Posted by: Tom Sunnergren
10/11/10 10:21 am EST

There’s a school of thought in film criticism that a piece of cinema can be so bad, such a misfire on every possible level, that it can be understood as great.  The thinking, as I understand it, is that doing the complete opposite, in the most literal sense, of what every correct artistic impulse dictates demonstrates a genius-level ability to identify, intuitively or otherwise, the essential pivot-points in the machinery of cinema.  The director of such a film has created a sort of photonegative of greatness, which with a little imagination, can itself be appreciated as great.

Willie Green – the exquisitely, defiantly, relentlessly awful Willie Green– was, in his own way, just such a photonegative.  And now, mercifully, he’s gone.  And some part of me –a part of me lodged so deep in the recesses of my being that I can only access it when I listen to Depeche Mode – misses him.

Some guys are unproductive, but fail to produce in kinesthetically impressive ways.  They jump high, run fast, and attempt ill-advised but handsome looking passes into traffic.  Willie Green is not one of these players.  He’s so un-athletic, and looks so bad on the court, that you might assume he’s actually good; that his pedestrian musculature and manifest ordinariness distract us from meaningful but stealthy contributions.  A black Scott Hatteberg.  If he looks so bad, the only way he could have stuck around the league, or even made it in the first place, is if he’s sneakily really productive, you’d be forgiven for thinking.  This benefit of the doubt is mislaid.  He’s really, really bad.  Worse than he looks.  And again, he looks atrocious.

I’m going to chart his awfulness.  A picture is worth a thousand words and a good chart is worth at least half that.  We’ll put the areas where he’s below average in red.

Statistic (Per 48 minutes) Average SG Willie Green’s Career
Points per shot 0.96 0.91
Free Throw Percentage 0.8 0.75
Field Goal Attempts 17.5 19.8
Free Throw Attempts 4.9 3.5
Points Scored 20.8 20.7
Rebounds 5.6 4.2
Steals 1.8 1.3
Blocked Shots 0.5 0.3
Assists 4.6 3.8
Turnovers 2.8 2.6
Personal Fouls 3.7 4.0

That’s a lot of red.  It makes Machete look like You Again.  Willie’s bad at everything but taking shots and avoiding turnovers.  Good news though for the integrity of my argument that Willie Green is bad at everything (though very bad news for people who’s mood is affected by the Sixers): taking shots hurts your team if you convert them at a below average rate (which he does!) and his lack of conventional turnovers is offset by all the possessions he gives the other team by missing shots!  So he’s a five-tool liability!  And what’s this? (finds piece of paper under couch cushion) Oh, another stat that explicates how awful Willie Green is (looks at paper again and shakes his head, takes a shot of Jameson, girlfriend peaks head around corner, looks frightened, retreats back to kitchen.)  Sit down for this.  Over the course of his career, Green’s produced 30.6 fewer wins than an average shooting guard would have if given his 9,000 minutes.  

The Sixers have gone 257-317 since Willie joined the team.  For those of you back-of-the-envelope mathematicians following at home, this means that if they had had a player who was completely average –not great or even good, but a dime-a-dozen fiftieth percentile schlub – playing in his stead they would have gone 288-286 over that period (looks at half full bottle of Jameson, then at loaded handgun that sits next to it.  Lingers on gun, but finally snatches the Jameson and takes another slug. One more day he tells himself).  Willie Green has been the difference between the Sixers being a terrible franchise and an OK one.  He’s been our defining player.  Our prime mover.  Our swing vote.  Our Anthony Kennedy.

And now he’s gone, and he’s taken with him a piece of the Sixers’ identity – a piece of their soul.

Well, maybe so, but I like to think that every time an open jumper is clanked off the back of the rim, a defensive assignment is whiffed-on, or an eleven-point 4 for 13 night is met with inexplicable plaudits from the local media, Willie Green will be there, smiling.  And it’ll be like he never left.*

*It’ll also be like he never left because the players we got in return for he and Jason Smith – Craig Brackins and Darius Songaila – are arguably worse than Green.  Brackins was projected by Draft Express as having a Channing Frye upside and Songaila was the worst player in the NBA last season.  Out of all the trades in the history of the NBA, this may be the one that saw the worst players exchange hands.   We traded the worst player in franchise history and may have gotten even worse!  Go Sixers!  Huzzah!



