Saturday, March 14, 2009

What's in a career (year)?

The calendar has turned to March, giving us, among other things, the heating up of the NBA MVP conversation. If you're an NBA junkie, you've heard all the discussions by now, the arguments for and against the leading candidates of LeBron, Kobe, and D-Wade. If you're not an NBA junkie, you're probably most focused on the NCAA tournament. Well, for the junkies among you, I'll continue with the NBA discussion.

So I happened to be reading this article, in which a writer makes the case of history against Dwyane Wade's candidacy. Ignoring the obvious "duh" nature of the argument, I happened upon this gem of a quote:

And it’s not a coincidence that guys like Mo Williams and Delonte West are having career years. [LeBron] James is helping to elevate them.

Huh? Career years? Let's look at the numbers, shall we?

YearPPGFG%3PT%Rbs, Ast, Stl
Williams: 2008-200918.046.843.23.3, 4.0, 0.9
Williams: 2007-200817., 6.4, 1.2
West: 2008-200912.046.541.43.1, 3.6, 1.6
West: 2007-200810.344.036.73.7, 4.5, 1.1
West: 2005-200611.848.738.53.1, 3.6, 1.6

Career years? What exactly have West and Williams done this year that they haven't done in previous years? Aside from the 3pt shooting percentages, is there a single measure by which these players haven't simply performed as they've performed for the bulk of their careers? We're certainly not going to hedge a label of career-year based on one statistical category, getting more wide-open looks from behind the arc. The only difference is that they're playing in games that matter, on a team that people actually bother to watch this year.

And naturally, with LeBron dominating the ball more, both of their assist and turnover numbers have gone down. Doesn't do much for a player's career when you can say "the more you give him the ball, the worse he performs."

In fact, there has been a decent amount of print about how many players' games either remained the same or have actually declined alongside James. Here's a quick study done 2 years ago. We can now update the case study to include Delonte and Mo.

Most people, myself included, thought the Mo Williams pickup was a good one for the Cavs, but not because we thought he was gonna somehow elevate his game beyond what we'd already seen. It was because we surmised that what he was already doing, his basic talent-level, would benefit the team.

By contrast, let's look at a player who is actually having a career year (until his unfortunate injury); one of my favourite little men, Jameer Nelson:

2007-2008: 10.9 46.9 41.6 3.5, 5.6, 0.9
2008-2009: 16.7 50.3 45.3 3.5, 5.4, 1.2
A jump in every shooting category, a 6pt increase in scoring, while maintaining in all other areas. A career year that makes.

I think I'm going to copyright the completely-abused phrase "makes his teammates better". That way, people will have to pay me for every use, forcing them to either refrain from throwing it around carelessly, or to ensure, in this age of the battered economy, that they get maximum return on their investment. You know, by actually taking the time to see if it's true before trotting it out.

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