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May 27, 2010
Summer 2010 Preview
Answering Some Questions

by Kevin Pelton

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It appears a correction is in order for last week's column reevaluating the contenders to sign LeBron James this summer. Based on the reaction I've seen on the Internet, it's apparent this sentence failed to show up properly: "I think you could make an argument for any of the top four teams, as well as Chicago and possibly even Cleveland." I kid, of course, but many readers--especially in the New York metropolitan area--had a hard time moving past the fact that the Knicks came out with the highest future WARP total between projected player performance, the value of cap space and future draft picks.

New York's top ranking required a number of assumptions, as I tried to make clear, but to explain it a bit more forcefully let's take another look at the graph comparing assets using two different Knicks scenarios--a best-case one in which they sign Chris Bosh, and a more pessimistic reality where New York signs only David Lee with its remaining cap space.

The top teams are close enough that it requires the Knicks be able to sign Bosh (and, with the unlikely exception of Dwyane Wade, only Bosh) to push them ahead of New Jersey and Miami. Beyond them, the L.A. Clippers are not far behind New York with Lee. I reiterate that there is no clear winner of this exercise, though there are a couple of apparent losers--Chicago and Cleveland don't quite measure up.

Let's discuss the methodology a bit more, FAQ style.

What does it say about SCHOENE that it is producing some odd results?
While these projections rely on the same similarity methodology as the SCHOENE projection system, they're totally different. SCHOENE is able to use a large sample of similar players (almost always at least 25 and as many as 50) to project next season's improvement or decline from a baseline of past performance. Playing time is then pegged subjectively. In this case, playing time is a huge factor in future value, and impossible to project three years out, so we have to use comparable players' performance by itself instead of using it to adjust the baseline. That is, the one-year projections look at a comparable player's per-minute Win% improving by whatever percent. Three-year projections only care about what the comparable player's WARP was the next season and the following two.

In practice, what this means is that it is important for the three-year projections to look strictly at players of similar overall value. The larger the pool of similar players being used, the more likely this group is to trend toward average. At the same time, using fewer comparable players means one or two odd results play a larger role. So there's an inherent trade-off in terms of how many players we use to create the projections.

These three-year projections are also admittedly entirely a work in progress, something I find interesting (and am willing to share) but not have not tested like the single-year SCHOENE projections. To that end, I've made an adjustment this time around to try to avoid the bizarre results we've seen in the past, like Joakim Noah coming out as having little value. Instead of strictly using the top 10 comparables to create the projections, I tried using all players (up to 50) with a similarity score of 94 or higher. In some cases, fewer than 10 players achieved that high a similarity, so the results are the same as before. In others, the differences are sizeable.

Why are the numbers so low?
An important element that is built into these three-year projections is that of risk. Players get injured. They get old. They fall out of shape or have confidence problems and suddenly drop off. So even for players in their primes, the three-year projections usually feature lower WARP totals than they posted in 2009-10. Risk also tends to increase the further out we look, which helps explain why even with the more robust samples of comparable players we occasionally see relatively young players projected to drop off from one season to the next.

Why is (insert young player) ranked ahead of (insert old player)?
Age matters. A lot. This is an empirical finding, since all of these results are based on the aging of past players.

How could Derrick Rose be rated below Brook Lopez and even with Blake Griffin, who has yet to even play an NBA game?
I figured this one was worth taking on specifically. What's important to note here is these results say less about the three-year projections and more about the disconnect between what Rose in particular has accomplished so far in his NBA careers and the perception of his performance. The fact is that at no point in his career to date has Rose shined statistically.

I chose Lopez as my Rookie of the Year in 2008-09, and through two seasons he's totaled 14.2 WARP to Rose's 8.2. Rose's college numbers were also less impressive than his obvious potential. Griffin was the superior NCAA performer, which is why we project him to be as valuable as Rose right off the bat--with the important caveat that there's no good way at this point to account for Griffin missing an entire season due to his fractured patella. Rose is still very young and I think he's an excellent prospect, which is reflected by his WARP projections. But the notion that Rose is a far superior young player to build around than Lopez and Griffin simply isn't born out by the statistics.

Bill Walker? Really?
The problem that Walker represents isn't quite so easily solved. He played extremely well in a small sample of minutes, and because he played too little to even use his 2008-09 statistics, we have nothing else to temper that performance. Eventually, I would like to work on regressing statistics like Walker's to the mean, but for now I don't have a method to do so. The good news is that this only affects a handful of other players, if any.

What does this even matter?
None at all, let's be clear. I don't imagine James' management team reads Basketball Prospectus in its spare time. I just happen to think the question of which of the contenders for his services has the best future is an interesting one to consider, and one that can fairly uniquely be answered with the tools we're trying to develop.

With all that said, let's take a quick look at the updated projections (note that these ones were used to create the graph at the beginning of the column).