  1. Aaron
    11. October 2010 at 20:37

    I happen to disagree..again..with you Thomas Sunnergan. You can look at all these devious statistics you want and you can go ahead and believe that building a team around it will lead to success, but, like your writing career, this would lead to failure. These stats do not take many aspects of the game into consideration, youre only looking at his “box score” stats. I do not want to go into detail about this because all I have to say to prove my point is that you said Carmelo Anthony “sucks” and Andre Iguodala is a “superstar.” If you have any basketball knowledge at all and understanding of the Sixers, you would realize that players such as Primoz Brezec laced em up for the Sixers as well. Go ahead and talk about wins produced all you want, but Willie was a solid veteran role player and you can never blame him for the Sixers’ failures. Please stop infecting people with this garbage you base your feeble career on, and look into the deeper meaning of the game of basketball, not just “points per shot for a SG per 48 minutes”

  2. Eric DeWald
    12. October 2010 at 03:09

    i agree %100 w/Aaron, this blog makes me ashamed to be a Sixers fan and from a general basketball\NBA fan’s standpoint does nothing except reflect poorly upon the Sixers franchise and the city itself. This blog perceives Philly sport fans as not only the lovable miserable pessimists that are famous around the country but instead mean spirited and close minded fools who don’t realize when they have a good thing looking them straight in the face.

    This team has made significant moves this off season, whether or not this team has anything to show for it is despite the fact that the off season has provided transactions such as bringing a proven coach to tutor a band tremendous young athletes with great potential.

  3. James
    12. October 2010 at 08:57

    wow aaron, you re the only fan stupid enough to like willie green.

  4. Philadunkia
    12. October 2010 at 12:09

    Ok Aaron (and Eric). Thanks for reading us and taking the time to comment.

    I get your resistance to stats. Part of the reason many of us enjoy sports is that they are a form of escapism: they offer a respite from the steady drumbeat of reason and logic that pervades our lives, and stats sort of pollute that. They infect sports with a bottom-line, productivity focused thinking that (especially during an economic downturn) we go to them to avoid. Fair enough.

    I though, and some people like me, are interested in understanding why the games are won and lost as well as enjoying the spectacle. Some people evidently think this is repugnant. I disagree. I think that really understanding what is happening and why enhances the experience of watching the game.

    Advanced statistics are the best way to understand the game. And wins produced, while not perfect, is, in my mind and the minds of many people much more learned than me in stat and econ, the best we’ve got. And it’s going to get better.

    It’s going to get better because it’s science.

    There are two choices in this stat/eyeball debate: science or religion. Science is a method of inquiry: it’s a serious minded, listen to the data, rule nothing out, pursuit of truth. Religion is less a method of inquiry than a fixed belief system, and that belief is usually this: I know better than the experts. I, again, get this. People want control of the narrative, and not only in sports. Saying “I don’t care what the numbers say, I know Carmelo is better than Iggy” is a lot like saying “I don’t care what the scientists say, I know people didn’t descend from monkeys.”

    Again, science isn’t about a set of conclusions, it’s about an approach to problems. And I’ve got news for you Aaron: science –whether it be in the form of theories of evolution or NBA algorithms– always wins.

    Thanks again for reading.

  5. Paul
    12. October 2010 at 14:28

    Clearly science and advanced stats are the be all end all of sports. Just look at how many playoff games those Moneyball A’s won!

    I have no problems with these stats. What I do have a problem with is the way many of these stat heads make the unwise jump from these statistics showing us what happened, to them showing us what will happen. If these advanced stats are so good at telling us what will happen then why are you posting to this blog when you whould be on the French Riviera living it up with your Vegas winnings?

  6. Eric DeWald
    12. October 2010 at 16:53

    very good point and your right stats dont lie nor do algorithims that incorporate them. Stats are vital to tracking players progress and as you said providing further insight to how the game is won and lost. Even you however must admit, as you sit in the stands watching the game are you yourself calcuating these algorithims in your head or if you have the pleasure to be at a competitive contest do you find yourself hanging on to every up and down the game has to offer. The fact of the matter is that for the majority of fans besides the avid blogger and writer these algorithims make not the slightest bit of difference to them. In addition these stats have no way to track taking charges, laying out for the ball and general hustle plays that make this game so great to watch along with the fact that as a backup and role player Willie Green provided all of the above while displaying a affinity for sportmanship and being a team player for the duration of his years in Philadelphia, through thick and thin as a starter or reserve.

  7. Paul
    12. October 2010 at 23:37

    “In addition these stats have no way to track taking charges, laying out for the ball and general hustle plays that make this game so great to watch”

    I think a stat guy would disagree. If these things truly help you win, then wouldn’t they manifest themselves in the numbers in some way? Meaning, if a guy does not hustle, his numbers will be hurt.

    As for wins produced being “the best we’ve got”, any stat that tries to tell me that Rodman was more valuable than Jordan during any of their seasons together, or that Ben Wallce was ever the league’s MVP, needs to get a hell of a lot better for me to take notice.

