Friday, June 22, 2012

Bill Russell

From 1957-58 to the end of his career, Bill Russell didn't miss too many games, usually 2 per season.  It's a lot harder than with Jerry West to measure how great his impact was.  But that doesn't mean I can't try.  Bill missed 28 games over that time.  Normally I would not feel comfortable aggregating games missed over a bit more than a decade, because the quality of his team could change.  This is not the case with Bill's team though, as they were consistently great the whole time he played.
With Russell in the lineup, excluding his rookie year as well as 1966-67 (no games missed) his team averaged 115.8 points, and allowed 108.9.  They won 602 and lost 232.

When Russell missed the game, the 11 time champion Celtics were only 10-18.  They scored 122.1 and allowed 123.2 (which is better than 10-18, a team with that point differential probably should go 13-15 in 28 games.)

They might have been better offensively without Russell, never a good shooter, or they might have just played at a faster pace.  They were definitely much worse on defense.  Overall, Russell was worth an extra 8 points per game, or 9 per 48 minutes.

Fluke? Maybe.  Or maybe the rest of the team wasn't so great after all, and those who claim Russell was the greatest player of his time are correct.  Look at the 1963-64 team.  Those Celtics were actually the worst shooting team in the NBA.  They not only shot a league worst 41.3%, they didn't make up for it at the line either.  They were dead last in getting to the free throw line.  So how does a jump shooting team that can't shoot and can't get to the rim finish?  59-21, then plays two postseason series, winning each 4-1, over Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain.

How did they do it?  Rebounding, turnovers (probably), and defense.  They had about 500 more rebounds than the average team.  They had about 800 more shot attempts than average (so they pretty much had to have a huge turnover margin, though the stat was not tracked back then).  And finally, if they were outscoring people that much while shooting like crap, their opponents must have shot even worse.  Russell, being the shot blocking center, is the most important player for the defense, and led the league in rebounding.  He might have had an impact forcing turnovers, but that's a total guess. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Elgin Baylor

Elgin Baylor played only 48 games of the 1961-62 season, out of 80 team games.  This wasn't a result of any injury, he was an army reservist and called up to active duty midway through the season.  He played the first 42 games, then just a handful of the others when he could get a weekend pass.

With Elgin in the lineup, the Lakers were 37-11, scoring 120.6 and allowing 116.  Without him they were 17-15, and were outscored 115.4 to 116.  In both cases they won more games than expected, as they won 54 games despite points/points allowed numbers that would normally add up to 45.

Per 48 minutes, Elgin's estimated impact was 6.7 points.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Jerry West Plus Minus Impact

We don't have the kind of on court, off court ratings for Jerry West that we do for more recent players. but with some of the wonderful additions to Basketball Reference, we can at least get a rough estimate.  Basketball Reference now has scans of newspaper box scores for every NBA game, ever.  The data in these box scores are limited though.  We usually get how many points, field goals, and free throws a player has, but attempts are usually not there, so if you want to know if West held Robertson to a below average FG%, it's not there.  But just knowing which games a player played in can get you some interesting results.

Jerry West missed a decent amount of games every year.  I focused on 1962-63, and 1966-7 to 1968-9.  He missed 25, 15, 31, and 21 games those years.

1962-63:  Without West, Lakers were 11-14, being outscored 111.1 to 112.8.  With West, they were 42-13, scoring 117.5 and allowing 112.2.

1966-67: Without West, Lakers were 4-11, being outscored 116.6 to 121.2.  With West, they were 32-33, scoring 121.1 and allowing 120.

1967-68: Without West, Lakers are 19-12, but only outscore opponents 114.6 to 114.4.  With West the record is similar (33-18) but they outscore by 125.2 to 116.3

1968-69: Wilt's first year with Lakers, BTW.  Without Jerry: 12-9, 108.7 to 108.4 Pts/Oppts.  With Jerry: 43-18, outscore opponents 113.5 to 108.

Jerry's teams were generally 5-9 points better in games that he played.  This is equivalent to about an 8-10 advantage per 48 minutes.  This figure would be among the best in the NBA today, but a few players (Lebron, Chris Paul, Garnett) have been above that level the last 2 years, according to

Over those 4 years the Lakers were a .500 team without West (46-46) but 150-82 when he played.
Wilt Chamberlain presents a tougher challenge, and that would be true even if the NBA in the 1960's tracked plus minus to the same degree they do today.  Wilt didn't miss many games, and he almost never came off the court (played more than 48 minutes per game in some years thanks to OT).  But we do have some indication of his impact, thanks to one year where he missed 70 games, and two trades.

In 1970-71 Wilt missed all but the final 12 games of the season.  Lakers were 44-26, outscoring opponents 116.4 to 111.9.  Then Wilt came back, the team finished 4-8, being outscored 105.4 to 110.3.  It's not totally fair though, as Jerry West missed all of those games, and the team was probably more concerned about getting Wilt in shape for the playoffs than winning out the regular season.

Wilt was traded in mid season 1965, and for 3 fairly inconsequential players.  Here's his impact on the Warriors (who traded him) and the Sixers (who got him):

Warriors were 11-33, outscored 108-113.3.  How this is possible with a player like Wilt I don't know.  Afterwards they went into full tank mode, went 6-30, and were outscored 103.1 to 110.4.

Sixers were 22-23 at the trade, outscored 111.4 to 111.9. After the trade they were slightly better, outscoring 113.9 to 113.7 and going 18-17.

Wilt's trade from Philly to LA is more problematic, as the Sixers got two decent though not great starting players in Darrell Imhoff and Archie Clark.  Lakers improved by 3 games, and Philly declined by 7.

Wilt's estimated impact per 48 minutes from these with/without situations isn't that much, between 1-4 points.  That's excluding his 12 games with the 71 Lakers.  Wilt was part of the two greatest single season teams before Jordan's 1996 Bulls, and when everything was working right between teammates and coaches I'm sure his impact was as great as any player ever.  But for too much of his career it's hard to see evidence that his dominant stats did much to impact wins and losses.

On the Wilt-Russell debates I was always on the Wilt side from the first day I learned to add up points, rebounds, and assists.  But I don't think that's right anymore, and I think a legitimate question is whether Wilt was the second best player of his generation after Russell, or whether it was Jerry West.