Trash to Treasure: Why Wins Produced Is Not Wrong to Value the Garbage Guy

If you play basketball, you know that guy.  Maybe he’s not the most talented, but he works his tail off on the boards and on defense, and he is somewhat competent shooting the ball when he’s open.  When he’s not open, he defers, which is what he should do.  He tries to set screens and is disappointed when they don’t work, considering that they’re the one thing he has full confidence in his ability to do.  He gamely works when the “stars” chuck up Contested Mid-Range Jumper No. 30, trying to calculate every variable that could affect the rebound.

When I played basketball, I was that guy.  I always wanted to play, and I often did, but I was never the starter.  I didn’t even get that many rebounds, but I helped keep the tall guy on the other team off of them, so it somewhat evened out.  I tended to camp out about fifteen feet away from the basket on the wings and shoot when prompted.  Every once in a while, I actually made the shot.  I set screens all the time, but they were rarely used in games, much to my chagrin.  Therefore, I can identify with the Reggie Evanses and Dominic McGuires of the world.

Traditional metrics undervalue these guys in favor of the Monta Ellises and Jamal Crawfords of the world.  News flash!  Ellis hasn’t been good since the moped accident, and that was the only year in which he was any good, while Crawford has only been above-average once, with the Hawks…according to Win Shares!  (Wins Produced gives him an extra year above that benchmark in 2005-06.)  They say Al Jefferson is a very good player, possibly even borderline superstar, when in reality he’s “just” very, very solid (career highs per 48: .158 Wins Produced, .173 Win Shares).

When you think about it, though, aren’t the guys like Evans and McGuire the ones you really want to root for?  They work hard, play well, and are underappreciated.  You want these guys to succeed because they have adapted.  They play smart, they play hard, and they take out the garbage.  They are altruistic, always surrendering the ball because they know their limitations.  They do the little things that get things done.  While the volume scorers may be the celebrities of the world-both from a real-life and metaphorical standpoint-these guys drive the dump truck and work at the post office.  Society doesn’t work without them, but they just don’t get proper recognition, and ultimately no one wants to be “that guy” because of all the more lucrative opportunities.

In contrast, the “stars” get all the glory and most of the money.  They are the star basketball’s equivalent of the big man on campus.  Everyone knows what they do, and everyone tries to emulate them.  At the end of the day, they’re the ones whose talents get noticed.  They like the status quo.

If you think about it in a weird way, this is kind of backwards.  While some scorers, like LeBron James, do several things well and are willing passers, for every LeBron there is a Carmelo Anthony or Allen Iverson who just guns, and guns, and guns with little regard for the health and well-being of the team.  They closely resemble a bully, beating up on his own guys with their horrendous shot selection, or the entitled rich kid deriding the “commoners”.  But really, they wouldn’t get to drive their Porsches and Ferraris around on nicely paved roads without those people doing the big little things (little big things?).

In a way, Wins Produced finally recognizes Evans’s and McGuire’s important functions, provided that they do a reasonable good job overall.  I could continue with other guys who more or less fit the bil: Tyson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Thabo Sefolosha, Jimmy Butler, Shawn Marion, Troy Murphy once upon a time, etc.  And while nobody thinks Wins Produced is perfect-believe me, I have a couple of beefs with the stat that I want investigated-it shows that these guys are valuable and not necessarily dime-a-dozen.  (In fact, many of my issues are related to the fact that volume scorers are somewhat undervalued; see the recent assist percentage argument at www.thenbageek.com where I did not side with the Wages of Wins, or my June article about turnovers.)  And if you hate on Wins Produced only because it “overvalues” guys like Sefolosha and Butler, you look just like the bullies who beat up on the dorky smart guy because he’s weird and he’s smarter than you are.  (Important: I am not trying to insinuate that Wins Produced people are inherently “smarter”, just that intelligence is a definite reason for bullying.)  What is wrong with assigning credit to guys who work hard just to stay in the NBA while devaluing guys who live the high life a bad thing?

We also have to remember that Wins Produced does not measure “skill” per se, but-as it says in the title-Wins.  Really, it says who…produced wins over a certain period of time.  It does not try to be a predictor of how many wins a player will produce next year, although it is a pretty good judge of that, and a better one than Win Shares.  It does not try to predict how many wins a player would produce on another team, but it does that decently well.  In fact, team construction based solely on Wins Produced is a foolhardy exercise; at the end of the day, twelve garbage guys probably won’t win a title.  (However, I may write an article on a mini-study I did on this conflicting this to a degree.)

To have a good team, one has to assemble a roster based on having the most strengths and the fewest weaknesses.  Thus, we have to have players who can fill every role: ball-handling, scoring, rebounding, screen-setting, etc.  Wins Produced simply states that you have to be good and efficient at a job to be productive, and if you meet that criteria, then you are productive.  So to use a probably overused phrase, “Don’t hate; appreciate,” and to use another one, “if you have haters, then you’ve got to be doing something right.”  And Wins Produced certainly does a lot of things right; they even lessened their rebounding “infatuation” by accounting for diminishing returns.  It takes a strong man to admit that he’s wrong, even if he is very stubborn before the fact.  Thank you for reading, please comment, and please come back.

P.S. I understand that Wins Produced does not account for screen-setting.  I just included it because it is part of the standard definition of “garbage guy”.

Edit: The original title, “Hope for the Dorks: Why Hating on Wins Produced Makes You Look Like a Jerk,” was deleted upon further reflection.

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3 thoughts on “Trash to Treasure: Why Wins Produced Is Not Wrong to Value the Garbage Guy

  1. Indeed, it seems that some people completely fail to step back and consider whether they have unfounded assumptions when they don’t agree with results. But sports is perhaps less a bastion of rationality and objectivity than even politics. It doesn’t surprise me that the sports statistic community seems more interested in forcing together models that simply confirm what they already believe.

    The WP model has it’s flaws, of course. But the majority of criticisms I find are either personal attacks or dismissals that the model doesn’t agree with their a priori assumptions. It is one thing to nitpick that there are items that the model misses, but to then go and complain that it doesn’t correlate well to Adjp +/- (which seems to be the common comparison in the stats community) seems absurd. Adjp +/- is acknowledged to be horribly noisy, so what use is the comparison? “Least flawed” is a mighty lofty goal, if they have managed to achieve that.

    • Thank you for reading my post. While this post does seem very subjective in nature, I wrote it because I have accepted Wins Produced on an analytical level, and I was trying to rebut some of those non-mathematically based attacks. Maybe I just like being icococlastic, but Kobe- and Melo-bashing is just downright fun, and I have an objective, rigorously tested basis for doing so!

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