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Running With The Bulls Pt. 2: Miami Heat Can Win 73 Games Without Erick Dampier

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Running With The Bulls Pt. 2: Miami Heat Can Win 73 Games Without Erick Dampier
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I received the following comment on my last piece about the Heat winning 72 games, “Apparently the Heat don't care about 72 games, or they would have picked up Dampier.” I’ve been looking through the numbers to see if there’s any statistical justification for declining to invite Erick Dampier to Heat training camp and I haven’t been able to find much.

The statistical models I used to guide my search were Win Score, Estimated Wins Produced, Estimated Wins Produced per 48 minutes (EWP48), Wins Produced and Wins Produced per 48 minutes (WP48). An average player produces 0.100 wins per 48 minutes (WP48).  More information on these stats can be found at the following links:

Simple Models of Player Performance
Wins Produced vs. Win Score
What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say
Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

After searching for hours, I've come to the conclusion that there’s no way around it – Dampier’s better than any traditional center the Heat invited to camp.  Here’s a list of what the Heat could have expected each center to produce on a per-minute basis this season before training camp began.

Productivity Forecast for Dampier & Heat Centers Invited to Training Camp
Erick Dampier (Age 35):               0.130 WP48
Joel Anthony (Age 28):                -0.034 WP48
Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Age 35):       -0.060 WP48
Jamaal Magloire (Age 32):             0.051 WP48
Dexter Pittman (Age 22):              -0.499 EWP48 (2010 summer league production)
Mickell Gladness (Age 24):           -0.348 EWP48 (2010 summer league production)

The forecast is based on the impact of age on the performance of an average NBA player reported in Stumbling on Wins by David Berri and Martin Schmidt.

Clearly, Dampier could improve the Heat’s production at the center position if he signed with the team, and would increase the likelihood of winning more than 72 games.  Will the team regret telling him to kick rocks?  On another Miami Heat blog, Asylum For Ira’s Followers, a writer named Cyrus listed 10 reasons why the Heat won’t regret passing on Dampier.
Let’s see what Wins Produced has to say about the top five, using original data from basketball-reference.com.

1) Joel Anthony is one of the league's best shot blockers.  He averaged 1.4 blocks in just 16.5 minutes per game last season.  That projects to around three blocks per game if given starters minutes.

Miami had a 13-3 record during Joel's 16 starts last season.  While he is still raw in many aspects of the game, he sets excellent, crushing screens, and keeps balls alive on the offensive glass.

He is not as excellent on the boards, and still struggles catching the ball cleanly, but his intangibles have earned him a five-year, $18 million extension.  He could be the starting center for years to come if he can maintain last year's winning ways—it projects to 67 wins over the course of a season, by the way.

What Wins Produced Has To Say:

Anthony averaged 27.6 minutes in 16 games as a starter last season.  As a starter, his shot-blocking averaged decreased by 16% to 1.9 per game.  Coincidentally, his foul rate also decreased by 22% as a starter. My guess is that Anthony couldn’t be as aggressive blocking shots as a starter last year because the Heat didn’t have a lot of depth at the center position.  With Bosh, Haslem and potentially four centers on the final roster, Anthony should be able to remain an aggressive shot-blocker if he starts this season. So, if he averages three blocks in 36 minutes per game for 80 games this season, then Anthony’s shot-blocking would be worth 4.2 wins to the Heat – that’s 1.3 wins more than Dampier’s shot-blocking would be worth in the same number of minutes. Dampier, however, is coming off a season that only saw him play 55 games due to injuries.  If he’s limited to 55 games this season, then Anthony’s shot-blocking would be worth 2.2 more wins than Dampier’s.

The problem with Anthony is that he does more than block shots when he’s on the floor – and he does almost all of it poorly.  His rebounding is below average, as Cyrus mentioned.  He’s also below average at his position when it comes to scoring, steals, assists and fouls. The funny thing is that despite his reputation for having bad hands, he’s above average when it comes to protecting the ball from turnovers (which leads me to believe his teammates were credited with turnovers for the passes he dropped).

