Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bargnani is playing better this season...right?

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Ah, another Barngani post. Whenever I feel like this site hasn't been getting much traffic lately, I know I can always count on a good ol' Bargnani post to bolster the numbers.

Last time I pointed out that not only should Bargnani not be considered an all-star this season, but that he shouldn't even be on the all-star ballot. Predictably, there were several negative and insulting comments left on that post, but thankfully, there were also some thoughtful comments, including this one by Eugene:
The more I look at bargnani's play this year and look at the relevant stats, the more I have come to a conclusion that is opposite to what has been generally suggested on this blog. That is to say: it is not the case that wp48 numbers show that, contrary to naive opinion, bargnani is an astonishingly bad NBA player. Rather, the fact that bargnani is a reasonably decent NBA player shows that there is something very seriously wrong with wins produced.
This is especially made clear when you look at the raptors front court tandem from earlier in the year. Bargs and Evans played a lot of minutes together, and according to wp48 bargs was mind-shatteringly awful while, simultaneously, evnas was the 4th best player in the NBA. What this demonstrates to me is that wp48 does a very bad job of allocating credit for wins. If you average their wp48 numbers, the average value makes sense, but wp48 gives Evans an unreasonable amount of credit and bargnani an unfair share of blame.
Eugene: that was a constructive comment - thanks for leaving it. But it's a common criticsm that us WP writers hear all the time; Arturo of Arturo's Silly Stats has written a bunch of stuff on it lately. Rather than examine WP methodology - I'll leave that Arturo - let's take a look at Bargnani's year-by-year numbers. If the numbers show that Bargnani has significantly improved his playing this year, that might be an indication that WP may have flaws. And if the numbers show that Bargnani has become more productive with Evans out, that might also be a sign that WP is flawed.

First let's look at Bargnani's numbers for the season. In the following table I've compared the stats of each of Bargnani's seasons, his career stats, and his career stats before this season, to the average numbers posted by the average centre and the average power forward (and no, we are not getting into another debate about which position Bargnani plays; he is clearly a PF who spends at least some time playing C). In addition to the things I normally look at, I've also included PER (which I do not endorse, because it rewards players for taking addtional shots, even when those shots miss), Win Shares per 48 (which I do not endorse, although it is much better than PER), and PPG. Here's the table:

What do the numbers say? Of the three comprehensive stats - WP48, WS/48, and PER, all of them say that Bargnani is less productive this season as compared to last season. Let me repeat: all three say that Bargnani is playing worse this season.

So what's changed? While he must be congratulated for getting to the line more often this year (2.5 more FTA per 48 minutes over last year - quite an achievement), making a higher percentage of his free-throws, and incrementally increasing his assists and steals (which remain close to his career averages and continue to be below average), his shooting efficiency has taken a dive, his turnovers have nearly doubled, and his already paltry rebounding numbers have fallen. His usually decent block numbers have decreased quite a bit, and his fouls - while still better than average - have increased. I forgetting to mention something? Oh yes: PTS, and PPG. Both have increased substantially. Unfortunately, given that Bargnani's shooting efficiency has decreased this year, he requires more shot attempts to get those points, and each missed shot hurts the team. Sure, he's making more shots and scoring more points, but all those additional missed shots fall into the hands of the opposing teams, which use the extra possessions to score more of their own points. Right now, Bargnani's shooting efficiency is just barely above the average numbers for power forwards and centres, and coming from a guy for whom shooting is supposed to be a strength, that's not a good sign.

Bargnani is a "scorer" who doesn't score very efficiently, one who also falls short in almost every other area of the game. Although his rebounding is particularly poor this year, he has always been a poor rebounder. Rather than hypothesizing that Evans (and Bosh before him) are "stealing his rebounds", perhaps the simpler explanation - that Bargnani simply can't or won't rebound - is the best one? After he's had a few more games without Evans, I'll take a look at his rebounds before and after Evans went down with injury, and I suspect that there will be little difference between the numbers.

After all, with Evans out, all that means is that someone else will be "stealing" rebounds away from him, right? Eventually, one must accept that Bargnani is simply a terrible, terrible rebounder.

Finally, let me address the following anonymous comment:
Wins Produced and defensive capabilities have absolutely nothing to do with making the all-star games. The majority of fans will never vote based on that, and I guarantee Coaches don't break down WP numbers to make decisions in their voting.
It all comes down to who they 'feel' deserves it (although from my experience name recognition tends to be paramount). While more hardcore fans will base decisions on advanced numbers, don't expect an all-star game, that is for fun and completely irrelevant, to be based on that.
If he does make the all-star game (and I'm not saying he will) it will be completely based on his scoring.
I'm also going to laugh my ass off if shaq gets voted to the all-star game by either the fans or coaches.
While it is true that the majority of fans do not take defensive capabilities (and certainly WP) into account when they are filling out their all-star ballots, that doesn't make it right. I think it would be better if fans learned to recognize more productive players and rewarded them accordingly. Of course, certain defensive players - like four-time all-star Ben Wallace - do manage to make get fan recognition, so the argument that fans completely ignore defensive is not quite accurate.

