New Jersey Nets

('88 Record: 19-63)

The Nets were the only team in the league whose leading scorer was a forward and still finished with a record worse than 36-46. What do you make of that?

That is weird. First of all, why are so many of the teams who are led in scoring by forwards so successful? Second, what makes New Jersey so different?

Listed below are the ten teams who were led in scoring by a forward.

    Leading    Indiv. W/L      -Adjusted PPG-
Tm  Scorer     Floor% Record     Off.   Def.  
ATL Wilkins 	.542  50-32  	111.8  108.1
BOS Bird  	.584  57-25  	115.6  109.6
DAL Aguirre 	.548  53-29  	112.0  107.5
DEN English 	.549  54-28  	110.3  106.4
DET Dantley 	.626  54-28  	110.8  105.6
IND Person 	.479  38-44  	107.0  107.8
MIL Cummings 	.508  42-40  	108.2  107.6
NJN Williams 	.549  19-63  	101.7  110.0
PHI Barkley 	.609  36-46  	109.1  110.6
UTA Malone 	.519  47-35  	107.1  103.5    
Forwards Avg. 	.550  45-37     109.4  107.7

Only three of the teams finished below .500, but New Jersey was waaaay below .500. It's very likely that all these teams but New Jersey will finish above .500 next year. What's happening here?

If so many teams led in scoring by forwards are successful, there must be bad teams led in scoring by centers and guards. Centers, not really. Guards, yes.

    Leading    Indiv. W/L      -Adjusted PPG-
Tm  Scorer     Floor% Record     Off.   Def.  
CLV Daugherty 	.530  42-40  	106.7  106.0
HOU Olajuwon 	.530  46-36  	107.2  105.9
NYK Ewing  	.527  38-44  	105.6  106.1    
Centers Average .529  42-40     106.5  106.0

Teams led in scoring by forwards do significantly better than teams led in scoring by guards. Teams led in scoring by their center are about average. The forward-led teams are better than the league average (108.2) offensively and defensively, while the guard-led teams are almost exactly the opposite. The center-led teams are worse than average offensively and better than average defensively. These are very obvious and distinct characteristics. In '87, it was just about the same situation, with the forward-led teams doing slightly better, the guard-led teams doing slightly worse, and the center-led teams also doing a bit worse.

    Leading    Indiv. W/L      -Adjusted PPG-
Tm  Scorer     Floor% Record     Off.   Def.  
CHI Jordan 	.618  50-32  	109.2  105.6
GS Mullin  	.566  20-62  	104.7  112.8
LAC Woodson 	.513  17-65    	 97.4  107.6
LAL Scott  	.577  62-20  	113.1  107.3
PHOE Davis  	.541  28-54  	107.2  111.6
PORT Drexler 	.579  53-29  	112.0  107.6
SAC Theus  	.541  24-58  	106.6  112.3
SA Robertson 	.526  31-51  	108.3  112.9
SEAT Ellis  	.549  44-38  	110.3  108.2
WAS J. Malone 	.550  38-44 	106.2  107.0    
Guards average 	.560  37-45 	107.5  109.3

Does it make any sense to relate a team's record to its leading scorer? Yes, it does. In most every case, a team's leading scorer is also an emotional leader of the team. Winning and losing is often credited to and blamed on the emotional leader of a team. Also, what position the leading scorer plays gives some indication of how the offense is set up and there may be some relation between certain offensive sets and winning. Additionally, a leading scorer may get tired from scoring, which may affect his defense and, thus, his team's record.

Forward-led teams are most successful. Does that indicate anything about the forwards and their 'emotional leadership'? In this case and those for the other positions, there is no way to measure 'emotional leadership', though it may exist. Of the above forwards, Wilkins, Bird, Barkley, and Malone are commonly viewed as important leaders on their teams. The combined record of their teams was 190-138 (.579). Of the guards, Jordan, Drexler, and Robertson are most commonly viewed as the leaders of their teams. The combined record of their teams was 134-112 (.545). All three centers seem to be viewed as leaders of their teams. This doesn't appear to mean anything because leadership seems intrinsically part of winning and may not 'exist' with any player on a losing team.

Are teams that are built around forwards at some sort of basic offensive advantage? In other words, does a strong scoring threat at forward open up the rest of the offense? That may actually be the case because the individual floor %'s of the leading scoring forwards are not as high as might be expected, but their teams were above average offensively. In Atlanta, where Dominique Wilkins controls the ball so much, he draws so much attention from the defense that his teammates are easily freed for good shots. But, there must be some general reason for this, relating to the place on the court that a forward normally occupies. Forwards normally play on either side of the court and fairly close to the baseline. Could it be that defenses have a hard time adjusting to a scoring threat at those spots in the court? On defense, it is often taught to keep players off the baseline and directed toward the center of the defense, so there may be something to this theory. Guards and centers generally position themselves offensively close to the middle of the court and the defense may have an easier time adjusting to this.

