This is the first NBA draft in a while where there is only one realistic scenario that would make me less optimistic and happy about being a Wizards fan than I was going into the draft. Literally every other rumored scenario makes me at least a little happy and enthused. Unfortunately for me, and for Wizards fans everywhere, this scenario seems to be the most likely outcome for the sixth pick on Thursday night. What I’m talking about is if the Washington Wizards select Partizan combo forward Jan Vesely.
I say this because the focus of his scouting report by almost every source is all that is wrong with player evaluation in the NBA. The reason is his scouting report relies entirely on his perceived level of elite athleticism. Athleticism is fine, but only when it gets you something. There have been plenty of ridiculously athletic players through the years who give you nearly nothing on the court (See: Nick Young). There have also been plenty of not exceptionally athletic players that give you everything on the court (See: Kevin Love). Athleticism can help a player produce on the court but they must have basketball skills to go with that athleticism. I’m pretty sure Kevin Durant rated as one of the worst athletes in his draft, but man does he have skills. The question that Ty Willihnganz asked over at his blog The Courtside Analyst still needs answering, “When will people learn that athleticism wins track meets, basketball skills win basketball games?”
The top three traits Chad Ford has under Jan Vesely’s draft profile on ESPN are “Leaping,” “Size,” and “Motor.” All of these things are physical measurable’s. When we look at his statistics you see that he is a poor rebounder, terrible shooter (especially from the free throw line), he isn’t a passer. I just don’t see any real on the court production by Vesely. All I hear is that he gets minutes playing at a high level in Europe and has elite athleticism. None of this necessarily means anything on the court. You don’t get extra point for fancy dunks and highlight reel plays. At 21, he is also two years older than other options in Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas, Alec Burks, and Kawhi Leonard. Age should be taken into consideration, according to this study.
Who is my player comparison for Jan Vesely? Joe Alexander. That doesn’t excite me in any way. Joe’s an athletic freak, but he couldn’t actually play the game. His best case scenario is probably a Thad Young type.
P.S. I don’t always agree with John Hollinger but for whatever it’s worth his Player Rater agrees with me.
UPDATE: ESPN’s Chad Ford has reported that the Wizards may be trying to trade up with the Cavaliers (have also heard rumors about trading with the Jazz). If they manage to trade up and draft Enes Kanter I will be elated. It’ll be possibly my happiest Wizards fandom moment ever.
I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. The amount of Wizards fans that believe Andray Blatche is a good player astounds me. I don’t understand how anyone can watch a Wizards game and come to this conclusion. Just from watching the games you can see he’s a horrendous basketball player. He makes a mistake nearly every time he touches the ball. I think it’s self evident but I guess I have to provide conclusive evidence that Blatche has no business being a starting power forward in the NBA. This will be easy.
Now, how “good” someone is at some activity is relative. Andray Blatche is obviously a good basketball player relative to the average person. He would beat me pretty handily in a game of one on one. But if we’re talking about whether he is “good” in terms of being a starting power forward for the Washington Wizards then we should compare him to other starting power forwards. Unfortunately, the database I’m going to use for this write up (hoopdata.com) doesn’t allow me to organize players by games started. So my expanded definition is power forwards who are heavily depended on by their teams (20+ games played, 25+ minutes per game). I think this is reasonable and still will show my point that Blatche shouldn’t be considered good (better than average) relative to this group of players. Many times it’s easy to think of a player as good in the abstract sense because not everyone realizes just how many quality players there are in the NBA. Once you just see his name among his competition then I’m confident you’ll realize where he ranks, if not I’ve provided further evidence of his terrible production.
Here is the list of players Blatche is being compared to…
Al Harrington, Amare Stoudemire, Amir Johnson, Anderson Varejao, Antawn Jamison, Blake Griffin, Boris Diaw, Carl Landry, Carlos Boozer, Charlie Villanueva, Chris Bosh, David West, DeMarcus Cousins, Dirk Nowitzki, Elton Brand, Glen Davis, Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Kris Humphries, Lamar Odom, LaMarcus Aldridge, Luis Scola, Marcus Camby, Michael Beasley, Pau Gasol, Paul Millsap, Rashard Lewis, Serge Ibaka, Zach Randolph.
That’s 30 players who have played 25 minutes per game in 20 or more games this season. Including Andray Blatche we get to 31 players. There are 30 starting power forward spots in the NBA. This is a close enough approximation for me.
Is Andray Blatche above average for this group? An easy personal test is if you can find sixteen players on that list that you would trade Blatche for. If you can then he is by your own evaluation process (whatever that may be) a below average player. My whole point of this post is to prove to you he is a below average big man. So if you find yourself already realizing this then you really don’t need to read further. Of this list there are three, maybe four players I wouldn’t trade Blatche for. So in my personal eyeball rankings/opinion he’s around ~26th/31. If you threw in some Olive Garden bread sticks, cash and a few second round picks then he’s yours regardless of who you give me. But that’s just me. I’m pretty confident almost everyone’s eyeball rankings will have him below average even if they didn’t consider him that in the abstract sense before reading this.
