Friday, July 02, 2010

Basketball Prospectus: Ranking the Free Agents

Regular readers might remember a post from February which discussed Kevin Pelton's projections for 2010 free agents, projections which suggested 16 potential free agents would be more productive over the next three seasons than Joe Johnson.

Pelton's updated those projections, adding the 2009-10 statistics for each player and having made adjustments to the projection system:
First, we've refined the process by which we use comparable players to project each player going forward, using larger groups of up to 50 players with a similarity score of 90 or higher to reduce the influence of any one comp. Second, our updated WARP formula (WARP 2, if you like) rewards players who can stretch the floor with their three-point shooting.
Those adjustments have improved the outlook for Joe Johnson. Previously projected at 7.1 WARP over the next three seasons, Johnson now projects to earn 10.9 WARP over the next three seasons. That's still a quarter of the projected production for LeBron James, a third of the projected production for Dwyane Wade, and less than half of the projected production for Chris Bosh (though Johnson's projects to produce two-and-a-half times that of John Salmons) but Johnson now, at least, projects to be better over the next three years than Paul Pierce, Ronnie Brewer, Brendan Haywood, and Shaquille O'Neal.

12 comments:

Malthus said...

What do these numbers even mean? In the article it sounds like you're saying that 4 times higher WARP (whatever that is) means 4 times better player....So then, if you look go to the page you linked to, Wade will be better than Lebron next year (not sure what planet that's on), and Joe Johnson is only 1/3 as good as Wade and Lebron next year (Huh?).

I'm not arguing that Joe will be better than Lebron over the next 5-6 years, but these numbers just seem silly.

If you can explain them more, I'd be glad to hear.

Bret LaGree said...

Malthus --

WARP = Wins Above Replacement Player

So, yes, 4 times higher means 4 times as valuable. Pelton has Johnson at 15.7 and James at 52.1 WARP over the last two seasons combined. Given how much better James already is, and their respective ages, this projection is plausible to me.

If you prefer Win Shares, James has been produced more wins over the last 2 seasons than Johnson has over his five seasons in Atlanta.

Just as with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett in their primes, Joe Johnson is not going to look very good when compared to great players.

jrauch said...

Those numbers definitely seem plausible. If you sub LeBron out of that Cleveland team, they win what...35 games? 40 games tops?

Not exactly great news for the Hawks.

Malthus said...

Ok, that does make more since. I did just a minute of googling and saw that, in baseball, the replacement player is who a team could easily acquire to replace someone (e.g. a top of the line minor league player).

Does this mean that they're saying that Joe is worth less than 5 wins more next year over someone like Mario West?...Or am I still missing something.

Does this number count the quality of the team? For instance, take away Joe and DWade from their respective teams. Surely the Hawks are much better than the Heat. Since it is harder to add victories for a worse team (e.g. if your team would win all 82 games without you on the team, then your WARP would necessarily be 0), then Joe's number is skewed down from being on a better team, and DWade's number is skewed up from being on a worse team (Is this why DWade's number is higher than Lebron's because there's no one out there who would say DWade is actually better than Lebron in real life). But again, maybe I am missing the point of the stat.

And anyway, all that to say, I think that having any statistic like this is very limited in its value. It is very complicated to calculate and really only tells us (because that's probably the way it was designed) that Lebron and DWade are good and that younger players are more likely to be good for longer than older players. These things we already knew, but since it has a number to it, and a formula the average person can't understand, it must be right...

Malthus said...

Oops, should have said in the middle there "since it is harder to add wins for a BETTER team"

Bret LaGree said...

Malthus --

Please don't assume because I bring something up I assume it to be right. It's information and the more information the better, I think.

With advanced basketball stats being far more in their infancy than advanced baseball stats, drawing on a far smaller set of historical data when doing things like projections, and the differences between the games in terms of how players interact and how that affects the statistical record, one should assume decent-sized error bars for these things.

WARP is an individual stat. Win Shares (at Basketball-Reference.com) is heavily influenced by team quality.

Malthus said...

Bret, sorry, I was not trying to give you a hard time about posting this; I just wanted to say that I did not think that this particular stat has too much value, and that a lot of people get "tricked" into thinking that a statistical or mathematical argument is somehow better than saying "Similar players (x,y,z) to DWade have done better in their next few years of play than players (a,b,c) who are similar to Joe." And I'm pretty sure that that is all that this number is saying.

To change the subject a bit:

I'm not sure if I have this all the way thought out, but I think the way that free agency is set up puts the Hawks at a distinct disadvantage to whichever team has DWade, Lebron, or Kobe (besides the financial restrictions that Hawks ownership has). I think that it stems from having a maximum salary that teams can offer a single player. The Hawks have 3 guys (Joe, Horford, and Josh Smith) who are currently or will hopefully develop into All Star caliber players. It is doubtful though that any of these 3 will be in the top 5 best players in the NBA at any point in their careers. However, since there are plenty of teams that would love these guys as their best or 2nd best players, they probably could all get max contracts at some point. This makes it basically impossible for the Hawks to keep a strong core of All Stars (but not super-duper stars) together for the long term. So the teams that are lucky enough to be able to get Lebron are in much better position than the Hawks because they get the #1 player in the league for the same price that the Hawks will have to pay to each of 3 guys who are possibly in the 10-20 best players in the league. If you got rid of the maximum amount that teams could pay an individual player (but still kept the salary cap), a team could offer Lebron $50 million/year, Joe could still get his $20 million/year, but then teams with a lot of guys of the caliber of Joe (e.g. the Hawks) would have a fighting chance.

I think this is why the NBA is so star driven, and it is only rarely that teams like the Celtics or Pistons from a few years ago are able to compete, and then it is hard to keep them together for very long. This also means that having a successful team is more about being lucky in the draft and getting a super-duper star or being a big market team that is able to lure the super-duper star to their team.

For the big picture, I think the result of the max contract is that there is a very bleak future for the Hawks at least in terms of winning championships, and why, even though there's a salary cap, LA and NY still have a huge advantage in basketball.

Sorry for so many long posts, but there is no one at the office today, so I have some time.

Malthus said...

Bret, sorry, I was not trying to give you a hard time about posting this; I just wanted to say that I did not think that this particular stat has too much value, and that a lot of people get "tricked" into thinking that a statistical or mathematical argument is somehow better than saying "Similar players (x,y,z) to DWade have done better in their next few years of play than players (a,b,c) who are similar to Joe." And I'm pretty sure that that is all that this number is saying.

Malthus said...

oops, sorry for double posting

jrauch said...

NBA's still a team game though, as we've seen the last couple years with LeBron's playoff flameouts. Look at LA, they don't win the title without Ron Artest, of all people.

And I never thought I'd say that. The Hawks, meanwhile, are putting all their eggs in the basket of an aging shooting guard who's done nothing in the playoffs since he played for the Suns.

dbracy007 said...

Ho hum, another day, another negative article by Bret.

Bret LaGree said...

007--

Just one today. If there are some articles praising the idea of signing Joe Johnson to a 6-year, $119 million contract that I've overlooked, please point them out here in the comments.