Build me a winner rev. 2

“Where there is no Standard there can be no Kaizen (improvement)” - Taiichi Ohno

One of my defining traits as a person is that when exposed to something long enough I can’t help but break it down, analyze it and look for ways to improve it. I am a apostle of Lean manufacturing which wikipedia defines as follows:

Lean manufacturing or lean production, often simply, “Lean,” is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. Working from the perspective of the customer who consumes a product or service, “value” is defined as any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for. Basically, lean is centered on preserving value with less work. Lean manufacturing is a generic process management philosophy derived mostly from the Toyota Production System (TPS) ….

So while I definitely cop to being an an opinionated person, my opinions are generally formed by data and backed by years of practical experience improving complex systems to maximize value following the toyota priciples of management.

In basketball, value to the customer, the fan, is measured simply in wins.   I started this blog not just because I have something to say about basketball but because I firmly the application of lean management principles to the enterprise of basketball through trial and error (and with the assistance of the great readers of the WOW network) can produce something truly exciting in terms of coding a philosophy to maximize wins.

The Build me a Winner algorithm is my attempt at defining a standard for the effective running of a basketball team . By defining a standard of excellence, we can then measure and evaluate team performance and proceed to the keystone of the lean process, kaizen (improvement).

Here's a handy list of objections for the comments section.

As previously stated this will be a work in progress and I will be making additions as needed over time.Please feel free to suggest additions and ask questions. Without any further ado, here’s the Build me winner algorithm Rev 2.

A winner? whatever you say Mr. Steinbrenner!

Basics

This article uses Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] to evaluate player’s performance.* This measure uses three key components to evaluate a player:

  • The player’s per minute box score statistics
  • The player’s team’s per minute box score statistics
  • The average performance at the player’s position (PG, SG, SF, PF or C)

A full explanation can be found here. To give a general scale, an average player has a WP48 score of 0.100. The very best players in the league usually have a WP48 over 0.300. To put this in perspective; an average player who plays a full season at 40 minutes a game would generate around 6.83 wins for their team.  In contrast, a player posting a 0.300 WP48 would generate about 20.5 wins at 40 minutes a game over an 82 game season.

I may also talk about the half-baked notion and Wins over replacement Player (WORP).

The Facts

“Data is of course important in manufacturing, but I place the greatest emphasis on facts.” - Taiichi Ohno

Let’s review first: what do we think? What do we know? What can we prove?

  • Wins are a direct result of the marginal absolute productivity of the players on the court as measured in point differential (margin of victory).
  • Wins produced uses regression to build a causal model for wins based on the statistics available in the standard boxscore.
  • There are multiple factors and contributions (let’s call this player productivity) that go into scoring a point and the boxscore reflects a significant portion of these factors.
  • Wins are a function of Point differential
  • Point differential is a function of Player Productivity as measure in the boxscore stats and actually it’s a function of marginal player productivity (i.e. how much better your player’s on the court  are than your opponent’s )
  • Wins can thus be modeled as a function marginal player productivity
  • Wins Produced uses regression to build that model and can be shown through correlation to be successful.
  • The Short Supply of Tall people. Big Men (F/C) are on average more productive than everyone else . They in fact account for 50% of all productivity.  This makes it harder for a center to be better than the average and thus accumulate wins in our model but this is not out of step with the reality of the situation.  Teams also have a lot more at risk with their big men. It’s also much easier for a team to accumulate negative value at center and power forward because there is much more at risk.
  • The Short Supply of Ball Handlers. Average Center and Point Guards have over time been much more valuable to teams than any of the other positions. Over the last 5 years the difference between an average center and a replacement level one  is 4 more wins than the same at shooting guard (and 2 at Point Guard). The short supply of tall people is really not a surprise however the short supply of ball handlers is.
  • The best individual seasons generally come from players playing with the team that drafted them (or the #$$%@%@ Lakers)
  • The draft is not a place for quick fixes. Impact rookies are a rare breed. There have been 330 rookies selected in the top 10 since 1977and less than 15% of these rookies – who were generally considered “hot prospects” – have made substantial impact (>8 wins) his rookie season (and only 13 of the 33 players chosen with the first pick). If we look at the top 25 draft picks ever, the average pick of the top 25 is 12.24. Only 3 were the top pick (Magic, Robinson & Shaq) and only seven were in the top 3 picks (and none at number 2). This, and the fact that 8 of the top 25 were picked at 20 or later, strongly suggests the league in general is not very skilled at pinpointing incoming talent. The probability of getting no value or negative value from a draft pick fluctuates around 30% , however Impact players (Superstars & All time greats) are coming into the league at an increasing rate. This would help explain the fact that the quality of basketball seems to be at it’s highest levels in recent years (see here).
  • The number 1 pick can and has been flubbed massively. 10 of the 30 #1 Picks fall in the second half of the rankings. The list includes some old WoW friends:
    • Mark Aguirre
    • Allen Iverson
    • Kenyon Martin
    • Glenn Robinson
    • Kwame Brown
    • Joe Barry Carroll
    • Joe Smith
    • Kent Benson
    • Michael Olowokandi
    • Andrea Bargnani
  • Drafting Players under 20 is an extremely dangerous game. Only 13 of the top 200 players were aged 19 or younger at the end of their first NBA season
    • Dwight Howard
    • Tracy McGrady
    • Kevin Garnett
    • LeBron James
    • Andris Biedrins
    • Luol Deng
    • Tyson Chandler
    • Josh Smith
    • Rashard Lewis
    • Chris Bosh
    • Kobe Bryant
    • Cliff Robinson
    • Andrew Bynum
  • The Half baked notion that what wins in the regular season is not necessarily what  gets you the trophy. The difference? Minute allocation & how wins produced are affected by that allocation. We continuously hear terms like playoff rotation & playoff minutes thrown around come playoff time. The half baked notion tells us that a good deep team filled with average and above average players will get you in the playoffs but to get far in the playoffs you need your wins to be concentrated in your Top 6.
    • In the Regular Season:
      • Your starting five account for 82% percent of your wins.
      • Your second unit is important over the course of an 82 game regular season accounting for 18% of your wins
      • After that everybody else is statistically meaningless.
    • In the Playoffs :
      • Your starting five account for 94% percent of your wins in the playoffs.
      • Only the first guy of your bench matters accounting for 5% of your wins
      • After that everybody else is statistically meaningless.

