The decline of David Lee using Marginal Win Score

There aren’t that many players that would be evaluated a certain way using Win Score and Wins Produced, and evaluated an entirely different way using Marginal Win Score.  That’s because basketball is somewhat similar to baseball when it comes to the impact of personal defense.  In most cases defense has a much smaller impact than offense.

But I think one of the divergent cases where defense has had an appreciable negative effect might be the case of Golden State Warriors PF/C David Lee.  Lee has been a Win Score favorite for some time because of his heretofore impressively efficient productivity.   But not this season.   There was a very interesting guest post written on the WoW Journal the other day examining Lee’s disappointing season with the Golden State Warriors.  The author seemed surprised.  I have not been surprised to the same extent.  I got off the “Lee Bandwagon” a few seasons ago.

David Lee Win Resume

  WS oppWS MWS W% W__L W>0.5%
2010-11 12.39 14.04 -0.82 0.363 2.3__4.1 -0.9
2009-10 17.49 15.67 0.92 0.658 8.2__4.6 1.8
2008-09 17.44 14.77 1.33 0.728 8.5__3.2 2.6
2007-08 15.85 11.92 1.96 0.836 8.2__1.6 3.3
2006-07 18.84 8.39 5.22 1.388 10.0__(-2.8) 6.4
2005-06 12.96 9.97 1.49 0.755 3.1__1.6 0.7
  15.83 12.46 1.68 0.788 40.3__12.3 13.9

Three Seasons of Decline

In the eyes of Marginal Win Score, David Lee has had only one really magnificent season, and that season was 2006-07.  Since then Lee has been in steady decline, and now he is nothing more than an okay player.  The primary reason for this analysis is that his “Opponent Win Score” has gone in the toilet.   The average C/PF would be expected to produce somewhere in the 11.81 WS range.  As you can see, playing against David Lee over the last three seasons has been the magic formula for converting an average PF/C into a very productive PF/C.

Think of it this way.  You go to YMCA at noon to play a casual pick-up game.  You look at the guy who matches up with you.  Sometimes you see the out-of-shape professional who you know will let you shoot and rebound and pass without interference.  Other times you see the gung ho college kid who’s two years removed from his heyday and who wants to do everything he can to stay on the court, including getting right up on your dribble, going after every shot you take, and boxing you off the boards.  That’s really my broad definition of “defense” in basketball:  effective interference with your opponents attempt to perform any act that will tend help his team win the basketball game. 

A guy who effectively interferes with his opponent — not just by challenging shots, but by challenging any attempt to perform a beneficial act — helps his team win by posting a low “oppWS”.  David Lee is not that guy.  He is more like the easy going noontime professional I described before.   He’ll let you operate with little interference.  I think, no matter what happens on the offensive end, the effect on the outcome of the game between the actions of the gung ho college kid compared to the lack of action of the office worker is a real effect that needs to be accounted for in the bottom line when you are distributing credit for wins and losses.  Thats what I try to do. 

And what the chart above shows is that in the last three seasons, it has been very easy for opponent centers to produce statistics against David Lee.  In the last three seasons, his match-up opponents have been averaging a Win Score in the 14.00-15.00 per 48 range.  In other words, he’s converting average big men into one night all-stars.    He’s just not doing enough to make his opponents less productive.  In his last two New York seasons, Lee was a very easy player to rebound against and score against.  That trend has continued in Golden State.

And now that Lee is surrounded by competent rebounders on his Golden State team, unlike the situation he had in New York, Lee is no longer getting as many of the “free defensive rebounds” as he was geting in New York (I call this the “Jerry Lucas Effect”.  Normally, centers and power forwards will split most of the uncontested rebounds among each other — whomever the ball falls to will grab it.  But sometimes you play next to particularly assertive rebounders, and suddenly those “bonus” rebounds go away.  Lucas was particularly famous for grabbing every cheap defensive rebound available.  This distorts production numbers, because generally speaking, “cheap rebounds” even out among opponents.  But not with Lucas.  His center colleagues — Wayne Embry in Cincinnati and Nate Thurmond in San Francisco — saw their rebound production decline by about 15% when playing beside Lucas.  That’s because they weren’t getting their “fair share” of the 30% of defensive rebounds that go uncontested.  That was in turn distorting their marginal numbers.  But once the pair got away from Lucas, their numbers would go up.  I’ve seen this effect in other instances as well.  Its small, but its there, and it only really effects power forwards and centers.)  

Lee’s defensive rebounding decline combined with his lower effective scoring average has led to a 45% decline in his personal Win Score production.  Meanwhile, his opponent Win Score production has remained way too high.  That is a bad combination.

I would expect, though, that David Lee will adjust his game and will at least return to being a slightly above average win producer.  But I am not stunned that he has not turned the fortunes of Golden State around by himself.  By my estimations, he has not been an elite win producer for many seasons now.  It doesn’t matter how gaudy your personal statistics are if you give most of them back on the defensive end.  That’s the bottom line with me.


4 Responses to “The decline of David Lee using Marginal Win Score”

  1. jbrett Says:


    This is well-presented, logical, and offers a sound explanation for why the Warriors haven’t seen the surge in wins that many anticipated. Have you run into other players who see this kind of extreme variance when the other end of the floor is factored in?

    Also, I’m really enjoying your historical series. If you’re still planning to do Oscar, is there any chance we could see Jerry West as well?

  2. robbieomalley Says:

    Lee also had a really bad elbow infection that has clearly been bothering him. I’m buying what you’re selling here but injury has definitely affected him this season. as well as those other factors.

  3. Bill Gish Says:

    Thanks for the discussion of “bonus rebounds”. Elsewhere on the WOW network I have tried to raise this issue and been totally ignored.

    I think that’s because of a widespread scorn by WOW advocates of anything that must be “eyeballed”.

    The way I put it was that anyone could see that players often “defer” to the top rebounder(s) on their team, especially guards, who use the time not spent chasing down a loose “bonus” rebound to hurry upcourt for the rebounder’s outlet pass. If I was a coach I’d take aside any guard who didn’t do this.

    And how about rebounds of missed free throws?

    Talk about “bonus” rebounds! In my same reply, I claimed that at age 65 and six feet tall I could snag a few of those if you let me line up in the sqare closest to the basket. I have big enough butt to boxout the guy next over at least some of the time.

    Please consider devoting an entire post to these “bonus” rebounds, and their impact on various productivity measures.

  4. EvanZ Says:

    Sadly, David Lee was and is fool’s gold.

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