NBA Draft Lottery Study: Part Two - The Current Bucks

In part one, Steve put on a clinic and broke down PER so clearly even I can understand it.  Now that we know what we're dealing with stats-wise, let's see what we're dealing with personnel-wise.

As we all know, the Bucks were simply bad at scoring points.  Shooting, driving, drawing fouls; every aspect of the game that focused on putting the ball in the basket ranged from poor to gaze-averting putrid.  The regular stats don't lie: the team was dead last in points-per-game (91.9), dead last in overall FG percentage (.430), 28th in turnover differential (-1.7), dead last in points-per-shot (1.15), and dead last in offensive rating (101.6).  Say it with me...ewwwwww.

There are so many possible reasons for this ineptitude, it's almost impossible to diagnose the root cause.  One of the more popular theories (put forth by our own Alex) is that the team's pace is so slow, it limits transition opportunities and forces the team to score in the half-court, which it obviously struggles to do.  Thankfully, PER adjusts for pace, and is able to tell us an individual player's efficiency relative to the rest of the league in any given season.

Part two of our study takes the stat we now know and love and applies it to the team that ended the season with an overtime victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder's second-stringers.  Who's the most efficient player on the team?  Who's the least?  Who can we expect to improve, who will stay the same, and whose name is on the millstone weighting down the Milwaukee Bucks?

Take a deep breath, we're about to jump in...

A few preliminary clarifications are in order.  First, only players who ended the regular season on the roster are being examined.  Considering we'd be excluding the likes of Garrett Temple, Earl Barron, and Darington Hobson, we're not missing much.

Second, the study is limited to what we call "qualifying seasons".  By our standards, a qualifying season is one in which the player plays in at least 50 games and averages at least 12.0 minutes played per game.  If one of those two conditions is not met, that player's season is rendered non-qualifying for the purposes of this study.  This is designed to weed out players who are too injured, too young, or too talentless to crack the rotation on a regular basis.

Third, since PER is inherently adjusted every season, we decided to look at players over a slightly more extended timeframe.  Basketball is, after all, a game of trends, as is the story of most players' careers.  Therefore, instead of taking a player's career average, I developed a metric that measures the 3-year PER "peak" of that player.  The 3-year peak is simply the average of the season PER of the player's three highest-rated consecutive qualifying seasons.  This helps us take a slightly longer view at a players' peak production over the course of his career.

For example, if a player is in the league for 6 years, but only has three seasons that match the qualifying requirements above, only those seasons are considered.  Furthermore, if only two of those years are consecutive, only the two consecutive seasons are considered.  This is to eliminate seasons that were mired by injury or the early years of a player's career where they're learning on the bench.  One major exception to this rule is in regards to international players: players that accrue seasons in the NBA, leave for an international league, then return to the NBA have their seasons treated as consecutive, even if there is a chronological lapse in terms of NBA seasons.

Without further ado, here's what the Bucks' roster looks like in terms of PER.  Brace yourselves, for what lies beyond sure ain't pretty.

Name Age 3-year PER peak average 3-year peak timeframe Contract remaining
Earl Boykins 34 16.97 2002-2005 0 (expired)
Brandon Jennings 21 15.05 2009-2011 1 year (+ 2 TO)
Keyon Dooling 30 13.10 2007-2010 1 year
Michael Redd 31 20.77 2005-2008 0 (expired)
Carlos Delfino 28 13.10 06-08, 09-10 0 (+1 TO)
John Salmons 31 14.87 2007-2010 3 years (+1 TO)
Chris Douglas-Roberts 24 11.50 2009-2010 0 (restricted FA)
Corey Maggette 31 19.13 2002-2005 2 years
Luc Mbah a Moute 24 11.70 2008-2011 0 (expired)
Ersan Ilyasova 23 14.07 06-07, 09-11 1 year
Drew Gooden 29 17.93 2004-2007 4 years
Larry Sanders 22 11.00 2010-2011 1 year (+3 TO)
Jon Brockman 24 12.40 2009-2010 2 years
Andrew Bogut 26 18.70 2009-2011 3 years
Brian Skinner 34 13.70 2001-2004 0 (expired)

If you'll recall John Hollinger's PER reference guide, there are a few relevant benchmarks for PER.  A rating of 13.0 is considered a rotation player, 15.0 is an average player, 16.5 is a solid "third option", 18.0 is a solid "second option", and 20.0 is considered a "borderline All-Star".  Obviously, there are some lower marks, as well as some higher ones, but nobody on the Bucks is quite that good (or that bad).

Consider this: on the current roster, there was one player who, during their 3-year PER peak, could be considered for All-Star status.  That was Michael Redd, a 31-year old shooting guard with multiple knee surgeries who hasn't been relevant since 2008.  The next best is Corey Maggette, a 31-year old small forward with eleven qualifying seasons who treats defense as optional and couldn't get off Skiles' bench as a result.   After that, you have Andrew Bogut (franchise centerpiece dealing with a catastrophic injury), Drew Gooden (the ever-talented space cadet who has injury concerns), Earl Boykins (5'5", 133 lbs, known as "The Squirrel"), and Brandon Jennings (promising point guard with a loud mouth and an erratic shot). 

That's it.  Redd, Maggette, Bogut, Gooden, Boykins, and Jennings.  Those are the only players who have peaked (PER-wise) above the average mark of 15.0.  And of those players, only Jennings and Bogut have a 3-year peak that occurred after 2008.  

Your starting shooting guard?  During his best years, he was on the cusp of being considered a "pretty good player"...but at 31 years old, it's safe to say that those years are behind him.  Your starting small forward?  He's a strong rotation player, but nothing more.  Your de facto starting power forward?  Defensive acumen aside, he is just a step above "scrounging for minutes".  Three of your five starters are below average players.  Let that sink in for a moment.

* * *

Some criticisms of this study (so far) surely include the age-old fact that PER does a terrible job accounting for defense.  After all, the Milwaukee Bucks are a defense-first, -second, and -third outfit, and a pretty good one at that.  Another one might be that we're cherry-picking players' most statistically productive seasons, which makes them look better and younger players look worse.  Another possibility is that no team could deal with the sheer volume of injuries that the 2010-11 Bucks dealt with and remain cohesive on the court.

These are all valid points, and I sympathize with all of them.  However, the truth of the matter is that offense and defense are two sides of the same coin in basketball.  You can excel at one, but you still have to be somewhat competent on the other.  With near-perfect defense, you could allow your opponent to score just one basket in 48 minutes...but it still comes up as a loss if the scoreboard reads 2-0 when the final horn sounds.

So where to we go from here?  With a lockout looming, free agency will likely be delayed.  Not like it matters, the Bucks' current cap situation renders free agency inconsequential for the near future.  Either way, the draft is the key to the Bucks' long path to redemption.

With a record deserving of the 10th overall pick (pre-lottery), it's difficult to predict what the Bucks might do with it. Staying the course is one option, but there are several others.  Trade up for a stud player?  Trade down for better value?  Trade out of this year's draft entirely, if it's as "weak" as everyone says it is?  Impossible to say.

But, we can safely predict that part three of our series will look at the draft's recent history, to see if our numbers can tell us anything about the best way to get ourselves out of this mess.

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