Replacing the 45%

it’s been quite an offseason for the nuggets.  since losing to golden state in the first round (again), quite a bit has changed for the blue and yellow.  the executive of the year fled to canada, the coach of the year got the boot, and they’ve been replaced with inexperience.  the executive of the year’s protege slipped away to california, and the president made a self-centered, “I” and “me” filled speech in which he placed himself (and him alone) at the center of the organization.

and that’s just the bustle amongst the guys in suits.

as for the guys in uniforms, the starting shooting guard made it very clear that he wanted no part of the nuggets as he took asmaller  salary to play for the team that knocked the nuggets out of the playoffs, the starting center was dismissed as useless, and the sparkplug off the bench and fan favorite was let go.  with these departures and the fact that the second-leading scorer will be out for the first few months of the season following knee surgery, the nuggets of opening tip-off for the 2013-14 season will look very different than those of the history-making 2012-13 season.

45% different, in fact.  iguodala, brewer, koufos, gallinari, and stone (who nobody cares about) accounted for just under 45% of the minutes played last year.  to replace this 45%, the front office traded for or signed the following:

  • darrell arthur — an undersized power forward whose best attribute is arguably that he doesn’t play much
  • randy foye — an undersized shooting guard who shoots threes well and does little else well (or at all, really)
  • j.j. hickson — an undersized power forward who might be more kenneth faried than kenneth faried (is an even better rebounder and an even worse defender)
  • nate robinson — an undersized point guard with an ego that rivals president josh kroenke’s

the new suits, apart from apparently having something against height, don’t seem to have a cohesive plan for replacing the 45% and have, in my opinion, failed miserably.  to explain why i think this, let’s take a look at some numbers…

the above image shows some stats from the regular season for the team last year compared to the subset of the team the nuggets lost this offseason (or, in the case of gallo, at the end of last season).   to aggregate the values for the lost 45%, i took a weighted average of the players’ stats, using minutes played for weights.  the scary thing about this comparison lies in the first three columns: offensive rating, defensive rating, and net rating.

offensive rating represents points scored per 100 possessions, defensive rating represents points allowed per 100 possessions, and net rating is the difference between the two.  net rating is one method of measuring how much value a player adds to, and can be conceptualized as an individualized +/-.  obviously, the higher the net rating, the better the player (or team) is.  as a team, the nuggets had a very strong net rating last year of 5.6, and trailed only the thunder, heat, spurs, and clippers in that category.  the lost 45% were a big part of that, with a net rating of 7.  this means that the rest of the team had a net rating of about 4.5.  this is still a very respectable number, but the difference between the lost 45%’s value to the team and the rest of the team is still quite significant at 2.5 points.

perhaps the most important piece to the lost 45%’s net rating was iguodala, who played the most minutes for the team last year and had the second-highest net rating on the team at 7.4 (behind chandler at 9.3 — note that i’m ignoring stone’s rating of 10.7 since he only played 7 minutes all year).  that iguodala had such a good net rating and defensive rating despite the fact that he was almost always guarding the opposing team’s best scorer and was often compensating for some sort of size mismatch (he spent time guarding chris paul and kevin durant) is no small feat.  if he was guarding the type of players the rest of his team typically guarded instead of all-stars, his net rating would likely be several points higher.  he will be sorely missed.

but that’s just who the nuggets have lost.  what about who they’ve gained?  how do the lost 45% compare to the mighty replacements?  let’s have a look:

well, at least the effective field goal percentage creeps up a bit, right?  while the lost 45% were a huge part of pulling the nuggets’ net rating towards the top of the league, the replacements combined for a net rating of -3.1.  to put that figure in perspective, if the replacements were a team, they’d fit somewhere between the timberwolves and the 76ers.  so the nuggets have replaced a segment of their team that played at the level of the spurs with collection of players that couldn’t muster a .400 winning percentage.  phenomenal.

to see how the introduction of the replacements would affect the team’s overall stats in 2013-14, i removed the lost 45% from the roster, added the replacements, re-weighted the playing time proportionately, and took a weighted average.  here are the results:

by this methodology, the nuggets would go from the fifth best team in the league to one that’s slightly above average (amongst the warriors, nets, and hawks).  not spectacular.  it’s also of note that, despite adding one of the best rebounders in the league in hickson, the nuggets’ rebounding percentage will stay essentially constant due to the fact that foye is a miserable rebounder and robinson is like 5 foot 5.

i know that some of this comparison is unfair since the nuggets haven’t REALLY lost gallinari — he’ll be back sometime this season and hopefully in december.  but even introducing gallo back into the equation, the nuggets will likely be a much worse team next year than they were last year.  here are the estimated numbers with gallo in the lineup:

also, obviously playing time will likely vary significantly from the past given there’s a new coach on the bench and some young players will likely get disproportionately more time (fournier and hamilton, especially) this year.  with this in mind, these figures aren’t so much predictions for next year as they are comparisons of how the nuggets would have fared last year with the lineup they had versus the one they’ll be carrying into next season.  even so, the outlook doesn’t look good for the nuggets next season…

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