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Gilbert Arenas Tribute Day: Five numbers that showed Arenas' value

Gilbert Arenas Tribute Day would mean nothing if Arenas himself wasn't once an unbelievable basketball player. Even during his heyday, there were many that tried to shoot down the notion that Arenas was an elite player. Here are five numbers that show why that's a fallacy.

Regular readers of this site know that I'm a fan of numbers in basketball.  Over the years, I've realized that there's much more to the game than stats, but that's not to say that these numbers are meaningless.  They can reveal things you don't see and put into context what you do see.  When used correctly, they can provide much more insight than the traditional stats you may see on television.

When Gilbert Arenas was in his heyday, I used a lot of numbers to show that he was potentially underrated as a player.  Now that he's gone to another team, I wanted to highlight five of my favorite stats that show why Arenas was such a great player back in the day.



Most people think that Arenas really broke out in 2007, with all those incredible scoring performances earlier in the year.  In reality, though, Arenas' finest accomplishment was the year before.  The Wizards were a weaker team on paper coming into the year, having lost Larry Hughes to free agency.  Caron Butler was a wild card that didn't even start for a good portion of the year, and the team began the year 12-18.  But thanks to Arenas, they somehow stayed afloat and were arguably better.  The team finished just 42-40, but had the point differential of a 46-win team.  All that despite getting little from their two big free-agent moves -- Butler and Antonio Daniels -- until late in the year and getting a step-back season from Brendan Haywood.

This was the year when Arenas really emerged as a star.  That stat you see above was Arenas' true shooting percentage for that season.  True shooting percentage is a shooting percentage that takes into account the added value of three-pointers and free-throws, and is probably the best way to measure someone's shooting efficiency.  Long seen as an inefficient shooter, Arenas was actually one of the most efficient backcourt scorers in basketball.  Here's a list of players who had worse TS% numbers that season.

  • LeBron James
  • Kobe Bryant
  • Dwyane Wade
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Tim Duncan
  • Kevin Garnett
  • Paul Pierce
  • Elton Brand
Arenas did all that despite ending over 30 percent of his team's possessions, an obscene number.  The most optimal offensive forces are efficient while using many possession.  In 2006, that was Gilbert Arenas.

34.1 PPG with a 61 TS%

Of course, Arenas is best known for the torrid stretch he had in December of 2006.  He scored 54 points in a shootout in Phoenix, and earlier dropped an even 60 on Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in Los Angeles.  For the month, here are his point totals:

33, 10, 38, 38, 32, 41, 34, 27, 60, 23, 30, 54, 31, 39, 36.

All the while, he posted a 61% TS%, an unheard of number for a guard.  It was a very fun stretch.


One of the common criticisms of Arenas is that he didn't make his teammates better and put up numbers without helping the team win.  If that was the case, then how could you explain his adjusted plus/minus in 2006/07.  Basically, the stat calculates how well your team does offensively and defensively per 100 possessions when you are on and off the floor, as a means of trying to show just how important you are to your team.  It's not a perfect measure, but it's an interesting one.

In 2006/07, the Wizards were 14.1 points per 100 possessions better with Arenas on the floor than with him on the bench.  It's a small-ish sample, since Arenas rarely sat, but it was a figure significantly better than many of the league's MVP candidates.  If Arenas was such a bad teammate, why did his team play so much worse with him out of the game?

11.8, 12.8, 11.2

Almost nobody in the league ended as many possessions as Gilbert Arenas did during his heyday from 2004 to 2007.  When you end so many possessions, it's easy to commit a lot of turnovers doing it.  That's one way players develop high usage rates, because a turnover counts as an ended possession.  But Arenas was the rare player that was incredibly high-usage without turning it over.  Those are Arenas' turnover percentages (aka the percentage of team plays that end in an Arenas turnover when he's on the floor).  An average number for a player who uses that many possessions is around 15 or so.  An average number for someone who barely uses any possessions is around 11 or 12.  Arenas was on that level despite using over 30 percent of his team's possessions during that stretch.


If you still think Arenas wasn't capable of making his teammates better, consider the case of Larry Hughes.  In 2005, Arenas and Hughes had their one year sharing a backcourt together, and they were among the most lethal tandems in basketball.  During that season, Hughes put up a PER of 21.6, which would make him an elite, all-star caliber player in this league.  Now, here are Hughes' PERs in the years before he got to play extended minutes with Arenas.







And now, here are Hughes' PERs in the years after he left the Wizards and the opportunity to play with Arenas.






In other words, in his one year playing extended time with Arenas (both were hurt in 03/04), Hughes' PER was four points higher than the second-best PER of his career.  Keep that in mind the next time you think that Arenas couldn't elevate his teammates' play.