Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia Warriors’

Q: Who the hell is Cleveland Buckner? A: He’s the “JD Tippit” of the Chamberlain 100 Point Game

March 3, 2012

Following up on yesterday’s post, a couple more thoughts on the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point scoring night.

At least the Knicks made Wilt earn his 100

I ran ten simulated games on Whatifsports between the 1962 Knicks and the 1962 Warriors and the average effective scoring for the Knicks was (-7.9) points and for the Warriors it was (+3.5).  The highest effective scoring totals I could achieve for each team was (+6.5) for the Knicks and (+27.0) for the Warriors. On Wilt’s Big Night, the Warriors were (+28) and the Knicks were (+9).  So its theoretically possible that each team simply had an unusually hot night on that particular night. However, it would have been unlikely without some defensive laxity.  In the 10 game simulation run, I produced only one positive scoring night for the Knicks and five for the Warriors.  I produced no games where both teams had positive scoring nights.

Something else weighing somewhat in Chamberlain’s favor is the breakdown of his scoring.  First of all, the Knicks were making Chamberlain earn his hundred from the foul line.  On a normal night in the 1962 season, Chamberlain would have shot 26 free throws on 63 field goal attempts.  On this night the Knicks made him shoot 32, of which he made 28.  Moreover, Chamberlain must have fouled out the Knicks best defensive center, Darrell Imhoff, so he presumably was going against their second stringer, Cleveland Buckner, for most of the game.  And while Chamberlain’s teammates were clearly force feeding him in the second half (I have no problem with that), the Knicks were just as clearly playing some semblance of defense on Chamberlain, as Chamberlain went 22 for 37 from the field in the second half.  Yeah, that’s not great defense, but its not dunk after dunk.

Curiously Huge Scoring Night for a Knick named Cleveland Buckner

Here’s where I have a problem.  It appears the Warriors were giving up points on the offensive end to get more opportunities for Wilt on the offensive end.  In my mind, that’s “queering the pitch” as the British would say.

Here’s my evidence that everything wasn’t on the up-and-up. The three backups for the Knicks (Buckner, Dave Budd, and Donnie Butcher) combined to make 25 of 40 shots from the field (62.5%).  That’s 48% better than the 1961-62 NBA average.  If the 29-51 Knicks had that kind of scoring talent on their bench, they shouldn’t have been 29-51!!  Indeed, on a normal night in 1962, with the same shot mix from the same players, the three should have hit only 40.0%.  That’s a large increase in average, suggesting lack of contested shots by the Warriors (or possibly by Chamberlain himself) in the second half of the game, possibly for the purpose of getting the ball back faster to get shot attempts for Wilt (I’m assuming the second half is when most of the reserve minutes happened).  It’s sort of like deliberately letting the computer score in Tecmo Bowl in order to see how many rushing yards you could get for Randall Cunningham.

The box score contains even more evidence of potentially soft defense by Philadelphia.  Far fewer than average free throw attempts by the Knick reserves. Why is that evidence of soft defense?  On one occasion one of my basketball coaches came in to the locker room at halftime and he simply stared at the score book.  When he finally raised his head, he looked directly at me and screamed, “Ty!! Do you know how many fouls you have?!”  I was completely dumbfounded at the question and I replied timidly, “I don’t know… I think zero”.  I really didn’t understand what he was getting at.  He pounced on that answer, “Yeah, that’s right… you aint playin no defense!!”

If my ex-coach’s somewhat suspect logic is accepted as presumptive evidence of soft defensive effort (I still to this day won’t accept it as conclusive proof of lack of effort, but I will accept it as presumptive proof.  In other words, once established, then the burden would have shifted to me to rebut — in which case I would have cited my counterpart’s lack of inside shooting as explanation for my lack of fouling), then the Warriors “weren’t playin no defense” on two of the aforementioned 3 reserve Knicks: C Cleveland Buckner, and F Dave Budd (both inside players — pointing again to Chamberlain as the culprit).

Buckner, a reserve forward-center who didn’t even last one more full season in the NBA, and who shot just 43.7% from the field for his career, somehow went 16-for-26 against Wilt Chamberlain, and, since he was a big man with a low field goal percentage, one can assume that most of his shots on Wilt’s 100 point night were close-in shots.  If that is the case, and if you wanted to argue against the point that the Warriors were “laying down” on defense in the second half, then how would you explain the fact that in 26 field goal attempts, Buckner shot only 1 free throw!! If he were going to the line at his normal rate, he would have shot 10 free throws.