Theoretically, if the defense is playing tighter on forwards who are playing out near the sides of the court, that opens up the middle of the court. Offensively, guards and centers would then have less to deal with in the middle of the court. When broadcasters talk about spreading out the defense, that is what this would be. Zone defenses are usually packed in the center of the court and wouldn't be expected to be susceptible to scoring threats at the forward positions. This is probably the case as jump shooting guards are usually considered the biggest threat to zones. If a man-to-man defense is playing tighter on a guard who is a scoring threat, the defender only on occasion must follow a guard to the side and baseline, which could cause a weaker middle of the defense. Usually, the guard who is a threat will play closer to the middle of the court and above the free throw line. The defender who must play him tight is still protecting the middle and the defense is stronger. When a center is the main scoring threat, the defense obviously clamps down in the middle of the defense and the whole defense is good.

All this would explain some of the above results. Teams with forwards leading the scoring are the best offensive teams because forwards who are threats spread out the middle of the court by always being near the side of the court. Teams with guards leading the scoring are next best offensively because they only occasionally spread out a defense by going to the sides of the court. Center-led teams are worst offensively because the defense can collapse the middle of the court and only leave the tougher jump shots open. The defensive discrepancy is still unexplained.

To lead a team in scoring a player must be in the game a good part of the time. If a player is scoring a lot, he will naturally get a little more tired, though offense is usually not the most tiring part of the game, and he may not be able to play as solid defense as he could. Does a forward have to do less than a guard does to score? That is debatable. Guards, a little more often than forwards, get out and run the fast break and may get tired in that way. Forwards, though, may drive as much as guards do and also have to get more offensive rebounds. Forwards and guards probably get about equally tired from playing offense. But, defensively, guards have to run a bit more and may be a bit more affected by fatigue. This may explain why forward-led teams are better defensively than guard-led teams. To be honest, this sounds somewhat phony, but may actually be the case. It seems very strange that what position the offensive leader plays has an affect on the defense. Centers often get tired from all the pushing that goes on underneath, but does that affect their defense? Maybe their height makes up for fatigue on defense because the center-led teams were best defensively. The stats above are obvious. Center-led teams are best defensively; forward-led teams are next, then guard-led teams. While there may be a good explanation for this, it may just be luck.

Regarding the Nets and Buck Williams: how does their situation become an exception? Buck Williams' offense is mostly close to the paint as he has no shot outside of about 15 feet. With him playing closer to the middle for rebounds also, the defense may not be as spread out as many of the other forward-led offenses. The forwards in the study are mostly capable of playing far away from the basket. Williams and Malone like to play a lot closer to the basket, more like centers. Their two teams' offenses are among the poorest of the forward-led offenses. In Williams' case, even if he does draw the defense off to the side, his teammates are about as bad as they come. The Nets' defense is poor for reasons beyond the scope of this study because they're so obvious. The Nets' defense is just bad. It would be bad if Dennis Hopson led the team in scoring.

This study on the effects of the position of a team's leading scorer needs a little work. I believe that the theory about forwards spreading out the defense is valid, but there is more verification to be done on that. Defensive differences between teams led in scoring by different positions may have some cause depending on how tired a player at a certain position can get, but those differences may also be just flukes in the one year I've looked at. More studies of different seasons, involving different personnel than on the current teams, should be done to check on the findings of this one.

Next year's Nets will be bad. Awful. They may finish behind the expansion Charlotte Hornets. The Nets have always liked to foul people, but they got away from that last season. They allowed 49.7% shooting from the field to make up for that, though, and weren't particularly awesome on the defensive boards. But the Nets' problems were a lot more offensive than defensive. They averaged less than a point per possession and had a floor % of only .512. If the Clippers hadn't been around to really stink things up, the Nets would easily have had the worst offense in the league. The Nets don't have any substantial offensive weapons, either. None proven, at least. Williams is OK and so is McCormick, but neither is active enough to make the whole team offense very good. Dennis Hopson is an if. Draftee Chris Morris is a big IF. Roy Hinson is a maybe. John Bagley is a maybe not.

I hate teams like the Nets that have so many unknowns. They can make predictions look so bad. My prediction is striking back by making them look real bad: 22-60. Or worse.

Basketball Hoopla, 1988, L. Dean Oliver