In the mind of Daniel Myers, Andrew Bynum's impact on the Sixers could be a cornerstone for the franchise.

ANALYZING THE SIXERS

A relatively new and popular way of analyzing sports teams and players is through the use of advanced statistics.

Around the NBA, you’ve seen teams hiring their own stat guru’s to better evaluate talent based on their findings.  Early in December, the Memphis Grizzlies hired ESPN’s highly popular analyst, John Hollinger, as their Vice President of Basketball Operations.  At the beginning of the season, the Sixers hired Aaron Barzilai, creator of the website basketballvalue.com, as the team’s director of analytics.

The most famous stat-guy in the front offices of an NBA team is Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets. He was the first NBA general manager to be hired through the Moneyball concept of thinking.  This past offseason, he famously signed Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik while also trading for James Harden.  The Rockets are now one of the most intriguing and exciting teams to watch in the League, currently holding the NBA’s second-best offense.

Being relatively new to the subject of advanced statistics I couldn’t think of a better way to both enlighten myself about the topic and to give readers a better understanding as well then to interview one of the more popular number-crunchers out there today.

Meet Daniel Myers, administrator to the widely used basketball analytics forum apbr.org, which was started by Dr. Dean Oliver, a former statistical analyst for both the Seattle Supersonics and Denver Nuggets.  The forum features conversations between statistical experts such as Mike Zarren, who over the summer had interviewed to become the Sixers general manager, Joe Sill, who created the regularized adjusted plus-minus system and serves as an analytics consultant for the Washington Wizards, and Jon Nichols, who owns the website basketball-statistics.com and who serves as the manager of basketball analytics for the Milwaukee Bucks, among others.

Myers, being a big fan of the website wagesofwins.com when it first came out, started creating his own advanced statistics which have been refined and perfected over the years.  The advanced stats that he created are advanced statistical plus-minus (ASPM) and value over replacement player (VORP).  The full explanation of these statistics can be seen here.  By clicking on the Sixers logo through this link, you can see the breakdown of how each Sixer ranks this season based on his analytical models compared to the rest of the league.

NBA stat expert Daniel Myers’ charting of the ASPM and VORP ratings which he created.

The data shows that Thaddeus Young, Jrue Holiday and Jason Richardson have all played above the league average in their positions this season.  It also shows you that Jrue Holiday is the most crucial piece to the Sixers offense, while Thaddeus Young has shown to be the most irreplaceable player on the Sixers roster.

Defensively the data tells you that Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and surprisingly Nick Young have been the most productive on the team so far this season.  It also shows that Evan Turner and Dorell Wright have both played average as a whole this season while Lavoy Allen and Spencer Hawes have played widely below average.

Myers explained to me why fans should be taking systems like the ones he created more seriously in terms of evaluating a basketball player.

“Obviously you can’t watch all the games.  Think of stats like looking at a bridge,” said Myers. “I can look at a bridge and tell you by looking at a lot of them whether or not they’re going to stand up or not, but there are ways to more accurately determine reality based on mathematical formulation.  And there are ways similarly in basketball to more accurately explain things because the human eye is fallible.”

“The numbers help provide a non-biased perspective on players or really on anything if the statistics are done properly.”

The advanced stats which I’m most familiar with are WS/48 (wins shared per 48 minutes), Roland Rating, RAPM (regularized adjusted plus-minus) and VI (versatility index).  Before going further in my interview with Daniel, I cleared up which of these stats are the most accurate and what I should take into consideration when looking at these numbers.

WS/48: “I would call the best box score stat available. I’m also partial to the one I created as well, but to the widely used stats out there that’s the best of the bunch.  The biggest issue with offensive ratings and win shares is that they don’t account for usage enough.  Offensive rating is looking at how efficient a player is with the shots they take … There is a value to taking many shots, despite what wins produced or wins shared might tell you about a player.”