Build me a Winner

So Based on this knowledge, let’s try to summarize what my management philosophy would be as an NBA GM.

  • Operating the Franchise:
    • Great companies/organization have clear operating principles and have the best people operating in concert to execute them. This document lays down those guiding principles. Everyone  in the organization needs to know and understand these (from the owner to the folks at the concession stand)
    • As a GM make sure you hire and train the best people to help you. You can’t be everywhere and the best organizations are great independent of the person who builds them.
    • Follow the Japanese principle of 5-s, spend money on the organization. Do everything possible to build a pleasant and world class organization. There’s no salary cap on facilities and amenities.
    • Players are significant capital assets and I would provide as much maintenance as you can for them. Your training and travel should be the best. I would provide nutrition and fitness counseling to all my players and I would offer to pay for all their meals (on a designed diet plan). I would spend money on as many shot, workout and video or other coaches as a player needs to improve his game. Yoga or other flexibility building activities (as practiced by physical freak Kareem) would be provided gratis for all players and staff. Your training staff should be the best in the world.
    • Personal and financial counseling would be available to all players and coaches.
    • There’s a lot of research that show that the coach is not really a factor (unless his name are Phil or Pop). The two key roles for the coach are minute allocation and teaching the right skill set and the culture. The biggest thing I would look for in a coach is that he’d have to have an open mind to what the statistical analysis is telling him. If the analysis says play Kevin Love, you have to play Kevin Love. After that we need a guy who lives/teaches the culture of the team. He’s the guy who has to get the team to buy the system that were building. The best coaches (Phil and Pop) do this. But really what we need is open mindedness and charisma. I would initially look for a relatively unknown (and hence cheap and tractable) head coach (as long as they don’t turn out to be one of the very few coaches who actually have a negative effect on their teams). In the future, I would look for ex-players from my team, who already drink the Kool-Aid and qualify (open minded to analysis, charismatic,  leaders)
    • If Phil or Pop are available hire them :-)
  • Modeling/Statistics:
    • A wins produced model (such as Prof. Berri’s Wins Produced or my own Wins over replacement Player (WORP)) gives a team  a statistical edge over other teams in building a roster by properly identifying a player win contribution with a high level of correlation. My team would be built around just such a model (probably with enhancements for individual defense which as a gm I could design and pay somebody to data enter) and identifying underrated/underpriced players that are available.
    • Developing an equivalence model for Rookies , D-leaguers and  Euro players stats is the most critical research priority my team can have and money will be spent accordingly
    • In the absence of a model, my team will hold closed door game simulations between NBA caliber players and prospects  for every prospective member  of the roster in which meticulous stats will be kept.
  • Building the Roster:
    • If you inherit a clusterf&*^, do whatever possible to clear all the crap from your roster and cap prior to initiating a rebuild. While locked into the bad players from a previous administration hire the worst possible players to short term contracts and pair them with rookies to guarantee the most ping pong balls.  We’ll call this one the Bullet Scenario.
    • If you have the opportunity to sign or get a >.250 WP48 player in his prime with no health concerns do it (Let’s call this Riley’s law).
    • Given that the top 6 is what matters for the playoffs.  I’d trade three .100 WP48 guys for one >.250 WP48 guy in a hummingbird’s heartbeat. This is of course the Law of Garnett.
    • Prior to signing them, I would vet the players (draftees and free agents) thoroughly (like the Republicans didn’t do for Palin). I would investigate him like I would an employee I was hiring for a Fortune 500 company at his salary. I’d like to know his injury history and his personal habits (does he drink, smoke,party with Barkley and Tiger etc.) before giving him the money. Medical examinations would be done by the best possible personnel using the latest and greatest technology. We’ll call this Oden & Beasley’s First Law.
    • All my analysis seems to point to the following skills being critical: Size and the ability to rebound and play defense  like a center, Ball handling and passing and efficient shooting. All personnel decisions should be made based on these three skills. In particular, Big Men and Ball handlers (Centers and Point Guards) are more scarce resources than shooters. I’d pay for skilled labor at those positions and always focus on depth there. This is the central idea behind my own Wins over replacement Player (WORP). This is Magic’s Theory.
    • You can’t form emotional attachments to players. Pay players fairly for performance and projected performance but never, ever overpay based on past performance or relaionships. This is the Cuban/Dirk Conumdrum.
    • Never,ever,ever,ever have a loss producing player <.000 WP48 on your roster who has spent more than two years in the NBA. If you must evaluate potential, use the d-league (unless the bullet principle is being implemented). Lot’s of candidates here but we’ll call this Morrison’s Theorem of diminishing returns.
    • I’d use picks rather than free agents to keep my team successful both on the court and in the bottom line (See San Antonio and Oklahoma City). The draft is,  the best source of cheap labor there is. When dealing with draft picks it is important to remember that you are getting a low cost player for four and not one year and any evaluation of draft picks should go beyond the rookie year. Of the top 100 picks half (and 122 of the top 200 picks) were taken after pick 9 suggesting there is always value in the later part of the draft. The draft is a high stakes lottery but it’s a rigged game for the owners. Salaries are fixed at a discount  and the risk of utter failure is relatively low (30%).  So we build thru the draft and not thru free-agency. This is the Pop/Presti principle #1.
    • Here are some more thoughts on drafting. I’d look for productive/athletic/high skill players who are available even if they are being passed up for some reason (character,size, being a tall white dude).  For the 2010 draft I love Cousins, Turner,Heyward and Aldrich. I Hate John Wall (too expensive and not polished enough to contribute in the short term the only situation I like this pick in is the Bullet Scenario). I love what the Celts did in drafting Avery Bradley and Luke Haragondy. They’re both chancy picks with a lot of upside. If they don’t work, you at worst lose a min salary. The draft should be treated like a penny poker game, go big or stay home. This is Danny’s Rule.
    • Scorers are common and overpaid. I’d flip scorers (goodbye AI and Melo) for picks, picks and more picks and undervalued ball handlers and bigs (hello Billups, Camby and Gasol) see the previous point on draft picks. To clarify, as Man of Steele points out in the comments for rev 1: ” ….trade the overrated scorer for an above average (but underrated) player at the same position and a draft pick or two. For example, the Spurs would trade Parker for Steve Blake and a draft pick. This kind of move would create salary cap room, stockpile picks, and your starting lineup would be no different. Or say you were charge of the Nuggests for instance. You might trade Carmelo for Luol Deng and two or three draft picks. There’s not a GM in the league that wouldn’t take that deal, and your lineup would be no different.” Let call this one the Nugget Corollary.
    • I’d prefer later picks in volume over high end lottery picks. Stars can and are had late in the draft (and if we build that rookie model? We have acompetitive advantage).  Picks would be used exclusively on high risk/high reward guys. You don’t play the lottery to win third prize. Second rounders would be used mostly on Euro guys that I could stash and see if they’re any good. This is Pop/Presti principle #2.
    • Hate overpriced free agents but love minimum salary level players. We know that the talent identification algorithm for NBA teams is broken. That means good talent must be available out there and I’d spend money to find it. So I’d buy one (or possibly two) D-league teams to stash, test and develop talent. I’d look into buying a Euroleague team as well. I’d also be the the king of 10 day contracts and call ups (and closed door game simulations). Roster spots 10 and up would be used at least 75% of the time for auditions and talent evaluation. This is Pop/Presti principle #3.
    • By owning my d-league team, I could treat it like a baseball farm system and teach the players coming my teams system and philosophy. By the time they made the team they’ll be all about possession and efficient shooting. We’ll call this the Spurs law of cultural consistency.
    • Every undrafted free agent gets an invite and a tryout on my team. Every one.

