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February 26, 2012
Projection vs. Production
Former All-Stars Edition

by Bradford Doolittle

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We're going to break format a little for this Fallen All-Stars edition of Projection vs. Projection. Ordinarily, we pick out one player in each of three groups: a player who has outperformed his projection, another one who is underperforming and finally one who has hit his numbers right on the nose. Today we're going to look at six players who meet the following criteria:

  1. Played in last season's All-Star game
  2. Did not make an All-Star roster this season
  3. Is underperforming against his preseason projection

Our projection system SCHOENE forecasts a full suite of our favorite metrics, but the bottom-line number to watch for is WARP (Wins Above Replacement), which measures how many more wins a player adds to his team's total than a freely available guy plucked off the scrap heap. While no single number can capture everything that happens in an interdynamic team sport like hoops, WARP points you in the right direction. When you see a WARP number that surprises you -- and remember, we know when to be surprised because we've predicted all these WARP scores -- the next step is to ask why. All the WARP numbers you see in this article have been prorated to 82 games, just to give the results an air of normalcy in this decidedly abnormal NBA season.

THE AGING

Kevin Garnett, Celtics
Projected WARP: 9.2; Current WARP: 8.3

Garnett and Tim Duncan were tied for the most All-Star game appearances among active players with 13, and K.G. was selected one other time but didn't play because of injury. Maybe it's the lockout--the shortened 1998-99 season marked the last time Garnett didn't earn a spot in the All-Star game. The East roster is heavy on small forwards. In fact, Miami's Chris Bosh is the only power forward on the roster. However, Garnett ranks just 41st in the NBA in pro-rated WARP and even if the league had added another big man to the East roster, Greg Monroe, Josh Smith, Joakim Noah and Tyson Chandler all would have been more deserving of a spot. Garnett's level of play this season hasn't been particularly subpar nor has it been surprising. He's just getting old. He's off his SCHOENE projection a bit, but with a shortfall of less than one win, he may yet reach his forecast. His numbers are near the level he's established the past few seasons, though he is turning the ball over more often. After a slow start, the Celtics have climbed the defensive efficiency ladder all the way up to fourth, so you can't really pick on that aspect of his game. Garnett has been fine; it's just that others have passed him up. It happens to every player.

Tim Duncan, Spurs
Projected WARP: 12.0; Current WARP: 8.9

Duncan's story is remarkably similar to that of Garnett. His level of play is right there with last season, the first in which his playing time was so severely cut. On a per-minute basis, his raw production has remained steady. His efficiency has not. Duncan is shooting just 46.8 percent from the floor, easily a career worst. His usage rate has risen by 2.4 percent over last season as the Spurs have looked to him to help compensate for the injuries to Manu Ginobili. It's just not as easy as it used to be for the soon-to-be 36 year old Duncan to take up the extra slack. He's still a fine player and is a core part of a team that is closing in on the best record in the West. He's just been passed by several big men in his conference that stay on the court more often, like Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Andrew Bynum and maybe even Marcin Gortat.

THE UNDERACHIEVING

Amar'e Stoudemire, Knicks
Projected WARP: 11.2; Current WARP: 1.5

We've addressed Stoudemire's woes before and even though the emergence of Jeremy Lin may help his game as much as anyone on the Knicks, the fact of the matter is that he's been nowhere near All-Star caliber over the season's first half. Stoudemire once had four consecutive seasons in which he posted true shooting percentages of .615 or better, which is elite-level stuff. He dropped to .565 last season as took on the highest-usage role of his career for a Knicks squad that was shorthanded for much of the season. This year, his usage has returned to Phoenix-type levels, but his true shooting percentage has plummeted to .510, the lowest he's ever posted over a full season. He's ranked 170th league-wide in pro-rated WARP right now. Forget All-Star caliber -- Stoudemire just needs to get back to starting-caliber.

Pau Gasol, Lakers
Projected WARP: 14.3; Current WARP: 12.6

Gasol is an awkward member of this list because with a pro-rated WARP of 12.6, he easily could have been selected to his fifth All-Star game. That figure ranks 14th in the league and is one slot better than his brother, Marc. It's a shame that Pau was overlooked because it would have been cool to see the Brothers Gasol together in the All-Star game. Pau hasn't hit his projection, but his level of play has remained at a high level despite the constant trade speculation he's had to deal with since the lockout ended. He's also had to adapt to new coach Mike Brown, who has leaned heavily on Kobe Bryant so far this season. Gasol's numbers are off in athletic-based categories like foul-drawing and shot-blocking, which may be a product of the sprained right shoulder that has been bothering him. He's also had to defer part of his game to emergent teammate Andrew Bynum, who will be making his All-Star debut on Sunday.

THE INJURED

Al Horford, Hawks
Projected WARP: 11.0; Current WARP: 2.8

Horford improved steadily during his first four seasons in the league, culminating in All-Star berths in each of the last two seasons. He was right on target this year before going down with a torn left pectoral muscle, an injury which sounds just as unpleasant as it actually is. The Hawks are just hoping to get Horford back for the playoffs, and that's no given. Going forward, there doesn't seem to be any reason that Horford can't return to All-Star level of play.

Manu Ginobili, Spurs
Projected WARP: 13.4; Current WARP: 3.2

With Ginobili more than 10 wins off his pro-rated WARP pace, it's amazing that the Spurs' record is as good as it is. That's why some have whispered Tony Parker's name in early MVP speculation but in reality, it's been the outstanding play of role players Matt Bonner, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Daniel Green that has kept San Antonio afloat. Ginobili has been limited to nine games and 196 minutes so far this season, and will still be out once the break ends because of a strained left oblique. Still, when he has managed to get onto the court, he's been outstanding, with an other-worldly .707 true shooting percentage. If he can get right, the Spurs will be in the best position of any team in the West to challenge the emerging dominance of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

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

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