Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Elton Brand chase

The big news this summer has obviously been the Elton Brand signing. We've discussed the signing fairly extensively already (disbelief that we were really in the chase, excitement at the actual signing, evaluating whether Brand made the right choice in choosing the Sixers over the Clippers), but we obviously can't have a round-up of the Sixers' moves this off-season without evaluating the Brand signing.

For the purposes of this analysis, it's important to recognize that the chase for Elton Brand actually involved two transactions by the Sixers- (1) the trade of Calvin Booth and Rodney Carney to the Timberwolves, and (2) the actual signing of Elton Brand.

First, let's look at the trade of Booth and Carney.

When it comes to Booth, it quickly becomes apparent that the Sixers didn't lose anything by trading him away. He didn't play enough minutes to be evaluated by Adjusted +/-, but his PER (7.11) and WP48 (-0.033) don't exactly inspire confidence. It's hard to imagine that whoever takes his limited minutes this upcoming season won't be an improvement.

The Carney story is somewhat similar. Carney's PER (12.15) and WP48 (-0.032) are both somewhat dismal. However, his adjusted +/- is actually quite good (1.54). Still, going with our "majority rules" principle, I think that we can make the assumption that trading away Carney isn't going to have a negative impact on the Sixers' performance this year.

So not only did trading away Booth and Carney create the cap room needed to sign Elton Brand, but the act of trading them away also removed some deadweight from the roster (clearly the case with Booth, likely the case with Carney). Good work.

Next, we turn to the actual signing of Elton Brand.

I (along with everyone else) thought the Sixers scored a real coup by signing Brand. Looking at the numbers is a little tricky since Brand was hurt for most of last year, but I think they bear out everyone's intuition that signing Brand was a good move. The only question raised by the numbers is whether Brand was worth the max money he received.

Brand didn't play enough minutes last season to have an adjusted +/- calculated for him, but he had a PER of 18.04 and a WP48 of .058. His PER was good (although lower than Igoudala's), but his WP48 last season was below average. Of course, if you go back to the 2006-07 season (i.e. when he wasn't injured), Brand had a WP48 of .213. And if you go back to 2005-06, Brand had a whopping WP48 of .274. Plus, Brand's career average PER is 22.7.

What do these numbers say to me? If Brand can return to his form from three years ago, then he'll be worth every penny of the money we gave him. Even if he doesn't return all the way to that standard, but simply returns to close to his 2006-07 form then it was still a signing that will signficantly help the Sixers on the floor this coming season.

Signing a top-tier low-post scoring threat wasn't exactly on the list of most desperate needs, but it sure isn't a move you can argue with-- act while the iron is hot and all those other good expressions. And the addition of Brand does actually help the Sixers' bench by moving Reggie Evans to the back-up power forward spot and allowing Thaddeus Young to play more at small forward.

All in all, a very nice move.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Finger injury

I hurt my right pinky finger playing basketball last night. Nothing too serious (probably a bad jam, but one of the guys said it looked like the finger very briefly popped out of joint before popping back into place). However, with my pinky taped to the finger next to it, I'm finding it a bit hard to type quickly. My plan is to post my thoughts on the "Elton Brand chase" tonight or tomorrow, but then I'll probably hold off until next week to finish off my evaluation of the Sixers' off-season moves (resigning our restricted free agents and filling out the roster).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Help from the Draft

The 2008 NBA draft was held on June 26, 2008. The Sixers had only one pick in the draft, having traded our second round pick to the Utah Jazz. Picking 16th, the odds of landing a useful player were fairly low, but we'd managed to find Thaddeus Young at the 12th spot last year so there was hope.

As everyone reading this blog probably knows at this point, the Sixers selected Marreese Speights, a PF/C from Florida, with our selection. I freely admit that I knew nothing about him at the time, other than that there had been some rumors that he was not a particularly hard worker. But even the people he made that claim also said that he was a very talented player.

So will Speights help the Sixers this year? No way to really know until the season begins, but Professor Berri helpfully evaluated the play of all the featured rookies at the Las Vegas Summer League using Win Score (a version of Wins Produced). Now, he spends most of his post explaining that the sample size from summer league is so small that the resulting standard deviation makes the results somewhat (mostly) meaningless, but I'm going to ignore that part of the piece and just look at the (meaningless) numbers he puts up for Speights.

As this table shows, the average WS48 for an NBA center last season was 10.993. Speights posted a 10.7, putting him just under the average mark for a center. If that mark represents Speights's true ability for the year (a big if), then I think he'll help us this year. From another of Professor Berri's posts, we know approximately that WP48 = 0.104 + 1.621*PAWSmin. Thus, Speights's 10.7 WS48 --> PAWS48 = -0.3 --> PAWS/min = -.00625 --> WP48 = .094. Remember, average WP48 in the NBA = .100.

Erich Doerr's analysis (based on looking at the college PAWS of top prospects) is also very bullish on Speights's chances of being a productive NBA player.

To have a rookie selected 16th come in and be able to produce at close to the NBA average in his first season is a huge help. So while Speights obviously does not help with the Sixers' need to improve at shooting guard, the preliminary results indicate that he will help strengthen the Sixers' bench. All in all, a successful draft.

(Completely off topic, but one of the players I thought was being highly underrated in the run-up to the draft was Joey Dorsey from Memphis. The Rockets selected him in the second round, and the results from summer league look promising. Go Joey!)

Up next: The Elton Brand Chase.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Off-season moves

The other week, we had looked at the Sixers' roster as of the end of last season in order to identify the Sixers' needs going into this off-season. I summarized my analysis in this fashion:
In general, I think the numbers show that the Sixers' most glaring need was to improve the shooting guard position. Resigning Igoudala also was a clear off-season priority (although, as noted, not for all-star money). Simply accomplishing these two goals would have made the off-season a solid success, most likely ensuring a return to the playoffs. Beyond that, putting together a bench that inspires a bit more confidence was probably the next most urgent need. Resigning Louis Williams seems likely to help in that regard, but he's not nearly as certain to help as I think most people believe (including me before I did this analysis).
The Sixers have now made a number of moves, so it's time to see how these moves match up with the needs we identified. To start with, I think that the Sixers' moves this off-season can be grouped into four general categories: (1) The Draft, (2) The Elton Brand chase, (3) Resigning Our Restricted Free Agents, and (4) Rounding Out the Roster. I'll take each off these categories one at a time over the next couple of days.

In the mean time, I saw that Jason Smith injured himself the other day (ACL tear) and is out for an indefinite period of time. I obviously don't wish injury on anyone. At the same time, since our analysis from the other day indicated that Smith did not help the team much last season, but was still likely to get signficant playing time based on the general perception of his play, his injury (and unavailability to play) could actually be a slight boon to our chances this year. Of course, he was obviously just a rookie last season and therefore could have improved this year, so maybe I'm being too hard.

Up next: The Draft.