    The Nick Fazekas Law of Course
  • Arturo’s Payment Strategy:
    • The big question I left pending is how and when  do I pay for free agents. I believe in paying for value but i’d set some guidelines to follow (see table Below).  My simple assumptions (based on the age model here) are as follows:

1. I’d like to win 55 Games

2. I’d like to stay under the cap

3.23-27 Year old starters will play about 30 minutes a game and improve about 13% over the previous five years

4.28-32 Year old starters will play about 28.5 minutes a game and decline  about 3% from the previous five years

5. 33 and up starters will play about 22.5 minutes a game and decline  about 5% from the previous five years

  • I would always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always try to frontload  contracts. Always. The frontloading has to do with two things: there’s more uncertainty in the prediction the further I go into the future and frontloading increases my cap flexibility the further I go into the future. I would use frontloading where possible it didn’t affect the overall contract qty and the average per year for the player (I’d pay them the same amount but just offer them to pay them more of it up front). From a pure economics point of view I’m actually taking a hit here because money now is worth more to me than money in the future. But the cap and the penalties in the NBA neutralize this (ballooning payments make me more likely to get hit by cap penalties). Also, frontloading contracts facilitates trading players who are no longer productive. Most teams get stuck with a player that they’d really rather trade because they have a massive salary. With this model, a 30 year old player who drops off would be relatively easy to trade. His salary would be low toward the end of his contract, so a team looking for a cheap veteran or a cheap expiring contract would be quite interested. I’ll call this Arturo’s First Law.
  • I would also incentivise the hell out of the contracts. Things like weight,BMI, body fat, supervised shooting practice hours and shooting percentages will all be standard fare in any contract (as much as the league and the union let me get away with). I’d pay straight cash money for clutch shots and game winners. In fact, I’d set up a full shot incentive program which quoting  reader jbrett:

o    Offer incentives for FG% (or % improvement, etc.) along with a detailed breakdown or their past results from different areas. For example, your conversation with Josh Smith might go like this: “As you can see, Josh, you shoot 73% from 5 feet and in, 42% from 5 to 15 feet, and 24% from 15 and beyond. With the incentives in your contract, you can double your pay simply by NOT SHOOTING THE GODDAMNED THREES!” If, as I suspect, Josh is not smart enough to use this information to improve his FG%, it may be time to cut bait. If he DOES, however, there is a strong likelihood your team will, overall, find itself taking higher-percentage shots in all situations, including critical possessions. ( And, when Josh inevitably takes a bad three, he’ll KNOW it’s bad–and if he makes it, luck.). As far as last-second shots, or desperation heaves: You’re spending big money everywhere it isn’t capped, right? Chart EVERYTHING. Factor out shots over 28 feet–unless they go in, of course! Maybe penalize for holding the ball until the shot clock expires, or passing when it’s too late to do anything but shoot. Guys who shoot high percentages but lack the desire to take critical shots will have an incentive to make plays with passes; can that be a bad thing? (We’ll call this the Josh Smith Incentive program)

As I said, this algorithm is a work in process and I will probably revisit this over and over in the future. Please provide feedback and comments . As always this is only my opinion and I am the first to admit it could be flawed.You never know, If I get to be an NBA GM, I might hire you :-) ( Andres you get to be assistant GM, Devin you have a job) . More ridiculous things have happened.

David @%@%@%@%#@#@%@# Tyree
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86 Comments

  1. Spider Jerusalem
    9/26/2010
    Reply

    Wonderful.

