Celtics

NBA Analysis: Celtics Putting Glen Davis in Starting Line-Up

| by David Berri

Glen Davis – of the Boston Celtics – celebrated his 25th birthday on New Year’s Day. And that means – if you have read Stumbling on Wins – that we shouldn’t expect Mr. Davis to get much better as an NBA player (players tend to reach their peak performance in their mid-20s). And that means – if you are a Boston Celtics fans – that you might be happy that the contract for Glen Davis expires at the end of this season.  

Why should this make fans of the Celtics happy? As the following table indicates, Davis is below average in 2010-11 with respect to shooting efficiency, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, and assists. In other words, he is only above average with respect to free throws, turnovers, and personal fouls. Consequently, Davis has produced -0.4 wins this season with a -0.021 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes]. Entering this season he had produced -4.5 wins with a -0.056 WP48. In sum, Davis is not a very productive NBA player.

And yet, this story from Sports of Boston (yes, I searched and search until I found someone to say this) argues that Glen Davis might be able to replace Kevin Garnett. 

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Quoting the story… “Statistically, Davis and Garnett have more similarities than differences, especially recently. Garnett has averaged 14.4 points per game since December 1. Davis is just a half-point behind at 13.9. And Davis’ minutes have incrementally increased each month, from 28.7 in October to 29.6 in November to 30.2 in December, to the point that Davis is producing nearly as many points in nearly as many minutes as Garnett (30.0 in December).”

The article does go on to note that Garnett is a more efficient scorer, a better rebounder, and better at both steals and blocked shots. Yet, these players have “more similarities than differences”? Okay, that is only true if you focus primarily on scoring (yes, people tend to do this from time to time). When we look at everything we see that the move from Garnett to Davis is not a step in the right direction.

This point can be further illustrated by looking at the Wins Produced numbers for the Celtics in 2010-11. The following table indicates that after 31 games the Celtics are on pace to win about 62 games.

Of these 62 wins, nearly 59 can be traced to the play of Garnett, Rondo, Pierce, and Allen. In fact, the 20.4 game “improvement” seen for this team nearly vanishes if we assume Garnett, Rondo, and Allen return to the ADJ P48 observed in 2008-09 and Pierce returns to what we saw in 2007-08. In other words, if these players offered what we saw during last year’s regular season, the Celtics would not be contending with Miami Heat in 2010-11. Yes, Marquis Daniels and Shaquille O’Neal are above average performers, but their contribution is almost entirely offset by the poor play of Davis, Jermaine O’Neal, Avery Bradley (in just 62 minutes), and Semih Erden. Consequently, the Celtic Four are still the reason this team is winning [a similar story to what we have seen since 2007-08].

The importance of this quartet addresses a statement I saw in the Salt Lake City Tribune this morning.  The following was offered on a discussion of the problems the Jazz have had this season: “(Raja) Bell pointed out that the best teams in the league — primarily Boston — learned long ago how to overcome the sudden loss of key players.”

When we look at Boston, we see that Raja Bell is incorrect. The Celtics are not going to be a title contender without Garnett, Rondo, Pierce, and Allen. Or – as note earlier – replacing KG with Big Baby is not going to help. 

And this returns us to a point that is frequently made.  Coaches and clothes do not win games. Players win games. When the players who produce wins are replaced by players who do not produce wins, teams typically find less success. 

So just because Davis and KG wear similar clothes, or score at a similar rate, it does not mean they have similar levels of production. And fans of the Celtics should not see the loss of Garnett as an “opportunity”; unless, of course, the chance to see more losses is considered an “opportunity”.

- DJ