As for the Heat’s success with Anthony as a starter last season, it seemed to be in spite of him.  His performance actually cost the Heat an estimated 0.5 wins in the 16 games he started, and that’s the problem with Joel Anthony.  When all the shot-blocking is done, and the rest of his stats are accounted for, Anthony is worth 5–10 wins less than Dampier as a starter (depending on Dampier’s health).

2) Zydrunas Ilgauskas was one of the first veterans to jump on board and sign a minimum contract.  He has had an amazing career.  Yes, he had a down year last year, averaging 7.4 points and 5.4 rebounds in just 21 minutes of action per game, but was contributing 12.9 points and 7.5 rebounds in 27 minutes of action the year before Shaquille O'Neal was acquired. That's a higher combination of points and rebounds than Dampier ever delivered for Dallas.  The perception may be that Ilgauskas is a dinosaur, but he is in fact just one month Dampier's senior.  LeBron still believes he has something left in the tank and they have great chemistry together.  I wouldn't be so sure that Ilgauskas will not have a better season than Erick Dampier.

What Wins Produced Has To Say:
Ilgauskas has been slightly above average for his career with an estimated 0.112 WP48 and an estimated 51 wins produced, but his production fell off a cliff last season, which was the first time in his career that he wasn’t a starter.

He’s always been a better scorer than Dampier, but not a better rebounder.  The season before Shaq came to Cleveland, Big Z averaged 13.3 rebounds per 48 minutes compared to Dampier’s 14.8 rebounds per 48 minutes.  The rebounding difference between Ilgauskas and Dampier is worth 1.5 wins (assuming both players came off the bench for 840 minutes during the season). Big Z makes up for that deficiency with his superior scoring, free throw shooting and passing abilities, but not by much.  Those advantages for Ilgauskas are worth 2 more projected wins than Dampier would provide in those categories for a net advantage of 0.5 wins.

Unfortunately for the Heat, the disadvantages of choosing Ilgauskas over Dampier are not as slim.  Compared to the rest of the league’s centers, he was below average in getting to the line, scoring, rebounding, steals, shot-blocking, assists and fouls.  The result is that Big Z is projected to be worth 3.4 wins less than Dampier.

The decline in Big Z’s production from 2009 to 2010 was steeper than expected but an average player would still be expected to provide negative production at 35 years old.  If last season is ignored for Ilgauskas’s projection, then the forecast for his WP48 increases from -0.060 to 0.047.  While he would still be expected to be below average, the gap between his value and Dampier’s value as a backup playing 840 minutes would decrease from 3.4 wins to 1.4 wins. Either way, Dampier remains a more productive player, despite being the same age as Ilgauskas.

3) Jamaal Magloire was actually an All-Star in 2003-04, thanks to a weakened class of centers in the Eastern Conference, the last year either player averaged a double-double. Nowadays, it is pretty widely accepted that Dampier is a more reliable option.  The 32-year-old Heat center now has three advantages over Mr. Dampier.  He is three years younger, has already accepted a bench role, and is the resident bad boy on the roster. When the Heat and Celtics got into an altercation during last year's playoffs, Magloire was the intimidating presence that seemingly made Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett reconsider whether they should exchange blows with Miami players.  Stan Van Gundy said it best "Jamaal Magloire has a role and that role is to beat the hell out of people."  He is not going anywhere.

What Wins Produced Has To Say:
Magloire is definitely better at beating the hell out of people than Dampier.  The Big Cat is projected to average 7.6 fouls per 48 minutes next season compared to Dampier’s 5.5 fouls per 48 minutes.  Magloire “beating the hell out of people” cost the Heat about 1 win last season, while Dampier’s hacking cost the Mavericks 2.4 wins last season in about 3.5 times more minutes. On a per minute basis, however, Dampier averages less fouls than all of the centers invited to Heat training camp.  Maybe that’s why the team wasn’t interested in Dampier – he wasn’t the enforcer they were looking for in the middle.

