Time to punch the numbers

We Rite Goode's crack basketball analysts--and Rasheed WallaceJohn Hollinger's revised ratings are out and the bloggers are talking. Happy: Fans of the Rockets (projected NBA champions), Bulls (Eastern Conference champs), and Kelenna "Sambuca" Azubuike (as Hollinger projects Marco Bellinelli to be so bad, the Warriors will have no choice but to play him).

Not so thrilled: Wizards fans, who are trying to understand how a team with conference championship aspirations is projected to slip to 33 wins and well in the lottery.

While there are worse concerns for the Wiz these days than a columnist's predictions...still, yikes. Doctor Dribbles may publicly trust in PER, but most of the We Rite Goode riters are closet Hollinger-heads; for our purposes, his words carry scary weight. The estimable Pradamaster is over at Bullets Forever furiously debunking Hollinger's rationale, which includes allegations that Gilbert Arenas's quickness-dependent game will slide and Antonio Daniels is due for a fall. Not entirely idle speculation, but Prada's click-worthy argument strongly rebuts these concerns.

But one Hollinger point--that Antawn Jamison is slipping--is an observation that we'd also long, secretly feared.

True, Jamison's PER of 18.4 was his highest in three seasons in DC; he certainly seemed to fill it up down the stretch and in the playoffs. But, we worried, might his performance have been skewed by an end-of-season flurry, with Arenas and Caron Butler sidelined? And if the Big Three stay healthy this coming year, and Arenas and Butler continue to dominate possessions, doesn't it seem likely that Jamison's numbers will take a dip?

Granted, this may be an effort to rationalize Hollinger's prediction (it's horrible--in some twisted way, we'd prefer Jamison to actually be declining than to have Hollinger be wrong), but curiosity got the better of us and prompted some game log investigation and back-of-the-envelope math courtesy of Excel. We've saved our very basic spreadsheet here, for those who are curious.

The findings:

* In 70 games, Jamison's season averages were 19.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 45% FG shooting, and 16.3 FGA per game. (Granted, it didn't take Excel to uncover this data, just ESPN.com. But a crucial piece of baseline info.)

* Jamison actually played 14 games without Butler and/or Arenas; 15, counting the game where Butler played 13 minutes and took 2 shots, before removing himself because of stiffness; and 16, where Gilbert played two minutes before hurting his knee. So, operatively, 16 games in the "not-so-Big-Three" (NSBT) games--that's nearly 23% of his 70-game season. Importantly, Jamison averaged 37.9 mpg in those games versus 38.0 mpg on the season, which we can call that a draw.

* In the NSBT games, Jamison averaged 22.75 ppg, 8.37 rpg, and 18.3 FGA per game.

* Accounting for the NSBT games, Jamison's averages in the 54 games with Butler and Arenas fall to 18.92 ppg, 7.83 rpg, and 15.9 FGA per game. A huge difference? No. But demonstrable? Yes, and probably enough to measurably effect PER, which rewards for field goal attempts, in addition to other performance gains in the same MPG.

* An important caveat: Jamison's shooting percentage shrunk when other teams increasingly keyed on him, shooting only 40.9% in the NSBT games, compared to 46.4% in those 54 other games. And who knows--that FG% decline may be enough of a counter to the other performance gains. (Honestly, we don't know, and will defer to Ty Keenan and Carter Blanchard to load all of this data into the PER formula.)

* However, Wizards fans may remember a six-game stretch where the Big Three all played, but Butler was burdened by the knee stiffness that had kept him out in late February and would force him back out in March--as a result, although Butler was on the court and drawing defensive attention, he was much less active in the offense. In those six games (arguably, a tiny sample size), Jamison averaged 21.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, and shot 48.6%.

So what does this all mean? That Jamison's PER was affected by his performance in Butler- and Arenas-less games? (Maybe.) But is this a significant observation, since every NBA player will have games where he carries more of the burden, as teammates are out with injuries/clashing with coaches/hiding from process servers? (Probably not.)

Getting to Hollinger's point, does it mean Jamison's declining? If the crack WRG basketball team had to read into the numbers, we say no; more likely, the data indicates that Antawn can still be a reliable scoring option, but at this point in his career, directing too much of the offense through him comes at a cost to his efficiency. But can Jamison step up his game in context of the Big Three? Note that when Arenas and an injured Butler were on the court and drawing the defense, Jamison may have enjoyed one of his more efficient and effective stretches of the season. His days of carrying a team are over (if they ever existed), but Jamison remains a key third wheel.

(And, in the most important finding, does it mean that we learned how to upload a spreadsheet to the Internet? Oh yes. And you can too.)

Labels: , , , , , ,

posted by Crucifictorious @ 21:09,


At October 3, 2007 at 11:49 PM, Blogger Doctor Dribbles said...

You're stealing my material.

At October 4, 2007 at 12:57 AM, Anonymous Phil said...

this is interetsing, but I'm still not sure if Antawn is getting worse, like Jon Hollinger says, or better like Bullets Forever says. But Antawn is good on the Wizards because he needs very little time to score, many other scoring forwards need the ball much more, and stats don't include that factor.