And then there’s the case of reserve Dave Budd.  Budd was a also a 43% field goal shooter who took about 0.4 free throws for every field goal attempt. Yet on Wilt’s night he shot 75% from the field (6-8) and took only one free throw attempt for his 8 field goal attempts.  So, combined, you have 34 field goal attempts, 2 free throw attempts, and 22 made field goals from a piss poor team’s two reserve front court players, where on a normal night you would have expected 34 field goal attempts to produce 14 makes and 14 trips to the free throw line.  So, either these guys both got peculiarly hot at the same time on the same night, or we someone or “ones” was letting them get to the basket in order to get Wilt more shot attempts.

So, all in all, here’s is what I’m going to conclude about Wilt’s 100 point night:

1. The Warriors force fed Wilt the ball in the second half to get him to 100 (which is fine);

2. The Knicks made him earn the 100 by putting him on the line; but,

3. The Warriors, and possibly Wilt himself, laid down on defense to get more scoring opps for Wilt in the second half, which in my mind taints the result.

Footnote:  While I could not find Cleveland Buckner’s college statistics, its interesting to find that he is 74 and he has a Facebook page.  Which is more proof that Donnie Deutsch was right to predict that some hipper social media site will soon displace Facebook.

The Great Debate: Russell vs. Chamberlain

January 1, 2010

As you know, I am currently reading The Book of Basketball.  If you’re an NBA fan, its a fun book, filled with basketball information and provocative arguments, along with a buttload of cultural references. (note: What’s with Simmons obsession with the movie Boogie Nights?  There are — and I’m not exaggerating — at least a dozen references to the movie or its central character in the book.)

Russell or Chamberlain?

One of the early chapters in the book raises the greatest argument of all among NBA fans:  who was better, Boston Celtics C Bill Russell or Phi/SF/LA C Wilt Chamberlain?  In the book, Simmons argues that Bill Russell was better.  In a prior post I criticized the nonsensical way Simmons put together his argument, but remained agnostic regarding his conclusion.  Today I am prepared to say that while the evidence is close, I agree that Russell was the better “win force” than Chamberlain. (I take no position on who had more “basketball skill”.  That is an impossible question to answer).

Applying  Historic Marginal Win Score (MWS48)

I reached my conclusion after painstakingly constructing Career Win Resumes for each player using a version of the Marginal Win Score metric (explained in a separate Page on this blog) I call “Historic Marginal Win Score”.

I will write another Page explaining Historic Marginal Win Score, but for now I’ll just say that it is the same as MWS48 except it relies on inductive reasoning and historical precedent to fill in the statistical gaps that one encounters in every NBA season prior to 1977-78.  For the main bit of missing information, Opposition Win Score, it works kind of like this. If I know I have a “2″ (Team Win Score) and I know the final answer is around “5″ (Pythagorean Wins), I can conclude that the missing number is probably around “3″.  That’s way more simplistic, but its the gist.  (The process also relies on “defensive position placement” that’s usually arduous but in this case is actually easy because I know both of these players spent all of their minutes at center.  I’ll explain the process of placement when I do the Page).

The Results

Here are the Career Win Resumes I came up with for both players:

Click Here for Bill Russell

Click Here for Wilt Chamberlain

MWS48: Russell was the larger “win force”

As you can see from the two resumes, Bill Russell — according to Marginal Win Score — was the slightly larger “win force” (if you will).  Meaning, throughout his career, and on a per minute basis, Russell outproduced his contemporary opponent centers by a bit more than Wilt Chamberlain in the categories that correlate with wins.

In a “typical” season for Bill Russell (for all the following numbers and terms, please refer to the “How to Read Win Charts” page in the blog column), the big man posted a Marginal Win Score per 48 of +6.10, he produced 20.2 wins for his team and (-7.2) losses, he was responsible for 13.7 wins above .500% (meaning if you added him to a 41-41 team, he would typically make that team a 55-27 team… absolutely Ruthian impact), and his Win Contribution Index would be +1.010.   In Chamberlain’s “typical” season, he posted a Marginal Win Score of +5.08, he produced 20.6 wins and (-5.4) losses, he was responsible for +13.0 wins above .500%, and his Win Contribution Index would be +0.932.

So while Chamberlain produced slightly more wins in a typical season, he needed nearly 400 more minutes per season to do so.  Thus in my opinion — while the decision was a close one — Russell was nevertheless the more valuable player.  Russell was more efficient with his marginal production, and Chamberlain’s extra minutes, while valuable, could not overcome that fact.  (Please also note that part of the reason for Chamberlain’s win advantage was that in Russell’s first three seasons the NBA played only a 75 game schedule).

