Philadelphia 76ers

('88 Record: 36-46)

The following comment is an edited version of my original 76ers comment, which introduced and explained the individual floor % method. That method is now completely explained in its own section earlier in the book. There wasn't time to completely revise this article and I apologize for that, but it has some new information.

One of my goals when I started researching basketball was to answer questions like, "What would happen if Larry Bird and Magic Johnson switched teams? Would the Celtics have won four titles in the '80's and the Lakers only three? Would either player have become as great as he is? Would the Celtics run and the Lakers be a half-court offensive team? How much do each of these players affect the character and success of their ball clubs?"

For the first two years or so of research I tried continuously to develop a 'points created' formula, which I considered to be the first step in answering some of my questions. I really never got anywhere. The formulas that seemed to work were too complex. The simple formulas didn't work. I tried to derive a formula from Bill James' Runs Created formula for baseball. I tried to derive a formula from the Tendex Rating System. When I convinced myself to approach my research from a different angle, I put my questions about players' affects on their teams on hold.

It wasn't too long after that decision that Sports Illustrated forcibly brought back my interest in a points created formula and what I had hoped to do with it. The June 29, 1987 edition of SI had an article called, "The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of," by David Halberstam, that, among other things, asked what would happen if Magic Johnson were a Celtic and Larry Bird were a Laker. The pictures accompanying the article were stunning as they showed Magic in a Celtic uniform and Bird in a Laker uniform. The captions on the photos said that Bird would be as great with the Lakers, but Magic would lose 'his edge' because of the lack of Celtic speed. I don't know if I agree with that, but it is certainly not blatantly wrong.

After reading the article, I had dreams of a Magic-led Celtic team playing a Bird-led Laker team for the Championship. I can't remember too much about the dreams, but I do remember having a harder time getting used to Magic as a Celtic than to Bird as a Laker. I remember thinking that Magic was Sam Vincent after eating a can of spinach (seriously). I think I remember the Celtics winning. After all these dreams and rereading the article a couple times, I found myself thinking of players as winners or losers. Magic was the biggest winner in all basketball. Bird was next. Michael Jordan was up there. Dr. J was one of the classic winners. Bill Russell and Bill Walton, though I'd never seen them play in their primes, must have been winners because their stats weren't as good as their reputations. Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson never had as much team success as individual success, so they weren't top winners.

Charles Barkley was...well, I was tempted to call him a loser - then I came to my senses. All this classifying I was doing in my head meant nothing, but it represented my feeling about how players affect the teams they play for. No matter who Magic, Bird, or Dr. J played for, their teams would always be good. Charles Barkley impressed me as one who would always hurt his team no matter where he played and no matter how good his stats. When I realized that I was classifying a great player as a loser, I also realized that such classification was stupid and best left for drunken rowdy fans, not for rational and unbiased basketball analysts like me or Tommy Heinsohn.

What I'd like to do then is to present the new and improved points created formula and see how Charles Barkley compares to some of the consensus great players in the league: Bird, Olajuwon, McHale, Dominique, and a few others. (See Individual Floor % chapter for explanation of method.)

There is some room for error in this method and a little subjectivity makes its way into it as well. After testing the formulas a few times, though, I find that the results are pretty good in that they match many of my expectations. The problem I have with the formulas is that they are not simple and running through calculations is like mowing the White House lawn - boring and time consuming, but tedious because mistakes can't be tolerated. If I didn't think the method was valid, there is no way I would have gone through all the calculations I did.

           Scor. Total Approx.   Pts  
Player     Poss. Poss. Flr%  Created(perG)
C. Barkley  1052 1729  .609  2100 (26.2)
L. Bird     1061 1817  .584  2120 (27.9)
A. Olajuwon  824 1554  .530  1650 (20.9)
Magic        932 1539  .606  1860 (25.8)
M. Jordan   1393 2253  .618  2780 (33.9)
K. McHale    653 1054  .620  1300 (20.3)
D. Wilkins  1074 1980  .542  2150 (27.6)
B. Williams  587 1068  .549  1170 (16.7)
K. Malone    996 1918  .519  1990 (24.3)
J. Worthy    713 1246  .572  1420 (18.9)
A. English   969 1767  .549  1940 (24.2)
A. Dantley   665 1062  .626  1330 (19.3)
X. McDaniel  783 1500  .522  1560 (20.0)
T. Chambers  771 1477  .522  1540 (18.8)
M. Cage      488  960  .508   970 (13.5)
C. Oakley    516 1040  .496  1030 (12.6)
R. Tarpley   486  953  .510   970 (12.0)
O. Thorpe    819 1473  .556  1640 (20.0)
K. Willis    368  744  .494   730  (9.7)
T. Cummings  722 1420  .508  1440 (18.9)

Notice where Barkley fits into all this. He is one of the best scorers in basketball - no matter how you look at it. Barkley ranks with the best in scoring possessions, floor %, and, somewhat redundantly, points created.