Roland Rating: “For what it’s worth I would kind of ignore Roland Rating.  Even Roland Beech its creator doesn’t even care too much about it.  Roland Rating isn’t an adjusted plus-minus at all, which creates extremely high variance. Non-adjusted plus-minus is borderline unusable.”

RAPM: “RAPM is fairly useful, but it doesn’t stabilize extremely fast…If you look at Turner’s RAPM rating for example, you wouldn’t be able to really judge what Turner has been doing this season that effectively. RAPM uses the data from the trailing years, so Turner’s rating in that case wouldn’t change very fast.  Joe Sill, the original developer of RAPM, and Jeremias Engelmann his protege, evaluate a players data from his oldest season to the newest.  When a new season begins Engelmann will regress that players data towards the number from the previous year, instead of regressing the data towards the mean. It can be a little funky when you’re talking about young or old players where their data is trailing up or down. With Evan Turner you’re seeing an under-representation of what he’s doing because he (Engelmann) doesn’t factor in age with his data.”

VI: “It’s a good way to characterize a player.  I don’t think it provides a very good understanding to how valuable a player is to his team.  A stat like wins shared however does include things like versatility so it’s a more accurate representation of that.”

Here’s how the Sixers are rated in terms of each statistic:

Player

WS/48

Roland

Off RAPM

Def RAPM

VI

Thaddeus Young

0.13

7.8

2.46

1.07

6.4

Dorell Wright

0.1

-0.4

-1.16

0.41

6.9

Jrue Holiday

0.09

5.8

0.16

0.54

9.2

Spencer Hawes

0.09

-4.3

-1.5

0.03

7.7

Royal Ivey

0.09

-4.7

-3.22

-0.88

4.3

Lavoy Allen

0.09

-2.7

-1.6

1.49

5.9

Jason Richardson

0.08

3.5

0.1

-0.67

5.9

Kwame Brown

0.08

-8.3

-1.72

0.47

4.7

Arnett Moultrie

0.08

-10.9

-1.7

-1.57

N/A

Evan Turner

0.07

-0.2

-1.46

-1.06

8.3

Damien Wilkins

0.06

-5.5

-2.31

0.61

N/A

Nick Young

0.05

-2.7

-0.84

-2.13

5.2

Maalik Wayns

-0.16

-20.1

-1.86

-1.88

N/A

As Myers pointed out earlier, WS/48 is probably the best widely-used stat to judge a player.  Obviously Kwame Brown, Royal Ivey and Arnett (D-League) Moultrie haven’t been more valuable to the Sixers’ success this season than Evan Turner has, so why does Turner sit in 10th on the team in WS/48?

“He’s (Turner’s) a very versatile beast.  The main issue is that he just doesn’t shoot very well,” says Myers. “(Andre) Iguodala is the type of player that Evan Turner should try to become which is someone who doesn’t have to shoot a million shots.  He should focus on doing all the little things more and play good defense instead of worrying so much about his offense.  In my opinion Turner should be a lower usage player.  He should be filling in for rebounds and assists, but probably taking fewer shots.  The problem with the Sixers is that there are just not a lot of highly efficient players on the team.  If he did take less shots though you’d see his rating go up.”

Turner is second on the team in shots attempted with 421.  Even while missing four games due to injury, Holiday still leads the team with 465.  As Myers had said about WS/48 before, there is a value to taking many shots despite what wins shared might tell you. He talked about how Holiday’s rating is slightly higher than Turner’s because of the amount of assists he has compared to his shot attempts.

“When I run regressions to develop stats myself, it’s interesting to look at assists and usage.  The value of a players assists is directly related to how many possessions he uses otherwise,” said Myers.  “So if a player is dishing out five assists but only taking a couple of shots, those assists are typically not very valuable.  But for a player who is taking 15 shots a game, those assists are of high value.  Using Kobe for example, he’s not dishing it unless somebody is wide open. So when his assists occur it’s generally an indicator of that value. (Holiday) not only gets a lot of assists, but he has a very high usage rating.  He’s using 26 percent of the possessions on the team.”

