Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

January 24, 2012

What if the Wizards Don’t Get Better?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:14 pm

I’m not quite sure what to say about today’s news that the Washington Wizards have relieved Flip Saunders of his duties of head coach. In this case, relieved seems like an especially apt adjective, as Saunders no longer has to deal with one of the most dysfunctional rosters in recent NBA memory. At the same time, Saunders has to answer for the failure of the Wizards’ young players–particularly John Wall–to develop under his watch, as our Bradford Doolittle chronicled while explaining why Paul Westphal needed to go in Sacramento.

When the coach of a 2-15 team getting outscored by 10.6 points per game gets fired, it’s easy to predict improvement. Regression to the mean all but ensures the Wizards will play better the rest of the way, because almost nobody is actually this bad. Since the merger, just 11 NBA teams have been outscored by double digits on average, and Washington’s record would be a 10-win pace for an 82-game season, threatening the 9-73 record of the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers.

At the same time, the track record of Saunders’ replacement (his long-time assistant, Randy Wittman) does not exactly inspire confidence, to put it politely. Friend of BBP Tom Ziller has the ugly numbers on SBNation.com.

The most intriguing coaching rating available is done by Stats for the NBA, which treats coaches as the sixth player on the court as part of the regularized adjusted plus-minus process, quantifying their effect on players. There are many issues with this process, most notably the assumption that player ability is static throughout the 10-year period during which players and coaches are rated, but it’s a pure measure of coaching ability unlike any other. Saunders, by this measure, comes out as one of the league’s better coaches in this period, which is consistent with his track record in Minnesota and Detroit. Wittman, by contrast, lurks at the bottom of the list with Lawrence Frank (?!?) and a bunch of names who will never coach in the NBA again.

The Wizards are still overwhelmingly likely to get better the rest of the way, but promoting Wittman may not have helped their chances.

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