The rest of the returning roster — and a few others — have passed through the Statistical Doppelgänger Machine, which compares a player to every other player season since 1977-78 to find historical comparisons.
There are a few ideas behind this approach. First, that while there aren’t exact matches and the game has evolved over time, player types and roles persist.
Second, comparing players based on numbers can produce results more interesting than “reminds me of” approaches, which are often driven by superficial characteristics like the color of a player’s skin or what region of the world he’s from.
Third, by looking at players with similar production at a similar age, we can take a step back from the impulse to focus on optimistic views of the players currently on the team’s roster and perhaps get a more balanced read on the relative quality of the players.
With that out of the way, what does the Dopplegänger Machine have to say about Robin Lopez and Raul Neto, the NBA free agents the Wizards signed this offseason?
The first challenge with finding comps for Lopez is his anemic rebounding. In my database there are 2,531 player seasons fitting these criteria: center who played at least 500 minutes. Among that group, Lopez ranked 2,507th in rebounds per team possession last season.
Given the rebounding numbers, the doppelgänger machine unsurprisingly produced a list comprised mostly of small forwards, shooting guards and players that split time between the forward slots. The closest thing to a “big” was 31-year old PF Danny Ferry, who was on his way out of Cleveland and somehow rebounded even less than Lopez.
For context, Lopez’s PPA last season was a below replacement level 38. Here are the top five comps produced by the machine, regardless of position:
- Chris Morris, SF, 1996-97, Utah Jazz, age 31 — Decent small forward who was no longer productive. He played one more season after this one.
- Danny Ferry, PF, 1997-98, Cleveland Cavaliers, 31 — One of history’s bigger draft busts, Ferry had a disappointing career peaking with a 106 PPA at 29. This was his worst season (24 PPA). He bounced back to a 71 PPA for the Spurs three years later.
- Ricky Davis, SF, 2009-10, Los Angeles Clippers, 30 — Talented guy who never really put it together. He managed a 117 PPA at 27. He registered a 30 PPA in this season, which was his last in the league.
- Dahntay Jones, SF, 2011-12, Indiana Pacers, 31 — Jones played in 13 NBA seasons and finished up at age 36 despite basically never being any better than replacement level. His “best” season was a 52 PPA and he had another with a 47. Replacement level is 45.
- Jaren Jackson, SG, 1996-97, Washington Bullets, 29 — Similar to Jones, Jackson appeared in 11 seasons despite being a replacement level player throughout. He was a decent defender who did little else. In this season, he rated a replacement level 43, which he followed up by signing with the Spurs and posting PPAs of 58, 90 and 57 — the only above replacement level stretch of his career.
The list keeps going like this — Travis Outlaw, Bryant Stith, Damien Wilkins, James Johnson, Pat Garrity — a bunch of meh forwards and wings who were nearing the end of their careers.
The problem, of course, is that Lopez is decidedly not a wing. He’s the approximate size of a glacier, although perhaps not as mobile. If I filter the list to focus on centers, here’s the top five:
- Tom McMillen, 1985-86, Washington Bullets, 33 — Look, if you can get a guy who resembles Phil Donahue, right down to prematurely graying hair, you gotta do it. McMillen was a jump shooting center, who might have been better suited to today’s game. I say “might” because while he could shoot, he wasn’t the most athletic of players. He peaked with a 94 PPA at 27 with the Atlanta Hawks. This was his best season in DC (58 PPA) and he was out of the league two years later.
- Jason Smith, 2016-17, Washington Wizards, 30 — Smith was popular with fans despite being fairly unproductive when he played (64 PPA). I think it was the burgeoning bald spot. His best year was a 117 PPA in limited minutes with the Charlotte Hornets at age 25. He followed up this season with the Wizards with PPAs of 9 and 36, at which point he was out of the league. It was very nice of Ernie Grunfeld to award a player of Smith’s production level with three years of guaranteed money.
