The Hoops List comes to you from the road this week and from a bonafide NBA city to boot. Alas, even while I am in New Orleans, the Hornets are out on the road, kicking off a four-game trip with a game at Portland on Friday. So I am left to console myself with the niceties of the Rue Bourbon and with the Utah win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
The NBA's Big Three maintain their stranglehold over the rest of the league this week, though the distances among Boston, Cleveland and the Lakers has narrowed. In fact, the Celtics' lead over Cleveland has shrunk to the extent that we need an extra decimal point to separate them.
Three weeks ago, I looked at the most-improved player on every team's roster. To kick off the new year, we're going to take the negative tack and look at the player on each team that has regressed the most or, in two cases, haven't improved as much as their teammates have.
Today's method is slightly different than in the companion piece. I've again limited my search to players who have eaten at least 30 percent of available minutes. This time, since we're identifying "disappointments," I've tagged the player who has the biggest shortfall in unadjusted WP3K versus his preseason projection. Unadjusted WP3K, or wins per 3000 minutes, means that the wins figure used in the calculation is lacking the final step of the wins produced calculation, which is to bring the team totals in line with actual wins. For most teams, this is an insignificant adjustment, but not all, especially at the margins.
RANK (Last Week) Team (Power rating) [ WIN PACE / PYTHAGOREAN PACE / PRESEASON PROJECTION ]
(Statistics through Jan. 1)
1. (1) Boston Celtics (65.54) [ 69 / 66 / 63 ]
Rankings: NET: 2; OFF: 6; DEF: 1; PACE: 17
Biggest shortfall: Glen Davis. According to 82games.com, Big Baby has turned into a jump shooter, which matches my observation. The numbers are startling: 65% of his attempts this season have been jump shots, versus 29% in the same category a year ago. As a result, Davis' eFG% has dropped from 48.4 to 36.0. Since he's spending more time away from the basket, Davis' free-throw and offensive-rebound rates have also plummeted. With all of that, Davis is 2.59 off his WP3K projection. So the reason for Davis' decline seems clear. What is not clear is the why. Does Davis now fancy himself a perimeter player or is this some kind of scheme by Doc Rivers? Either way, the thinking is midguided.
2. (2) Cleveland Cavaliers (65.49) [ 68 / 69 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 1; OFF: 2; DEF: 2; PACE: 24
Biggest shortfall: LeBron James. Yeah. He's really having a tough year. James is my top-ranked player and my at-the-moment pick for MVP. That he's fallen a little short of my projection while most of the teammates have exceeded theirs is probably just another data point in James' favor. He continues to figure out new ways to make other players better.
3. (3) Los Angeles Lakers (64.1) [ 68 / 64 / 49 ]
Rankings: NET: 3; OFF: 3; DEF: 4; PACE: 4
Biggest shortfall: Andrew Bynum. There is little question that Bynum is not quite as productive as he was at the time of his knee injury last season. Physically, he looks fine to me. I think the bigger issue is how Bynum fits alongside Pau Gasol. At the same time, the mathematical regression could also be chalked up to the fickle nature of field-goal percentage. Last season, Bynum shot 63.6% from the field. That's tough to sustain. Bynum's presence on this list is by no means an indictment of the season he is having. We're just getting a more accurate picture of what kind of player he is. That picture is pretty nice, too.
4. (4) Portland Trail Blazers (55.8) [ 51 / 52 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 5; OFF: 1; DEF: 20; PACE: 30
Biggest shortfall: LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge's rebounding numbers are down a tad, perhaps due to the presence of Greg Oden. His shooting percentage is also off a little bit, but his range is expanding and he'll even pop a three-pointer here or there. Basically, though, he's the same player he was last year and since he's 23, he was projected to improve more than he has. Still, there's nothing wrong with his game.
5. (8) Orlando Magic (54.6) [ 64 / 61 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 4; OFF: 7; DEF: 3; PACE: 10
Biggest shortfall: Dwight Howard. Howard is getting fewer dunks, which has dropped his overall field-goal percentage. His shot-blocking rate has gone through the roof but it's not enough to offset the shooting numbers. As with LeBron and LaMarcus, however, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Howard's game. He's just barely off his projection and he's only on this list because his teammates have all improved and, like Aldridge, he's at an age at which NBAPET expected see a bit more ascension.
