The Beginning of Wisdom (Washington Wizards Take 2)

Posted on 09/14/2010 by

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“The only real wisdom is knowing you know nothing” -Socrates

One of the fun things about having a blog is that I get to make strong statements about the opinions I form through analysis. A question or an idea comes into my mind and I go off to take a look at the data and see if there’s something there. Sometimes like Athena from the mind of Zeus the idea comes fully formed and doesn’t require much beyond making some tables and pulling some quips together (like the Half Baked Notion). Sometimes the process is not so easy. My last post belongs to the first category.

While looking at the data for all the teams in the NBA for the various post I’ve written on this site (like the draft analysis or the NBA playoff team review series) an idea struck me and stuck with me. The Washington Wizards in 2011 project to have a historically bad frontcourt. Given my feelings on the short supply of tall people this led me to the idea that the Wizards could have a historically bad season in 2011. To summarize from that post:

Big Men (F/C) are on average more productive than everyone else . They in fact account for 50% of all productivity.  This makes it harder for a center to be better than the average and thus accumulate wins in our model but this is not out of step with the reality of the situation.  Teams also have a lot more at risk with their big men. It’s also much easier for a team to accumulate negative value at center and power forward because there is much more at risk. So a bad point guard performance will hurt your team, but a bad center will ruin your team. This is why you need at least an average big man to be successful in the NBA. Much like with your typical fantasy football team and the running back position, you need at least to break even at that center or you’re in for a long season.

In table form it looks like this:

So as I typically do, I took off to the excel cave, looked at all the data and wrote a midnight post on the subject (Could the Wizards in 2011 be the Worst NBA Team of all time?). I then went to bed happy with my conclusions and figuring I could proof the article in the morning (after all not a lot of traffic overnight on my blog :-) )

So imagine my surprise when I woke up on sunday and I had a traffic spike. Imagine the scene:

While having some cream of wheat and listening to the football pre-game show, I see a web-address I don’t recognize redirecting traffic to my blog. So I go there. After I stopped choking on my breakfast,  I realize I’m reading the blog of the owner of the Wizards (Ted Leonsis).

“Wow”  I think while cleaning my cream of wheat from my laptop monitor, “People in the NBA are reading my stuff”

Now, in my own life I get paid to tell hard truths. I’m not a yes man and this has gotten me in trouble more than once. I’m the guy you call when your business or manufacturing site is in a bad way to tell you how bad it is and to turn it around quickly. It’s a seller’s market. I go in, I evaluate, I come up with a plan and I tell you what’s what no sugarcoating. It’s up to the client to decide what they want to do with the information. But as with anything, when bearing bad news there’s always the possibility of blowback. In those cases, keeping in mind the wise words of Socrates I’m willing to admit the possibility of being wrong , go off and rerun/expand my analysis to confirm or refute  my findings . This is such a case.

The first thing I looked at is who the Wizards were in 2011:

The Wizards had 24 players on the court in the 2009-2010 season who produced 29.16 Wins (and won 26 games).  Only six of these players remain on the roster and they produced 2.85 wins in 2009-2010 season. So they lost 26.31 wins to players departures, who did they replace them with? The following table show the veteran players on the Wizards roster and their production in the 2010 season:

The veteran players on the wizards roster produced 4.33 wins in the 2009-2010 season in 13280 minutes played (or about 67% of the 19680 minutes required for an 82 game season with no overtime). Prorated to a full season this is about 6.41 wins.  This does not look promising for the Wizards so far. Their fans have argued that:

  • 2010 is too limited of a sample size given some of the player injuries and ages
  • Arenas will be much better in 2010
  • The rookies  will carry the day
Let look at each one:
The numbers do not change dramatically for this group of players over the last three years. On average they produced 3.6 wins a season. If I look a little deeper and include my minute projections for next year:
Note that if every player on the roster matches their best year of the last three they’ll produce 16.4 wins, if they perform at their average rate they’ll produce 8.6 wins and at their worst they’ll produce -4.6 wins. The first and last scenario are not terribly likely (think spontaneous combustion or ball lightning).  So 8.6 wins is a reasonable prediction here.The caveat here is that Josh Howard had ankle and wrist surgery in 2009, ACL surgery in 2010 and is 30 and the bulk of his minutes could go to the volcanic black hole of basketball that are Yi Jianlian and Al Thorton. If these two get another 1000 minutes from Howard and Howard plays like 2010? the number of wins goes to around 2 wins produced by this group. So still, not a lot of cause for optimism there.
Let’s look at Arenas now. His numbers for the past five years look like:

  • 2006: 3384 MP     Age 24 WP48 .158 ADJP48 .295 Wins 11.14
  • 2007: 2942 MP     Age 25 WP48 .170 ADJP48 .313 Wins 10.42
  • 2008: 425 MP        Age 26 WP48 .066 ADJP48 .232 Wins .58
  • 2009: 63 MP           Age 27 WP48 .198 ADJP48 .366 Wins .26
  • 2010: 1169 MP       Age 28 WP48 .078 ADJP48 .237 Wins 1.9
The argument here is that he’s back and healthy and has something to prove and the 2011 Wizards will get the 2007 Arenas and not the 2010 version. Now as a fellow cuban-american, I have a soft spot in my heart for Arenas and would love this to be true but reality is a rough mistress. Gilbert will be a 29 years old coming off multiple knee surgeries  in the 2010-2011 season. At best, I think Gilbert might be good for 2000 minutes, a .120 WP48 and about 3.2 extra wins. But I’m already assuming Howard’s spontaneous rejuvenation in my analysis and while one might happen, to is unlikely (unless Marty McFly and a Delorean are prominently involved). The initial analysis  holds up so far but surely the rookies will get it done.
Rookies are notoriously hard to predict but luckily I have some data lying around.

So the majority of rookies fall between -.100 WP48 and .200. For PG, only 3 20 or under players have been better than .150 WP48 as rookies (Magic, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo) and based on the previous analysis of  PAWS40 and the fact that he’s not 6’9″  I feel comfortable saying Wall will not be as good as a rookie as any of those three players. So a handy dandy chart for the performance of the wizards rookies looks as follows:
So if Wall has an exceptional season and both rookie PFs are good the wizards might see 8.6 to 12.9 wins from their rookies.  Typical performance only gives them 4.3 additional wins.
So if we put it all the scenarios together:
So if absolutely everything breaks the Wizard way they’ll win more than 20 games and if everything goes poorly they won’t win a one. But these are extremely unlikely scenarios.  Based on everything I’ve seen here  I’d forecast this team from between 9 and 21 victories. So at the end of the day my initial analysis holds, the Washington Wizards in 2011 as currently built should expect to get worse and not better and this  may make them one of the worse teams records wise in NBA history (and with some bad luck quite possible the worst). As always, time will prove whether I am right or I am wrong.
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