Evaluating Gilbert Arenas' Value During his PrimeNeil Paine wrote an interesting article asserting that Gilbert Arenas was an MVP level player back in 2007 and an elite level player for several seasons. I disagree with Paine's premise, his evidence and his conclusion, so I wrote a comment responding to his article. This initiated a very interesting exchange of ideas that provides an instructive look at the difference between the way that I think and write about basketball and the way that other people (particularly "stat gurus") think and write about basketball.
Here is the first comment that I posted in response to his article:
The 2005-2009 time frame is a very interesting choice. The 2009 Wizards were not only without Arenas' services but Caron Butler missed 15 games, Brendan Haywood essentially missed the entire season and Antonio Daniels--who filled in very capably for Arenas in previous seasons--was on his last legs before being traded to the Hornets.
The period when Arenas was allegedly an elite player had already ended by 2009, so let's just look at 2004-05 through 2007-08; during those four seasons Arenas made his only three All-Star appearances and earned his only All-NBA selections (Third Team in 2005 and 2006, Second Team in 2007). The Wizards won 45, 42, 41 and 43 games during those seasons. Keep in mind that in each of those seasons Arenas had at least one other All-Star or All-Star caliber player by his side. Here are the Wizards' records with and without Arenas in each of those seasons:
2005: 44-36 with, 1-1 without
2006: 40-40 with, 2-0 without
2007: 39-35 with, 2-6 without
2008: 6-7 with, 37-32 without
The Wizards were 129-118 with Arenas during his prime (.522) and 42-39 without Arenas during his prime (.519).
It would also be very interesting if you shared with your readers the Wizards' record in games that both Arenas and Butler missed as opposed to the games that only Arenas missed. I am surprised that someone who is trying to look at things analytically would not want to factor in the impact of another All-Star being out of the lineup at the same time that Arenas was out.
The reality is that even when Arenas was at his best he was on the fringe of being elite (I consider elite to be top five to top 10, but some people throw that term around so loosely it seems like there are supposedly 20 or 30 "elite" players at any given time) and his team only performed slightly better with him than it did without him. The Wizards were slightly above .500 during Arenas' prime when he played and they were slightly above .500 during Arenas' prime when he did not play.
Paine responded simply, "Arenas still had the benefit of the doubt through 2009. It wasn't until 2010 that he definitively proved he was no longer his old self."
Obviously, that hardly addresses the points that I made, so I answered with this comment:
You do not find it statistically significant that throughout the period when Arenas was an All-Star/All-NBA player (1) his team was barely above .500 when he played and (2) his team essentially posted the same winning percentage whether or not he played? How many "elite" players barely led their teams to .500 records during their primes over a period of four years? How many teams performed essentially the same without an "elite" player even when that "elite" player missed a substantial number of games?
It is instructive to compare Arenas' impact on the Wizards to Tracy McGrady's impact on the Rockets during a similar time period, a subject that I discussed in March 2008 when the Rockets posted the second best regular season winning streak in NBA history:
"There is a stark and dramatic contrast between the Rockets’ record when McGrady plays (162-83, a .661 winning percentage) versus their record when he is not in the lineup (19-46, a .292 winning percentage). Prorated over 82 games, the Rockets have essentially performed like a 54 win team with McGrady and a 24 win team without him. This year, the numbers read 36-13 (.735) with McGrady and 8-7 (.533) without him, which prorates to 60 wins and 44 wins respectively."
From 2005-08, McGrady made the All-Star team three times and made the All-NBA team three times (Third Team twice, Second Team once) but he had a much greater impact on his team's won-loss record than Arenas did during that same time frame. Overall, McGrady made the All-NBA First Team twice and the All-NBA Second Team three times and he was clearly an elite player (when healthy) for an extended period of time, whether one looks at his skill set, his individual numbers or the striking impact that he had on his team's won-loss record--when he played the Rockets were a contending team (projecting to 54 regular season wins) but when he did not play the Rockets performed like a lottery team.
The burden of proof is squarely in the corner of anyone who suggests that Arenas ever was an "elite" player, because the evidence strongly suggests that this is not true--unless you define "elite" to be top 20 or top 30; I am defining "elite" to mean someone is one of the top five to 10 players in the NBA, which usually corresponds to making the All-NBA First or Second Teams. Granted, sometimes there can be mistakes in the voting and a player could theoretically be "elite" without making those teams if there is a glut of talent at his position (voting is done by position, so in theory a non-elite player could make the All-NBA team at, say, center, while an elite level guard fails to make the team).
Since you elected not to share the Butler splits with your readers, permit me to quote from some research that I did two years ago:
"In 2007-08, the Wizards essentially replaced Arenas with career journeyman Antonio Daniels--a solid pro who has played with five teams in his 11 year NBA career--and not only did not miss a beat, they actually performed better. It is important to remember that Butler missed 24 games last season; the Wizards went 33-25 (.569) with Butler and 10-14 (.417) without him--and five of the losses with Butler also came with Arenas in the starting lineup. Washington's best starting lineup last season (by winning percentage, with a minimum of 10 games) was Butler, Daniels, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson. That group went 23-16 (.590) for nearly half a season without Arenas, which projects to a 48-34 record, a mark that would exceed the Wizards' best season since acquiring Arenas."
Each of us posted several subsequent comments. If you want to follow and/or contribute to the conversation just click on the link I provided in the first paragraph.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:31 AM