Bucks Diary

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Two players may be key to Bucks improvement

As a hardcore Bucks fans, I've been a bit down this week. Yi suddenly looks like a paper prospect, we still don't know if we'll have an NBA level point guard on next year's roster, and it doesn't appear as though any significant free agents will relocate to Milwaukee. So, are we looking at yet another painfully bad season? Maybe not.

I was reading an article on 82games.com about "Player Pairs" in the NBA, and it indirectly gave me reason to hope. I now believe that two players who each missed significant time in '06-'07 could key an improvement in '07-'08. And you'll be shocked when you find out who I'm talking about.

I need to give you some background first. 82games is famous for keeping copious statistics regarding how well a team performs while a particular player is on the court (the on/off stat). As an offshoot of that, they keep track of the accumulated score of each game specific when a particular player is on the court and then they assign a corresponding "win" or "loss" for each game to that player. (In other words, lets say the Lakers beat the Bucks 102-90. But, while Michael Redd was on the court the Bucks outscored the Lakers 90-86. That's a loss for the team but a "win" for Michael Redd). I haven't gotten my mind around it completely (I'll explain in a second) but its very cool nonetheless. Obviously, some of the "wins" a player accumulates are just happenstance (if you surrounded me with Jordan, Bird, Magic, and Kareem in their primes, I could stand on the court and pick my nose and I'd probably "win" at least 50% of my "on-court games"). But, I think if you have a large enough sample size, and if you take into consideration the team's overall performance and compare it against the Win statistic, then the Win statistic becomes a revealing statement of each player's value to his team.

The curious thing is, sometimes I can't explain from where that value is derived. Of course, its often obvious. If you asked most Bucks fans who the Bucks most valuable player is, they would invariably answer Michael Redd, and that would be correct. Redd was the only player on the roster who was in the black (albeit only +1, but still) when it came to the "on-off court" score, and in each of the last two seasons he has won 52% of his minute games (proving the statistic has some validity -- after all, the Bucks were wildly different teams in the two years and yet his Win percentage stayed the same). But what if you asked those same Bucks fans how valuable they thought Bobby Simmons or Charlie Villanueva were to the team? You'd probably get replies laced with expletives. But, in fact, commonly held negative opinions of the two may be somewhat off-base.

Last season Charlie Villanueva's Win percentage was 51%, second only to Michael Redd, and he was the only other Buck with a Win percentage over 50%. And, his "on-off" score was only just in the red at -17. And so, even though his statistics and his defense might not have been what you would call "eye-popping", its obvious that the Bucks were a better team when he was on the court.

The same holds for Bobby Simmons in the previous season. Again, if anything, Simmons seemed to the naked eye to be something of an underperformer, yet the Win stats say the team was much more effective with him on the court, especially when compared to his backup Toni Kukoc (I'll admit -- that fact stunned me). With Simmons on the court in '05-'06, the team was +45 and he won 52% of his court games (as opposed to -43 and 42% for Kukoc). So he was doing something right. But you're probably thinking "Big deal... they were a better team that year. Alot of players probably won around that amount." That's what I thought, too! I was wrong. In fact, even though the Bucks were almost a .500 team in '05-'06, Simmons, Redd, and the hugely underrated Joe Smith were the only players who won more than 50% of their on-court games.

Perhaps then, with Villanueva and Simmons coming off injury plagued seasons, the Bucks have reason to hope that their combined returns will lead to better results for the team.


1. Mo Williams just ain't all that
While the Win statistic reveals hidden value in some players, it exposes others as fool's gold. Case in point: Maurice Williams. For the last three seasons, which is a revealing sample size that covers varying ranges of overall success for the team, Mo Williams has shown he is simply not a winning point guard. His Win percentages over that time have been, in chronological order, 43%, 42%, and 41%. A remarkably consistent result when you consider how much the team, and his role on the team, has changed over each of those three seasons. He's not terrible, he's just mediocre. Which begs the question. Should the Bucks make a substantial investment in him as their point guard? Probably not if they want to become championship level any time soon.

