Its the Moute effect, not the Salmons effect

With last night’s “hang on for dear life” 2 point victory over the Indiana Pacers, the Milwaukee Bucks are now 5-0 since trading for John Salmons.  It is tempting to conclude that John Salmons is responsible for the win streak.  The trouble is, there isn’t any evidence to support that cause-and-effect relationship.  The two events appear to be largely coincidental.

Salmons has played alright so far.  He’s an upgrade at the shooting guard over Charlie Bell, but not a dramatic upgrade.  He hasn’t set the world on fire by any means.

He scores points, but he uses too many shots to get those points (not by Brandon Jennings standards, but “Young Money” — btw, whatever happened to that lame ass nickname? — is on a whole different plane when it comes to wasting possessions).  So Salmons scoring hasn’t been particularly effective.

And Salmons doesn’t do a heck of a lot else valuable on the stat sheet.  He’ll mix in some assists, and generally he doesn’t turn the ball over, but he doesn’t rebound at all, and he doesn’t seem adept at garnering steals.  And using Opponent Win Score and Basketball-Reference’s “Defensive Rating” as a measure of his defensive contribution, he hasn’t been any improvement over Charlie Bell on that end of the court either.

In short, John Salmons is pretty much the adequate contributor he was when he played for the Chicago Bulls.  In fact, once I update the Bucks Win Chart (found on the  Pages section of this blog), I think his Marginal Win Score so far with the Bucks will be about the same as it was with the Bulls, somewhere in the range of -0.73 or so.

Before I move on to what I think has been the real cause of the team’s improved play (besides the obvious improvement in Andrew Bogut’s play), I note that there is the possibility that the trading deadline moves, including the Salmons trade, are having a stronger than recognized indirect positive effect on the team’s play.  In fact, there may be four positive substitution effects related to the trading deadline moves.

First, Salmons has taken Charlie Bell’s starting SG minutes in the rotation, and as mentioned, he is performing better than than Charlie Bell was performing in that role.  So you have that substitution effect.  Second, Charlie Bell has taken Jodie Meeks secondary backup SG spot in the rotation and since the trading deadline Bell has performed much better than Meeks had been performing.  So you have that substitution effect as well.  Third, the presence of Salmons, along with the earlier acquisition of Jerry Stackhouse, has virtually removed Luke Ridnour from spot duty at shooting guard, a position he was ill-suited to defend.  So you have that third potential substitution effect.   Finally, the trade of Hakim Warrick — who was a decent, but nothing better than decent power forward — has freed up more time  at the position for the more productive Luc Moute and Ersan Ilyasova.  So you have that fourth potential substitution effect as well.

And the last potential effect allows me to transition to the event that I think really turned the Bucks season around — Scott Skiles decision to insert Luc Moute into the starting power forward role, and to refrain from using him at the small forward.  This one seemingly nonsensical move (Moute has the size and “effective height” of a shooting guard, not a power forward) has made a dramatic difference.

Scott Skiles inserted Moute into the starting power forward role for Game 40 against the Toronto Raptors on January 20th.  Prior to that time Luc Moute had been underperforming his rookie MWS48 numbers and was scuffling along in the small forward role.  The team was 16-22 on the season and seemingly headed nowhere.

Since the move was made, Luc Moute has completely turned his MWS48 numbers around and has strung together a series of heretofore unthinkably good games in a row, a streak which he continued last night.  And, somehow, the move seems to have restored Andrew Bogut to the high level of play he exhibited last season when he also had Moute alongside him at the power forward spot.  Since the move, the Bucks are 13-6, and they have won more games on the road during the short period (7) than they had won during the entire rest of the season (5).  A remarkable turnaround.

Skiles must be given all credit for the move.  It flew against conventional wisdom.  As I said, Moute is way undersized for the power forward.  And he was seemingly a valuable perimeter defender (I say “seemingly” because his defensive statistics actually did not match the high praise endorsements he was getting from the likes of Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant).

But Skiles knew a few things.  One, Moute’s perimeter defense was overrated, or at least it wasn’t enough to mask the fact that he lacked traditional small forward skills.  Two, Moute is actually a more effective defender against interior players, where his quickness and effort level are quite disruptive.  Three, playing Moute on the inside allows him to do what he does exceptionally well — offensive rebound like a man possessed, and convert those opportunities into points, both of  which he has done exceptionally well since the  move.

