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Team Talent, Team Age

Posted by Neil Paine on January 25, 2010

Today I wanted to tackle the question of "team talent" -- which team has the most, and which team wins the most with the least? Unfortunately, there's no real way to quantify "raw talent" in a sense of "what is Player X's basketball potential right now?" The best you could do is to look at past years and regress to the mean for a projection, which we did a lot over the past offseason when attempting to predict player performance in 2009-10. But that's a different way to define "talent" than I wanted to look at here -- that method assumes a player has at least shown some flashes of potential in the past, upon which you can base future expectations. But about players who are still considered prospects despite having done nothing at the NBA level? In cases like that, I suppose the only way to really capture "talent" is to use draft position as a proxy, since draft decisions are made on the basis of raw talent the majority of the time. So who are the teams right now with the best collection of talent, based on where their players were drafted?

Year Team AvgDP#
2010 OKC 10.6
2010 POR 12.1
2010 ATL 13.5
2010 LAC 16.8
2010 DAL 16.9
2010 LAL 17.0
2010 PHO 17.2
2010 DEN 17.3
2010 CHI 17.4
2010 BOS 18.0
2010 MEM 18.7
2010 PHI 18.8
2010 ORL 19.6
2010 IND 19.9
2010 TOR 20.5
2010 NJN 20.8
2010 NYK 21.4
2010 WAS 22.5
2010 NOH 22.7
2010 SAC 24.2
2010 CHA 24.4
2010 CLE 25.1
2010 MIL 25.2
2010 SAS 25.9
2010 MIA 26.8
2010 DET 26.9
2010 MIN 27.9
2010 UTA 31.0
2010 GSW 32.9
2010 HOU 36.2

(Note: Average Draft Pick # was weighted by 2009-10 minutes played. Undrafted players were assigned a value of 1 + the overall pick# of the final player selected in the draft prior to their rookie season.)

So by this measure, at least, the Thunder have the best collection of raw talent in the NBA, a notion that isn't all that hard to believe. However, this method treats a 35-year-old #4 overall pick as the equal of a 25-year-old, which doesn't seem very equitable, since I'm pretty sure nobody would say the 2010 version of Rasheed Wallace had more potential than the 2010 version of Chris Paul (unless we were talking about the potential to draw fines for criticizing officials). How do we fix this problem? Well, the issue lies in determining how to weight the expected production of a draft pick at each age, and since we have a nice general metric of production in Win Shares, I simply took every player taken in the modern (1966-present) draft, calculated their WS/min. at each age, and then averaged those rates together by pick# (undrafted players were expected to contribute 0 WS/mp). Using these "expected" Win Share rates and each team's actual minutes played, I established the # of win shares each team would have if their players performed like the average player taken at their draft position did at the same age:

Year Team xWS
2010 DEN 12.0
2010 TOR 11.9
2010 POR 11.2
2010 ATL 10.8
2010 ORL 10.7
2010 LAL 9.0
2010 PHO 8.9
2010 CHA 8.4
2010 NOH 8.2
2010 MEM 8.2
2010 IND 8.1
2010 LAC 8.0
2010 WAS 7.9
2010 CHI 7.7
2010 PHI 7.5
2010 CLE 7.5
2010 OKC 7.4
2010 UTA 7.3
2010 NJN 7.2
2010 DET 7.1
2010 NYK 6.6
2010 DAL 6.3
2010 MIL 6.0
2010 MIA 5.9
2010 BOS 5.7
2010 SAS 5.3
2010 MIN 5.1
2010 GSW 4.6
2010 HOU 4.1
2010 SAC 2.9

Don't worry, those numbers look incredibly low to me, too. Why are they that way? Because, simply put, most draft picks don't work out, especially the further down the board you go. When players drop out of the league, they stop producing WS at all, and are replaced by someone who can get the job done -- and when those players no longer cut it, they're replaced by someone else, ad infinitum. This is why I took a non-weighted average of all of the WS rates, because a weighted average (by minutes, or what have you) would have been biased toward the "survivors", the players who were good enough to stick around. I wanted to capture the average performance rate of every pick at a given age, even if he wasn't in the NBA anymore, and use that as a baseline, rather than skew the baseline towards the few players who actually stayed in basketball for a number of seasons.

So in addition to the fact that now Denver supposedly has the perfect blend of drafted talent and age/experience, what's interesting here is that if teams stubbornly held onto all of their draft picks, even if they produced no wins at all, they'd win approximately 1/3 as many games as they do by Darwinistically weeding out ineffective players. None of which explains the 3-40 Nets, who by both measures have the talent to far exceed their meager win output in 2010 so far.

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2 Responses to “Team Talent, Team Age”

  1. P Middy Says:

    Any Nets fans been following the season? What, besides injury to Harris, is going on? What's Terrence Williams contributing?

    I've watched a lot of losing to mediocre Nets and Knicks and Bulls and Bucks games over the years. Usually it's a combination of lack of talent, inability to apply defensive pressure, and players that are not complementary.

  2. mrparker Says:

    wouldn't it be better to simply use ws/min and age.