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Offensive Quality of Teammates

Posted by Neil Paine on November 22, 2008

Friday's post about Kevin Durant and the terrible supporting cast he has on the Thunder got me thinking about going one step further and measuring the quality of one's teammates in a talent sense. The offensive rating-based method we used the other day is good for evaluating short-term strategy decisions -- for instance, if a certain player is significantly less efficient than his teammates (think Bonzi Wells on the 2003 Blazers), it's valuable as a decision-maker to recognize this and be able to tell that player to, you know, chill out with the shooting and such... However, it's not quite ideal for identifying teammates' talent levels over a period of time, because efficiency is only half of the puzzle; a player's usage is also determined by his talent level, but that's not accounted for when you look at ORtg alone.

Fortunately, we're not limited to using just offensive ratings when we measure the quality of one's teammates. We can also look at Offensive Win Shares, which effectively combine both usage and efficiency into a single number that can be evaluated on a per-minute basis. This is less informative at the short term decision-making level because it doesn't tell you about teammate fit, etc., but it's great for establishing the talent level of a player's teammates over the course of multiple seasons (or even an entire career).

Which begs the question: historically, which players have had the luxury of playing with the most talented teammates? Weighting each teammate's career OWS/3000 minutes by the amount of playing time spent alongside those teammates, here are the most fortunate NBA players from 1973-74 to 2007-08, in terms of terrific supporting casts (minimum 15000 career MP):

Player          Minutes OWS     OWS/3K  Tm_OWS/3K
Michael Cooper  23635   27.98   3.55    5.36
Bryon Russell   19804   23.52   3.56    5.02
James Worthy    30001   51.27   5.13    4.78
Jamaal Wilkes   27275   44.02   4.84    4.68
Mark Eaton      25169   -3.49  -0.42    4.65
John Paxson     17257   25.25   4.39    4.64
Kurt Rambis     16299   14.14   2.60    4.61
Norm Nixon      27250   31.13   3.43    4.61
T.R. Dunn       23080   19.22   2.50    4.56
Byron Scott     30153   46.28   4.60    4.55
Mike Gale       17090    7.38   1.30    4.46
Rik Smits       23100   29.67   3.85    4.45
Magic Johnson   33245  110.52   9.97    4.42
A.C. Green      36552   58.03   4.76    4.40
Scottie Pippen  41069   56.73   4.14    4.39
Sam Perkins     36598   61.55   5.05    4.37
Derek Fisher    22244   25.08   3.38    4.34
Danny Ainge     27755   45.75   4.94    4.32
Michael Finley  34952   55.69   4.78    4.28
David Thompson  19406   51.44   7.95    4.26

Many Showtime-era Lakers grace the list (including Magic himself), and in general it's a pretty cool mix of really good offensive players (Pippen, Worthy, Thompson, etc.), really bad ones (Eaton, Gale, Dunn), and everything in between. Michael Cooper, for instance, never once missed the playoffs during his 12-year NBA career, but we can see here that it had a lot more to do with his supporting cast than his own talents.

At the other end of the spectrum, here are those weary, long-suffering players saddled with the least talented offensive supporting casts over the course of their careers:

Player          Minutes OWS     OWS/3K  Tm_OWS/3K
Charles Smith   16378   17.97   3.29    2.20
Ken Norman      18992    8.92   1.41    2.20
Bernard King    29417   49.11   5.01    2.29
Pete Maravich   15999   17.51   3.28    2.30
Otis Birdsong   21627   28.98   4.02    2.41
Paul Westphal   20465   44.75   6.56    2.55
Paul Pierce     27490   58.55   6.39    2.58
Fred Brown      21743   38.05   5.25    2.61
Reggie Williams 16013    8.63   1.62    2.63
John Drew       21828   44.07   6.06    2.65
Rory Sparrow    22550    9.92   1.32    2.66
Greg Ballard    22073   23.84   3.24    2.66
Kevin Porter    17890   18.97   3.18    2.67
Kenny Anderson  25868   36.56   4.24    2.67
Austin Carr     15024   18.29   3.65    2.67
Kevin Edwards   15332   -1.78  -0.35    2.68
Harvey Grant    20510   16.63   2.43    2.70
Wes Unseld      20468   25.69   3.77    2.71
Grant Long      28514   26.74   2.81    2.71
Benoit Benjamin 21911    3.24   0.44    2.72

You have to feel for players like Bernard King, who frequently found himself carrying more than a few abysmal offenses throughout his career. The same goes for Paul Pierce -- until 2008, that is. Before the Big 3 was formed, Boston ranked in the top 14 in offensive efficiency just once (2004-05) during P-Double's stay in the Hub. On the other hand, you have guys like Norman and Edwards, who were right at home with their untalented mates.

