Saturday, January 10, 2009

Brand get hurs. Sixers get better.

Well, I know that first part happened. The verdict on the second part of that title is still up for debate. But the results since he was hurt have been somewhat positive. Checking the schedule...the Sixers are 6-6 since Brand got hurt (including the game against the Bucks in which he got hurt) and just 10-14 before the injury.

Hmm.... Not a huge difference, but certainly everyone's view of how they're doing seems to have changed. I guess expectations will do that to you-- going sub-.500 with Brand was considered a let-down, but going .500 without him is considered playing well.

In all fairness to Brand, this "hot streak" is probably less impressive than it seems. After all, the Sixers have simply beaten the sub-.500 teams and lost to the above-.500 teams during this stretch. They did beat the Rockets, but they also lost to the Pacers to balance it out.

Still, it does appear that the Sixers are playing a little bit better. Much of the talk of the Sixers' "improvement" over the last couple of weeks has centered on their return to a running style of play that wasn't possible with Brand.

Maybe that's the answer, but the answer might actually be a bit simpler-- Brand simply wasn't playing that well, so having someone else take his playing time has made the Sixers better. It was a change in players, not a change in style that has been making the difference.

After Mo Cheeks was fired, Professor Berri took a look at the Sixers over at the Wages of Wins. Back in 2006-07 (pre-injury), Brand had a WP48 of .213. But before his injury this season, Brand only had a WP48 of .075. Remember-- .100 is an average player (and average starters are even higher), so Brand was playing worse than an average NBA player. And he was playing 35 minutes per game.

Samuel Dalembert (.138), Marreese Speights (.127), and Reggie Evans (.121) all had higher WP48 than Brand, but none of them were playing nearly the minutes he had played. So when you take Brand out of the rotation, all of a sudden the Sixers improve.

Now, Brand isn't alone in playing below expectations. From our core contributors, WP48 shows Dalembert, Thaddeus Young, Evans, and Louis Williams all playing worse than last year. (Igoudala has actually been playing better this year according to WP48, despite his scoring woes.) Still, Brand was playing worse than the other bigs. Not exactly what we were hoping for out of our big off-season acquisition.

Here's hoping that Brand's performance is just the result of him still not being 100% healthy after his major injury from before, and that he'll get better once he returns from his curent injury.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

So Long, Mo. Thanks for the memories.

Guess I missed the news. I'm sitting here watching the Sixers-Wizards game (I live in D.C. right now, so the game is on TV. Glad that I'm finally getting to watch a game.), and about half-way through the second quarter I hear the announcers mentioning the Sixers new interim head coach. Somehow I hadn't seen the news before now (I know the change was only made earlier today, but still...).

I know the generic reasons given for firing Mo Cheeks-- need to shake up the team, underperforming, etc.-- but I can't say I'm a big fan of the move. And that's coming from someone who's never thought Cheeks was anything more than an average coach. As my last post talked about, Cheeks was basically playing everyone the minutes that was expected. If the problem is that Andre Igoudala, Elton Brand, and Samuel Dalembert are playing worse than expected, then I don't see how getting rid of Cheeks helps anything. I especially don't see how it helps in the case of Igoudala and Dalembert-- after all, he was also the coach when they played really well last year.

So what do I expect? I expect the Sixers to start playing better and finish the season with somewhere between 40 and 50 wins. They have a few easy games over the next week that they should win (including tonight's game and next Friday's game against the Wizards that I'm going to!), so I expect the "improved" play to start right away. Of course, that's what I was expecting before the firing. Stefanski will get credit for shaking things up, and really it'll just be the players returning to their normal performance level.

As long as the Sixers start playing better I guess I won't be too bothered by the coaching change. After all, I don't follow the Sixers to watch the coach!

Update: I meant to post these two links from ESPN on the firing (by John Hollinger and Marc Stein) for a more detailed take on the firing. Take a look!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

20 games in

Well, we're twenty games into the season. A 9-11 record with a -0.3 point differential. Not exactly what we were all hoping for after the big off-season signing of Elton Brand. And not really in-line with the WP48 projection of the season I put together.

The big question is obviously "why?".

Taking a first crack at the question, I looked at the minutes per game for each player on the roster to see if that was the problem. Short answer: no. Based on current minute allocations and last year's WP48 for each player, the Sixers would be on pace to win somewhere between 43 and 53 wins (depending on which WP48 projection I use for Elton Brand).* Samuel Dalembert's playing less minutes, but other than that Mo Cheeks is generally playing everyone the expected minutes.

As for Dalembert playing less minutes, I guess that leads into the other possible explanation for the poorer than expected performance. You know, that the players just aren't playing as well as they have in the past. From what I've been able to tell (and what the news media has been reporting ), Dalembert and Andre Igoudala have both been playing worse than last year. I didn't do an in-depth look at their performance to see how much perception and reality matched up or check to see if anyone else's performance was way off, but a downturn in both of their performances could certainly explain the Sixers' performance so far.

Hopefully Professor Berri will take a look at the Sixers sometime in the near future and give us some answers!

