Agent Zero is off the Case for Three MonthsAn MRI on Wednesday revealed a cartilage tear in Gilbert Arenas' balky left knee; the resulting knee surgery will cause Arenas to miss at least three months but most reports seem to be glossing over a key word here: "microfracture." Arenas' microfracture procedure was performed on a "nonweight bearing" bone, according to his surgeon, Dr. Marc Connell, but it is obviously not a good thing any time a player who relies on quickness has to have a bone broken in his knee--and that is literally what microfracture means; the resulting scar tissue will, in theory, replace the damaged cartilage.
This injury was not the cause of Arenas' dreadfully slow start this season; yes, he had surgery on the same knee on April 3 but according to Arenas himself the current problem began during last Friday's game versus Minnesota; he says that he reinjured the knee sometime during that contest. Arenas played poorly in the first six games of the season and the Wizards lost the first five of them. The seventh game, a 103-90 victory over the slumping Indiana Pacers, was Arenas' best game this season: 30 points on 9-18 shooting, 11 assists, six rebounds. He put up similar numbers in the next contest, the game in which he reinjured his knee: 27 points on 9-19 shooting, eight assists, four rebounds (and a season-high seven turnovers). Arenas sat out the next two games, both of which the Wizards won, before undergoing the MRI.
In Arenas' eight games so far the Wizards are 2-6 and he averaged 22.4 ppg and 5.9 apg while shooting 55-141 from the field (.390), including 11-52 from three point range (.212). Arenas leads the NBA in turnovers per game (4.9), though it is worth noting that Steve Nash (4.5), Jason Kidd (4.1) and Kobe Bryant (3.9) rank 3-4-5 in that category right now; any turnover is bad, obviously, but the best players handle the ball the most and will inevitably accumulate some turnovers, so the most important thing to consider when looking at those numbers is how many positive things a player does to counteract his mistakes. Clearly, Nash, Kidd and Bryant do more than enough to outweigh their miscues (even though Kidd's Nets are struggling so far this season); it is less clear that Arenas does enough to balance out his sloppy ballhandling.
What will happen to the Wizards now that Arenas will have to miss a substantial portion of the season? Since 2003-04, the Wizards are 143-154 (.481) with Arenas in the lineup and 15-36 (.366) without him. Prorated over an 82 game season, the Wizards are the equivalent of 39.5-42.5 with him and 30-52 without him. Basically, either way they are a below average team. Just for fun, let's look at how Kobe Bryant's Lakers have done with him and without him during that same period: 167-132 with (.559), 17-23 (.425) without, which works out to 45.8-36.2 and 34.9-47.1 respectively. The Lakers have been a below average team without Bryant but a very good team with him. Based on these numbers, Bryant has been worth 10.9 extra wins for the Lakers, while Arenas has been worth 9.5 extra wins for the Wizards. In other words, Bryant has apparently been more valuable to a somewhat stronger team, the significance of that being that the better a team is the harder it is to improve it. An 82-0 team cannot win more games no matter how much you upgrade its roster; by the same token, it is more difficult to improve a 60 win team than a 50 win team and so on--or think of it this way: any decent player who you add to a 30 win team will improve its record somewhat but it is harder to find a player who can help a team go from 35 wins to 46. That may seem like just a trivial matter of semantics but look at last year's playoff seedings: a 46 win team would have been fifth in the East or sixth in the West but a 30 or 39 win team would have missed the playoffs in either conference; those wins between 30-something and 46 are hard to come by and are the difference between making the playoffs and booking a trip to Secaucus for the Draft Lottery.
This comparison between Bryant and Arenas is just something interesting to ponder, not a definitive statement about anything: the sample sizes are too small to make any sweeping conclusions and there are many other things that affected these teams' records besides the presence/absence of Bryant or Arenas, including strength of schedule and injuries to other players, to name just two obvious factors.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:24 AM