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers. When we look at his true shooting percentage (This takes into account three’s and free throws. It demonstrates his ability to make the shots he takes, a really important part of winning a basketball game) his 47.9% ranks a horrendous 29th out of 31. The average true shooting percentage is 55.2%. Clearly, Blatche is far below average. This season is the lowest TS% Blatche has had since his rookie year. So you might be saying he’s just having a bad year. If we took his career best season (51.9%, last year) he is still far below average. So Dray isn’t “good” at making shots this season and has never once been above average (or even close to average) at this in his career. This is because he takes a lot of long jump shots and they very rarely go in. He is actually below average in FG% from all distances on the floor.
Making shots is a very important part of winning basketball but it’s not the only component. You also need to gain possession of the basketball and avoid losing possession. Otherwise known as rebounding, avoiding turnovers, and forcing turnovers. Blatche’s rebound rate of 13.4 ranks 21st/31, again significantly below average (average =14.9). Rebound rate is defined as the percentage of total rebounds grabbed by a player during his time on the court, just so you know. Blatche ranks 29th/31 in turnover rate, as in the third worst. His turnover rate is 12.99 (average = 10.32) so he is far below average. Turnover rate is defined as the percent of a players possessions that end in a turnover, just so you know. Forcing turnovers helps balance out this discrepancy. He is actually second best in the group in this department, so it helps a little but doesn’t bring him back to average here in terms of possession of the basketball.
He ranks 17th/31 in blocked shots per game, again below average. His assist rate (percentage of possessions used that end in an assist) is 23rd/31, way below average again. His PER is 14.22, ranking 26th/31 – way below average. His win score is also 26th/31 – way below average. His win shares per 48 minutes is a horrendously bad .025 (average is .100), again way way way below average.
I mean I could go on, the clearly evident theme here is that Andray Blatche is a far below average player across the board. He is not a good basketball player, there is simply no evidence to back that statement up. He has never really produced at a high level for an extended period of time in the past either. You might say he’s young and will improve but the soonest he can redeem himself is next season, he will be 25. At some point you have become the player you’re going to be and Blatche is close to that point, if not there already. I haven’t said much about his individual defense but I don’t think anyone actually believe’s he’s a good defender. The last thing to consider is that he has played the most minutes on the Wizards and therefore has had the most impact on their record, they are 13-32.
Give me evidence that suggests Andray Blatche is a good player, I beg you.
On my blog, when I attempt to describe the contributions of an NBA player, I use something called Wins Produced. It’s a metric developed by professor David Berri. It is derived from efficiency differential, a teams offensive efficiency minus its defensive efficiency. Efficiency differential is typically the best single statistic to go by when determining which team is the best. If you want to read more about Wins Produced, you should read this book.
Now, a lot of people don’t agree with this metric because it doesn’t always agree with popular perception. This is mainly because popular perception (and NBA salary) is almost entirely dependent on a players points per game. This is often regardless of how many shots it takes a player to earn these points. It is important to make the shots you take because there is a finite amount of possessions available in a game (In the case of the Wizards – 94.1 possessions per game). That is why there is a big disconnect between Wins Produced and popular perception, especially in regards to high volume scorers like Allen Iverson.
There is another reason, I think, for why people don’t like to talk individual players being “good” or “bad.” It is because regular NBA fans have trouble separating the performance of an individual player from the performance of his team (Ex: Kobe = 5 rings, LeBron = 0. Therefore Kobe > LeBron). Anyone can see, for the most part, which team is the best. They do this by looking at Win/Loss record and, to a lesser extent, efficiency differential. So there is a stat that is widely available and, more importantly, widely accepted tool for judging how good or bad a team is. This makes discussion of which team is the best much more common, and much more accurate than discussion on individual performance.
Unfortunately, there is not a widely accepted tool that is used to describe the ability of an individual player, independent of his team. While Wins Produced is not as widely accepted, cited, or used as John Hollingers PER, I think it is the best tool for determining an individual players worth. It measures players in “Wins produced” because winning is the definition of being productive in the NBA. It is accurate because it is derived from efficiency differential (offensive minus defensive efficiency), which is the best tool for explaining wins and the strength of a team.
I think I would do better explaining Wins Produced in general terms than from an individual player perspective, at least right now.
In WP, players are judged relative to the average at their position. The average player has a Wins Produced per 48 minutes of .100. Why is this? Let’s start with the average team. Every team plays 82 games over the course of an NBA regular season. A perfectly average team wins 50% of the time, or 41 games. In other words, an average team earns (or produces) a half a win or .5 wins every game they play. During each game an NBA team plays 5 players at a time. There are 5 positions – PG, SG, SF, PF, and C. Therefore you do the math of .5 wins divided by 5 positions and you get .100. So, as you can see, the average player produces .100 wins per 48 minutes (an NBA game is 48 minutes long).