6. (6) New Orleans Hornets (53.1) [ 55 / 52 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 7; OFF: 9; DEF: 10; PACE: 29
Biggest shortfall: Tyson Chandler. Here is a player who has had a truly disappointing season. Last season, Chandler (6.7 wins produced) was very much part of a big four in New Orleans with Chris Paul (12.5), Peja Stojakovic (7.6) and David West (7.4). This season, Paul (16.1 WP82) is dominating the charts, with West (8.2) playing a clear second fiddle. The dropoff is steep after that, more so for Chandler than any other player (3.8 WP82). Injuries and foul trouble have conspired to keep Chandler's minutes down but when he's managed to stay on the court, he hasn't been very good. You can excuse the drop in shooting (54.5 eFG%, down from 62.3) because that happens. You can't look past the tumble in defensive rebounding or assists, however. Chandler went into a funk like this his last year in Chicago. That landed him in New Orleans. There are rumblings that Chandler is on the trading block, so he may be playing himself out of another job.
7. (5) Denver Nuggets (53.0) [ 52 / 49 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 9; OFF: 8; DEF: 11; PACE: 6
Biggest shortfall: Chauncey Billups. Billups is still playing well, and his acquisition has been the key to the Nuggets' season. However, he isn't quite meeting the lofty standard he set in Detroit. Billups has seen a drop in shooting, rebounding, assists and steals metrics. It's not all bad news, though. His turnover rate (11.5%) is a career best and ranks 49th of 239 qualifying players--outstanding for a point guard.
8. (9) Atlanta Hawks (52.5) [ 55 / 50 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 6; OFF: 5; DEF: 15; PACE: 25
Biggest shortfall: Al Horford. A sophomore jinx for Horford? Not really. His WP82 of 5.1 would replicate is figure from last season. Of course, NBAPET projected an increase. Horford has shown some improvement on the offensive end, but his rebounding numbers are down and his defensive indicators aren't as strong as they were during his excellent rookie season. It's too soon to know for sure, but Horford may simply have entered the NBA near his ceiling.
9. (7) Houston Rockets (50.7) [ 52 / 51 / 61 ]
Rankings: NET: 12; OFF: 15; DEF: 5; PACE: 23
Biggest shortfall: Yao Ming. I Googled for an exact match on the words "what's wrong with yao ming" and came up with six matches, none of them that recent and none of them written in the context of why I ask the question. I'll take that as a mild confirmation that not many NBA observers have noticed that anything is wrong with Yao. NBAPET has Yao at an astonishing 6.06 shortfall in his WP3K projection, by far the biggest gap in the league. However, it's not just a matter of Yao missing his projection, though if this were a sales floor, he'd be put on probation. He's simply not getting it done on defense. One of the various defensive metrics I keep is a category called "points saved." It looks at the league-average rate of point-creation for a player's position, multiplies that number by total defensive possessions used, then compares the product to the player's actual points-created against. In Yao's case, he's got -71 points saved, which ranks him 238th of 239 qualifying players. That translates to 131.9 points allowed per 100 defensive possessions. He's still outproducing his counterparts, so it's not that I'm suggesting that he be taken off the floor. I'm just suggesting that Yao play both ends of the floor while he's on it.
10. (11) Phoenix Suns (47.8) [ 49 / 43 / 49 ]
Rankings: NET: 13; OFF: 4; DEF: 21; PACE: 9
Biggest shortfall: Leandro Barbosa. Barbosa has paid an even bigger price for the slower style employeed by new Suns coach Terry Porter than Steve Nash has. That's not surprising since one of Barbosa's strengths as a player is his speed up and down the floor. He is indeed one of the fastest players in the league, a tool which is obviously not going to get as much use when a team doesn't run as much. Statistically, this has translated to a steep drop in Barbosa's shooting percentages. Most of the time, I'd expect a regression to his career mean. However, because of the aforementioned coaching change, I'm not sure it'll happen for Barbosa.
11. (10) Dallas Mavericks (47.4) [ 50 / 49 / 51 ]
Rankings: NET: 11; OFF: 12; DEF: 9; PACE: 16
Biggest shortfall: Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk's numbers are down across the board and have been are on target to decline for the third straight season. It seems like Nowitzki has been in the league forever (wasn't he teammates with Mark Aguirre?) but he is still only 30 years old. Nevertheless, it's pretty clear that he's past his peak. That doesn't make him a bad player by any stretch, he's just not MVP-caliber any longer.
12. (13) Utah Jazz (46.5) [ 47 / 50 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 8; OFF: 11; DEF: 8; PACE: 13
Biggest shortfall: Mehmet Okur. With Carlos Boozer on the shelf, the Jazz have asked Okur to shoulder a little more of the offensive load. Mostly, he's been able to do that, though his production is well short of what Utah could have gotten from Boozer. However, his turnovers are up and his play on the defensive end has declined even though Utah has been better on defense as a team thus far.
