Jeremy Lin benefiting from a massive “substitution effect”

If you’re eating chicken shit, and someone offers you chicken salad instead, it doesn’t matter if you don’t particularly like chicken salad… it will taste much better to you than the chicken shit tasted.

That’s part of the power behind Linsanity and the resurgence of the New York Knickerbockers.  Sure, Jeremy Lin is a nice ballplayer, and right now he has a well above average MWS and Winning Percentage, but what has really made him look awesome is the comparison between what he is providing the Knicks at the point guard position and the dreadful play they have gotten from the position this season when Lin was not on the floor (or indeed, on the Knicks roster).

Here is the latest Knicks Win Chart for 2011-12 (What do the different columns in the Win Chart mean?  Click here for simple explanation):

NEW YORK KNICKS (through February 15, 2012)

T Chandler 17.45 11.68 2.89 0.993 4.2__0.0 2.1 6.3
L Fields 8.14 6.33 0.91 0.656 2.6__1.4 0.6 3.2
C Anthony 6.83 6.22 0.31 0.554 1.7__1.4 0.2 1.9
A Stoumire 8.25 8.35 -0.05 0.494 1.7__1.7 -0.1 1.7
I Shumpert 3.15 5.36 -1.09 0.315 1.0__2.3 -0.7 0.4
J Lin 8.75 6.24 1.26 0.716 0.9__0.4 0.3 1.2
S Novak 9.09 6.18 1.45 0.749 0.8__0.3 0.3 1.1
B Walker 4.39 6.43 -1.02 0.329 0.8__1.6 -0.4 0.4
J Harrlson 11.11 9.56 0.77 0.634 0.7__0.5 0.1 0.8
J Jeffries 6.89 9.69 -1.39 0.266 0.5__1.3 -0.4 0.1
R Balkman 9.39 6.83 1.28 0.719 0.4__0.2 0.1 0.5
J Jordan 10.57 0.63 4.97 1.346 0.3__(-0.1) 0.2 0.5
T Douglass -1.95 7.11 -4.53 -0.266 (-0.6)__2.8 -1.7 -2.3
M Bibby 2.55 9.21 -3.33 -0.062 (-0.1)__1.3 -0.7 -0.8
Exptd 14.9__15.1
Act 15.0__15.0

Chandler and Fields still more valuable

As you can see from the Win Chart, the real MVPs of the Knicks are Tyson Chandler and Landry Fields.  But Lin has made a large relative impact because the Knicks former starting PGs, Mike Bibby and Toney Douglass, were not only bad, they were SO bad they were taking wins off the board.  Thus, replacing them with an above average player of Lin’s production had a massive impact on the team.

To illustrate, when Jeremy Lin is in the game, as the chart shows, the New York Knicks are getting a player with a Marginal Win Score of +1.26.  If all 5 positions were manned by 0.500% players, and you substituted Lin into the game, then Lin’s contribution alone turns the Knicks into a 0.545% team.  Not that large an impact.  However, in actuality, Lin did not replace “0.500%” caliber PGs.  In fact, the other Knick point guards combined produce a MWS of -2.84, which equates into a combined non-Lin winning percentage from the position of 0.020%.  To put number in perspective, if you add the other Knick PGs to the hypothetical 0.500% team described above, they would turn that team into a 0.406% team.  In practical numbers, the non-Lin Point Guards would turn a 41 win team (in a normal season) in to a 33 win team, whereas when Lin stepped in and replaced them, his production turned that hypothetical 41 win team into a 45 win team.  That’s a huge difference.

The story gets better when you consider that the “other Knicks” are somewhat better than a 0.500% team.  Indeed, as the Win Chart above shows, the Knicks are getting better than 0.500% play from several key players.  Tyson Chandler has been phenomenal at the center position.  I credit him with producing 4.2 wins and no losses.  And after a slow start, last year’s rookie phenom Landry Fields is back to playing above 0.500% basketball from the shooting guard position.  Then you consider that Carmelo Anthony plays nearly 0.700% basketball when he’s in there and healthy, and you have a pretty good team.  The thing that was holding the Knicks back, and I illustrated it earlier in the season, was their incredibly poor play from the point guard position.  Enter Linsanity.

That’s why, by comparison, Jeremy Lin has made such a major difference.  He turned a tremendous weakness into a strength, which magnified the impact that contribution made.  In basketball, I call that the substitution effect. (I think the real economic  “substitution effect” is when you switch from Coke to Jolly Good during a recession, but its been a long time since Econ 101).

EDITOR’s COMMENT:  Do they still sell Jolly Good soda? It was an off-brand that came in a variety of flavors and at one time had jokes written on the inside bottom of the can, as I recall.  I remember you’d finish the thing, then you’d have to close one eye and try to direct the inside of the can toward the sun so you could strain to read the dumb joke/riddle to your friends. ” Let’s see… What has four legs buttttt cannnn nnnnnot… shit, I can’t read the last word… oh…  ‘run‘? What has four legs but cannot run? ”  The things we used to find entertaining.  Good times.

CORRECTION:  The original post had Carmelo Anthony as a slightly more productive player than he has been.  The original post therefore calculated Carmelo’s wins at 2.1 and the Knicks estimated wins at 15.3, which were both in error.  It was pointed out by a reader, and has been corrected.

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5 Responses to “Jeremy Lin benefiting from a massive “substitution effect””

  1. reservoirgod Says:

    There seems to be a problem with Carmelo’s Win Score. Using the numbers at basketball-reference I calculate 6.7 WS48 for Melo using the old Win Score formula and 3.5 WS48 using the new Win Score formula, not the 8.5 listed here in the article.

  2. Amazing Stuff I have Read (and would like you to read) | The Wages of Wins Journal Says:

    [...] First, the amazing Ty Willihnganz (more on him in a moment) makes an important observation.  One reason Lin looks so great is that the other options for the Knicks at point guard are just awful. [...]

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