    I think you’d have to be the owner and the GM to make some of these things happen, though. I’m not sure how the money flows in NBA organizations, but some of the outlays you have here (meal plans, facilities, etc.) sound like they’d have to come from ownership (also, I imagine it’d be the owner with deep pockets that will be ok with frontloading contracts). And market size would factor in, I suppose (unless you’re Paul Allen).

    My one question is, if you’re end concern is the product offered to the fan, how ruthless can you be? With the Cuban/Dirk principle, you might run into some goodwill issues with the fanbase by shipping out guys that can still play (even if they’re no longer entirely earning their salary). I suppose it wouldn’t matter if you’re still winning (wins drive attendance, after all), but fans definitely do get attached to players.

    • 9/26/2010
      Reply

      I think this, while a problem, can be upset somewhat by the promise of the draft . And winning of course.

  2. Spider Jerusalem
    9/26/2010
    Reply

    Wonderful.

    I think you’d have to be the owner and the GM to make some of these things happen, though. I’m not sure how the money flows in NBA organizations, but some of the outlays you have here (meal plans, facilities, etc.) sound like they’d have to come from ownership (also, I imagine it’d be the owner with deep pockets that will be ok with frontloading contracts). And market size would factor in, I suppose (unless you’re Paul Allen).

    My one question is, if you’re end concern is the product offered to the fan, how ruthless can you be? With the Cuban/Dirk principle, you might run into some goodwill issues with the fanbase by shipping out guys that can still play (even if they’re no longer entirely earning their salary). I suppose it wouldn’t matter if you’re still winning (wins drive attendance, after all), but fans definitely do get attached to players.

    • 9/26/2010
      Reply

      I think this, while a problem, can be upset somewhat by the promise of the draft . And winning of course.

  3. merl
    9/26/2010
    Reply

    Here’s a suggestion: always make the last year of a contract only partially guaranteed (so you can trade them to another team who waives them for cap relief, and get picks plus cash in return)

  4. merl
    9/26/2010
    Reply

    Here’s a suggestion: always make the last year of a contract only partially guaranteed (so you can trade them to another team who waives them for cap relief, and get picks plus cash in return)

  5. jbrett
    9/26/2010
    Reply

    Hey, I’m quoted! Thanks!

    When I hit the section on coaches, I remembered a confrontation in a Hawks game last year: Mike Woodson was yelling at Mike Bibby for repeatedly passing to an open man in the corner (it might very well have been Josh Smith) who kept missing the shot. Bibby’s response was something like, “That’s the way the play is designed; it results in him being open; if you don’t want him to get that shot, run a play where he’s somewhere else!”

    John McKay once asserted that he never called a single play where he looked around afterward and said, “This play will not work.” Apparently the same is not true in the NBA, or at least in Atlanta. Your openminded, malleable coach should be willing to take an eraser to sections of the playbook that, when executed perfectly, lead to a predictable failure.

    Boil it down to “Any play where the desired result is undesirable should be scrapped.” Call it McKay’s Postulate–or perhaps Bibby’s Conundrum.

    • 9/26/2010
      Reply

      jbrett,
      Another good comment. Shortening the playbook, and taking out the low probability of success plays, is definitely a great idea.

  6. jbrett
    9/26/2010
    Reply

    Hey, I’m quoted! Thanks!

    When I hit the section on coaches, I remembered a confrontation in a Hawks game last year: Mike Woodson was yelling at Mike Bibby for repeatedly passing to an open man in the corner (it might very well have been Josh Smith) who kept missing the shot. Bibby’s response was something like, “That’s the way the play is designed; it results in him being open; if you don’t want him to get that shot, run a play where he’s somewhere else!”

    John McKay once asserted that he never called a single play where he looked around afterward and said, “This play will not work.” Apparently the same is not true in the NBA, or at least in Atlanta. Your openminded, malleable coach should be willing to take an eraser to sections of the playbook that, when executed perfectly, lead to a predictable failure.

    Boil it down to “Any play where the desired result is undesirable should be scrapped.” Call it McKay’s Postulate–or perhaps Bibby’s Conundrum.

    • 9/26/2010
      Reply

      jbrett,
      Another good comment. Shortening the playbook, and taking out the low probability of success plays, is definitely a great idea.

  7. jbrett
    9/26/2010
    Reply

    Thanks again. Completely off the subject–we’ve talked before about the underrated Nate McMillan. Usually I can look at the boxscore numbers for a player WP rates highly, and see why that might be the case; not this time. I saw him play a bit, but nothing stands out at all; there was no point when I ever thought he was a guy my team would want to go after. I have a great deal of faith in the analysis–so what am I missing here? Grateful for any thoughts you want to share.

    • 9/27/2010
      Reply

      Sure,
      I’ll do a full post on him but the short answer is he was a fairly tall guy (6’5″ ) who could pass (11.47 asst per 48 for his career), handle the ball well , shoot efficiently (1.14 points per fga) and rebound (about 7.5 per 48) plus he played the 1,2 and 3.

  8. jbrett
    9/26/2010
    Reply

    Thanks again. Completely off the subject–we’ve talked before about the underrated Nate McMillan. Usually I can look at the boxscore numbers for a player WP rates highly, and see why that might be the case; not this time. I saw him play a bit, but nothing stands out at all; there was no point when I ever thought he was a guy my team would want to go after. I have a great deal of faith in the analysis–so what am I missing here? Grateful for any thoughts you want to share.

    • 9/27/2010
      Reply

      Sure,
      I’ll do a full post on him but the short answer is he was a fairly tall guy (6’5″ ) who could pass (11.47 asst per 48 for his career), handle the ball well , shoot efficiently (1.14 points per fga) and rebound (about 7.5 per 48) plus he played the 1,2 and 3.