In the context of the Philadelphia offense, Barkley really stood out as Maurice Cheeks was the only other regular who posted decent offensive numbers. Taking Barkley's possessions and splitting them among the rest of the Sixers, then assuming that they would perform at the same efficiency, we can approximate how many wins Barkley's offense brought to the team. Roughly, Barkley brought 230 to 290 extra points to Philadelphia, which is equivalent to between eight and eleven games. Without Barkley's offensive contributions, Philadelphia could have gone 28-54, or even 25-57 - records that would make Philly look as bad as Phoenix or Sacramento.

This estimate, I must warn, is very rough. The technique used assumed points were created only with field goals, free throws, and assists. Offensive rebounds are also an important part of scoring efficiency, but because of their indirect effect of the offense, it is difficult to say 'how many points' an offensive rebound 'is worth'. Barkley is an outstanding offensive rebounder and any credit we could give for offensive rebounds would obviously make Barkley look even more valuable. On the other hand, we also can't say whether Barkley's open criticism of his teammates hurt his value. There are many such unknown variables in trying to assess a player's value, which is why we can never be too sure how much a player means to his team.

If such objective methods are suspect in their accuracy, the next best thing to use is the subjective method - "What do you think about Barkley?" The writers and broadcasters who choose the All-NBA teams chose Barkley for the first team along with Bird, Olajuwon, Magic, and Jordan. They obviously thought Barkley was first class. My opinion of Barkley. . .no. First, my opinion of the writers and broadcasters: They don't know as much as they think they know. They should stop harassing fans about how they vote for All-Stars. They haven't even picked a winner for the Coach of the Year since '72 (even Red Auerbach said so). Their choice this year for Coach of the Year was sooo. . .I'd better shut up. Back to Barkley: He is great, no doubt about it. He may or may not be better than McHale or Dominique. He is a future Hall of Famer. He may not win too many, if any, championships, but it won't be his fault. The Sixers can build a championship team around Barkley and they should hold on to him. If Barkley lets his game do all his talking and if Philadelphia doesn't continue to make bad trades, the Round Mound of Rebound is young enough and good enough to see his team develop and to lead them to greatness.

It's rebuilding time in Philadelphia. Rebuilding around Charles Barkley is a good way to rebuild, but the personnel that is being used in the process isn't so great. Maurice Cheeks is still fairly good, but his days are numbered. Mike Gminski is a pretty good center most of the time, but nowadays, pretty good centers aren't very good players overall. Cliff Robinson helps the team when Barkley is out of the game, but doesn't do much when Barkley is in.

Interestingly, despite the apparent mediocrity of the offense, it is the defense that is the big problem in Philadelphia. Some of that defensive problem was due to former center Tim McCormick, who couldn't play defense on Mugsy Bogues. McCormick is gone and was gone for most of last season, so the problems are still there. The Sixers blocked an above average number of shots last season and both Barkley and Gminski should keep that figure fairly high next season, but the team's defensive problems aren't best measured with blocks. The team's opponents shot 49.6% from the field and commmitted only 1280 turnovers, both contributing to the poor defensive rating.

What appears to be happening in Philadelphia is just lazy defense. When a team can be above the league average in blocks, but still allows a high field goal percentage and can't get steals very well, its players are usually laying off too much on defense. Maurice Cheeks has never been accused of relaxing on defense, but his advancing age (32) and a large amount of playing time (36 minutes per game) can't help his defense in the late stages of games, especially near the end of the season. Robinson isn't exactly a mobile defender with all the extra weight he carries and may be part of the problem.

A lot of times, the blame for poor defense can be put on the coach. This case may be no different, though I am very unfamiliar with Philadelphia's defensive system. A radical change in defensive philosophies may be in order here, but the personnel may not be ready for it.

Overall, there can't be much optimism in Philadelphia going into next season. The best thing that can happen to the team is that Barkley turns out to be MVP and that Hersey Hawkins turns out to be Rookie of the Year. I haven't heard any sounds out of Philadelphia concerning trying to fix their defensive problems. They might not realize that they have the problem because their slow pace kept their defensive scoring average below the league average and they finished 12th in points allowed. If something is not done about improving the defense, the Sixers will definitely be below .500 again next year. The rest of the Atlantic Division is pretty weak right now and the Sixers should be able to take some advantage of that as well as of the expansion teams they will have to play ten or more games against next year. The Sixers should finish third, behind New York and Boston next year, but won't make it to the playoffs.

Basketball Hoopla, 1988, L. Dean Oliver