On a related note, here are the players who rose above their teammates the most during their careers:

Player           Minutes  OWS     OWS/3K Tm_OWS/3K Diff
Michael Jordan   41013   146.04   10.68    3.27    7.41
Adrian Dantley   34151   111.27    9.77    3.18    6.59
Dirk Nowitzki    27644    91.47    9.93    3.83    6.10
Magic Johnson    33245   110.52    9.97    4.42    5.55
Charles Barkley  39330   122.30    9.33    3.81    5.52
Steve Nash       26528    84.46    9.55    4.11    5.44
Reggie Miller    47621   138.82    8.75    3.35    5.40
Kobe Bryant      31572    91.88    8.73    3.56    5.17
John Stockton    47764   141.01    8.86    3.76    5.10
David Robinson   34271    97.65    8.55    3.46    5.08
LeBron James     16088    42.29    7.89    2.81    5.08
Shaquille O'Neal 37674   109.00    8.68    3.62    5.06
Chauncey Billups 24087    65.74    8.19    3.29    4.89
Kevin Johnson    25061    72.34    8.66    4.04    4.62
Sidney Moncrief  23150    60.46    7.84    3.33    4.50
Dan Issel        31409    89.06    8.51    4.03    4.48
Kiki Vandeweghe  24521    69.99    8.56    4.09    4.47
Bob Lanier       23844    57.58    7.24    2.77    4.47
Michael Redd     17506    44.91    7.70    3.23    4.47
Ray Allen        32223    84.41    7.86    3.58    4.28

MJ owns, as usual, but how good was Magic Johnson -- he appeared on our list of "best supporting casts" and still rose high above them. That's impressive. Conversely, LBJ and Bob Lanier both managed to average more than 7.0 OWS/3000 minutes despite ranking among the bottom 32 all-time in "teammate talent". Needless to say, LeBron may be leaving that group soon; it's safe to assume that his supporting cast nowadays is a wee bit better than the days when he was lining up alongside Ira Newble.

And you know that this post wouldn't be complete without a list of the players who didn't exactly size up when compared to their teammates:

Player           Minutes OWS    OWS/3K Tm_OWS/3K  Diff
Mark Eaton       25169  -3.49   -0.42    4.65    -5.07
Darrell Griffith 21403   1.30    0.18    4.22    -4.04
Quinn Buckner    16245   1.38    0.25    4.07    -3.81
Gar Heard        15493  -1.23   -0.24    3.42    -3.66
Brian Shaw       21665   3.47    0.48    4.10    -3.62
Chris Dudley     16321  -1.40   -0.26    3.24    -3.49
Herb Williams    28484  -1.18   -0.12    3.36    -3.48
Mike Gale        17090   7.38    1.30    4.46    -3.17
Lionel Hollins   18453   1.99    0.32    3.46    -3.13
Kevin Edwards    15332  -1.78   -0.35    2.68    -3.03
George Johnson   17753   1.51    0.26    3.22    -2.96
Bruce Bowen      22547   8.92    1.19    4.11    -2.92
Antoine Walker   31531   5.98    0.57    3.47    -2.90
Alton Lister     18965   5.42    0.86    3.73    -2.88
LaSalle Thompson 21238   8.18    1.16    3.91    -2.76
John Bagley      17120   2.83    0.50    3.24    -2.74
Jon Koncak       16409   6.02    1.10    3.83    -2.73
Kevin Duckworth  17462   6.89    1.18    3.89    -2.71
Vernon Maxwell   24309   7.28    0.90    3.58    -2.68
Howard Eisley    16011   8.39    1.57    4.25    -2.67

There are lots of big men and defensive specialists up and down that list, plus one name which may (or may not) surprise you: Antoine Walker. 'Toine was once an "alpha dog" himself on the Celtics, and he's played with some of the best ballers in the business -- Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, etc. -- but his often-abominable shot selection (particularly his penchant for hoisting bricks from the outside) leaves him with a career offensive rating of 97 and just 6 OWS in 12 seasons. As a result, fairly or unfairly, Win Shares considers Walker's offensive value to be greatly inferior to that of his teammates over the course of his career.