  9. 9/26/2010
    Reply

    Arturo,
    Amazing addition to the work! I figure you me and Devin could make a pretty cool NBA team and in fact a lot of our moves would probably be seen as sound. Free Chris Paul, Free Andre Iguodala and Free Gerald Wallace posters would be in my office :)

    Also in regards to Dirk you can probably do the Ray Borque(NHL)/Kevin Garnett trick. Say you want them to have a shot of winning the championship before they retire. Trade them to a possible contender and fleece them in possible in the process (McHale failed here). For example imagine getting Odom off of the Lakers or Ginobli off the Spurs back in the day for say an overrate player like Kobe/Iverson or Starbury. Retire their number and have a big ceremony when they play at your arena and start winning more. The fans stay on your side and you can reward your player’s years of good service with a better contract thanks to trading their bird rights.

  10. 9/26/2010
    Reply

    Arturo,
    Amazing addition to the work! I figure you me and Devin could make a pretty cool NBA team and in fact a lot of our moves would probably be seen as sound. Free Chris Paul, Free Andre Iguodala and Free Gerald Wallace posters would be in my office :)

    Also in regards to Dirk you can probably do the Ray Borque(NHL)/Kevin Garnett trick. Say you want them to have a shot of winning the championship before they retire. Trade them to a possible contender and fleece them in possible in the process (McHale failed here). For example imagine getting Odom off of the Lakers or Ginobli off the Spurs back in the day for say an overrate player like Kobe/Iverson or Starbury. Retire their number and have a big ceremony when they play at your arena and start winning more. The fans stay on your side and you can reward your player’s years of good service with a better contract thanks to trading their bird rights.

  11. 9/26/2010
    Reply

    I love this segment!

    I have a question on the player minute allocation: 30 min/game for the youngsters? I assume it’s to save them for the playoffs, avoid injury, and extend their careers, all the while figuring that 55 wins is enough to make it into the playoffs, whereby the team will pull a Celtics (due to a really good top 6) and surprise everyone. But is that really enough minutes? What about homecourt advantage during the playoffs? I’m thinking the minutes should be more like 34 (or maybe even 36), 30, and 24 (or maybe 26) – of course I don’t have any statistics behind these numbers. At 36 min, there is still enough time for a 3 minute break each quarter. Divide each quarter in half and you can play the youngsters for 4.5 min, then 3 min break, then 4.5 more min of court time. For 30 min, the breakdown could be somewhere around 3.75 – 4.5 – 3.75; for 24 min, the breakdown could be around 3 – 6 – 3.

    And what do you do when one of your old guys is like Kidd or Nash? Should you play them for such a small amount of minutes when they are so productive and capable of playing around 35min/game ?

    I can’t wait for The Build 0.2!

    • 9/27/2010
      Reply

      Nothing quite that complex. The minute thing is just my margin (I pay for 30 minutes and additional minutes are upside). View it as injury and age insurance.

      • 9/27/2010
        Reply

        And here I thought you had something based on rigorous statistical analysis :)

        Although it might be good to look into that sort of thing….

  12. 9/26/2010
    Reply

    I love this segment!

    I have a question on the player minute allocation: 30 min/game for the youngsters? I assume it’s to save them for the playoffs, avoid injury, and extend their careers, all the while figuring that 55 wins is enough to make it into the playoffs, whereby the team will pull a Celtics (due to a really good top 6) and surprise everyone. But is that really enough minutes? What about homecourt advantage during the playoffs? I’m thinking the minutes should be more like 34 (or maybe even 36), 30, and 24 (or maybe 26) – of course I don’t have any statistics behind these numbers. At 36 min, there is still enough time for a 3 minute break each quarter. Divide each quarter in half and you can play the youngsters for 4.5 min, then 3 min break, then 4.5 more min of court time. For 30 min, the breakdown could be somewhere around 3.75 – 4.5 – 3.75; for 24 min, the breakdown could be around 3 – 6 – 3.

    And what do you do when one of your old guys is like Kidd or Nash? Should you play them for such a small amount of minutes when they are so productive and capable of playing around 35min/game ?

    I can’t wait for The Build 0.2!

    • 9/27/2010
      Reply

      Nothing quite that complex. The minute thing is just my margin (I pay for 30 minutes and additional minutes are upside). View it as injury and age insurance.

      • 9/27/2010
        Reply

        And here I thought you had something based on rigorous statistical analysis :)

        Although it might be good to look into that sort of thing….

  13. Chicago Tim
    9/26/2010
    Reply

    I’m trying to figure out the salary Noah should be offered this year based on your salary cheat sheet. I’m guessing the Bulls are lowballing him, but I’m not sure. I think I might have to look up some numbers, which hurts my brain. You wouldn’t just want to tell me, would you?

    The Bulls might be entitled to a discount for making an offer two years before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Also, this raises an ethical question. If players like Noah are normally underrated by other teams, should the Bulls offer a fair value or not?

    • 9/28/2010
      Reply

      Tim,
      I’m running a business so pay him market value as long as its below what’s on the cheat sheet.

  14. Chicago Tim
    9/26/2010
    Reply

    I’m trying to figure out the salary Noah should be offered this year based on your salary cheat sheet. I’m guessing the Bulls are lowballing him, but I’m not sure. I think I might have to look up some numbers, which hurts my brain. You wouldn’t just want to tell me, would you?

    The Bulls might be entitled to a discount for making an offer two years before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Also, this raises an ethical question. If players like Noah are normally underrated by other teams, should the Bulls offer a fair value or not?

    • 9/28/2010
      Reply

      Tim,
      I’m running a business so pay him market value as long as its below what’s on the cheat sheet.

  15. Travis
    9/26/2010
    Reply

    You’re not here to think!

  16. Travis
    9/26/2010
    Reply

    You’re not here to think!