Now that it has been established, indisputably, that an average NBA player produces .100 wins per 48 minutes (because an average team produces .500), I think it is necessary to note another aspect of explaining wins of an NBA team called The Pareto Principle.
“Pareto’s contribution to economics, as the History of Economic Thought website indicates, extends beyond the concept of Pareto Optimality. But despite all he did for economics, Pareto is perhaps best known for the Pareto Principle, a concept rarely discussed in economics (at least not in my classes). Pareto observed that 80% of the income in Italy came from 20% of the population.This observation led to a general rule of thumb: 80% of outcomes come from 20% of the people. So for businesses, 80% of sales come from 20% of clients, or 80% of your problems come from 20% of your workers, etc…
Although outside of economics the Pareto Principle seems fairly popular, I have always thought the 80-20 rule was far too simplistic. And yet, much to my surprise, it seems to apply to the NBA. In 2006-07 there were 1,230 regular season wins. When we look at Wins Produced, we see that 80% of these 1,230 victories were produced by 22.4% of the players.
Looking at a larger sample, since 1990-91 there have been 18,355 regular season wins in the NBA. Across these 16 seasons there have been on average 431 players per season, or 6,907 player observations across the entire time period.When we look at the data we see that 1,507 player observations, or 21.4% of all players, produced 80% of all victories. So it’s not quite 80-20, but it seems close enough to me.” – David Berri referring to the work of Vilfredo Pareto.
The Pareto Principle states that, on average, just 20% of NBA players are responsible for 80% of team wins. This makes intuitive sense when thinking of how important players like LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard are to their teams. 20% of an NBA team (with a roster of 15 players) is 3 players. So, typically, 80% of a teams wins are generally due to their top 3ish players.
Wins Produced and The Washington Wizards
Let me put what I explained in terms of my team – The Washington Wizards. The Wizards ended the season with a record of 26 wins 56 losses. Their team produced 28.4 wins, so they were slightly better than their record suggested. This is because Wins Produced matches up with efficiency differential which doesn’t always match up exactly with the wins/loss record. Because efficiency differential is a better predictor of how good a team is, I will go with the 28 wins.
So the Washington Wizards were as good as a 28 win team. The teams winning percentage is 34%. That means during an average game the Wizards, as a team, produced .34 wins. If you take .34 and divide it by 5 (the number of players on the floor) you get .068. The average Wizards player had a Wins Produced Per 48 minutes (WP48) of .068. This mark is significantly below average, just like the team. I’d like to think that idea makes intuitive sense to most people – If you are a below average team, you employ below average players.
Going back the The Pareto Principle – we find that the Wizards top 4 players were responsible for 80% of the teams wins. The top 4 players were Mike Miller (.219 WP48 / 8.24 Wins), Brendan Haywood (.200 / 6.73), Antawn Jamison (.103 / 3.42), and Caron Butler (.79 / 3.05 wins). Together they combined to produce 21.44 wins. Their average WP48 between the four of them was .150. That means the rest of the team produced an amazing total of 6.95 wins. Their average WP48 was .026. If the team had just employed these remaining players all of last season their winning percentage would have been about 13%, totaling around 10.55 wins. None of the Wizards top 4 producers will be returning next season. Even if you don’t trust wins produced, those four players are generally considered by everyone’s “eyeball” tests as being the best on the team this past season. We know the players left are not as productive as the ones that are gone. This would mean that the team most likely will not be better than last season. The team did add some players (Arenas, Wall, Hinrich, Booker, Yi, Seraphin) but they will most likely not out perform what the top four players did last season. Therefore, they should win more than 11 games but less than 26. I’ll go optimistic, split it down the middle, and predict 18 wins right now.
Summary: The Wizards were a far below average team last season. Therefore, the typical Washington Wizards player was below average. The Wizards will not bring back their four best players. Therefore the team leftover (and the players that said team is composed of), not only have to be below average, but far below average. Otherwise, they would have won more games last season. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to make the claim that the players the Wizards retained from last season (Nick Young, JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, and Al Thornton) are good (above average) players. Knowing what we knew about how the team performed last season (26 wins) and the previous season (19 wins), they almost necessarily have to be considered very bad. I know many Wizards fans who have convinced themselves that Blatche, McGee, and/or Nick Young are relatively good players but (based on the team performance) it just isn’t really possible. The main reason I wrote this is to drive that point home.
They lost their best players. They added some new players. They have some players who could improve. They likely will be worse in the 2010/11 season relative to the 2009/10 season. Predicting < 18 wins.
TL;DR: For a shorter, more specific explanation see this post.