Ten weeks in: Ten questions for Wayne Winston

January, 5, 2010
1/05/10
11:34
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Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Wayne Winston is a professor at Indiana University and for nine years was Mark Cuban's stat guru for the Dallas Mavericks. Winston's book "Mathletics" explains much of his work -- complete with formulas and spreadsheets. In a series of interviews at the beginning of the season, Winston discussed many of the findings of his adjusted plus/minus system, including the Mavericks' kryptonite (and a follow-up), the player of the decade, buzzer-beating 3s, and coaching decisions. Winston also had a memorable line in a stir-causing post about Kevin Durant.

It's generally agreed that plus/minus stats need large numbers of games to be meaningful. Now that we have ten weeks of the NBA season under our belts, it's time to see what Winston's spreadsheets are saying about the season so far:

1. Who are the key Celtics this season?
Kevin Garnett is not the KG of the past. His adjusted plus/minus is minus-6 and his offense rating is minus 10. Rasheed Wallace (minus-1 adjusted +/-) has not played as well as he played in past.

Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo have been great with Ray totally carrying the offense (plus-15 offense rating).

2. How has the Vince Carter for Hedo Turkoglu swap worked for Orlando?
Last year Hedo Turkoglu had a plus-2 rating, but was plus-12 against Cavaliers.

Carter has a plus-9 rating but what matters is how he plays against Cavs, Celtics and Hawks. So far Vince has averaged +12 rating against these guys so things look good.

The Magic have by far the deepest team in league. The 11th and 12th men are Marcin Gortat and Brandon Bass!

Jason Williams has a plus-10 rating has been great at point with Jameer Nelson only minus-2. I think Dwight Howard hides Williams' defensive problems. The problem for the Magic is that Rashard Lewis (minus-11) and Mickael Pietrus (minus-9) have played poorly. On the other hand J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Ryan Anderson have been excellent. I think they can show more different good lineup combinations than anybody. If Stan Van Gundy pushes the right buttons I think they will win the East. So far Magic, at plus-7.5 points, have best overall team rating in NBA.

3. Does Pau Gasol have to be healthy for the Lakers to be favorites to make the Finals in the West?
If Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom are healthy they should have no problem. Lakers are great when at least three of these guys are on court. They have two great lineups: The Big Four with either Shannon Brown or Jordan Farmar. These lineups play more than 40 points better than average, and nobody can match this. With Fisher as the fifth player they play 20 points better than average.

If one of Big Four is below par, they will have trouble.

4. If the Lakers don't win the West, who will?
If Josh Howard stays healthy and Mavs get decent center play (Dampier is minus -10 adjusted plus/minus and Drew Gooden is minus-21) I think Mavs have a good shot. They probably need to trade Dampier’s contract for an upgrade at center.

Denver has been disappointing with Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith playing poorly. I think the Suns are overrated. The Spurs are flying under the radar but so far have best points rating (plus five-and-a-half) of any Western Conference team. If their Big 3 stay healthy I think they can also challenge the Lakers.

5. How about that Kevin Durant?
Most amazing improvement I have ever seen. Currently his adjusted plus/minus is plus-16.5. On offense the Thunder score plus-12.7 when he's on the floor, and on defense they hold opponents to a minus-3.8. His impact (impact is how a player changes team’s chance of winning game -- if you come back from down 20 near the end to lose by five this really helps your plus/minus but in impact it has little effect because you had almost no chance of winning game) is 23%. He should make first or second team all NBA. Thunder needs to realize they are much better with Green off the court. KD and Green have an interaction rating of minus-nine points which means that when Green and Durant are on court Thunder plays nine points worse than expected.

6. What about Joakim Noah? Is he better this year in your system?
A stat stuffer but his adjusted plus/minus is minus-15. Luol Deng has been their key guy. Adjusted plus/minus of plus-20.

7. Who is the rookie of the year so far?
Although he has slipped I still pick Brandon Jennings. His adjusted plus/minus is plus-2 but his Impact rating of plus-38% is amazing (19th in league). This means when game is on the line he delivers. Tyreke Evans (minus-1 point rating and plus-3 impact) has also been good. Underrated is James Harden (plus-four point rating and plus-9% impact rating). Casspi has a minus-six points rating but a good plus-7% impact. Stephen Curry has a zero point rating but minus-7% impact. Hasheem Thabeet has a plus-10 point rating and a plus-26% impact -- he has been great in limited time. Marcus Thornton has a plus-eight point rating plus-1% impact, so has also been great in limited minutes.

8. Who is the MVP?
Surely Dirk. He leads the whole league in two of my categories, plus/minus points and impact (plus-26 points, plus-73% impact). Luol Deng, Ray Allen and LeBron James have also been great. People forget Kobe Bryant has great teammates, so I do not think he is up there.

9. Coach of the year?
I think Lionel Hollins or Paul Westphal. Nobody thought these teams had a shot at playoffs, but they do now. Give Aaron [Aaron Barzilai, quantitative analyst for the Memphis Grizzlies and basketballvalue.com founder] some credit for Grizzlies’ great play!

10. You have told me that many coaches do things you simply cannot understand, for instance by ignoring some really good lineups. What are some of the best lineups from this season, and are some of them not being played enough?
As I described above, the Lakers have the best lineups. After that, some of the best in the League are:

Hawks: Mike Bibby, Jamal Crawford, Al Horford, Josh Smith and Joe Johnson Rating: +37
Cavaliers:
Daniel Gibson, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, LeBron James, Anderson Varejao and Delonte West or Anthony Parker Rating: +53
Mavericks: Erick Dampier, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion Rating +31
Warriors:
Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Anthony Morrow, Anthony Randolph, Vladimir Radmanovic Rating +40
Bucks:
Charlie Bell, Andrew Bogut, Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings Rating +29
Knicks:
Chris Duhon, Danilo Gallinari, Larry Hughes, Jared Jeffries and David Lee Rating +51
Thunder:
Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, Nenad Krstic, Thabo Sefelosha and Russell Westbrook Rating +32
Magic:
Ryan Anderson, Matt Barnes, Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick Rating +56
Magic:
Matt Barnes, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard and Jason Williams Rating +36
Raptors:
Andrea Bargnani, Marco Bellinelli, Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon and Hedo Turkoglu Rating +35
Jazz:
Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Kyrylo Fesenko, Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews Rating +26
Jazz:
Ronnie Brewer, Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap, Mehmet Okur, Deron Williams Rating +26

With all that in mind, some notes:
  • The Jazz have only played those two good lineups above a total of 88 minutes, but they have played Boozer in place of Fesenko more than 200 minutes even though it does not rate nearly as well.
  • The Wizards have a good lineup with Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and Earl Boykins. But they have hardly played it. Meanwhile Randy Foye and Arenas play horribly together (interaction rating of minus-six points). Why play them so much together?
  • The Warriors have played that good lineup above just 40 minutes, but play some really bad lineups long minutes.
  • For the Knicks, Wilson Chandler, Chris Duhon, Al Harrington, Larry Hughes and David Lee is bad (minus-21). Put Gallinari (+30 rating) or Jeffries (+8 rating) for Chandler and the Knicks are much better. So why has first lineup played almost as often as the other two put together (85 minutes vs. 87 minutes)?
  • Most Thunder lineups with both Durant and Jeff Green in are poor. When KD and Westbrook are in without Green, the Thunder are 20 points better than average in 202 min. So why not bring Green off the bench? This team should easily make playoffs if they play the right lineups.

Henry Abbott | email

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