*I did a rough estimate that did not take into account the extra minutes played so far this season in overtime.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A good season to be a Sixers fan

Yes, I know the season has already started. But that's not going to stop me from finally posting my prediction for the Sixer's season. As with last year, I'm basing my prediction on Wins Produced.

And what does my prediction tell me? It tells me that it could be a very good season to be a Sixers fan.

I made two predictions. The first one is probably too optimistic-- it's based on the Sixer's playing a nine man rotation and limiting the playing time of many of the players not viewed favorably by Wins Produced-- but at the same time I don't think it's completely out of line with the line-ups that Mo Cheeks will probably favor this year. The second prediction is probably way too pessimistic, but it probably reflects what could happen if the Sixer's main players get a couple of nicks and miss some (but not a huge amount of) time.

Without further ado....

Prediction 1: For this prediction, I assumed that Mo Cheeks would play a relatively tight rotation of nine players. I assumed that he'd play all of our starters 35 minutes a night, split the remaining time at the PG, SG, & SF positions between Louis Williams and Willie Green, play Reggies Evans for the remaining PF time, and play rookie Marreese Speights for the remaining time at C. The two other big assumptions I made were that Elton Brand would return to his form from 2006-07 and that Mareese Speights would perform at the level predicted by Professor Berri based on his college (and preseason) stats; other than those assumptions I predicted the remaining players to perform at their 2007-08 level.

In numbers ([name] [WP48] [min/gm] = [Wins Produced]:
  • Andre Miller [.167] [35 min/gm] = 9.99
  • Andre Igoudala [.172] [35 min/gm] = 10.28
  • Thaddeus Young [.099] [35 min/gm] = 5.92
  • Elton Brand [.213] [35 min/gm] = 12.74
  • Samuel Dalembert [.197] [35 min/gm] = 11.78
  • Louis Williams [.080] [20 min/gm] = 2.73
  • Willie Green [-.019] [19 min/gm] = -0.62
  • Reggie Evans [.143] [13 min/gm] = 3.18
  • Marreese Speights [.068] [13 min/gm] = 1.51
That gives a projected win total of 57.51 wins. Wow. I was optimistic about this season, but that projection really blows my mind. Now, like I said at the outset, this projection is probably a little too optimistic, primarily because it assumes a tight rotation and no injuries to our key players. On the other hand, there's a decent chance that Cheeks plays some of the starters (especially Igoudala) closer to 40 minutes each night. So a super-best-case scenario could be even more impressive.

Prediction 2: For this second prediction, I assumed that the other players on the roster would get playing time over the course of the season. I didn't have a good way to figure out where those minutes would come from (at least not a quick way), so I just assumed that each of the starters would play 30 minutes instead of 35 minutes, Royal Ivey and Kareem Rush would split the newly available time at the PG, SG, & SF positions, and Donyell Marshall and Theo Ratliff would get the newly available time at the PF and C positons, respectively. The way I look at it, we can just assume that this playing time occurs when the starters need some time to rest from minor injuries that always occur over the course of a season (ankle sprains, etc.). The one other big assumption I made was that Elton Brand would play at his injury-reduced level from last season. Since Donyell Marshall played for two teams last year, I just averaged his production from both teams (without taking the different amounts of playing time into account).

In numbers ([name] [WP48] [min/gm] = [Wins Produced]:
  • Andre Miller [.167] [30 min/gm] = 8.56
  • Andre Igoudala [.172] [30 min/gm] = 8.82
  • Thaddeus Young [.099] [30 min/gm] = 5.07
  • Elton Brand [.058] [30 min/gm] = 2.97
  • Samuel Dalembert [.197] [30 min/gm] = 10.10
  • Louis Williams [.080] [20 min/gm] = 2.73
  • Willie Green [-.019] [19 min/gm] = -0.62
  • Reggie Evans [.143] [13 min/gm] = 3.18
  • Marreese Speights [.068] [13 min/gm] = 1.51
  • Royal Ivey [-.054] [8 min/gm] = -0.74
  • Kareem Rush [-.001] [7 min/gm] = -0.01
  • Donyell Marshall [-.043] [5 min/gm] = -0.36
  • Theo Ratliff [.059] [5 min/gm] = 0.50
That gives a projected win total of 41.71 wins. Not as good as the first projection, but still slightly better than the Sixers did this past season. What's the difference? Well, reducing the starters' playing time and replacing them with the end of the bench players accounts for a reduction of about 8 wins. The remaining reduction comes from assuming that Brand can't regain his pre-injury form.

I think it's likely that the end of the bench is going to get playing time (although it might be at the expense of the first tier of substitutes rather than at the expense of the starters if it isn't as a result of injuries), but based on the first three games of the season I think there's a decent chance that Brand will return to his old form (I'm pretty sure I read that he was averaging 18 points and 14 rebounds).

So my prediction for the year: I'll pretend I'm King Solomon and cut everything in the middle- 50 wins during the regular season, and hopefully home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Like I said at the beginning, it looks like it could be a good year to be a fan of the Sixers.

