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Friday, August 05, 2005

The Enigmatic Antoine Walker

Antoine Walker, who Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan calls “the most polarizing player in Celtics’ history,” has been traded to the Miami Heat in the biggest transaction in NBA history, a five team deal involving 13 players. The strong reactions that Walker evokes—both positive and negative--have long fascinated me and a few months ago there was a lively debate at the APBR Metrics site (http://sonicscentral.com/apbrmetrics/viewtopic.php?t=132) concerning his merits as a player and the limits of statistical analysis in determining player value. It all began when I asked the following question:

“Based on past discussions here (actually, in APBR Analysis), Antoine Walker fares pretty poorly in most people's rating systems. Today there is an article about how much of a positive impact Walker has had on the Celtics since his return to Boston. I am interested if Walker's performance this year--or at least in this 6 game stretch--measures up differently than it did in previous seasons. Has Walker's game changed in some measurable way? Or does analysis of his game somehow miss his contributions to team chemistry? Or is six games too small of a sample size?

Danny Ainge is supposedly guided in his decision making process by the "brain typing" theory, which raises the question of whether Walker's brain suddenly rewired itself to fit in with Ainge's plans after supposedly being so incompatible with the Celtics' new direction.

Here is the link to (and brief excerpt from) the article lauding Walker's contributions to the Celtics since his return.

Walker is just what the Celtics needed
By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

(Sports Network) - The Boston Celtics are a different team since re- acquiring forward Antoine Walker at the trade deadline.

...Since being brought back to Boston, which is 5-1 since the trade with Atlanta, Walker has averaged 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds in just under 35 minutes of action per game. The Celtics look like a more complete team, as the offense is more potent and the team chemistry is evident.”

Walker’s critics came out in force and a lot of the vehemence of the posts seemed to be because one poster in particular felt that I was trying to prove that Walker is a good player and that I was belittling the value of statistical analysis; there were some sober voices in the discussion, notably Dan Rosenbaum, an economics professor at UNC-Greensboro who has devoted considerable time and effort to researching NBA player values and the NBA’s economics. He wrote:

“Despite the fact that this thread has gotten personal at times, it has been a very interesting discussion. I do think that Antoine Walker has played well above expectations since the trade to Boston. And that Atlanta has played slightly worse than expected. And it is true that the sample size has been small, but I would expect that at this point with Walker's play so exceeding expectations that his improved performance has been statistically significant. I would expect that it has been more than just good luck on his part.

I do think that Walker's performance does present a challenge to much of our work. And that it is unscientific for us to dismiss his performance as being nothing more than good fortune.

That said, I think that Walker has benefitted from replacing the minutes of Mark Blount, who was about as bad as Walker this season. So the bar was pretty low for him to look good. Walker probably is the kind of player that could never be effective for a highly efficient offensive team like the Mavericks and he just is not a good first option for a team like the Hawks. It may be the case that there are only a handful of roles on a handful of teams where Walker could be effective. It appears that Boston is one of those places.”

Now that the Heat have acquired Walker as a major part of their effort to build a championship team it will be interesting to see how Walker performs. Here is a look at “The Enigmatic Antoine Walker”:

http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/basketball_spotlight/117473 (Part I)

http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/basketball_spotlight/117474 (Part II)

posted by David Friedman @ 2:39 AM