As you may have heard, the 2010 Rockets don't look all that much like the 2009 Rockets. And that worries some of the fans. The basketball community at large seems to have mostly dismissed the Rockets' chances (though, as Kelly Dwyer put it in one of his chats, "They've surprised us too many times to completely write them off."), and a lot of us seem to expect a pretty crappy season.
Some, however, do not share in this view, and that includes the fellows over at Wages of Wins. WoW has a lot of detractors, of course, and I think that they fall into the same trap that anyone seeking some big rate statistic to capture everything in basketball falls into, but WP48 is an interesting stat (and, if nothing else, probably a lot more accurate than Hollinger's PER). For those who don't know, WP48 is a rate statistic derived from all boxscore statistics - Points, FG%, Rebounds, Blocks, etc. The formula is set so that a WP48 of 0.100 is the NBA average.
Somewhat ironically (actually, not ironic at all), given Morey's stated issues with boxscore stats, proponents of WoW seem to end up advocating basically what Morey advocates: there's a lot more than scoring in a basketball game, and certain players (guys like Iverson, Ben Gordon, Von Wafer, or any other "pure scorer") tend to be overvalued by NBA teams (evidenced by their contracts) and fans (evidenced by popularity). Correspondingly, there are many players (Guys like Chuck Hayes, Dennis Rodman, or even some star players like Tim Duncan or Chris Paul) who tend to be undervalued by the same groups. Essentially, the lessons that WP48 provides are:
1) "Scorers" are not as important as we tend to think.
2) Rebounding - particularly defensive rebounding - is critical to winning. A defensive stop is not acheived unless there's a turnover or a D-Reb, so great rebounders are much more important than most think.
3) Defense (and this is where WP48 tends to get its stats-inclined detractors, because it assigns almost all of the credit for a defensive stop to the rebounder) is undervalued.
That sounds a lot like what Morey says in every interview he has ever given, right? And, if you look at the WP48 scores for the Rockets, it's pretty much a WoW-dream, as Dr. Berri reminds us:
The Above Average Rockets
Then I looked at the following list of veteran players who should play for the Rockets this season.
Luis Scola: 2,448 min., 9.8 Wins Produced, 0.189 WP48
Shane Battier: 2,031 min., 6.2 Wins Produced, 0.147 WP48
Trevor Ariza: 1,998 min., 8.0 Wins Produced, 0.192 WP48
Aaron Brooks: 1,998 min., -0.5 Wins Produced, -0.012 WP48
Carl Landry: 1,467 min., 5.4 Wins Produced, 0.175 WP48
Chuck Hayes: 858 min., 2.5 Wins Produced, 0.139 WP48
Brent Barry: 857 min., 2.0 Wins Produced, 0.113 WP48
Kyle Lowry: 608 min., 2.3 Wins Produced, 0.182 WP48
An average NBA player posts a 0.100 WP48. Of the eight players listed above, seven were above average last season.
Excluding Brooks (whom I'll get into in a moment), all of these players area above-average. And these aren't one-time statistical increases:
With the exception of Aaron Brooks, these players were above average before 2008-09. This suggests that these players will be above average in 2009-10. If that happens, the Rockets have a good chance of being an above average team.
This shouldn't be too surprising. Morey clearly values "reboundy" (if undersized) power forwards (enough that I was fairly surprised that the Rockets didn't trade for DeJuan Blair on draft night), and the Rockets tended to outrebound their opponents last season. They play good defense, so they get more chances to rebound, and so the Daryl Morey Rockets (except ABZ) looks a lot like a WoW team.
So, what about Brooks? Is he really a negative contributor to the team?
Brooks is basically the type of player (like Gordon, Iverson, or Wafer) who is going to be overvalued by the NBA establishment. He scores, and that's about all he does. I think he passes better than his assist numbers suggest (and, in any case, Adelman clearly feels that he passes well enough to be given the starting spot), but he doesn't rebound at all (he grabs just 4.7% of rebounds when on the court), he's somewhat turnover-prone, and he has glaring defensive issues. I like Brooks, but those are his problems.
WP48 suggests that these problems are enough to overcome his scoring contributions. Maybe that changes a little if Brooks' improvements in the playoffs were permanent, but it's not going to turn him into the WP48 messiah.
Berri argues that the Rockets don't really have a problem because scoring is only part of the game. And that's true - it's only half of it. But the team has to score to win, and it seems to me that the Rockets are likely going to be able to score more points than their opponents with Brooks on the court. His defensive issues aside, the marginal payoff for more rebounding and defense is probably much less for the Rockets than for extra scoring. Again, assuming that he demonstrates an improvement next season, I think that Brooks simply fits better than most other guards. Consider this one of those "context issues" that rate stats have.
The real question is if he's a better option than Lowry. That's difficult to answer, given Lowry's superior passing abilities. Berri would state that Lowry should clearly be the starting PG, but it's a more complex question than he thinks.
This has been something I've thought about for the past two months, and it's suggested in the comments section: The '09 Rockets (if McGrady either doesn't return to form or doesn't contribute until late) are something of a Grand Statistical Experiment. We have a collection of non-scorers and "non-creators," guys who Dr. Berri and Morey seem to value highly (or, rather, more highly than most). If the Rockets, as currently constructed, can play well over the first half of the season (until the trade deadline hits and the stupid/poor teams start selling off their players, I guess), it will have cemented Morey's genius and made guys like Dr. Berri look very smart. If not... well, I guess most of us weren't expecting much, anyways.
So read the article, even if you have your doubts. Regardless of the merits of the statistic, I think the Rockets really are going to do much better than most think.