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12 Responses to “Offensive Quality of Teammates”

  1. Mike G Says:

    Great writeup, Neil. Excellent use of available stats. I haven't seen win-shares on a per-minute basis elsewhere. I'm guessing an average WS rate would be about 1 per 484 minutes? So average OWS (or DWS) is 1 per 968?

    Where does Robert Horry fall among those with great teammates? In 16 years, he never failed to reach the 2nd round of the playoffs. Were those Hou, LA, SA teams just great defensive teams? Or did Horry carry them?

    Per 968 min, Horry averaged .84 OWS in regular seasons, and 1.38 in playoffs.

  2. Neil Paine Says:

    The average rate for all players since 1973 is 3.24 OWS/3000 minutes.

    At #22, Horry ranks just outside of the list with an average teammate quality of 4.23 OWS/3K.

  3. Eric Says:

    How many of the last list got max deals?

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Can you do this for partial careers? It might be interesting to see David Robinson before the Duncan Draft, or KG before moving to Boston...

  5. Rusty Says:

    OK....we needed an in-depth analysy to learn that a player had it made (team mate-wise) when he played with Kareem and Magic, or with Scottie and Michael, or with Stockton and Malone?

  6. PeanutButterSpread Says:

    It's interesting how Kobe ranked above Shaq in the "the players who rose above their teammates the most during their careers"

  7. matt wright Says:

    Kobe's production relative to his teammates could have been inflated by the dysfunctional teams around him for several years immediately after Shaq left. If LA keeps their current, more talented squad together through the end of Bryant's career, Shaq will probably move ahead of him.

  8. Jordanpushedoff Says:

    In addition to Horry, how about Steve Kerr (5 rings) or Ron Harper (5 rings) or Horace Grant (4 rings, plus played with young Shaq)?

  9. Kudabeen Says:

    Where does Allen Iverson fit? That 2001 team was not upper echelon. I can't think of him playing with many All-stars or MVP caliber players. He had less talent than Kobe, Dirk, Nash, surely...

  10. Neil Paine Says:

    I think the "Kobe ranking ahead of Shaq" thing is also a byproduct of where they are in their careers right now -- Kobe's still in the middle of his prime, while Shaq's recent "down years" are included in his career performance (both in his own #s and as a teammate). By the time Kobe is 36, he'll probably drop back behind the big fella again because A) his current team is stacked, and B) his own production will have declined as well.

    As for other notable players: Kerr actually ranks 75th, which surprises me, but he only got 3.5 years w/ the Jordan Bulls. Plus, I guess those Cleveland teams of the early 90s didn't have the greatest offenses (19th in '90, 18th in '92), and Shaq hadn't fully hit his stride when Kerr was on the Magic... Similarly, Harper ranks 189th -- before spending the final 7 years of his career as a role player with the Bulls and Lakers (including that awful '99 CHI team), Harper was the go-to guy on some pretty bad offenses with the Cavs and Clippers, which really drags down his score. Ho-Grant is 41st; he played on some dynamite offenses from '90 to '96 (when Shaq left), but the 2nd half of his career is a mixed bag in terms of offensive teams. Finally, AI has had the 22nd-worst offensive supporting cast among all players; I shudder to think what it would have been before playing 5545 minutes alongside Carmelo (and yes, partial careers are possible, but it's kind of time-consuming, so I might save it for a later post if you can give me some more interesting examples you want to see done).

  11. Paul Says:

    Surprises me that KG isn't on the list of players who "rose above his teammates". He was dominant on some pretty bad timberwolves teams.

  12. dodona71 Says:

    kb24/8 a living legend!no matter in how many weasel ways he is beig bashed by number crunching!