At October 4, 2007 at 1:03 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

You want us to do math? Huh? Let me get out my abacus...

Hollinger brings up some interesting arguments (the Jameson one, in particular), but I think he's overrating the importance of having no one step up. First off, Butler is 27 and prime's usually don't end until around 30. Even if he doesn't get much better, it's highly unlikely that he'll get worse. Arenas does rely on quickness, but he's still really good in any situation. It seems like he's taking the idea that they won't challenge for the conference title (which I agree with) and overdoing things in the other direction.

It comes down to this for me: do you really think the Wizards will be worse than the Bucks, Hawks, Bobcats, and Knicks? No, I do not.

That said, I really like a lot of his other takes. I confess to not having read all of them yet, but the Rockets pick is awesome in its logical ballsiness. The Hawks playoff pick warmed my heart.

It's kinda too bad we're going to be associated with hating Hollinger from now on. He's probably my favorite writer at TWWL just for the quality of his arguments. I don't always agree with him, but the dude is smarter than just about every mainstream writer out there.

At October 4, 2007 at 1:29 AM, Blogger Crucifictorious said...

Hey, Charley Rosen's made a nice career out of being associated with Phil Jackson.

...eh, not the analogy I was looking for.

You know, Ahmad Rashad's worked that link with Michael Jordan pretty well.

...uh, nope.

There are worse things; the Big Lead's still known for Whitlock, and that's worked out for them OK.


Truly, in our meager observations, once a blog makes a splash, most readers who become regular just file away whatever first grabbed their attention and focus on the latest and greatest controversy. The Hollinger post was just a month ago and attracted a lot of noise; by the end of the NBA season, Plissken at the Buzzer will probably be known for its embedded interviews in the Lakers locker room or George Plimpton-like effort to walk onto the Warriors.

Also, agree with your points that Hollinger's contentions are a bit far-reaching (and also agreed that we're nowhere near done with reading through the Hollinger previews). Bellinelli: el bust-o?

At October 4, 2007 at 1:45 AM, Anonymous Pradamaster said...

To be fair, I wasn't saying Antawn was getting better, necessarily. I was just saying that he definitely wasn't getting worse.

At October 4, 2007 at 2:16 AM, Blogger Crucifictorious said...

Oh, certainly. If your argument has been misrepresented, our apologies. Clearly, you were correct that for a guy who trusts PER an awful lot, Hollinger seems to have conveniently forgotten that Jamison's numbers weren't "declining," but his PER has actually gone up year-over-year.

The point that intrigued us was "did Antawn's numbers lie last year?" As our totally non-exhaustive analysis indicates, not really. And we weren't spurred to disagree with your assessment, but just sought to provide a rationale for Hollinger's thinking, given our own, completely gut instinct that Jamison's not quite the player he once was.

Prada, yours really was a needed post--you did an especially sterling job of knocking down Hollinger's criticisms on the complementary players. Trust that we will not attempt a similar numerical exercise with Antonio Daniels, lest Jake find an excuse to launch a second ADAW.

At October 4, 2007 at 2:24 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

I think it's more likely that we'll be known for being general agitators.

It's impossible for me to be objective about Marco anymore, but I'll try. Hollinger's opinion is pretty much the worst case scenario. I suppose it's possible, but I doubt it just because he's clearly a good fit for the system. I suppose the most likely prediction (from me, at least) is that he'll be incredibly fun to watch and look much better than his stats indicate. Hollinger will probably be partially validated, but I don't think people who watch the team daily will think that stuff will tell the whole story.

At October 4, 2007 at 9:56 AM, Blogger Jarrett Carter said...

1. If there was to be a downfall for the Wizards this season, it would be from internal strife. It seems at the middle of it all is Eddie Jordan, so that would be the first exit I'd look for.

2. I don't think any of the players are slowing down, but not committing to defense year in and year out never works. Just ask the Suns.

3. If only I had a Jason Whitlock. Oh well. Mike Wise is my homey.

At October 4, 2007 at 10:02 AM, Blogger Bobtimist Prime said...

I think Hollinger is simply one of those sadistic anti-purists who relishs in 70-67 mind-numbers. He sees a free-wheeling, basket-filling, defense-ignoring wiz as problematic to his painful numbers-based theory. His championship picks also reflect that. He routinely ranked the wiz at the bottom of the pack in his strange BCS like team rankings last year.

At October 4, 2007 at 3:47 PM, Anonymous JJ said...

I think this is a case where Hollinger and his statistical analysis are overkill.

If you break it down to the Wiz kids record over the past 2 seasons where the Big Three have all started, I'd bet the Wizards winning percentage rivals any team in the EC.

Further, I think Eddie Jordan really hampered this team last season by not playing Blatche (and Booth for that matter) more and Hayes/Ruffin/Thomas less.

I believe there will be addition by subtraction. Adding an older/stronger/more experienced Blatche to the big 3 is going to be an offensive machine.

If healthy, I don't see less than 50 wins.

Thanks again for visiting my blog.

At October 4, 2007 at 5:14 PM, Anonymous Pradamaster said...

Oh, I wasn't responding to you, crucifictorious. I was responding to Phil.

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