Good Can Be Bad: Production vs. Skill in the NBA

Who are the best players in the NBA now?  Many people will have a list that includes LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, and Carmelo Anthony.  Wins Produced statheads, like me, would have LeBron, Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Durant, Andre Iguodala, etc.  So who’s right?  Well, I would say that they’re both right to some degree.

But wait, you just said it-you’re a Wins Produced guy!  How can you even entertain the possibility that Melo, Kobe, and Westbrook are worthy of being in the same discussion as LeBron, Durant, and Love?  Well, when push comes to shove, it’s really a matter of semantics, but let me explain.

First of all, anyone who plays in the NBA is so unfathomably good that I think that you would have to know at least one or two of them to really appreciate them.  In essence, nobody who has made it to the NBA “stinks,” which can be hard to remember at times.  The only exceptions to this general rule may be a few 7-footers who never see the court for a reason, but even then their size alone makes them incredibly good basketball players.  Furthermore, I can’t think of anyone who would fit that distinction.  Maybe Pavel Podkolzin?

Ever since I became a follower of Wins Produced, I have taken a lot of flak for saying, among other things, that Kobe Bryant was really bad last year. Recently, it popped into my head that he isn’t actually a bad player.  In fact, anybody who has ever seen Kobe Bryant play the game of basketball can easily tell that he is an extremely talented, extremely able basketball player.  The simple fact that he can make “Kobe shots” regularly is amazing, and it is even more amazing that, even after substantial decline, his shooting efficiency is still ever-so-slightly above-average (for a shooting guard), considering how many of those “Kobe shots” he takes.  This makes him a very, very, very good basketball player, and for most people, this is where the discussion ends.

However, just because he is extremely good (and shows it) does not mean that he is a productive basketball player.  For example, his turnover rate was almost 63% higher than that of the average shooting guard last year.  Granted, this is largely a by-product of his ball-hogging tendencies, but it greatly reduces how productive he can be.  In fact, it has throughout his entire career; that extremely high turnover per-minute rate was only the third-highest in his sixteen-year career, and that rate has never been less than that of the average shooting guard.  Also, he would much more productive if he never took another “Kobe shot” because “Kobe shots” are very low-percentage shots.  Here is the difference between good and productive.  However, despite these flaws, according to Wins Produced, Kobe was a borderline star for most of the still-young century, and last year was his first below-average season in that time frame, rendering him still very good but fairly unproductive.  This means he was very, very, very good.  But was he great?

To me, a great player is one who is both extremely good and extremely productive.  By extremely productive, I mean being a star by having a WP48 exceeding .180 or .200.  Players who I think should be classified as great in today’s game are (in order of WP48): LeBron, Chris Paul, James Harden, Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, Andrew Bynum, and maybe Blake Griffin, depending on which baseline for a productive “star” player you use.  Because they are so underrated, I did not list Kenneth Faried, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah, Andre Iguodala, etc., while Carmelo Anthony, Kobe, Russell Westbrook, and Derrick Rose are not listed because Wins Produced believes that they are overrated and not “stars.”  To answer the question posed in the last transition, I believe that, in since 2000, Kobe was great when he was with Shaq and from the 2006-07 to the 2008-09 seasons, but not since the 2009-10 season or in 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons-he was still good, but he was not productive enough.

My formal definitions for each label are, with current examples listed in parentheses:

  • Good: A player who is seen as a star by many people who watch basketball (Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant).
  • Productive: A player who produces wins as calculated by Wins Produced (Tyson Chandler, Andre Iguodala).
  • Great: A player who is both good and productive (LeBron James, Kevin Durant).

Will I constantly use good when I mean productive?  Yes; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I did in this very article.  Furthermore, a player is not trapped in either group forever; Kevin Durant produced a negative number of wins in his rookie season.  I just will try to distinguish good from productive and great by using the definitions listed above, and I am writing this article as much to explain it to myself as to explain it to anyone else.

So who would I rather have?  My preferred option would be a team full of great players because once their production declines, they be very tradeable, and they give me a lot of wins.  However, if I can’t get great players, I would want more productive players, while making sure that I have enough good and great players to keep both the offense running and my trade options open.  But that’s just me.  Keep in mind that, according to statheads anyway, a good player who is not productive still hurts your team, even though he is good.  A good example would be Amare Stoudemire or, once again, Kobe today.  Like I said in the title, good can be bad.  Thank you for reading, please comment, and please come back.

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