Why do Win Shares Hate the Sixers?

Having these guys would help. - Kevin C. Cox

Mayans? Can we still blame them?

I spoke on the phone with Carey Smith of Philadunkia the other day (good dude) and we got to talking blog shop. Our conversation wound its way to the Sixers and advanced statistics. He said he spoke with some people around the league who confirmed his observation that the Sixers are tremendously low on the advanced stats totem pole, and going the wrong way.

So I did a little homework at Basketball-Reference and found some unsettling data to support that. Now, before I continue, I'd like to address a few topics which should be obvious.

  1. Stats, advanced or otherwise, don't tell the whole story. They tell a lot of it, but not all.
  2. I used Win Shares per 48 minutes as my base metric because I find PER to be too volume-heavy. Here's an article all about calculating win shares if you'd like to read more into it. It attempts to be a one-stop-shop all-in-one statistic, in that takes offense and defense into consideration. It's certainly not THE STAT TO END ALL STATS. It's just the one I used to look at the data. Take it for that and only that.
  3. Don't kill each other in the comments.

The league average for WS/48 is approximately 0.100, depending on the year. Here are the qualified league leaders (at least 1500 minutes) in WS/48 since the Sixers last went to the Finals.

YEAR PLAYER WS/48
2000-01 David Robinson 0.246
2001-02 Shaquille O'Neal* 0.262
2002-03 Tracy McGrady 0.262
2003-04 Kevin Garnett 0.272
2004-05 Garnett/Dirk 0.248
2005-06 Dirk Nowitzki* 0.275
2006-07 Dirk Nowitzki 0.278
2007-08 Chris Paul 0.284
2008-09 LeBron James 0.318
2009-10 LeBron James 0.299
2010-11 LeBron James* 0.244
2011-12 LeBron James* 0.298

Two things stand out: Hey, LeBron's not bad and Man, I miss T-Mac.

The star indicates a player whose team went to the NBA Finals that year. It's not surprising that having the best player in the league in a particular year gives you a better chance at, ya know, being successful. This year, Kevin Durant leads the NBA with a .304 WS/48. CP3 is close behind with a .300 and LBJ having a down year (:|) at .286.

And here's who led the Sixers in WS/48 over that time. Brace yourself for ugliness.

YEAR PLAYER WS/48
2000-01 Allen Iverson 0.190
2001-02 Dikembe Mutombo
0.158
2002-03 Keith Van Horn
0.133
2003-04 Samuel Dalembert
0.151
2004-05 Allen Iverson 0.136
2005-06 Allen Iverson 0.165
2006-07 Andre Iguodala 0.120
2007-08 Andre Iguodala 0.143
2008-09 Andre Miller 0.141
2009-10 Lou Williams 0.130
2010-11 Elton Brand 0.161
2011-12 Lou Williams 0.174

Aside from Iverson's most efficient season that led to the Sixers' only title run in recent memory, that is far from exemplary. Because Win Shares reward the efficient, it doesn't take too kindly to Allen's percentages. I mean, Van Horn bested him one year. If there's one thing we know about Allen (and there are a lot), it's that he's not efficient.

This year, the Sixers' two best players, clearly, have been Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young. WS/48 doesn't usually love guys who handle the ball too much, because they turn it over a lot (bumping the usage rate up) and generally shoot a lower percentage from the field with less free throw attempts. As it stands, Jrue's WS/48 is a 0.097, actually a career high for him.

Thad, in all of his glory, leads the team with an uninspiring 0.126. That's good for 65th in the NBA among players who have logged at least 800 minutes, a pretty arbitrary number at this point in the season. Dorell Wright is next at 90th. Only Detroit (Greg Monroe), Houston (James Harden), Sacramento (DeMarcus Cousins), and Washington (Martell Webster) have fewer qualified players above league-average in WS/48. Oh and Charlotte with a goose egg.

Orlando (Nikola Vucevic [who?], J.J. Redick), New Orleans (Ryan Anderson, Robin Lopez), Minnesota (Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko), and Cleveland (Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao) are the only other teams with just two players above league average, and all of those tandems combine for significantly more than Thad/Dorell.

But why is this the case? Why do the Sixers have year after year of inefficient basketball players playing inefficient basketball? I'm not ready to answer that yet. Let's first take a look at the most efficient players in recent Sixers history dating back to 1980.

YEAR PLAYER WS/48
1989-90 Charles Barkley 0.269
1990-91 Charles Barkley 0.258
1987-88 Charles Barkley 0.253
1988-89 Charles Barkley 0.250
1982-83 Moses Malone 0.248
1980-81 Julius Erving 0.231
1981-82 Julius Erving 0.229
1982-83 Julius Erving 0.217
1980-81 Bobby Jones 0.217
1979-80 Julius Erving 0.213
1986-87 Charles Barkley 0.210
1991-92 Charles Barkley 0.205

Notice a pattern? All players who weren't ball-dominant, who shot the ball with tremendous efficiency (lowest TS% of the bunch is Julius in '79-'80 at .568, which is a full .30 more than Thad's team-leading .538 this season -- a would-be difference of approximately 100 points for The Doctor) and who were, for the most part, franchise players. Man, I wish I was capable of cognitive thought when Charles was here.

The Sixers haven't had a qualified player land in the Top 20 of WS/48 since Iverson did it in the year they went to the Finals. He finished 12th. Of the 11 players who finished ahead of him, six of them shared a teammate (Duncan/Robinson, Shaq/Kobe, Stockton/Malone). While Iverson is an especially unique player, even at his peak, he couldn't do it by himself. And when he ran into a team with more than one high-level WS/48 player, he fell.

In today's NBA, you need two franchise guys. The Sixers haven't had one since Iverson. I'd argue that because of how... I keep using the word unique so I'll say... specific a player Allen was, the last legitimate franchise player they could build an actual team around was Charles. The guys around Iverson weren't a team, they were a collection of humans that were okay with not shooting the ball ever.

For funsies, let's look at the last five years of NBA Finals teams and their two leading WS/48 players.

YEAR WEST CHAMP EAST CHAMP
2007-08 Gasol (.239), Bynum (.230) Garnett (.265), Pierce (.207)
2008-09 Gasol (.223), Kobe (.206) Dwight (.234), Jameer (.220)
2009-10 Gasol (.220), Bynum (.188) Garnett (.171), Pierce (.165)
2010-11 Chandler (.218), Dirk (.213) LeBron (.244), Wade (.218)
2011-12 Durant (.230), Harden (.230) LeBron (.298), Wade (.227)

Since Iverson was good, only one Sixer had a season that would make that list (Lou last year with 0.174). And these teams all had at least two of them at the same time.

Without a tremendous amount of help, Jrue will not become an efficient basketball player. He's shooting a better percentage, he's getting to the line more, and he's even using his mostly bad teammates much better. It's undeniably impressive. But he's not the guy you build around. He's your number two.

Your number one is making faces on the bench. I don't know how this turned into a SIGN ANDREW BYNUM post, but here we are. Locking up a healthy Bynum for 3-4-5 years is the most important task the Sixers have had since they failed at trading Iverson. It's a chance to build a consistent contender like they were through the better part of the 80's. That doesn't happen without Drew.

Win Shares are not the end-all be-all of considering who can contend and who can't. But this statistically reinforces just how far away the Sixers are from having the talent capable of legitimacy.

They must please the Advanced Stats Gods by taking the risk to improve personnel. Once healthy (?!?!?!?), Bynum is their best shot at that.

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