Yesterday, Tom Liston of Raptors Republic - TrueHoop's Raptors' affiliate - wrote a column about Reggie Evans and James Johnson. In his column, Tom mentions that he has some problems with Wins Produced and my analysis of Evans and Johnson in the past. Specifically, Tom's main issues seem to be:
- Evans' WP48 is near the top of the league (currently at 0.356), but Reggie doesn't seem to belong with the other players (Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade) at the top.
- If Wins Produced doesn't overvalue rebounds, and the only thing Evans' does well is rebound, why is Evans' WP48 so high?
- James Johnson is playing well in Toronto - "he’s pretty much exactly the same player" as he was during his rookie season. So why did I say that he probably wouldn't be a good player when Toronto traded for him?
- Wins Produced is one measure of player productivity among several, and one should "never rely on one metric to draw conclusions".
Let's start with Reggie.
Why is Reggie Evans so productive?
Some people seem to have this problem whenever I mention, use, or reference Win Produced; their eyes glaze over, they start frothing at the mouth, and they begin to speak some kind of incomprehensible language. Sure, that also happens when I'm not talking about Wins Produced, but still. Anyways, here's an experiment: of the seasons in the following table, which one looks the best to you? I will tell you that they are seasons from Reggie Evans' career, but not which ones specifically.
As you can see, all four seasons, A through D, are compared against the numbers from an average power forward. Which looks best? Clearly season A has the worst shooting (although the FT% is relatively good, which isn't saying much), but it also has the best rebounding, fouls, assists, and turnovers. Season B has the best adjusted field goal percentage, but unfortunately the poor free throw shooting ruins the overall shooting, as evidenced by the true shooting percentage. Notice that season B is also worse than season A in almost every non-shooting way. Season C has the best shooting, which is best measured by true shooting percentage. The free throw attempts, field goal attempts, and points are about halfway in between seasons A and B, but season C is worse than season B in every non-shooting area. Season D looks very similar to season C, but is better in almost every area.
So which do you choose? Which do you chooooooose?
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You will not be surprised to find out that seasons A-D are, respectively, the 2010-11 season, the 2009-10 season, the 2008-09 season, and Evans' career stats. Evans is playing a lot better this season than he has in the recent past, although he is no stranger to seasons of WP48s of 0.250 and higher (0.283 in 06-07, for instance).
I think that's straightforward enough - Evans is having a good year - his best - because he's doing one thing really well and minimizing the impact of the things he does poorly. But why is his WP48 up near the likes of Love, Howard, Paul, LeBron, and Wade?
Let's get this out of the way first: Reggie Evans is rebounding at a rate that only one player over the last 34 seasons has been able to match (I'll ruin the surprise for you: it's Dennis Rodman). Evans is really, really good at rebounding this season (and please remember: he played with Bargnani last year, too, and I don't want to get into another rehash of the endless "WP overvalues rebounds" argument, because it's been stomped to death). He's doing pretty well with regards to steals and turnovers, but the rebounding is what carries him. Those other players - Love, Howard, Paul, LeBron, and Wade - aren't one-trick ponies; they do a lot of things well. In fact, Kevin Love is pretty much a Reggie Evans who can shoot. So that's the main difference between Evans and the rest - Evans can do one thing amazingly well, and the others are more all-round players.
That doesn't fully answer the question though. Why does a one-trick pony - albeit a historically good one-trick pony - approach the WP48 of the best players in the game? It has to do with how Wins Produced is calculated. Wins Produced is based on the statistical correlation between box score stats and team point differentials. Rebounds, it turns out, are very important for success in the NBA (go figure). So we shouldn't be surprised that a player who rebounds at a historically good rate and who doesn't have many negative statistical areas in his stats is thought to be playing exceptionally well.
But make no mistake: good production does not necessarily mean "good player". Personifying Wins Produced, WP looks at Reggie's stats and says "here is a productive player." It does not say why this player productive, nor does it say that this player is "better" than all the players with lower WP48s; it simply says "here is a more productive player." It does not tell us who would win a game of one-on-one, nor does it tell us who would win a game of horse, 21, bump, a three-point shooting contest, or a beauty pageant. It simply says that Reggie has been very productive this season, almost as productive as some of the best all-round players in the league. With that established, we can then perform more in-depth analysis, like we did above:
- Why is he productive? (rebounding)
- Would I want him on my team? (to get rebounds, yes)
- Should Reggie take more shots to increase his scoring average? (no; while his scoring average will increase with more shots, he is so bad at shooting that he will increase the negative aspects of his game and thus hurt his own production, as well as his team's)
- Down by two with three seconds left, should he be taking a turn-around, fade-away three pointer if he's double-teamed and there are other teammates open behind the three point line? (in the name of all that is good in the world, NO!)
So ends part one. In part two, I will discuss L'affaire Johnson and examine whether or not Wins Produced is just one metric among many that we should consider before we evaluate NBA players (hint: I'm still a writer for the Wages of Wins Network).