It has been shown that, time and time again, fans, coaches, and most members of the media use scoring to determine awards - no question about that. We also know that certain big-name players - Jordan (Wizards-era), Shaq (post Lakers), Vince Carter (most of the time), Yao Ming (while injured), and others - get voted in all the time, even when they don't deserve it. We also always hear arguments about how "entertaining", "exciting", and "fun" some players are to watch, and how that makes them qualify for the all-star game. Here's a shocking idea: how about the most productive players in the league make the all-star game?

Furthermore, do we really need to create all-star ballots in the first place? How many people actually fill out the physical ballots at arenas? I'm certain that most of the balloting happens online. Why not open up the online ballot to every single player in the league, removing the need to write players in? When using an online ballot, it's not like the NBA has to worry about printing costs and must keep the list of players short.

The team stats for week six will be up in a couple of days - I'm having computer problems at the moment. Also in store over the next little bit is the Raptors' all-time wins produced leaders, analysis that will be Powered by Nerd Numbers.

 - Devin


  1. An interesting analysis, but with all due respect, this is the problem when you allow stats to be the sole driver of your opinion of a player.

    First, it should be said that you appear to shrug off a significant jump in Barg's PPG and PTS as inconsequential. Perhaps his shooting % has 50%. I’ll take a guy hitting half of his shots. Not to mention tougher shots than he had to take last year, with the defence’s focus shifted to him.

    Re, his other stats, you can’t diminish the impact the venus flytrap he was playing with had on his rebound totals. I saw Evans rip boards out of teammates hands. I love the hustle, but don’t slight Bargs for it. I bet when you do a comparison pre-/post-Evans’s injury, you’ll see a difference.

    The fact that his assists have marginally improved is a miracle considering the offensive black hole that Evans represented and that some nights the wings haven’t been able to hit a hula-hoop some.

    Pile on top of all that he’s a seven footer that shoots 80+ from the line, and 34+ from deep and you’ve got a pretty solid player.

    But most him play. He is a better player. Period. Sure, there are games where he makes me want to pull my hair out, but everyone has those. The problem with the Raps is that there’s no one that’s really stepped up to paper over the cracks. More confident. More aggressive. Demands the ball. Makes smarter plays. Even has a marginally better move to the hoop.

    Heck, if the Miami Herald is willing to sing his praises, there must be something to it.

  2. Bad timing posted the this article on his career night. But he did have amare guarding but w.e. Still i do think the all star game should be based off entertaining players and not productive or defensive ones. Have 10 players playing hard defense, with full 24 second half court play does not make a fun all star game. Players don't even try for all star game anyways, juss run around takin shots they would nvr try in an actual game. Not that im sayin bargs would be in it, but i like the raptors i watch the raptors, and ill vote for him anyways

  3. Besides Amir Johnson (who can't create shots for himself and doesn't play big minutes), and Bayless (also coming off the bench), Bargnani is the most efficient scorer on the team (not saying much for Toronto unfortunately). Is it fair to criticize him for high usage when he is the best option on most possessions?

  4. Anonymous: it's not his FG% that is below 50%, it's his AdjFG%. Anything below 50% hurts your team, so simply taking more shots at that efficiency level - regardless of the number of points he scores - is not productive. If his percentages are lower because his shots are tougher, well then...he and his team need to figure out how to get him easier shots. Right now you're using the arguments Iverson and Kobe fanboys use to support 40+ FGA games.

    "Watch him play. He stats are down almost across the board, but he's a better player this year." This isn't an argument about he good he is one-on-one, or in a horse contest, or in a 3pt-shooting contest. This season, he has not been productive, and has been even less productive than last year. There is no getting around that. Like Carmelo Anthony, maybe he has the 'ability' to be more productive - and he may even have productive games from time to time, like the one against the Knicks - but he has never been productive for an entire season.


    We disagree on who should be select to play in the all-star game, then. I simply think it should go to the best players in the league. If I wanted entertainment, I'd go to a Globetrotters' game. Or why not just vote in former all-stars like Jordan and Iverson, and crazy dunkers like Gerald Green? That would be entertaining too.


    I see you gone over to the dark side - how disappointing. I'd certainly design my offense around getting Johnson some more shots (he's a much-improved shooter this year, by the way). Calderon has shot at 1.11PPS over the last five years and 1.09 over the last three. Barbosa is at 1.08PPS over the last five, although only 0.96 over the last three. Jerryd Bayless has decided to prove me wrong and actually become a productive player (and good at "shooting" if you take FTA into account). If Dorsey would get some more playing time, we might find out that he's similar enough to Johnson (ie: get him the ball in the right place and he will be very effective).

    But yes, Colangelo has assembled a lot of inefficient chuckers. Bargnani is sadly one of the more efficient shooters, but that still doesn't justify his large number of FGA/48 (highest on the team) and he wouldn't be my #1 option. Johnson, Calderon, and Dorsey would be getting more, and, generally, I'd spread the remaining FGA amongst the rest relatively equally (because it's less predictable and would create easier shots).