  17. 9/27/2010
    Reply

    Despite being a fan of Wins Produced, I’m not a fan of the stat geek GM. They just don’t have a tremendus track record of success. The Celtics have stat geeks but everyone knows the geeks had nothing to do w/ them winning the title – it was the fact Ainge went out & got Ray Allen & Garnett. I think we all know the formula for building a title contender is simple, but difficult to execute: find a superstar and surround them w/ the best players possible. I think all the rest of it is just a distraction. The Cavs & Clippers spent 8 figures apiece on new practice facilities and they haven’t sniffed a title. Cuban tricks out the Mavs facilities & gets an embarrassing Finals loss at home and then a historic 1st rd ass-whipping the next year. And as far as hiring coaches, Henry Abbott wrote a piece on truehoop a few yrs ago that illustrated how little time for practice nba players have. If that’s the case, then spending a lot of money on coaches seems like a bad idea. I agree the trainers should be top-notch but Jeff Van Gundy made a good pt once – the more trainers you have, the more likely players are gonna get injured because they’ll talk to the available trainers about every little nick & twinge of pain. Detroit allegedly has a tremendous trainer and no one could stay healthy last year – why? Because they stunk & no one wanted to be on the floor for such a crappy team. I guess the point of all this rambling is this – I think the algorithm is much simpler. There are basic costs for an NBA franchise (e.g. baseline basketball operations costs like scouting, training & coaching resources) but outside of that, it’s simply find a superstar and surround them w/ the best players you can. I stopped being an MJ fan in ’91 but one thing he said stuck w/ me – “organizations don’t win championships, players do.” I think he’s right and I think it’s even more true today – look at what the players accomplished in Miami. If you get smart players who aren’t assholes like Kobe (i.e. Dwyane Wade) it’ll make the team’s job easier. So that’s another criteria for a superstar. But I really think that’s all you need. Who cares about going over the salary cap if you’re winning titles? Why shoot for just 55 wins when the record is 73? Maybe this is me thinking like a fan, but I would be all-in every year, trying to win 70+ gms. The only risk is betting on the wrong players, so I agree there needs to be some method/model for identifying good players. But whether it’s Jerry West’s intuition or Wins Produced, the model only needs to be right on 40% of the roster (according to the half-baked notion). Who cares about D-Leaguers? They’re not swinging titles. And I gotta be honest – I’m w/ Pat Riley. Who cares about unproven draft picks? I’ll take free agents anyday! I don’t like the notion of lavishly spending on everything except player salaries. Alright – my nonsensical rant is done.

  18. 9/27/2010
    Reply

    Despite being a fan of Wins Produced, I’m not a fan of the stat geek GM. They just don’t have a tremendus track record of success. The Celtics have stat geeks but everyone knows the geeks had nothing to do w/ them winning the title – it was the fact Ainge went out & got Ray Allen & Garnett. I think we all know the formula for building a title contender is simple, but difficult to execute: find a superstar and surround them w/ the best players possible. I think all the rest of it is just a distraction. The Cavs & Clippers spent 8 figures apiece on new practice facilities and they haven’t sniffed a title. Cuban tricks out the Mavs facilities & gets an embarrassing Finals loss at home and then a historic 1st rd ass-whipping the next year. And as far as hiring coaches, Henry Abbott wrote a piece on truehoop a few yrs ago that illustrated how little time for practice nba players have. If that’s the case, then spending a lot of money on coaches seems like a bad idea. I agree the trainers should be top-notch but Jeff Van Gundy made a good pt once – the more trainers you have, the more likely players are gonna get injured because they’ll talk to the available trainers about every little nick & twinge of pain. Detroit allegedly has a tremendous trainer and no one could stay healthy last year – why? Because they stunk & no one wanted to be on the floor for such a crappy team. I guess the point of all this rambling is this – I think the algorithm is much simpler. There are basic costs for an NBA franchise (e.g. baseline basketball operations costs like scouting, training & coaching resources) but outside of that, it’s simply find a superstar and surround them w/ the best players you can. I stopped being an MJ fan in ’91 but one thing he said stuck w/ me – “organizations don’t win championships, players do.” I think he’s right and I think it’s even more true today – look at what the players accomplished in Miami. If you get smart players who aren’t assholes like Kobe (i.e. Dwyane Wade) it’ll make the team’s job easier. So that’s another criteria for a superstar. But I really think that’s all you need. Who cares about going over the salary cap if you’re winning titles? Why shoot for just 55 wins when the record is 73? Maybe this is me thinking like a fan, but I would be all-in every year, trying to win 70+ gms. The only risk is betting on the wrong players, so I agree there needs to be some method/model for identifying good players. But whether it’s Jerry West’s intuition or Wins Produced, the model only needs to be right on 40% of the roster (according to the half-baked notion). Who cares about D-Leaguers? They’re not swinging titles. And I gotta be honest – I’m w/ Pat Riley. Who cares about unproven draft picks? I’ll take free agents anyday! I don’t like the notion of lavishly spending on everything except player salaries. Alright – my nonsensical rant is done.

  19. Fred Bush
    9/27/2010
    Reply

    Isn’t “ignore stat geeks, draft picks, and d-leaguers and spend lavishly on free agents” the Knicks model?

  20. Fred Bush
    9/27/2010
    Reply

    Isn’t “ignore stat geeks, draft picks, and d-leaguers and spend lavishly on free agents” the Knicks model?

    • Zach
      9/27/2010
      Reply

      The idea is that instead of just saying, “lets hope to get lucky and get a superstar and get lucky again by finding some good players to put around him,” you can create a more efficient process that allows you a greater chance of achieving those goals.

      To me, it follows along the same logic as the idea that basketball is a game of marginal productivity gains. In this case, Arturo is describing a process that would provide a marginal gain in probability of winning championships.

      • 9/28/2010
        Reply

        Nods head vigorously. This is also why players who provide marginal productivity losses are anathema to me.

