Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Atlanta Hawks

In all of the shuffling around of the offseason, the Hawks quietly made one of the best moves of the entire free agency period. After losing Josh Smith to the Detroit Pistons, the Hawks went out and signed a superior, albeit less dynamic, player for a much shorter, cheaper contract than the one the Pistons gave to the enigmatic Smith. Yes, I’m talking about Paul Millsap and his two year, $19 million deal. Millsap has been an advanced stats wunderkind for years, and last year was no exception. He posted an exceptional +5.4 xRAPM, good for 7th in the entire league and far outstripping Josh Smith’s also very good +3.4 xRAPM. So yeah, the Hawks made out pretty well, if you believe at all in the value of xRAPM.

After the Bucks stupidly overpaid ($5.2 million a year for three years???) for former Hawks big man Zaza Pachulia, who is, in terms of overall impact, a very similar player to Gustavo Ayon, whom the Bucks were forced to waive, the Hawks capitalized on this foolishness and claimed Ayon, a solid rotation big man, off waivers for the relatively piddling salary of $1.5 million a year.

The Hawks then let the market dictate Jeff Teague’s price and matched his restricted free agent offer sheet that he had signed with those same Bucks, rather than bidding against themselves and overpaying the young point guard. Basically, all summer long, the Hawks got value. So after all that how do the Hawks shape up for next year?

The Hawks look like a very solid, mid-level playoff team. 46 wins represents a slight improvement over their 44 win season last year.

A few things to note: Paul Millsap and Al Horford project to regress back towards their previous levels of performance a bit, as is the case with basically all players in the league who had better than their career average xRAPM last year under Nathan Walker’s numbers. Second, I had no way of projecting rookie point guard Dennis Schroeder’s performance for next year, as he was an international player and therefore Hickory-High had no projection for him. I read about him and scouts’ opinions of him and a fair amount of people view him at the outset of his career to be much like Darren Collison. So for the sake of simplicity I projected him to have the same xRAPM as Collison had in his rookie year in 2009–10. As far as minutes go, it’s harder to project minutes for rookies who look to play a fair amount, given that they don’t have previous seasons worth of data to make educated guesses using. What I did for Schroeder, then, was to look at his role, and try to give a reasonable guess for how many minutes he’ll play. For the record, after watching him play in Summer League, I think Schroeder will actually be better than Collison, even as a rookie. I’m not the only one, Schroeder views himself as a player similar to Rajon Rondo, as do others. For these projections, though, I figured I would err on the side of caution and assume that Schroeder won’t be as productive as Rondo. Finally, similar to the problem with Schroeder, I had no way to predict performance from the Hawks newly signed international big man, Pero Antic. So, I went to in-the-game.org, a Euroleague stats site, and looked at Antic’s similarity scores and tried to find any NBA players on the list. The best match for Antic currently in the NBA is the Nets Mirza Teletovic. So, I used Teletovic’s projected xRAPM as a stand in for Antic. Now, given that I had projected Antic to play so few minutes, his performance level is basically irrelevant for looking at the Hawks total wins.

The Hawks under this projection are in the same positional slot as the ESPN Forecast had them, just behind the Knicks, but they project to be a team that wins more games than the merely 40 for which the ESPN voters pegged them. Now, maybe that changes once I have to account for strength of schedule and the fact that overall team wins must sum to 1230. We’ll see, but I would guess the Hawks are at least a .500 team next year.

Image from valdezign via Flickr.

For some reason, the Detroit Pistons have signed Josh Smith

Get used to this, Detroit fans

Josh Smith agreed to a 4 year, $56 million deal with the Detroit Pistons yesterday. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Detroit would make this move. Smith is a pretty good, sometimes really good player but he doesn’t really fit with the Pistons current roster, at all.

Detroit’s best two players last year were young big men, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.  The reports of the deal suggest that Smith will likely start alongside those two players, with guards Brandon Knight and the recently drafted Kentavious-Caldwell Pope rounding out the Pistons’ starting unit. Drummond and Greg Monroe are both players who want to operate close to the basket, and Josh Smith, when he’s at his best, is a player who operates near the basket. Josh’s problem, and the biggest problem with this signing, is that Josh Smith does not love to operate near the basket. What Josh Smith really loves are jump shots. But sadly for Josh, jump shots do not love him back. Josh fancies himself more of a swing man than his size and skill-set would suggest is wise.

Unfortunately for the Pistons, and fans who would like to see J-Smoove reach his peak effectiveness, playing Smith alongside Monroe and Drummond will do nothing to dissuade him from floating more and more around the perimeter, likely tempting him to take more and more of the jumpers that, try as he might, Josh just can’t make. In a vacuum, Smith is worth right around what the Pistons have committed to him over the next 4 years. But Smith will not be playing in a vacuum, he will be playing with Monroe and Drummond and barring a, likely unwise, trade of one of their young, promising, cheap (!) big men, the Pistons figure to have serious spacing issues for their foreseeable future. Piston’s President of Basketball Operations, Joe Dumars has created a mess for himself when there were likely much more prudent options available. He’s improved the overall talent of his club, there’s no doubting that, but it’s hard to see how that translates to winning more games when the talent now fits together so poorly. It could be that Dumars just believes in grabbing talent when it’s available for a team that was so bad last season, but I can’t help but thinking patience should have won the day here. Ah well. As a Bulls loyalist I say, you take those jumpers, Josh Smith. You take them as much as your heart desires.