And unlike the John Salmons effect, the numbers back up the Moute effect… and then some.  In the month of February alone, Luc Moute’s Win Score per 48 has been a superstar level — and I mean SUPERSTAR level — 17.40.  If you don’t believe in Win Score, just go to his splits page and notice  the dramatic improvement in Moute’s play this month.  Everything good is way, way up.

So, in summary, while it may be tempting to point to John Salmons as the reason behind the Bucks “surge”, the  evidence suggests the “surge” was already well on track before he ever arrived.  And while his presence and the absence of others may have had a positive substitution effect for the team, it is actually Scott Skiles bold move inserting Luc Moute in the power forward position that has actually propeled the team’s turnaround.

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12 Responses to “Its the Moute effect, not the Salmons effect”

  1. Palamida Says:

    Great post.
    In a couple of years odd commentators and NBA fans would still mention in passing Jennings’s upside, potential, ceiling or whatnot.
    Some of that would be a result of that 55 Pt. game. Yes, just one game.
    Instead of “new money” I propose a new nickname for Jennings: “Blind Chicken”.
    Alluding to the fact that even a blind chicken finds a kernel of corn, now and then.
    P.S Just for the record LBRM’s effective Height is 8’7.5″ which is much closer to the Avg SF in the NBA (8.’8.1″) than to a an NBA SG (8’4.9″) but his performance at PF is remarkable nonetheless.

    • tywill33 Says:

      Yeah, you’re right… I don’t know when I got it in my head that his effective height was shooting guard level… probably made one of the posts sound better!

      How does Jennings STILL take 18 shots? I admire his ability to silence his conscience…

  2. Jerble Says:

    Wonderful illuminating article! Your productivity is awesome. -I can’t keep up. It’s not just the quantity but the depth of thought that awes me. And you have a real job too?? Incroyable, notre ami! (Don’t you just love those squiggly red lines?)

  3. brgulker Says:

    You’ll love this, Ty: http://waynewinston.com/wordpress/?p=450

    • tywill33 Says:

      I’ll check it out.

      Hey, I’ve got something for you. Apparently the whisper campaign going around Milwaukee, or I assume Milwaukee, is that the Wizard of Oz behind the Pistons Championship window was Hammond, and Dumars was just a figure head.

      I don’t know if I agree.

    • tywill33 Says:

      BR:

      I just read it. The book Mathletics looks somewhat enjoyable, but that post was not. Not only is it sloppily written (since when is the phrase “Playoff Berth” spelled birth? Should we send out birth announcements?) the logic behind the concept is sloppy. On the one hand he seems to argue that there is some group dynamic at play… that somehow a team consisting of x-y-z-q-r is collectively better as a fivesome than one might expect just considering the players individually. Then he turns around and implies its driven by individuals — if you substitute Ilyasova for Moute and leave all the other parts the same, the total package improves dramatically. But wouldn’t that imply that Ilyasova is much more productive than Moute? Or does Ilyasova just bring a bag of pixy dust on the court with him?

      And then there’s no consideration of competition, or if he does consider it, he doesn’t explain that. Without such, the numbers are apples and tangerines.

      I find individual “+/-” statistics interesting if not explanatory, but the idea that the sum of 5 players is ever greater than the value of the 5 individuals — without any explanation as to why that would be so — is just voodoo economics on a basketball court.

  4. Josh Dhani Says:

    Good stuff Ty. I think Mbah a Moute has made a big difference and is valuable to the Bucks

  5. Josh Says:

    Ty,

    This is a great post; definitely the type of thing that keeps me coming back.

    As mjuch as I love the stats, you give me a syhnthesis that I don’t get elsewhere. Your post highlights the insights you can get from stats. I had bought into the conventional wisdom until I read this. Good work.

    • tywill33 Says:

      Thanks buddy!

      You’re doing great work on BadgerBucco… next Badger post will reference your blog repeatedly (do you notice the fraud I’ve perpetrated? I set out claiming this was an “all basketball” blog… its frickin Bucks Diary in disguise! But that’s just the unforeseen hitting me. I truly meant it to be a little more than that)

      Thanks again!

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