    • 9/28/2010
      Reply

      rg,
      You raise some good points. Some caveats though: I didn’t say not to pay for talent. If you get the chance to get a Garnett or a Gasol or a Lebron you do. The Heat in essence followed my bullet scenario somewhat by torpedoing the roster and just keeping Wade, Haslem and Chalmers and then min level guys and bringing in the best available talent. The problem with that strategy is that you need to have a major selling point for the destination (i.e. I don’t think the superfriends happen in detroit, toronto or cleveland). I’m in it to build a franchise that’s consistently a winner and sustainable over time and the Heat model has had a limited lifespan before.

    • Zach
      9/27/2010
      Reply

      The idea is that instead of just saying, “lets hope to get lucky and get a superstar and get lucky again by finding some good players to put around him,” you can create a more efficient process that allows you a greater chance of achieving those goals.

      To me, it follows along the same logic as the idea that basketball is a game of marginal productivity gains. In this case, Arturo is describing a process that would provide a marginal gain in probability of winning championships.

      • 9/28/2010
        Reply

        Nods head vigorously. This is also why players who provide marginal productivity losses are anathema to me.

    • 9/28/2010
      Reply

      rg,
      You raise some good points. Some caveats though: I didn’t say not to pay for talent. If you get the chance to get a Garnett or a Gasol or a Lebron you do. The Heat in essence followed my bullet scenario somewhat by torpedoing the roster and just keeping Wade, Haslem and Chalmers and then min level guys and bringing in the best available talent. The problem with that strategy is that you need to have a major selling point for the destination (i.e. I don’t think the superfriends happen in detroit, toronto or cleveland). I’m in it to build a franchise that’s consistently a winner and sustainable over time and the Heat model has had a limited lifespan before.

  21. Man of Steele
    9/27/2010
    Reply

    Arturo,
    I’ve been chewing on the bullet scenario a bit. I think you have a solid idea, but how do you implement something like that? Also, what is the maximum duration of time that the bullet scenario would be in effect? If you take over a team that has three bad players signed to expensive two year contracts, do you run to bullet scenario for two years? If so, how do you convicne the owner that it’s worth it to lose games and money for two whole years in order to reboot?

    Also, you comment about John Wall got me thinking. What if you are in a two-year bullet scenario, like you outlined above, and you get a couple of dynamite draft picks the first year (absolutely top-shelf guys) and, perhaps in a weak conference, your team manages to sneak into the playoffs? How do you build off of that (a non-lottery pick, loads of expiring contracts, and heightened fan expectations)? It would seem that the owner(s) might be reticent to continue with the “jettison all the old guys” program if the team makes the playoffs. Any thoughts?

  22. Man of Steele
    9/27/2010
    Reply

    Arturo,
    I’ve been chewing on the bullet scenario a bit. I think you have a solid idea, but how do you implement something like that? Also, what is the maximum duration of time that the bullet scenario would be in effect? If you take over a team that has three bad players signed to expensive two year contracts, do you run to bullet scenario for two years? If so, how do you convicne the owner that it’s worth it to lose games and money for two whole years in order to reboot?

    Also, you comment about John Wall got me thinking. What if you are in a two-year bullet scenario, like you outlined above, and you get a couple of dynamite draft picks the first year (absolutely top-shelf guys) and, perhaps in a weak conference, your team manages to sneak into the playoffs? How do you build off of that (a non-lottery pick, loads of expiring contracts, and heightened fan expectations)? It would seem that the owner(s) might be reticent to continue with the “jettison all the old guys” program if the team makes the playoffs. Any thoughts?

  23. Man of Steele
    9/27/2010
    Reply

    To clarify, I still agree with the “jettison the old guys” approach, I’m just wondering how you get that to go over well with ownership and fan base.

  24. Man of Steele
    9/27/2010
    Reply

    To clarify, I still agree with the “jettison the old guys” approach, I’m just wondering how you get that to go over well with ownership and fan base.

    • 9/28/2010
      Reply

      I’d clarify the statement to read “jettison all the players with a sufficiently large sample size to know they suck”. So you get two top shelf guys and sneak into the playoffs. What do you do? You find the overhyped/overrated players on the team and flip them for picks and underrated players on other teams for a “loss”. Sign at least one underrated FA. Sign some complementary,cheap FA (vet min, Around .100 WP48). If I have two top shelf guys all I need to make sure off is to put any net losers and put some pieces around them and i’ll contend for a long time. Add in keep playing the draft and hoping and this sounds suspiciously like the OKC model.

  25. Fred Bush
    9/27/2010
    Reply

    The Heat lucked out this year. Several teams pared their spending to the bone this year to try to win the LeBron lottery, and the Heat are the only ones getting the payoff. Plenty of NBA teams seem to think free agents are the key to success and bid accordingly. Why compete with them? (Underappreciated/undervalued players aside.)

    Arturo’s proposal avoids the big, expensive gamble of the free agent market in favor of making lots of small, cheap gambles. He also thinks the cheap gambles have higher expectation in terms of dollars -> wins produced, but even if the free agent market is comparable in value, taking a bunch of smaller gambles greatly reduces your risk of ruin, which in this context would mean missing the playoffs and wasting your money on an unproductive player. Taking one big gamble on a free agent that succeeds would mean you’re more likely to win a title immediately, of course.

    • 9/27/2010
      Reply

      Fred Bush:

      The half-baked notion says that you only need 6 good players to make it thru the gauntlet of the playoffs. Prof. Berri says you need to have either one superstar (.300+ WP48 or two .200+ WP48) to be a title contender. Now, lets look at the last few NBA champions:

      Lakers (2009-2010): 3 players drafted (2 lottery pick); 3 players acquired via trades/free agency; no D-Leaguers; over salary cap both years

      Celtics (2008): 3 players drafted (1 lottery pick); 3 players acquired via trades/free agency; no D-Leaguers; over salary cap

      Spurs (2007): 3 players drafted (1 lottery pick); 3 players acquired via free agency; no D-Leaguers; over salary cap

      Heat (2006): 1 player drafted (lottery pick); 5 players acquired via trades/free agency; no D-Leaguers; over salary cap

      None of the last 5 champs have won a title without a lottery pick and all of them have gone over the salary cap to put together their championship teams.