New York Knicks

Player/Asset         10-11  11-12  12-13  Total
-----------------------------------------------
Chris Bosh            12.7   10.3    6.8   29.8
Danilo Gallinari       5.1    6.8    8.2   20.2
Bill Walker            5.5    6.7    7.0   19.2
Toney Douglas          3.2    4.3    3.6   11.2
Wilson Chandler        2.8    3.2    2.7    8.6
2011 Cap Space                4.0    4.0    8.0
2010 Cap Space         1.0    1.0    1.0    3.0
2011 Rd 1 (HOU/NYK)           0.6    1.2    1.8
2010 Rd 2 (LAC)        0.0    0.3    0.5    0.7
2012 Rd 2                            0.0    0.0
-----------------------------------------------
Total                 30.3   37.2   35.0  102.5

David Lee              6.3    5.5    4.0   15.9
Total  w/Lee          23.8   32.4   32.3   88.6

New Jersey Nets

Player/Asset         10-11  11-12  12-13  Total
-----------------------------------------------
Brook Lopez            9.5   10.8   11.1   31.4
Devin Harris           6.0    4.9    4.3   15.2
2010 Cap Space         4.0    4.0    4.0   12.0
2010 Rd 1              2.0    3.6    5.2   10.8
Kris Humphries         2.2    2.8    2.4    7.4
Courtney Lee           1.7    2.3    2.3    6.3
Yi Jianlian            1.3    2.4    2.2    5.8
Terrence Williams      1.5    1.6    1.1    4.3
2011 Rd 1                     0.7    1.5    2.2
2010 Rd 1 (DAL)        0.2    0.7    1.1    2.1
Chris Douglas-Roberts  0.0    0.9    0.8    1.7
2012 Rd 1                            0.7    0.7
2011 Rd 2                     0.0    0.0    0.0
2012 Rd 2                            0.0    0.0
2012 Rd 2 (MIA)                      0.0    0.0
-----------------------------------------------
Total                 28.4   34.6   36.8   99.8

Miami Heat

Player/Asset         10-11  11-12  12-13  Total
-----------------------------------------------
Dwyane Wade           14.5   13.5    9.3   37.3
Michael Beasley        4.9    6.0    7.1   18.1
Mario Chalmers         3.9    4.4    5.1   13.4
Dorell Wright          3.3    3.4    3.8   10.5
2010 Rd 1              0.6    1.2    1.9    3.7
2010 Cap Space         1.0    1.0    1.0    3.0
Daequan Cook           0.8    0.9    0.8    2.6
2011 Rd 1                     0.7    1.5    2.2
Joel Anthony           0.9    0.4   -0.3    1.0
2012 Rd 1                            0.7    0.7
2010 Rd 2             -0.1    0.2    0.4    0.4
2010 Rd 2 (NO)         0.0    0.1    0.3    0.4
2010 Rd 2 (TOR)       -0.1    0.1    0.3    0.3
2012 Rd 2 (NO)                       0.0    0.0
-----------------------------------------------
Total                 29.7   32.0   31.9   93.6

Los Angeles Clippers

Player/Asset         10-11  11-12  12-13  Total
-----------------------------------------------
Blake Griffin          9.3    9.8    9.1   28.2
Eric Gordon            4.2    5.6    6.5   16.3
Baron Davis            6.5    5.2    3.5   15.2
DeAndre Jordan         3.6    3.8    3.9   11.2
2010 Rd 1              1.2    2.3    3.4    6.9
Chris Kaman            2.8    1.8    1.1    5.7
2011 Rd 1                     0.7    1.5    2.2
2012 Rd 1                            0.7    0.7
2012 Rd 1 (MIN)                      0.7    0.7
2010 Rd 2 (NYK)       -0.1    0.2    0.5    0.6
2011 Rd 2                     0.0    0.0    0.0
2011 Rd 2 (DET)               0.0    0.0    0.0
2012 Rd 2                            0.0    0.0
-----------------------------------------------
Total                 27.5   29.4   30.8   87.7

Chicago Bulls

Player/Asset         10-11  11-12  12-13  Total
-----------------------------------------------
Derrick Rose           9.1   10.0    9.8   28.8
Luol Deng              4.2    3.8    3.4   11.4
Joakim Noah            4.2    3.7    3.5   11.4
James Johnson          1.9    3.0    1.4    6.3
Taj Gibson             2.6    2.2    1.2    6.0
2010 Cap Space         1.5    1.5    1.5    4.5
Kirk Hinrich           2.2    1.6    0.4    4.2
2010 Rd 1 (MIL)        0.6    1.3    2.0    3.9
2011 Rd 1                     0.7    1.5    2.2
2012 Rd 1                            0.7    0.7
-----------------------------------------------
Total                 26.2   27.8   25.5   79.5

Cleveland Cavaliers

Player/Asset         10-11  11-12  12-13  Total
-----------------------------------------------
Maurice Williams       5.9    5.3    4.7   16.0
Leon Powe              3.0    2.6    2.5    8.1
Delonte West           2.5    3.4    2.1    8.0
J.J. Hickson           2.1    2.8    2.9    7.9
Anderson Varejao       2.9    2.3    1.8    7.0
Antawn Jamison         2.7    2.3    1.4    6.5
2010 MLE               2.0    2.0    2.0    6.0
Daniel Gibson          2.2    1.4    1.4    5.0
Jamario Moon           1.0    0.8    0.6    2.4
2011 Rd 1                     0.7    1.5    2.2
Sebastian Telfair      1.4                  1.4
2012 Rd 1                            0.7    0.7
2011 Rd 2                     0.0    0.0    0.0
2012 Rd 2                            0.0    0.0
Anthony Parker         0.0   -0.3    0.0   -0.3
-----------------------------------------------
Total                 25.9   23.3   21.7   70.9

Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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