13. (12) San Antonio Spurs (46.4) [ 52 / 50 / 55 ]
Rankings: NET: 10; OFF: 13; DEF: 7; PACE: 28
Biggest shortfall: Tony Parker. Parker is a surprise here because when you look at his skills indicators and his PER, he's having a career season. NBAPET, however, has him allowing opponents a 122.8 defensive rating. His opponent PER at 82games is below league average (16.6) but not enough to account for the poor defensive score my system assigns to him, so there is a definite difference of digital opinion here. For what it's worth, the Spurs have dropped from third to seventh in defensive rating by allowing about two more points per 100 possessions this season. However, I suspect my system is exaggerating Parker's defensive problems.
14. (14) Detroit Pistons (44.2) [ 51 / 43 / 55 ]
Rankings: NET: 15; OFF: 14; DEF: 17; PACE: 26
Biggest shortfall: Allen Iverson. Even Iverson realizes that he has been less productive, but he would probably be less willing to admit that he's also been less efficient. The Pistons are asking for less from Iverson than what he gave Denver, and that's exactly what he's given them.
15. (16) Milwaukee Bucks (43.1) [ 37 / 40 / 31 ]
Rankings: NET: 16; OFF: 24; DEF: 6; PACE: 12
Biggest shortfall: Richard Jefferson. Jefferson's projection factors in the career season he had in 2005-06 at the age of 25, so he was bound to fall a little short. However, he hasn't. Jefferson is one of two players on the list who are actually outdoing his projection. It's just that the rest of the Bucks are outproducing theirs even more. Still, Jefferson's eFG% is the lowest it has been in a healthy season since he was a rookie. His assist rate is at a career low. (His turnover rate is also a career low, so these may simply be products of the way he is being used in Milwaukee.) Nevertheless, Jefferson's defense (105.5 defensive rating) has been a boost for the Bucks, who are in general much better on that end of the court.
16. (21) Miami Heat (40.9) [ 46 / 42 / 35 ]
Rankings: NET: 14; OFF: 16; DEF: 13; PACE: 21
Biggest shortfall: Shawn Marion. Where have you gone, Shawn Marion's three-point shot, Pat Riley turns his lonely eyes to you? Marion made 141 three-pointers in the 2002-03 season. He was over 100 another time and made 66 last season. This season, he's made six.
17. (15) Chicago Bulls (38.8) [ 35 / 32 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 21; OFF: 21; DEF: 19; PACE: 5
Biggest shortfall: Tyrus Thomas. Thomas is such an enigma, Joe Pesci should go on a paranoid/delusional rant about him. Thomas has a 40.5 eFG% this season. A talented project when he was drafted, he manages to get worse every season. The shooting problems divert attention from declines in the rest of his game. Thomas hasn't played well enough to merit the 22 minutes of court time he's averaging, but given the Bulls' dearth of quality big men, Vinny del Negro doesn't have much choice but to keep playing Thomas and hope the light comes on soon.
18. (19) Philadelphia 76ers (34.8) [ 34 / 36 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 20; OFF: 27; DEF: 12; PACE: 14
Biggest shortfall: Elton Brand. A well-publicized disappointment, Brand's shortcomings aren't just a product of media hype--they're real. He's not even playing as well as he did during his eight-game stint after returning from his Achilles injury last season, much less as well as he was pre-injury. Worst of it is that you can't chalk up his problems to fitting into a new system. The Sixers re-worked their system to build around Brand. The end result is the NBA's most disappointing team.
19. (17) Indiana Pacers (33.9) [ 26 / 34 / 41 ]
Rankings: NET: 17; OFF: 20; DEF: 18; PACE: 3
Biggest shortfall: T.J. Ford. After a quick start, Ford's play has declined to the point where you have to wonder if he should be backing up Jarrett Jack instead of vice versa. Oh wait, that's already happened.
20. (20) Toronto Raptors (33.9) [ 30 / 30 / 42 ]
Rankings: NET: 22; OFF: 17; DEF: 23; PACE: 20
Biggest shortfall: Andrea Bargnani. I guess there is some upside to being the new Brad Lohaus, but I can't help thinking that it wasn't what Bryan Colangelo had in mind when he picked Bargnani No. 1 in 2006 ahead of the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy. Wouldn't Roy look good in a Raptors' uniform right about now?
21. (22) New Jersey Nets (33.2) [ 38 / 33 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 18; OFF: 10; DEF: 27; PACE: 18
Biggest shortfall: Vince Carter. The general perception that Carter is enjoying an bounce-back season is marred by NBAPET's belief that he isn't playing any defense.
