With a New York Knicks game on the schedule, there was no better time to talk with Armon Lee, lifelong Knicks fan and creator of the excellent Quarter-Lee Report podcast. He joined me and Ron Oakes-Cunningham on the #SoWizards podcast to talk about the Washington Wizards youngsters, how biases and and the evolution of basketball help lead teams and fans to misevaluate players, and Armon’s perspective on Wizards big man Kristaps Porzingis.
He’s watched Porzingis, who started his career with the Knicks, closely over the years and had some cautions for Wizards fans.
We also delved into some analysis I did attempting to assess the relative quality of each team’s young talent. I used my PPA metric, and I would expect to find similar results using other summary metrics.
For this research, I defined “young” as age 25 season or younger. This was for two main reasons:
- On average, players are finished at that point. Age 26 is about the same as age 25, players typically plateau until 29-30, and then they decline. This is the average career path, and of course there are exceptions. Keep in mind that for every late arriver or late bloomer, there are counter-examples of promising-looking youngsters who didn’t improve much ever. The Wizards have abundant experience with that type of player.
- The NBA’s average age this season is 26.3.
Here’s the current top five in per possession production from young players:
- Phoenix Suns, average age of youngsters: 24.4 — PPA: 139
- Boston Celtics, age: 23.3 — PPA: 136
- Dallas Mavericks, age: 22.8 — PPA: 129
- Memphis Grizzlies, age: 22.8 — PPA: 124
- Atlanta Hawks, age: 22.6 — PPA: 123
Rounding out the top 10: Cleveland Cavaliers, Utah Jazz, Charlotte Hornets, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors.
The Wizards youngsters — Rui Hachimura, Daniel Gafford, Corey Kispert and Deni Avdija — rank 18th.
I can already hear some grumbling about Dallas or Utah ranking ahead of the Wizards. For those ready to complain, let me ask: would you rather have Hachimura, Gafford, Kispert and Avdija or Donovan Mitchell (who’s in his age 25 season)? You’re welcome to your own views on the subject, but I’d happily trade all four for Mitchell. Or for Luka Doncic. Of course, the Jazz wouldn’t make that trade, and neither would the Mavericks.
The picture gets a little more worrisome when applying average aging effects and forecasting future years. This is a simple/basic approach that can be changed significantly by an exception to the average, but it’s still worth a look. In that hazy gaze into the future, the Wizards quickly start losing ground in comparison to the pool of young players on other teams.
Two main reasons: first, Hachimura and Avdija are behind their age cohort peers in performance. And second, the Wizards are middle of the pack in age and don’t have as much expected improvement in their future as younger youngs.
For example, Golden State’s youngsters have the lowest average age, and they rank 10th in production. Their relative youth means they have a long runway for significant improvement. The Wizards can expect improvement, but their arc is likely to be flatter than for the Warriors.
Here’s where the average aging approach forecasts the Wizards young players to rank in production over the next five seasons (after this one):
- 2022-23 — 23
- 2023-24 — 23
- 2024-25 — 24
- 2025-26 — 24
- 2026-27 — 25
- Five-year average — 24
The expected top 10 for five-year average production from the current group of 25 and unders:
- Golden State Warriors
- Boston Celtics
- Charlotte Hornets
- Dallas Mavericks
- Phoenix Suns
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Atlanta Hawks
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Indiana Pacers
By the way, while Phoenix currently sits at the top, and they have the highest average age of the 25-and-under group, being older in this age-group doesn’t explain current production levels. A higher age explains less than 10% of the variation of production. For example, Sacramento has the second oldest group of youngsters, and the Kings rank 24th in production.
During the podcast, we talked about all of the above, plus how to build winning teams, whether NBA teams need to have a goal of winning a championship and much...much...more.
This was a terrific conversation full of respectful disagreement, good questions and explanations...and continued disagreement.
Listen below, by clicking here, or wherever you get your podcasts.