As a team the Sixers are 21st in the League in offensive efficiency.  Their point differential of -2.3 is also 21st.  It’s hard to really thrive as a player in WS/48 with a team as inefficient as the Sixers.  Using the Dallas Mavericks as an example, who have the 22nd ranked team offensive efficiency rating in the NBA, you can see how a teams inefficiency can really have an affect on a players WS/48.  Of players on the Mavs who have played more than 500 minutes this season, just five have a WS/48 average of above .07 compared to the Sixers who have seven.

Now compare these two teams to the Oklahoma City Thunder who are ranked first in the League in offensive efficiency. Of the players who have played more than 500 minutes this season for their team, six players have a WS/48 rating of above .12.  Thaddeus Young is the only Sixer with a rating of above .12.

Myers talked about how the loss of Lou Williams in the off-season for the addition of Nick Young has taken a considerable toll on the Sixers offensive efficiency.

“Lou Williams was the best offensive player on the team last season.  I was really surprised when they got rid of him and brought in Nick Young in the off-season, because Nick Young is notoriously inefficient,” said Myers.  “Most of the advanced stats people would agree that he (Nick) probably shouldn’t even be playing in the NBA.  Unless you want to put him deep on your bench as somebody who can come in and chuck up a lot of shots when you’re way behind.”

Myers thinks just based on the teams offensive efficiency problems alone, the rest of the season doesn’t look too bright for the Sixers.

“The teams point differential is quite poor,” said Myers.  “It’s never good when you’re being out-scored, especially by a considerable margin.  Unless something drastic happens I see the Sixers finishing with around 36 or 37 wins this season.”

Despite the teams woes both offensively and through injury, they did just have one of their best defensive performances of the season last night to beat the Lakers and improve to 15-17.  With a healthy Andrew Bynum possibly returning in the beginning of February, and close to half a season left for him to play, 20 wins in 40 games doesn’t sound that out of the question.  Even though Myers doesn’t see too much hope for the rest of this season, he believes the Sixers organization could possibly have gotten in Bynum the perfect player to build around.

In the mind of Daniel Myers, Andrew Bynum’s impact on the Sixers could be a cornerstone for the franchise.

“There are two types of players who provide very good value to a team.  Players on rookie contracts and max players,” said Myers. “Both of those players provide significant value beyond what their contract is worth…What I think people need to look for in terms of a player is their salary.  Consider what they produce versus their salary.  The Sixers right now are trying to find those underpaid players.  Jrue Holiday’s very valuable, he’s probably worth $15 million a year and Thaddeus Young is close to that.  Turner’s probably worth about $7 million a year, but you have to realize that these are still young players and Turner in his prime at 26 will probably be worth a couple more million a year.  Holiday will probably be worth about $5 million more once he reaches his prime and Thad at least a couple million more as well.

“Try to recognize how much these players are paid compared to their value on the court.  Bynum could be the cornerstone player for the franchise and if he is he’ll be worth way beyond his max contract.”

The season and franchise after all do hang in the balance of Andrew Bynum’s knees and he said they’re feeling stronger now which is a good sign.  All that can happen now is the waiting game.  If Bynum pans out and returns to the court fully healthy, the team won’t need to play for the lottery to survive.  Not only that, but according to Myers they’ll have at least two more very valuable players in Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday locked into deals for the long-term as well.

Since Jrue Holiday’s return from injury, the Sixers have stayed competitive in every game win or lose. It’s hard not to think about what the outcomes would’ve been if big number 33 was out on the court with them during this stretch. In just 13 more games and 29 more days, the Sixers will find out the question they’ve been waiting to have answered all season. Can Bynum play? If he can, the NBA better focus its eyes on the city of Philadelphia because it could be the start of something to be reckoned with for years to come.

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