- Ben Handlogten, 2004-05, Utah Jazz, 31 — The Jazz picked Handlogten up at age 30 for some reason. He played sparingly and not very well and was out of league after this season.
- Bill Wennington, 1995-96, Chicago Bulls, 32 — Backup center with the Michael Jordan-led Bulls. While he had his moments, the Bulls’ success was not because of Wennington. He’d peaked a couple years earlier (70 PPA). In this season, he was basically replacement level, which is where he was the preceding season and the three seasons that followed.
- Dave Corzine, 1988-89, Chicago Bulls, 32 — Corzine was a decent player at his best (126 PPA at 24), but declined significantly to a 57 PPA in this age 32 season. He had two more injury-plagued years to finish out his career. Of the comps, his career was probably most like Lopez’s, although Lopez peaked much higher.
The center comps continue along the same lines. The next names on the list are Zeljko Rebraca, Francisco Elson, Joe Kleine, Greg Foster and Kurt Nimphius — all age 29 or older seasons.
As with more in-depth analysis of Lopez, it looks like the Wizards spent their midlevel exception on a replacement level backup who’s unlikely to help much on the court this season.
Signed for the minimum, Neto should be fine as a fifth guard in a three or four guard rotation. He’s a decent shooter who doesn’t produce a lot else when he’s on the floor. At the minimum, that’s okay.
His top 10 comps, according to the doppelgänger machine.
- Shammond Williams, 2001-02, Seattle Supersonics, age 26 — Kinda useful backup at times. He peaked with a 93 PPA at 25 then dropped into the 70s where he stayed throughout his career. Neto’s best season so far is a 72 PPA last season at age 27.
- Lynn Greer, 2006-07, Milwaukee Bucks, 27 — This was the only season of Greer’s career and it lasted 432 minutes.
- Yogi Ferrell, 2018-19, Sacramento Kings, 25 — Ferrell flashed with some good play in his rookie season with the Dallas Mavericks (he also played in 10 games for Brooklyn that season, but he was terrible). He hasn’t come close to matching that performance level since, however.
- Shammond Williams, 2003-04, New Orleans Hornets and Orlando Magic, 28 — Williams was out of the league for a couple years after this season. He came back at 31 with the Lakers and then was finished.
- Nando De Colo, 2013-14, San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors, 26 — This was the second of De Colo’s two slightly better than replacement level seasons. He didn’t get a third.
- Chris Quinn, 2008-09, Miami Heat, 25 — Quinn peaked the previous season with a 98 PPA and declined steeply — a 69 in this season followed by replacement level performance in three other seasons.
- C.J. Watson, 2010-11, Chicago Bulls, 26 — I have only a vague recollection of Watson, but Basketball Reference assures me he played 10 seasons and he actually wasn’t bad. This age 26 year was one his least productive (63 PPA). He peaked with a 105 at age 30 with the Pacers. He was more productive overall than Neto before and after the comp season.
- Chris Whitney, 1996-97, Washington Bullets, 25 — One of my all-time favorite Wizards/Bullets, Whitney was a solid and productive backup guard whose shooting and steady decision-making would be valued in today’s game. He peaked with a 131 PPA at age 30 when he started 81 games for the Wizards.
- Rex Walters, 1996-97, Philadelphia 76ers, 26 — This was probably Walters best season — a 77 PPA in 1041 minutes. He had slightly higher ratings in other seasons, but in very limited minutes. His production went off a cliff the following season and kept falling until he was finished at 29.
- Doug Overton, 1996-97, Philadelphia 76ers, 27 — Overton was basically a career replacement level player. For his best season, choose between this one (66 PPA in 634 minutes) or his age 25 season with the Bullets (63 PPA in 1704 minutes). I’ll take the Bullets year.
Bottom line: signing Neto is fine because it was so cheap. Odd are he’ll produce in the 60-70 PPA range when he’s able to get on the floor next season, which should not be often. If he surpasses the 668 minutes he got last season with Philadelphia, it’s likely a very bad sign for the Wizards.