John Wall and Wins

Seeing this from the Agent Steinz sparked me to wonder how much recent rookies, especially point guards, have contributed to their teams in their first seasons.  (Click here to see a table of year-after comparisons compiled by the NBA.  Given the Ewing Theory popularized by Bill Simmons, it is particularly funny to see that the Knicks were worse in their first year with Ewing.)  The Bog post took the approach of looking at how much the bad teams who got to pick first actually improved.  I'm interested in how much responsibility the rookies may have had for that change.  After the jump is a (simplified) look.

For convenience, I just stuck with Win Shares (WS) as a measuring stick, since my interest was in contribution of wins, and I think that's the best shorthand for comparison.  (All WS figures come from basketball-reference.com and all +/- come from 82games).

I started to look only at the last decade for comps.  Among point guards, only a few have gotten enough minutes as rookies to make much of an impact.  For example, I was surprised to not see Jameer Nelson in my initial sorts.  The reason?  He only played 20.4mpg as a 22 year old rookie.  (For what it's worth, he was essentially average in the minutes he played as a rookie, with a PER of 14.5 and 2.5 win shares in 1,600 minutes.  Scaling up to starter minutes, he might have been worth about 4 or 5 wins.)  Here are the nine rooke PGs (including a couple of borderline combo guards) who saw starter-esque minutes as rookies, with their Win Shares:

Chris Paul 10.4

Steve Francis 6.4

Tyreke Evans 5.4

Mario Chalmers 5.2

Derrick Rose 4.9

Stephen Curry 4.6

Brandon Jennings 4.2

Kirk Hinrich 4.1

Russell Westbrook 1.9

Lowering the minutes bar to 1,500 produces a few more productive rookie PGs, most notably Andre Miller and DJ Augustin, with both in the 5 WS range despite reserve minutes.

I had assumed that the last decade would be a better time to compare and was a better time for rookie guards to make an impact, due to the hand-check rule changes, etc.  Taking a look another decade back, through the 90s, seems to confirm that.  While some very good PG/combo guards came into the league during that time, none even matched Derrick Rose's production as rookies.  Damon Stoudamire posted 4.3 WS, followed by Iverson, Kidd (3.7), Nick Van Excel, and Tim Hardaway.  It was a rough time to be a rookie PG.

So, in the last two decades, there has been one all-star level rookie PG (Chris Paul), a few who were good contributors (Francis, Evans, Chalmers, and borderline Rose/Curry), and then a bunch of others who just weren't all that valuable as rookies, no matter how well their careers turned out (or may yet turn out).  Getting 10 wins from Wall is a once in a generation proposition, and just not likely.  But, if he can just reproduce the rookie success of the last two Calipari guards, he would be worth about 5 or 6 wins next year.  Unfortunately, that isn't all gain that can be tacked on to last year's win total.  While it didn't feel like it at the time, the guys whose minutes he'll be taking did contribute something.  Not much, but something.  Between Foye and Boykins, we're looking at around 2 to 3 wins.  So, that would leave Wall as a roughly 2 to 4 win upgrade as a rookie.

To be fair, however, limiting this comparison to PGs means it mostly included players who did not even merit consideration for the number 1 pick.  So, while there are reasons to think the adjustment to the NBA will be harder for Wall as a rookie than it might be at a position with fewer responsibilities, I'll take a quick look at #1 picks, focusing on the best case scenarios (meaning you will not see Kwame or the Kandi man anywhere below). 

First, there are the absolute home-run rookie seasons that have been achieved by Chris Paul, Duncan, and Shaq.  They've had the three most productive rookie years over the last 20 years, and are the only three to top 10 WS. 

Next come the tier of players who have been very good as rookies, much better than league average, but not at the level of the guys previously mentioned.  Larry Johnson, Elton Brand, Dwight Howard, and Joe Smith all fall into this group.  These guys all were in the 6 to 9 WS range as rookies.  Other number one picks have been at least league average as rookies (Lebron actually falls into this category, as his shooting percentages and his rebounding were both relatively weak as a rookie--he really took off as a sophomore), but of course that does not support thinking that Wall would be any better than that.

Among all rookies of "normal" rookie age (throwing out older euros), there are some more high picks that were in the above-average range, but mostly big men (Alonso Mourning and LaPhonso Ellis, for example.  We start to run into some swing men (Penny Hardaway, Kerry Kittles) as we get closer to the 6 to 7 WS range. 

But, keep in mind that Wall will not only be a rookie--he'll be a young rookie.  He'll be in only his age 20 season.  Looking at all rookies age 20 or younger, regardless of minutes, brings us to essentially the same place, but with even fewer solidly above average performances.  10 rookies in the last 20 years have post 6 WS or better:  Shaq, Paul, Chris Webber (7.8), Brand, Howard, Kirilenko (7.3), Joe Smith, Chris Bosh (6.2), Amare (6.2), and Melo (6.1).  Again, given that we are looking at Wall replacing a pair of players who managed 3 WS, it does not look like Wall is likely to be a huge immediate upgrade.

One final thought:  as a PG, Wall, will not only have outsized responsibilities and adjustments to make as a rookie, but also arguably he will have more opportunity to positively impact the team in ways that might not be reflected in the numbers that feed into WS.  Unfortunately, based on a quick check of +/- figures, it appears the opposite might be true.  Even rookie PGs who looked good by WS have generally not fared well by +/-.  Tyreke Evans had a net on/off +/- of -5.3 for the season.  Not good.  Derrick Rose was even worse at -6.7.  Even Chris Paul was -1 on/off.  I wouldn't say there is anything like enough here to conclude that their stats overstated their positive contributions--we have a very small sample indeed, and there are lots of alternative explanations for the weaker +/-s, but, either way, it doesn't really help the argument that their contributions were hidden. 

So, given the difficulties rookies face in adjusting to the NBA, particularly in the case of rookie PGs, we probably shouldn't expect too much of a boost from Wall next year.  Even the WS-based projections of Wall being worth 4 more wins to the team, or a best-case of 8 more in the second-coming-of-Chris Paul-scenario, might be overly optimistic.

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