Russell also gets the advantage because he was more consistent.  Up until his last two seasons, he produced MWS48s of +5.00 or better every single season, with most seasons being +6.00.  To get a feel for how awesome that kind of production is, check out the Win Chart from last season’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

As you can see, last season’s NBA MVP, LeBron James, had an MWS48 of +6.00, remarkable production.  By my estimates, Bill Russell averaged better than that for his career.  Repeat, he outproduced his opponents, on average, at a rate slightly better than LeBron James did in his spectacular 2008-09 MVP season.  Absorb that.  (Also, don’t get the idea in your head that Russell produced such awesome numbers only because he had some astronomical physical or athletic advantage over the 1960s competition.  Not so.  Go on Youtube and search “NBA 1965″ and watch some of the Celtic games that pop up.  Russell doesn’t even really stand out in physical terms.  And he played most of his career against high caliber centers the likes of Chamberlain, Zelmo Beatty, Wayne Embry, Nate Thurmond, Willis Reed, and Jerry Lucas.  In other words, he was not picking low hanging fruit.  He couldn’t shoot well, but he produced points, assists, and Rodman-like rebound numbers by playing with phenomenal passion and intelligence).

Chamberlain had the best single season

If you notice, while Russell has the better career average MWS48, in 1966-67 Wilt Chamberlain turned in the best single season when he somehow recorded an MWS48 of +8.11 and produced 28.7 wins for a 76er team that many rank among the greatest teams of all time.  I have not calculated the Win Credits or MWS48s for more than a handful of seasons, but I would venture to say that Chamberlain’s 1966-67 season was hands down the greatest single season of all time.

A close runner-up, however, was Bill Russell’s 1964-65 season when he recorded an MWS48 of +7.75 and produced 26.0 wins for that outstanding Celtic championship team.  Another great season, obviously.  If you want to see the Win Credits I calculated for the entire ’65 Celtics, click here.

Chamberlain’s apparent inconsistency

Chamberlain’s Win Resume shows that he did not become the mega dominator that we remember him to be until he left his initial team, the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors.  Why that is, I have no idea.  The Warrior teams that featured Chamberlain were very sometimes poor defensive teams, especially considering they had a 7’1” force in the middle.  Chamberlain must take some of the blame for that, and MWS48 gives it to him.

Once Chamberlain left the Warriors, it was mostly all uphill.  He had three of the most dominant seasons in NBA history when he wore the “Phila” jersey of the 76ers, and he continued at a high level when he moved his act to Los Angeles.

In fact, the curious thing about both Chamberlain and Russell’s careers are they both retired while performing at a level that could be deemed “elite”.  Unlike Kareem (and Shaq for that matter), who sort of hung on until there was nothing left of his productive capacity, Chamberlain and Russell seem to have either believed that one shouldn’t play past a certain age, or that they did not want to play anymore if they could not play at least close to the stratospheric levels they played at in their primes.  (Click here for an interesting post on the aging of NBA stars)

Basketball-Reference’s Win Shares disagree

This summer the Basketball-Reference.com blog did a similar “fill in the blanks” calculation of wins produced by players prior to 1977-78 which they call “Historical Win Shares”.

Their results strongly disagree with mine.  According to their calculations, Wilt Chamberlain was the far superior win producer.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that Historical Win Shares considers Bill Russell to be just a “very good” player, not a great one.

A comparison of the numbers bears this out.  While MWS48 estimates Russell produced 263 wins, Historical Win Shares estimates that Russell only produced 163 wins — obviously, a huge difference.

If you make the logical assumption that a player is responsible for 1/5th of a game every 48 minutes of action, and if you make the further assumption that a player is either producing wins or he is producing losses, then you can easily translate the results into wins and losses produced.

Bill Russell’s Career Wins Produced

Win Shares: 163.5 wins and 6.1 losses; .964% winning percentage

MWS48: 263.1 wins and (-93.5) losses; 1.551% winning percentage

Less than Tim Duncan?

Let’s put Russell’s numbers in perspective by comparing Russell’s winning percentages under the two systems to a similar contemporary player. Compare his winning percentage to Tim Duncan’s career winning percentage under Win Shares:

Tim Duncan’s career wins produced

Win Shares: 156.0 wins and (-14.3) losses; 1.100% winning percentage

MWS48 (roughestimate): 149.7 wins and (-8.0) losses; 1.056%

Those numbers show Win Shares regards Tim Duncan as a greater win force in his era than Russell was in the 1960s.   While MWS48 basically agrees with Win Shares on Duncan’s win impact, you can see that MWS48 believes that Russell’s career production and win impact far exceeded Duncan’s.

