('88 Record: 17-65)
There is a problem with the Pythagorean Theory. Most of the time, the problem isn't evident, but with teams as bad as the Clippers, the problem is more apparent.
Over the last two years, the Clippers have scored 16,669 points and given up 18,452, which projects to a 25-139 (.151) record. The Clippers have actually had a record of 29-135 (.215). The four game difference isn't a problem. The problem is a little more subtle.
In an ordinary season, the average score of a game will have the winners winning by about fourteen points. In '86-87, the average score of a game was 115.3 to 101.0. When those numbers are plugged into the Pythagorean 17 formula, a projected winning percentage of .905 results. In other words, in the 943 games played in a season, the winners of all the games went 943-0, but the 'ratio of points scored to points allowed' indicates they should have gone only 854-89.
What does this mean? Looking at it from the Clippers side of things, losers score enough to win .095 of the time, or about 8 games out of the 82 game season. When the Clippers won twelve in '87, their Pythagorean projection was twelve. But if .000 teams can score enough to look like they could win eight, does that mean the Clippers 'truly' won only four games?
That is the problem. As long as losers score enough points to be in the same class as their opponents, they gain a 'partial win' in the Pythagorean formula each time they lose.
When I presented the Pythagorean 17 method to Martin Manley, another basketball analyst, I didn't mention this problem. I told him that the exponent 17 may be slightly inaccurate, probably being closer to 16.5 than 17. He ran a test to try to find the most accurate exponent and came out with some interesting results.
What Manley did was split up 161 teams from '80-81 to '86-87 into ranges of wins, i.e. from 0-19 wins there were five teams, from 40-44 wins there were 31 teams, and the like. He tested the Pythagorean formula on each range looking for a best exponent. What he came up with is in the accompanying chart.
Notice the 'curve' that occurs in the best exponent column. The best exponent for .500 teams is small at 3.7. As the teams' records get farther from .500, the exponent gets larger and larger. This fits with the above results involving .000 teams. If we increase the exponent on the Pythagorean formula, we can get a projected winning percentage of close to .000. Manley suggested using a variable exponent based on the ratio of points scored to points allowed so that teams with almost equal numbers of points allowed and points scored would have an exponent around four and teams with large differences would have an exponent up near twenty. I don't see much practical use for such a complicated formula because he said it wouldn't improve the accuracy very much. It would accomplish something concerning the question of where the eight games .000 teams seem to deserve come from. But the accomplishment would be just eliminating the question.
Number Total Best of wins Teams Exponent 60+ 12 17.6 55-59 11 15.1 50-54 16 18.5 45-49 22 12.6 40-44 31 3.7 35-39 23 10.7 30-34 17 16.1 25-29 16 16.0 20-24 8 17.1 0-19 5 18.8
Now we are stuck with the Pythagorean 17 method and its leftover eight games. I'd like to think of those eight games as close games that could have gone either way, decided by a jump shot at the buzzer or something. Eight games are naturally 'free' in the NBA as long as a team isn't so badly outclassed that it can't even stay close with any team. If a team ever goes 8-72, it is essentially equivalent to winning zero games. Lady Luck won eight and the team just lounged around watching. The Philadelphia 76ers of '73 went 9-73, the worst record in league history. Their Pythagorean projection was for an 11-71 season. If luck won them eight games, it seems as though they scored enough to win three extra games, but got 'unlucky' in two of them. That is the type of paradox that bothers me.
When teams are bad enough to be concerned with this problem with the Pythagorean Theory, there is usually no reason to be concerned with it. Usually, there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the team is the worst in the league and that it needs a lot of help to even come close to competing for the playoffs. Next year, though, two expansion teams will be entering the league with three pitiful teams already stinking it up in the Clippers, Warriors, and Nets. With five seemingly outclassed teams, at least one is bound to be fairly decent, but the other four may be in a class by themselves, beating only each other and an occasional better team when their luck is right and the better team's luck is wrong. Strong parity seems to be approaching the NBA, but with so many teams that can't very well compete, there might be a big split in the league between the top twenty teams and the bottom five. Where is the talent going to come from to raise all these teams to respectability? Where are the centers going to come from with so many people already complaining about the lack of talent at that position? The bad teams are going to get first crack at the best talent coming out of college, but the talent in the NBA seems destined to become much more diluted than it is now. Maybe the fans won't notice it. With all the expansion the league has planned, that's what it must be hoping.
A lot of current and former Clippers showed up this summer at UCLA to play with some of the Bruins' players. Mike Woodson, Greg Kite, Larry Drew, Kenny Fields, and even Norm Nixon showed up a couple times. As I watched some of them play, I took notes on how they were doing. Some of those follow.
Mike Woodson: "Mr. Tights likes to run around like a maniac in his tights on the court. His jumper occasionally strays, but he's so active in the offense that he seems productive. I never realized that Woody could drive to the basket so well, but he did it several times today, scoring and drawing the foul (if they were counting them). All in all, he is not as impressive as I would think he should be. The Rockets didn't really get much in him."
"Woody's jumper wasn't falling today, but he stayed on the court a long time." (He was on the winning team a long time.)
