 34 CHI 86 79 121
Rashard Lewis PF 2012-13 33 MIA 85 60 165
Steve Kerr PG 2001-02 36 POR 85 64 124
Eric Piatkowski SF 2007-08 37 PHO 84 34 121
Eric Piatkowski SG 2005-06 35 CHI 84 16 121

Last up for today: the 15th man, Rasual Butler. You’ll notice this list is heavy on Eric Piatkowski, which isn’t exactly a great thing. Piatkowski hung around into his late 30s for some reason I don’t remember. Perhaps he had a contract that was being passed around. Perhaps he’s a really nice guy. There wasn’t much reason to keep him because of his on-court performance.

Otherwise, it’s mostly swingmen who peaked at the level of an average starter (Rashard Lewis excepted) and then declined. In limited minutes, Butler will probably play a little above replacement level this season. I’d have preferred this roster spot went to someone younger and with potential to improve.

Tomorrow: the rest of the roster.

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Wizards Doppelgangers: The Young Backcourt

wall and beal

At this point in NBA history, there aren’t many “original” players. Today’s players are like players who have come before — in production, if not look and style. “This guy reminds me of…” is a game scouts and fans play, often to the point of absurdity.

Following in the footsteps of basketball statistical analysts like MikeG and Kevin Pelton, I’ve created a Statistical Doppelganger machine of my own. The Machine compares players across 14 categories, including age, minutes, box score stats and my own overall rating metric Player Production Average (PPA). Then, it combines those differences and…voila…players with the smallest differences leap to the top of the list — similar production at similar age.

The Machine uses pace-adjusted per-minute stats, but does not consider attributes such as height, weight or position.

I’ll post results for Wizards players leading up to the season. These “most similar” lists ultimately work their way into my projection for the team’s record this season, which I’ll publish closer to the season opener.

First up through the Statistical Doppelganger Machine: PG John Wall.

PLAYER POS SEASON AGE TEAM SIM SCORE PPA SEASON PPA PEAK
John Wall PG 2013-14 23 WAS 100 139 139
Kemba Walker PG 2012-13 22 CHA 89 131 131
Tony Parker PG 2004-05 22 SAS 89 136 187
Steve Francis PG 1999-00 22 HOU 89 133 172
Baron Davis PG 2005-06 26 GSW 89 132 163
Kenny Anderson PG 1993-94 23 NJN 89 129 161
Stephon Marbury PG 1998-99 21 MIN 89 130 164
Isiah Thomas* PG 1987-88 26 DET 88 130 181
Brandon Roy SG 2007-08 23 POR 88 143 189
Robert Pack PG 1995-96 26 WSB 88 143 143
Kenny Anderson PG 1994-95 24 NJN 88 135 161

While Wall’s overall production the past two seasons was flat (he posted a PPA of 139 in both seasons), his statistical similars is a good group for the most part. The average peak PPA for this group is 163, with Brandon Roy and Tony Parker at the high end and Kemba Walker (who’s still extremely young himself) and Robert Pack at the low.

Note the presence of Hall of Fame PG Isiah Thomas, as well as several dynamic performers like Steve Francis, Baron Davis and Stephon Marbury. And keep in mind that while Marbury ended up as The Official Selfish Player of the NBA, he was a first-rate talent who was highly productive.

For those who might be worried by seeing the names of Kenny Anderson and Robert Pack, well…stop it. Anderson was a good player, but didn’t possess anything like Wall’s elite athleticism. Plus, Anderson’s performance drop-off wasn’t really until he’d reached his thirties — and more than 23,000 career minutes. Wall isn’t even halfway there yet.

Pack was a not bad player when he could stay healthy, which really didn’t happen once he became a starter. In his best season, he managed to appear in just 31 games. Wall played more games than that in his third season, when he missed the first 33 games with a stress injury in his knee. In his four-year career, Wall has played every possible game for the Wizards twice.

While I’m not giving away my projection for Wall (yet), these comps suggest good things. I expect Wall to improve this season, and to peak at an All-NBA level in the next few years.

Next up, Bradley Beal.

PLAYER POS SEASON AGE TEAM SIM SCORE PPA SEASON PPA PEAK
Bradley Beal SG 2013-14 20 WAS 100 96 96
Brandon Jennings PG 2010-11 21 MIL 90 108 140
Brandon Jennings PG 2009-10 20 MIL 89 95 140
Mike Miller SF 2001-02 21 ORL 89 106 140
O.J. Mayo G 2008-09 21 MEM 89 81 96
Jason Richardson SF 2002-03 22 GSW 88 91 157
Quentin Richardson SG 2003-04 23 LAC 88 97 123
Michael Finley SF 1996-97 23 DAL 88 94 138
Calbert Cheaney SG 1994-95 23 WSB 88 88 88
Jamal Crawford SG 2003-04 23 CHI 88 107 113
Dennis Scott SF 1992-93 24 ORL 87 89 141

While I’m a big believe in Beal, I was not thrilled by this group of similars. Brandon Jennings? Twice? Really? OJ Mayo? Calbert Cheaney? Blech.

If you want to throw out one of those seasons from Jennings, be my guest. Next on the list was Klay Thompson last season, Eric Gordon, and then a season from Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. None of whom significantly change the analysis.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this group, except…none of them are Ray Allen or James Harden, or players of that caliber.

For the most part, though, this isn’t a particularly impressive group. The average peak PPA is 128, which is about the level of an average starter. Only Jason Richardson from this list peaked at a level that typically earns a spot on the All-Star team. What’s kinda interesting is that there are “repeaters” on Beal’s rookie and second year lists.

Players showing up as similar in both seasons include:

  • Mike Miller
  • Jason Richardson
  • Dennis Scott
  • Michael Finley.

Again, not a bad group…just not as strong a list as I’d have hoped. Still, Beal is young and seems to have the work ethic to improve. My gut says his ceiling is higher than what the numbers are saying…but that could just be the fan talking.

Next up: The Old Bigs — Marcin Gortat and Nenê.