      • Fred Bush
        9/28/2010
        Reply

        RG: It’s my understanding that ~3/4 of NBA teams are over the salary cap every year, have a lottery pick on their roster, no d-leaguers among their 6 top minute-getters and have multiple free agents. Does this tell us anything?

  26. Fred Bush
    9/27/2010
    Reply

    The Heat lucked out this year. Several teams pared their spending to the bone this year to try to win the LeBron lottery, and the Heat are the only ones getting the payoff. Plenty of NBA teams seem to think free agents are the key to success and bid accordingly. Why compete with them? (Underappreciated/undervalued players aside.)

    Arturo’s proposal avoids the big, expensive gamble of the free agent market in favor of making lots of small, cheap gambles. He also thinks the cheap gambles have higher expectation in terms of dollars -> wins produced, but even if the free agent market is comparable in value, taking a bunch of smaller gambles greatly reduces your risk of ruin, which in this context would mean missing the playoffs and wasting your money on an unproductive player. Taking one big gamble on a free agent that succeeds would mean you’re more likely to win a title immediately, of course.

    • 9/27/2010
      Reply

      Fred Bush:

      The half-baked notion says that you only need 6 good players to make it thru the gauntlet of the playoffs. Prof. Berri says you need to have either one superstar (.300+ WP48 or two .200+ WP48) to be a title contender. Now, lets look at the last few NBA champions:

      Lakers (2009-2010): 3 players drafted (2 lottery pick); 3 players acquired via trades/free agency; no D-Leaguers; over salary cap both years

      Celtics (2008): 3 players drafted (1 lottery pick); 3 players acquired via trades/free agency; no D-Leaguers; over salary cap

      Spurs (2007): 3 players drafted (1 lottery pick); 3 players acquired via free agency; no D-Leaguers; over salary cap

      Heat (2006): 1 player drafted (lottery pick); 5 players acquired via trades/free agency; no D-Leaguers; over salary cap

      None of the last 5 champs have won a title without a lottery pick and all of them have gone over the salary cap to put together their championship teams.

      • 9/28/2010
        Reply

        rg,
        I don’t count Lebron as a big gamble, or Miller, or Bosh.
        I do agree that you have to be willing to pay for that final step (which is why I got so mad about OKC not getting Camby)

        BTB,You really counting Morrison as a lottery pick for the Lakers?

      • Fred Bush
        9/28/2010
        Reply

        RG: It’s my understanding that ~3/4 of NBA teams are over the salary cap every year, have a lottery pick on their roster, no d-leaguers among their 6 top minute-getters and have multiple free agents. Does this tell us anything?

  27. 9/28/2010
    Reply

    Arturo:

    I only looked at the top 6 for each team so the lottery picks for the lakers were bynum & kobe (granted they got him in a trade but it was done on draft night).

    I agree w/ you about OKC. I think Presti may prevent Durant from winning a title until he’s 30 if he doesn’t take some risks.

    • 9/28/2010
      Reply

      Actually it’s Gasol (3rd-Grizz), Odom (4th-Clips),Artest (16th-Bulls). Bynum (10th), Kobe (13th),Fisher (24th). So all the high,underrated draft picks (Gasol & Odom) they brought in from other teams. The guys they drafted they got later in the draft and were guys that could have been had by other teams on draft day. So again value after the top 5 in the draft and underrated talent available to be had. This is why I’m convinced Kevin Love will be playing on a contender before too long.

  28. 9/28/2010
    Reply

    Arturo:

    I only looked at the top 6 for each team so the lottery picks for the lakers were bynum & kobe (granted they got him in a trade but it was done on draft night).

    I agree w/ you about OKC. I think Presti may prevent Durant from winning a title until he’s 30 if he doesn’t take some risks.

  29. jbrett
    9/28/2010
    Reply

    I feel I owe Josh Smith an apology; he went from 87 3-pt attempts in ’09 to 7 last year. It seems very likely that Josh, or someone in his camp or on the Hawks, was in fact smart enough to use statistics to effect a beneficial change in his shot selection. In fact, he has significantly decreased his jacks from three more than once, going from 152 in ’07 to 99 in ’08; perhaps he or the Hawks already have a FG% improvement program in place.

    • 10/5/2010
      Reply

      jbrett,
      I think someone said this quote to him: ” The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That’s pride $%#$ing with you. $%#@ pride! Pride only hurts, it never helps.”

  30. Scott C
    5/4/2011
    Reply

    Hi – I think these approach ignores basic game theory – i.e., what other GMs in the league are doing. Specifically, there never seems to be a shortage of GMs ready and willing to make bad decisions. An example – incentivized contracts… I’m sure every GM in the NBA would do this in a second if he could. But he can’t – because some other GM is willing to offer the same player similar money without the incentives. The only time you see these contracts is when they player/agent has limited leverage – e.g., coming off an injury or is a marginal player already.

  31. […] over at Aturo’s Silly Stats has an interesting series running on how to build an NBA winner. Up to revision 2, the concept covers what players to grab, what contracts to sign and a bunch of other […]

  32. […] over at Aturo’s Silly Stats has an interesting series running on how to build an NBA winner. Up to revision 2, the concept covers what players to grab, what contracts to sign and a bunch of other […]

  33. 10/5/2010
    Reply

    jbrett,
    I think someone said this quote to him: ” The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That’s pride $%#$ing with you. $%#@ pride! Pride only hurts, it never helps.”

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