22. (18) New York Knicks (33.0) [ 32 / 31 / 33 ]
Rankings: NET: 23; OFF: 19; DEF: 25; PACE: 1
Biggest shortfall: David Lee. Don't worry, Knicks fans. Lee is playing as well as he ever has, even while being asked to fill a larger role. He is the other player on this list who is actually outperforming his projection. The rest of the Knicks have gotten better as well.
23. (24) Charlotte Bobcats (29.9) [ 28 / 34 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 19; OFF: 25; DEF: 14; PACE: 27
Biggest shortfall: Raymond Felton. Felton has been putting more effort into defense and rebounding now that D.J. Augustin is in Charlotte. It's a noble effort, but hasn't done anything to halt Felton's career slide. The guy simply can't shoot, a problem since he's now playing shooting guard about half the time. While granting that raw field-goal percentage is often a misleading statistic, there really isn't anything misleading about the fact that in 270 career games, Felton is shooting under 40 percent.
24. (26) Golden State Warriors (26.2) [ 24 / 25 / 35 ]
Rankings: NET: 26; OFF: 18; DEF: 29; PACE: 2
Biggest shortfall: Ronny Turiaf. How much money did they give this guy?
25. (23) Memphis Grizzlies (23.5) [ 25 / 25 / 19 ]
Rankings: NET: 24; OFF: 23; DEF: 22; PACE: 22
Biggest shortfall: Quinton Ross. That Quinton Ross is the most disappointing Grizzly is a great sign for Memphis fans--and Q is just barely below projection.
26. (25) Los Angeles Clippers (22.6) [ 21 / 23 / 33 ]
Rankings: NET: 25; OFF: 30; DEF: 16; PACE: 11
Biggest shortfall: Baron Davis. How much money did they give this guy? OK, Davis isn't having a Ronny Tariaf-type season, but he's been a disappointment. That is probably news to Clippers announcers Ralph Lawler and Michael Smith, who've spent an inordinate amount of time raving about Davis this season. The guy is shooting 39.7 percent--on two-point shots. Not good for a guy who quit playing defense a long time ago.
27. (28) Washington Wizards (21.5) [ 16 / 23 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 27; OFF: 22; DEF: 28; PACE: 19
Biggest shortfall: DeShawn Stevenson. Again, we don't like to overemphasize field-goal percentage here, but Stevenson is shooting 31.8% from the floor this season. To his credit, he asked to break his 275-game streak of games started in order to work out his problems working against other teams' second unit. So far, it hasn't really helped and the humble gesture hasn't stopped Stevenson from doing that face thing when he does actually make a shot.
28. (29) Minnesota Timberwolves (20.2) [ 15 / 22 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 28; OFF: 26; DEF: 26; PACE: 15
Biggest shortfall: Randy Foye. Foye isn't developing into the impact talent you'd hope to get with the No. 7 pick in the draft, which Foye was in 2006. A four-year player in college, Foye should be at his peak in this, his age-25 season. Instead, he's a below-average NBA player. Another whiff for Kevin McHale.
29. (27) Sacramento Kings (18.7) [ 20 / 17 / 39 ]
Rankings: NET: 30; OFF: 28; DEF: 30; PACE: 8
Biggest shortfall: Bobby Jackson. Jackson is just old.
30. (30) Oklahoma City Thunder (13.7) [ 9 / 18 / 23 ]
Rankings: NET: 29; OFF: 29; DEF: 24; PACE: 7
Biggest shortfall: Earl Watson. I hate to see Kansas City native Earl Watson on any negative list. However, his presence here allows me to expand upon my comment last week about wanting to see the Thunder try a Russell Westbrook/Kyle Weaver backcourt. For the most part OKC has been pairing Westbrook with Damien Wilkins and Desmond Mason, veterans with similar skill sets to Weaver. Ideally, I'd like to see Westbrook paired with a younger guard with some length who is defense-oriented and can share in the ballhandling duties. I don't know that Weaver is that guy, but on a team with four wins, why not find out?
Adjusted winning percentage (AWP) = ((home wins x 0.6)+(road wins x 1.4)) / (((home wins x 0.6)+(road wins x 1.4)) + ((home losses x .1.4)+(road losses x 0.6)))
Opponents winning percentage (OWP) = aggregate percentage of games won for each team's opponents, based on the number of times the team has faced that opponent.
Pythagorean winning percentage (PYTH) = uses the basketball-reference formula of Games x (Points scored^14) / ((Points scored^14) + (Points allowed^14))
Power rating = (((PYTH + AWP)/2)*(OWP/.500)) x 82
WP82 = wins produced per 82 games, adjusted for playing time
WP3K = wins produced per 3,000 minutes
RANKINGS: NET = net efficiency ratio; OFF - offensive efficiency; DEF - defensive efficiency; PACE: average possessions per game
Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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