  8. Will
    12. October 2010 at 23:43

    I think I see both sides of this argument. On one hand i think advanced stats are great. They are extremely revealing and fill in a lot of holes in understanding what we are watching. But that’s it. I don’t think that you can simply look at a player’s wins produced and instantly totally understand that player’s value on the basketball court. Like you said, Tom, WP is a work in progress. While it is extremely helpful, the notion that willie green is “the worst player in franchise history” is ridiculous. There are plenty of worse players we have had who simply didnt log enough minutes to make a noticeable statistic impression. I think that is the main problem with the wins produced stat. On the other hand, to completely ignore advanced stats (like it seems Aaron and Eric do) is just dumb. These stats truly help understand the game better. You can stand there stubbornly and claim that you know better all you want. You don’t. Willie green sucks. Just not as much as tom says he does.

  9. Ransom
    13. October 2010 at 00:24

    Ok so i agree with ur premise that Willie sucks (been trying to convince my dad of this forever it seems). But i still disagree with your rational, sort of. Sure advanced stats are great (not really) and they attempt to help us understand a game (that we will never completely puzzle out) but they dont tell everything. How often in sport has a new stat come along that everyone loves, until a new one makes it look stupid? Thats my all these algorithms are inherently tricky. For all their elaborate answers im sure many will look stupid in retrospect a couple years from now. It has certainly happened before. Thats why tradition stats, flawed tho they are, can be better. In basketball you still need to score more than the other team…thats why you can look at a player’s ppg and fg%’s and cypher the kind of scorer he is for example. I, and anyone else who watches a lot of basketball, will inherently distrust any stat ideology that tells professional scouts that Durant is “literally worthless” or that Andre Iguodala’s shitty shooting is far superior to Carmelo Anthony’s not shitty shooting. Aside from that, i feel like part of your commentary on Green is unfair. Before his knee injury he did not look awful (i dont remember what stats were like) and a young willie green did some things that (laugh if you want) looked very much like dwyane wade moves in terms of skill and athleticism.

  10. Philadunkia
    13. October 2010 at 13:17

    1.)Paul, in response to your first comment: I have never claimed that wins produced is perfectly predictive of outcomes. What it is is explanatory. And unfortunately, from the gamblers perspective, even if you know that one team is much better than another, you don’t know for certain what the outcome will be (this is especially true in five game baseball series, which those A’s had a tendency to lose), you just know that they are likely to win. And unlikely things happen all the time (Giants over Pats in the Super Bowl last year comes to mind). That said, I suspect that many people have made money gambling with ideas underpinned by wins produced. I’m not a big gambler myself, but if you want a tip, take a futures bet on whatever vegas has listed as the Sixers win total this year. Take the under. You can make it up to me by continuing to read the blog. 2.)Eric, in response to your second comment: Each of those plays would be reflected, albeit indirectly, in wins produced. 3.)Will, I think you are exactly right. WP, or any advanced stat is an approach to understanding the game, and it’s an approach that has a ways to go. If you want to see a little into the future of basketball, go over fangraphs.com and see the stuff those guys do with baseball analytics. We’ve come a long way since OPS. You’re also correct that from an efficiency perspective, Willie is not the worst Sixer of even this era. But because he logged so many minutes on the court, his total win output is the lowest. I’m comfortable calling him the worst, but your point is well taken. 4.)Ransom, you are right that some of our numbers will look incomplete a few years from now, and that’s great news. We’ll know even more a few years from now! That doesn’t mean the numbers we have now are junk. To go back to the baseball analogy, though its since been passed in utility by a lot of numbers (WAR, OPS+, wOBA) OPS was still a very informative number in its day, and still is today. And either way it was a huuuuuge improvement over batting average. I think that you Ransom, to continue the analogy, are still using batting average when OPS is available. As far as your second point goes, if you can find a video of Willie Green doing something that makes him look even remotely like Dwayne Wade (besides cashing a check) please, please pass it along. Thanks again everybody for reading and getting involved in the conversation.

  11. Aaron
    13. October 2010 at 19:09

    Ok, I never said I dont pay attention to stats, and i respect what you are trying to say about the science of the game, but science in real life is based on facts and whatever it is there is a definite answer. While these scientific stats you are putting up are the truth, you cant soley believe in everything they say and then build a team around it because there is no guarentee that the team would be successful. Im pretty sure there are alot of solid role players that have produced their share of wins in the NBA today that if you took 15 of them and put them on one roster, the team would not be successful. I think these stats are important and should be looked at, but to judge someones career based on them and call them a bum because theyre a few decimals off from the league average is stupid.

    And for JAMES, how bout you stop being the oddball and actually type a good response instead of the 1st grade level garbage you wrote. I never said I “like” Willie Green, I respect him. And I guarentee I know more about basketball than you, but thats not important.

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