Which win credit system is right?

That’s an easy question to answer.  Neither.  There is no “right” in this case.  There are only ideas and estimates based on those ideas.  The rest is conversation.

We will never settle the debate.

That said, I am more than happy to argue for a calculation that concludes that Bill Russell was a better than “very good” win producer.

When Bill Russell joined the Boston Celtics in 1956-57 they were a decidedly average team (1955-56 Pythagorean: 38-34).  Immediately upon his arrival the team won its first championship.  During his career the team went on to win 10 more championships in 12 seasons.  Immediately following his retirement the same roster minus him slumped under .500%, and the Celtics did not win another championship for six seasons.

How much of that was due to Russell?  MWS48 would argue that quite a bit of it was due to Russell, but that’s for you to decide.

The “With and Without Youtest

Another unscientific test I like to use to judge how accurate MWS48 is at describing a player’s win impact is to look at the player’s team the season before and the season after his arrival.

In 1955-56, the Boston Celtics recorded 37.6 pythagorean wins and they were last in the NBA in opponent points per game.  In Bill Russell’s first season, with virtually the same roster plus Russell, the team improved its Pyth wins  total to 48.6, plus 9 wins.   Win Shares credits Russell with producing 6.2 wins that season, MWS48 credits Russell with 11.4 wins.  About equally off, with one shooting too high, the other two low.

In 1968-69, the Boston Celtics  recorded 55.2 pythagorean wins, with Win Shares giving Russell 10.2 and MWS48 giving Russell 17.1.  The very next season, with basically the same roster sans Russell, the Celtics recorded only 36.4 ptyh wins — (-18.8).  MWS48 seems to capture the impact better.

Chamberlain’s career is less helpful because Win Shares and MWS48 agree most of the time.  In Chamberlain’s first season the Warriors improved by 14.4 pyth wins.  Win Shares credits him with 17.0 wins, MWS credits him wit 16.5 wins.  Both are in the ballpark.

In Chamberlain’s first partial season with the 76ers the team improved by +10.1 pyth wins.  Win Shares gives Chamberlain 7.6 wins with the Sixers, MWS48 gives him 9.0 wins.

In Chamberlain’s first full season with Philly the team recorded 21.6 more pyth, and Win Shares seems right on the mark, crediting Wilt with 21.4 wins that season while MWS48 gives him 24.6 wins.

What happened to the Warriors in his absence?  In his final full season with the team, Win Shares credits Chamberlain with producing 25.0 wins, while MWS48 credits him with 22.3 wins.  In their first full season without the Dipper, the Warriors recorded only 33.7 pythagorean wins, compared to 53.1 in his last full season with the team (-19.4 wins).

Finally, in Chamberlain’s last season with the Lakers, the team recorded 18.4 more pyth wins than they would record in their first season without him.   In this case Win Shares seems dead on the money, giving Wilt 18.2 wins in his last season with LA while MWS48 is not far off, giving him 20.1 wins.

The results are not decisive, but it buoys me that MWS48 is, in every instance, right in the ballpark. (I’ve tested elsewhere in history — for instance, the Blazers last season with Bill Walton and first without — and gotten similarly encouraging results.  Not decisive… encouraging.)

Conclusion

The long and short of it is that Historic Marginal Win Score finds that Bill Simmons argument that he made in his Book of Basketball, namely that Bill Russell was the more valuable player than Wilt Chamberlain, was accurate.  MWS48 thinks it was close, but that the nod goes to Russell.

But not everyone agrees.  Other metrics, namely Basketball-Reference.com’s Win Shares, believe Wilt Chamberlain was the far more valuable player.  Win Shares believes that although the Celtics won 11 world championships during Russell’s tenure, and although their roster turned over at least three times in that span, Bill Russell was not even as valuable to the Boston franchise as Tim Duncan has been to the San Antonio franchise. (You like the Straw Man I built?)

Which “win credit” system comes closer to the truth?  That’s for you, the jury, to decide.

However, if you ask me whether I am comfortable resting the validity of the MWS48 system on the argument that Boston’s Bill Russell was the greatest win producer in NBA history, my answer to you would be a resounding “yes”.

Footnote:  If you are interested in seeing Historic Marginal Win Score applied to an entire season from the Chamberlain-Russell Era, click here.

PS — if you ever wondered how you could construct a team that included two of the absolute greatest players of all time and yet never even sniff an NBA title, go to the above link and click on the Cincinnati Royals.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 25 other followers