2. Earl Boykins may have been a double agent
If I was the Bucks GM, and I looked at the Win statistic, and then Earl Boykins subsequently came into my office and told me he was opting for free agency, my reply to him would have been "Can I get the door for you, E? How about cab fare... do you need cab fare?" I'm not even kidding. In fact, based on his awful, and I mean AWFUL On-court and Win statistics, if you told me he was actually paid under the table by another team to sabotage the Bucks, I wouldn't dispute it. His Win percentage was a putrid 23%. But get this: in 2470 minutes of action, Mo Williams had a +/- deficit of -91 points. Not good, but not horrifying. In under half of that time, 1153 minutes, Earl Boykins accumulated a deficit that was nearly triple that: -271 points. An astonishing achievement in futility. Moreover, there was not another person you could combine him with on the court and get a positive point result. Not even Michael Redd. Probably not even Michael Jordan. He was that putrid.

3. I finally have some support for my "Maurice Lucas" theory
For two years I've been pedaling my theory that the finesse oriented Bogut would never reach his full potential as a center until he was matched side-by-side with a physical "grinder" type power forward, such as Bill Walton had beside him in the person of Maurice Lucas. It was always just a hunch, but now I may actually have statistical evidence to support it. If you look at Bogut's performance thus far in his NBA career, he's been pretty consistently mediocre -- around a 47% win percentage -- no matter who he's paired with... with one exception. When he was matched with former Bucks PF Joe Smith, an underappreciated "dirty hands" player exactly in the mold of Maurice Lucas, his Win percentage suddenly skyrocketed to 68% -- which is Tim Duncan territory. No other player combined with Bogut for a win percentage anywhere near that (excluding the statistically insignificant combination of Bogut and the clod Jared Reiner). And you know what sucks about this? There was a player in this year's draft whose game and demeanor was almost identical to the blue collar Smith's: Al Horford. Thanks to the inequities of the NBA draft lottery, we lost our chance to get him.

4. Gerald Wallace probably wasn't worth the money anyway
If Bobby Simmons somehow provides more value than his stats would lead you to conclude, Gerald Wallace provides a lot less. With him on the court, the Bobcats simply were not successful. His Win percentage throughout his career has consistently been a less-than-stellar 33%. More damning still, when his backup at SF Walter Herrmann was on the court last season, he had a Win percentage of 46%. I have to say I may have been wrong. Clearly Wallace offered less than met the eye.

5. On the other hand, Chauncey Billups would have been
If you didn't know it, Chauncey Billups is a hell of a point guard. His Win percentage last season was 71%. Even more revealing, his backup Carlos Delfino had a Win percentage of 47%, an astonishing dropoff, and a very nice account statement of Billups value. The only more dramatic dropoff I could find was between the phenomenal Steve Nash and his backup Maurice Banks. I don't know if it would have made a difference, but the Bucks probably should have gone "all-in" for Billups, but that ship has obviously sailed.


At July 14, 2007 at 3:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really interesting. Little disappointing about Mo although I think they were really up against a wall. They would have been painful to watch with SG Charlie Bell starting at point.

Also surprising about Bobby considering he gimped it out on injured feet so much of the year. I have a lot of faith and confidence in him if this 16-month layoff can help in any way, it's discouraging though that he still seems to be behind schedule even on that long timeline.

CV wasn't as surprising to me, and we barely even saw him healthy with that shoulder affecting him almost all year. Agreed that he's not the best fit with Bogut, and it sucks if CV's success inadvertently holds his center back, but he's a player.

PS did you see Bogut's shaved head except for little braided ponytail hanging out the back? Maybe he's taking it on himself to be the banger, but seeing that braid there are a lot of other possibilities that are a lot more likely.

At July 15, 2007 at 1:09 AM, Blogger Jeramey said...

I don't want to sound like a know-it-all, but as a season ticket holder two years ago these things were visible with Bobby Simmons. Perhaps that's why I'm high on him, unlike the rest of Bucks Nation.

I have this memory of him taking it to the rack in the 4th quarter of the home opener vs the Heat. I then looked for those same kinds of things as the season went on, but I think his foot injury hampered his performance a lot more than he let on.

Charlie V showed those same kind of intangible bursts when he was with the Raptors (playing against the Bucks).

Joe Smith? Even though I love the guy, I can't claim to have considered him a hands-in-the-paint guy at any point.

At July 25, 2007 at 3:39 PM, Anonymous The Spin said...

I'll have to disagree with you about Mo Williams not being worth it. His percentages for winning might be down, be he has such an impressive all around game, there aren't too many teams in the league that wouldn't love to have him. He's still young, only 24, and therefore he's still learning. If he's putting up 17, 5 and 6 at 24 years old, who knows what the next few years have in store. I wrote up on his re-signing at www.clutch3.com
Check it out!


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