Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Great for the Sixers. Great for Brand? -- Part I

There's no question that the Sixers are a much better team with Elton Brand than without him. Somewhat lost in the hubbub around Brand's decision to come to the Sixers is whether the move is good for Brand in a basketball sense-- that is, are Brand's chances of winning with the Sixers better than they would have been if he had stayed with the revamped Clippers.

The one place that this question has been most frequently raised (the only place, really, that I've come across it) is on the Clipper fan blogs, notably Clips Nation. From the perspective of many Clippers fans, Brand went to a situation with the Sixers that is decidedly worse than the one he would have had in L.A.

In particular, I noticed that Clipper fans were saying that the "other" starting four on the Clippers was clearly better than the "other" starting four on the Sixers. I wasn't quite clear on how they were coming to this conclusion, so I asked for clarification in the comments to this thread. I noted that going solely by Player Efficiency Rating, the Sixers and Clippers each seemed to have better players at two of the four positions, but overall the Sixers scored higher. I got some interesting and thoughtful responses from some of their posters. I didn't necessarily agree with their conclusions, but they definitely were well thought out and had plenty of merit.

So, first, I suggest you go click on the links above and read the exchange there (particularly the responses from Citizen Zhiv and Clipper Steve). Second, I thought I'd reproduce my side of the argument related to PER here, and expand it to also include the results based on looking at Adjusted +/- (Part II) and Wins Produced.

So, setting aside Elton Brand, do the Sixers or Clippers have the better starting line-up? To start with, I'll assume that the Sixers start the same players at the other four positions as last season-- Andre Miller, Willie Green, Andre Igoudala, and Samuel Dalembert. I'll also assume that the Clippers start the same players as last year, only with the recently signed Baron Davis at point guard.

(Note- these next three paragraphs are copied from my comments at Clips Nation. I've put changes in brackets.)
Based on PER [(found here; average PER for the league is 15.00)], Baron Davis (19.87) is slightly ahead of Andre Miller (18.51), Willie Green (12.91) and Cutino Mobley (11.56) are both pretty bad, but Green ranks slightly higher, Andre Igoudala (19.05) is far ahead of any Clipper SF (Maggette was at 19.43, but he’s not a Clipper anymore; Al Thornton was at 12.71), and Chris Kaman (17.62) gets the nod over Samuel Dalembert (15.62).

That gives PER totals of Clippers 61.76 and Sixers 66.09. So according to PER, the Sixers and Clippers each have an advantage at two positions, but the Sixers have the overall advantage. If you assume the Sixers will start Thaddeus Young (16.58) at SF this year and play Igoudala at SG, then the Sixers and Clippers still each have an advantage at two positions, but the Sixers’ overall advantage increases by 3.67 PER.

If [Clippers fans are] assuming that Thornton is going to improve, I don’t see any reason to assume that he’ll improve more than Young. If [Clipper fans are] assuming that Eric Gordon will make the difference (i.e. he’ll play SG and be better than Willie Green), then that doesn’t take into account the plan for the Sixers to switch Igoudala to that position (or my belief that Gordon is unlikely to do any better than Thornton’s rookie PER which was less than Green’s PER last season).

So, all in all, PER indicates that the Sixers have the stronger starting line-up, although it's a close call in many ways.

I think the response of the Clippers fans (and clink on this link to read their full comments if you haven't already) can be summed up as (1) PER is not the be-all, end-all metric for player evaluation (agreed!), (2) the difference between Kaman/Davis and Dalembert/Miller is actually much greater than PER indicates, (3) Thornton is much better than PER indicates, and (4) the Clippers have more (and better) shot creators, and that makes a big difference in close games and playoff games.

The first three responses are all basically subsets of the same argument that PER has flaws. I don't disagree with this point, but I'm not entirely convinced that their views on the relative abilities of the players involved is the correct one (notably, I'm not nearly as impressed with Thornton as they are). As for the fourth response, I'd say-- yes, the Clippers have better creators overall, but I think this advantage is maybe a tad overblown in the importance given to it relative to all the other aspects of a basketball game.

Am I right or are they? Who knows. You can let me know what you think in the comments.

And what does Adjusted +/- say about this debate? Check out my next post to find out.

(And since we're talking Clippers, I just saw in this post at Clips Nation that Marcus Camby has been traded to the Clippers from the Nuggets. And he was traded for basically nothing-- a trade exception and the ability to swap 2nd round picks. Wow, what a steal.)


Louis said...

I have to admit that I think the Clippers are a better team. However, I think the Sixers will win more games because, as one of the Clips fans noted, we play in the JV league.

Sam Cohen said...

Just curious-- what makes you think the Clippers are the better team?

We might play in the JV, but our record last season was better against the Varsity than against the JV.

Louis said...

The truthiness of it. Their roster rings better so it feels like it must be true. I know it's a little too Colbertesque but that's my only reason.