Denver Nuggets '97-98

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Predicted: 26-56
1996-97: 21-61
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GAMBLING ON YOUTH is human instinct. It seems that with every baby born, there is hope. With every rookie drafted, there is hope. But just as most people don't grow up to be famous, most young players entering the NBA turn out very ordinary.

Denver is gambling that one of their many young players will be much more than ordinary. At last count, this team had four rookies on its roster: Tony Battie, Danny Fortson, Bobby Jackson, and Eric Washington. They also acquired a couple of future first round picks by trading away Antonio McDyess, another of the overhyped third year players.

Predicting the future of these young players is a loser's game. Betting on any one of them to be a superstar the magnitude of Grant Hill or Penny Hardaway is foolish. But there is one very good sign for the Nuggets. The best method I have seen for evaluating college players has all four of the Nugget rookies in the top 21 entering the league.

...Maybe Not the Best, But It's Objective...

The TENDEX method of Dave Heeren evaluates players based on their statistics, on their strength of opposition, and their position. It strictly does not involve any scouting. It can be done without seeing any basketball at all, which worries me. I frankly have some doubt about Heeren's claims that his method has outperformed the scouts, but after talking to him a bit this summer, I think the method has some useful characteristics... and Heeren has marketed the success of TENDEX quite well.

The TENDEX statistic is just a rating, a number that means absolutely nothing except relative to other players. If I say Danny Fortson has a TENDEX rating of 0.771 with a relative value of +321, even I don't know what I'm saying. But if I look at players and see smaller values, I do know that Fortson looks like the best of the bunch. I may not know why he is the best, but in the imperfect world of evaluating talent, it is often true that we can't pin down the reason one player looks like the best.

There are a couple of very valuable things about TENDEX and the fact that it is just a rating is one of them. It only tries to relate success to a number; it doesn't tell you what strategy to use, it doesn't tell you who to pass to when, it doesn't tell you what position on the court a player should occupy. By keeping it simple, TENDEX serves well to rank players for a popularity contest... or the draft.

A second thing that is good about Heeren's method is that it does account for the vastly different levels of competition seen in college. It looks at all four of the Nuggets new players and says that they all put up good numbers against quality competition, each of them playing in good conferences. I don't know how Heeren accounts for level of competition, so he could be doing it wrong, but there are enough ways to do it that are publicly available that I would think he's doing it right.

Finally, the method is simple -- with the exception of accounting for strength of schedule. When looking at hundreds of players, it helps to have a screening method like this that can weed out players quickly. This method quickly shows that the four rookies that the Nuggets have are among the best this year. And, while I wouldn't agree, Heeren claims that this was a strong draft.

The McDyess Trade

The common opinion seems to be that Denver got the worst of the McDyess trade, obtaining only draft picks in the three-way deal. But given the terrible performance of McDyess last year on a terrible team, it is hard to see how the move could be bad.

By my numbers, McDyess contributed 1.8 wins and 10.6 losses to the Nuggets last year, an absolutely pitiful record. And, like most young players these days, he made absolutely no improvement over his rookie numbers. Just through attrition of the truly good players in the league right now and infusion of more raw college and high school players, McDyess will improve his effectiveness. But in the short run, Denver probably helps itself by getting rid of him.

Don't be at all suprised when Denver improves upon last season's record. They got rid of a bad player and they have the power of parity working for them.