What do you think?

[And for commenter Louis since I know he likes to pick on my grammar- is it Sixers fan, Sixer's fan, or Sixers' fan?]

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Roll out the ball and let's play!

Training camp has arrived, so the season is just around the corner. If by "just around the corner" you mean a month away. With training camp here, it's also time for predictions to come out of the woodwork. I'm not going to track them all down this year like I did last year (no time!), but I couldn't help noting John Hollinger's season preview. You can catch his views on the Sixers here. In short: he predicts them to come in 3rd in the Eastern Conference. I think he might be a bit optimistic (although not necessarily), but I also think that his thinking is going to be more or less in line with the views of most mainstream sportswriters. That's a sea change from last season when Hollinger, and most writers, predicted the Sixers to come in last. And that's definitely a change that I could get used to.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Jobs take a lot of time. And what the 1980s Sixers can tell us about Elton Brand.

I know. Captain obvious speaking. And, yes, I did have a job all of last year. But I started working at my law firm last Monday (the 15th), and I feel like I haven't had a chance to breath since then. I had none work related stuff going on as well (all good things), but since I tend to not write that much about my non-basketball personal life here I'll just leave it at that. But needless to say, the spare time that I use to sporadically post about the Sixers and basketball took the hit.

I had a few spare moments tonight, so I browsed around my usual haunts (Truehoop, Wages of Wins). And, as usual, Professor Berri (at WoW) had an interesting post up about the Sixers--or, at least, the Sixers from the early 1980s.

In particular, in his post artfully titled "What Ever Happened to "Fo'-Fi'-Fo'"?", he focused on how the Sixers went from very good to NBA champions to first round losers. It's very interesting, so I'd go read it all.

But the upshot (for you lazy people who just want my take on things...) is that you can tie both the Sixers rise and fall primarily to Moses Malone. In his first season with the Sixers, he was fantastic, posting a WP48 of .378 and producing 23 wins. The next year he was still the Sixers' best player, posting a WP48 of .268 (Dr. J had a WP48 of .241 in both seasons) and producing 14.6 wins. But as you can see in those numbers, Malone wasn't nearly the player in the second season that he was in the first season. That said, he was still elite (top 10 in Wins Produced), but no longer super-elite (top 3 behind Magic Johnson and Larry Bird). The difference just goes to show you that even when a player has a very good season, he might not be quite the difference maker that he had been in the past or was expected to be.

And for the current Sixers, that should serve as a warning about getting too hopeful about Elton Brand taking the Sixers into the top tier of the league's teams. In 2005-06, Brand posted a WP48 of .274. In 2006-07, he posted a WP48 of .213. In his injury shortened 2007-08, Brand posted a WP48 of .058. Setting aside last season, we still see a huge difference between Brand's 2005-06 season and his 2006-07 season. At least we do looking at WP48. But I don't think the difference appeared that large to people (like myself) when watching him play. When I saw him play, in both seasons, I was just left with the impression that "Wow. He's a very good player."

And he was. But he was a better "very good player" in 2005-06. I haven't done a WP48 based prediction for the Sixers this year yet (although I hope to soon, especially since last year's prediction turned out to be pretty accurate in overall results), but I expect that the Sixers will be an elite team if the 2005-06 Elton Brand shows up in Philly, yet only a strong playoff team if the 2006-07 Elton Brand shows up. In both cases, we'll think we got a very good player (and we'd be right!), but the case study of the Sixers from the early 1980s and Moses Malone tells us that which version of the "very good player" shows up can make all the difference in the world.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cheeks gets extension. Does it matter?

The Sixers gave Mo Cheeks a contract extension the other day. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but since he had already signed a one year extension this past February, I guess it's safe to assume that this extension is a multi-year deal.

The team played well last year and the players seem to like Cheeks, so rewarding Cheeks with a contract extension seems like it was the right thing to do. That said, does it really matter?

Nothing against Cheeks, but I'm just not sure that most coaches make that much of a difference in the NBA. I guess if you compared a terrible coach to a great coach you'd be able to see a difference. But I think all the coaches in the NBA are within such a narrow range of ability compared to one another (or, to be on the safe side, let's say 95% of NBA coaches) that I don't think having one coach versus another really makes a huge difference.

I'm too lazy to look it up right now, but I seem to remember coming across articles that reference research that basically reached this same conclusion-- a few coaches were seen to have a measurable impact on performance, but most did not. I also remember seeing a recent article on a study that found the same thing to be true for investment fund managers. (And the number of managers that stand out from the crowd has been shrinking over time as the industry has gotten more sophisticated overall.)

I think that as long as a coach can get all of his players to buy into his system (no matter what type of system it is), the ability of his players then becomes the major factor in determining team success. Beyond that initial threshold, I think that coaches are considered good if they have good players (and thus win), and they're considered bad if they have bad players (and thus lose). Not a very complicated formula.

So congrats to Mo Cheeks on his extension. And I just hope that the Sixers continue to add talent and that our players continue to buy into Cheeks' system.