Last week, Arturo Galletti, of the Wages of Wins Journal, predicted the Pelicans will finish the 2013-14 season in the neighborhood of 29 wins - and the 26th worst record in the NBA. Yes, that's just two more wins than last season's total, despite the revamped roster.
Is this cause for panic? Probably not, as it won't be the first time their model is likely undervaluing a franchise by a sizable margin.
In advance, I'd like to apologize to all those who may be offended, but statisticians do not always get it right. In my experiences, this has proven true with future projections, especially when talented, but non-Lebron-James-types switch teams, an entire roster is drastically overhauled and/or there is a significant challenge or change in a team's strategic approach.
Today, we'll focus on some prior errors in statistical analysis and attempt to discern where the numbers went wrong. Next week, we'll breakdown the Wages of Wins (WOW) forecast, how it may be incorrect and, most importantly, why fans shouldn't fret nearly as much.
Difficulty projecting players in new surroundings.
One year ago, the NBA Geek considered Ryan Anderson to be the best contract signing of the previous off-season. However, his advanced statistics, WS/48 and PER, ended up being the worst since his rookie season. They hypothesized:
Ryan Anderson is a more troublesome case. He had by far his worst year, and it is almost entirely due to poor rebounding. This is something to keep an eye on; if his rebounding does not recover, he essentially becomes a rich man's version of Andrea Bargnani. And no, that's not a good thing. What's odd about this is that one would think that his defensive rebounding would be better since he's no longer playing next to Dwight (defensive rebounds suffer from diminishing returns).
So the explanation his game has suddenly taken a turn for the worse is he's the second coming of Andrea Bargnani?
Hold your horses, worrywarts. Rather, consider this set of more plausible circumstances:
- Hornets woeful defense. Ryan Anderson went from playing on one of league's better defensive units, the previous several years, to one of the worst. Simply put, there were less available defensive rebounds: a) the opposition had an easier time scoring and b) you're not standing next to Dwight Howard, one of the league's best defensive weapons. Opponents were not forced into more difficult shots and, additionally, they were in better position for offensive rebounds, due to multiple defensive breakdowns. An increased free-for-all environment will naturally encumber the less athletic players in winning the 50/50 balls.
- Surrounded by better rebounders. On the 2011-12 Orlando team, his main competition for rebounds were Glenn Davis and Dwight Howard. Additionally, one of those players were guaranteed to be on the bench when Anderson was on the floor. In New Orleans, Jason Smith, Anthony Davis, Lance Thomas, Al-Farouq Aminu and Robin Lopez all posted TRB% well over 10%.
- His advanced statistics suffered considerably from inefficient shooting. On a team with few offensive weapons, Anderson was asked to do more. Unfortunately, the increase in shot attempts came from the least efficient part of the floor, 10-23 feet. Anderson more than doubled his attempts from this area than in his final year with the Magic. Factor in less shots at the rim and fewer trips to the foul line, a 7% drop in TS% (.589 -> .548) was inevitable. Thus, a sharp drop in his offensive rating hampered the once glowing advanced numbers as much as any missing rebounding prowess.
Mike D'Antoni was put into an tough spot when he took the reigns of this Lakers squad. Because of the flirtation with Phil Jackson prior to his arrival, his legs were cut out from under him before he even coached a game, certainly with the fans, and quite possibly with his own players as well. He dealt with the injuries and was the exact opposite of the coach so many pegged him as. Known as a "system" guy, D'Antoni tried everything to get the Lakers going in the right direction, but nothing worked. In the end, MDA's year was a failure. His short rotations left the Lakers severely lacking in energy for winnable contests. He failed to motivate the team to play the right way for at least the first 40 games of his tenure, and to this day, we don't know what defensive scheme, if any, the Lakers were trying to accomplish.
The data being used by "stats gurus" is incomplete and often inaccurate. Statistics can be a "powerful tool" (in Roberts' words) to help to understand basketball but they do not provide definitive answers: the player rankings produce by Berri or John Hollinger do not represent some absolute, objective reality but merely reflect the biases and limitations inherent in the formulas that Berri and Hollinger invented.