Greg Kite: "He did all right today. Still misses too many layups, though. His height is an advantage with these guys as he is able to block shots more than he can during the season. He is slower than everyone else."
"Greg doesn't make good decisions and is slower than the others, which will probably cost him his job next season."
"Kite looked stupid a couple times today, making bad decisions on outlet passes and having the ball stripped. He works hard after the games on his post moves and free throws. Invited another tall guy to guard him and couldn't be stopped. He likes to put the ball on the floor before making his move to the basket. I wonder if he can do that in games without losing it. Probably not. He probably should learn to feel the defender and look up more."
"Kite had a decent day today, playing on a winning team with Pooh for several games. His offensive rebounds were very valuable and actually helped Pooh out a couple times on drives when he got double-teamed. Kite was available for the dish and layup. Blocked two shots, one with a vengeance. Spent fifteen minutes just shooting free throws afterward. The way he shot indicates that he should shoot for fifteen hours straight. What's his career FT%? 50%?"
"Now at the end of the summer, Kite has looked very impressive the last two days. He has been scoring very well from inside and from short seventeen. The jumper that he worked on from there earlier this summer finally seems to be going in with consistency. He might actually stick with the Clippers this year even with Manning and Smith."
Larry Drew: "Larry Drew showed up for the first time this summer. He's a quiet ball-player. Doesn't seem very active in the offense either though he brought up the ball a good part of the time. He is a good shooter from bomb range, hitting two or three that were close to NBA three pointers. Nothing special about him. It seems strange that he was such a good scorer only a few years ago with the Kings."
Kenny Fields: "Is Fields a forward? He sure acted like one today...and a good one. Then again, he did have Magic passing to him. Magic has made lots of people look good. Still, Fields looks like he could find a spot somewhere. His problem may be that he looks more like he would fit better in an unstructured or run-and-gun offense, not the structured slow-down offenses that are becoming more popular in the NBA."
"Fields had another good day. He's only 6'5" and he plays like a forward with these guys. He probably can't play like a guard, which is why he can't play in the NBA."
Norm Nixon: "Norm Nixon joined the group today along with High School All-American Derrick Martin. Neither was very impressive. Norm's right leg was a lot smaller than his left, presumably because of lack of activity. He didn't run the offense very well at all and was best at creating his own shot and didn't do that as well as Rod [Foster, who has been invited to the Clippers' training camp]. I can't see him playing in the pros again."
In general, the Clippers at UCLA weren't as impressive as some of the other pros who played there. Of course, though, it's not the Clipper veterans that are being counted on for next year.
Has there ever been a more disappointing group of first round picks than the one the Clippers had last year? Reggie Williams especially choked in his first season in the league. He shot only 35.6% last year, which wouldn't have been quite so bad if he hadn't taken over 400 shots. His shot selection was often atrocious, taking shots when he was caught up in the air with no one to pass to and driving the baseline to try reverse layups that got blocked without much problem. Presumably, these were just serious rookie mistakes because they were mental errors for the most part. He probably won't ever shoot very well in the pros. His size, style of play, and college stats indicate that he'll probably only shoot about 45 to 47 percent in the pros, which won't make him a star unless he can learn to draw a crowd and create his shots as well as Dominique Wilkins.
Many people didn't understand the draft of Joe Wolf. He was one of the least impressive North Carolina players ever, people were saying. I'd never heard much about him and never noticed him when watching UNC on television, so I had to agree blindly. Looking at Wolf's college stats, he does not look like a typical first round choice. His field goal percentage was high (55.1%), but not very impressive for a center. He didn't score very much in college until his senior year, which is often indicative of a journeyman NBA player. Wolf will probably stick around the league for some time, but shouldn't ever crack a starting lineup.
Ken Norman, the Clippers' last pick in the first round, actually looks like the best player. He shot over 60% in college at Illinois and scored pretty well in his junior and senior years. His height, 6'8", means he could be a good rebounder though he plays more like a small forward than a power forward. His first season in the pros was better than Williams' and Wolf's, but was nothing special, especially with his 51.2% foul shooting. He should be an all right ballplayer, though.
The draft of 1988 was, at first glance, the best ever. They got three top college players all known nationally for their ability. Danny Manning and Gary Grant have both been known nationally since their freshman year as very good players. Smith might have been, too, but I didn't hear much of him until he was a junior. The acquisition of Grant was the biggest surprise of the draft because he was viewed as the best guard in the draft by so many before his senior season. The numbers he put up in his senior season were also very impressive and shouldn't have brought him down so low in the draft. Why Seattle parted with him for Michael Cage is another mystery. The best anyone can do right now is to guess how it will turn out for the Clippers. My guess is that Grant will be the best of the three in his rookie year because he is such an outstanding defensive player, which tends to stabilize a player's mind if he's in an offensive slump. Grant may even win Rookie of the Year. Manning should be successful in his first year, also. If he tries to do too much, though, he'll hurt himself and the team. As long as he learns that his role is to be a forward and doesn't force his ball-handling, he'll be OK. Smith never had a good game when I watched him in college, so I can't be optimistic. I haven't seen his stats either, but if he didn't shoot better than about 58% at Pitt, he probably won't be a great pro.
Basketball Hoopla, © 1988, L. Dean Oliver