4) Dexter Pittman was picked by Miami at the top of the second round ahead of potential lottery picks like Solomon Alabi and Hassan Whiteside.  When Riley says that he likes Dexter, you have to believe him, because he had a chance to draft either of the bigs that had lottery potential and passed in favor of the big man out of Texas.

He had his ups and downs during summer league play, but that was to be expected from the prospect who once weighed over 400 pounds.

What Wins Produced Has To Say:
Dexter Pittman was the 17th most productive NCAA player drafted, so he was definitely a smart second round draft pick for the Heat. 

In addition to being a prudent second round draft pick, Pittman was also the least productive player on the Heat summer league team with -0.173 EWP48 (good news for Heat fans is that Berri reported summer league performance doesn’t say much about regular season performance). After three pre-season games, his productivity has improved to 0.004 EWP48 (good/bad news for Heat fans is that rookie pre-season performance is an indicator of regular season performance).  The swings in production from summer league to pre-season are good examples of the ups-and-downs that Cyrus was probably talking about.

Dampier was not a productive player his rookie season either, with -0.017 EWP48.  In fact, he produced less than zero estimated wins in five of his first six seasons in the league.  In six years, maybe Pittman will become as productive as Dampier and the Heat will have a productive center, but for now, the doughnut remains.

5) Chris Bosh… Expect Bosh to play the Gasol role in Miami if the other centers are not earning their minutes.

What Wins Produced Has To Say:
Bosh is more than capable of filling in at center.  Last season, he was the sixth most productive player in the NBA at center with 11.7 wins produced in 2,526 minutes.  Dampier was only able to play half that many minutes last season, and has only played more than 2,500 minutes once in his career. Bosh produced 7.5 more wins at center than Dampier last season.

After Saturday’s pre-season game against the Spurs, South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter Ira Winderman reported the following on his blog:

“Spoelstra said he does not see an issue occasionally casting Bosh at center.  ‘I think the more you ask him, the less he’ll care,’ he said, ‘especially when you’re flanked by a warrior like Udonis Haslem.’
Spoelstra said he likes the combination of Bosh and Haslem, who was held out Saturday due to a sore shoulder.  ‘It’s also a dynamic rebounding duo for us and offensively it gives us some versatility,’ Spoelstra said.”

I think playing Bosh at center gives the Heat their best chance of breaking the ’96 Bulls’ record of 72 wins, because it will allow Haslem to play over 2,000 minutes at power forward.  A lineup with that frontcourt, Carlos Arroyo as the starting point guard and Mike Miller as sixth man (splitting time between shooting guard and small forward), would provide 73 wins by itself:

Role - Player (Minutes, WP48, Wins Produced)
Point Guard - Carlos Arroyo (1584 mins, 0.081 WP48, 2.7 Wins Produced)
Shooting Guard - Dwyane Wade (2772 mins, 0.248 WP48, 14.3 Wins Produced)
Small Forward - LeBron James (2952 mins, 0.452 WP48, 27.8 Wins Produced)
Power Forward - Udonis Haslem (2160 mins, 0.168 WP48, 7.6 Wins Produced)
Center - Chris Bosh (2520 mins, 0.232 WP48, 12.2 Wins Produced)
Sixth Man - Mike Miller (1800 mins, 0.243 WP48, 9.1 Wins Produced)
Sum - 73.7 Wins Produced

The Wins Produced for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were taken from HERE.  The Wins Produced for Arroyo, Haslem and Miller were calculated using numbers from the Wins Produced Viewer and are based on the impact of age on performance as reported in Stumbling On Wins.

With the top six players producing nearly 74 wins, the only thing that could prevent the Heat from breaking the record would be negative productivity from the bottom six players on the rosters.  The bottom six players for the ’96 Bulls produced -6.1 wins.  Five of the eight veterans invited to training camp for the 2011 Heat produced less than zero wins last season – Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Eddie House, Juwan Howard, Joel Anthony and Shavlik Randolph.

Strangely enough, garbage time for the Heat this season could be the indicator of whether it will be just a great regular season or the greatest regular season of all-time.
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