The foibles of Keith Bogans have become something of a running joke between myself and Aggrey Sam, the fine basketball writer for Comcast Chicago and Slam Magazine. I often sit next to Sam in the courtside press area of the United Center during games. It usually goes something like this:
Bogans hits an early three-pointer. Sam, a defender of Bogans' place in the Bulls' lineup if not Bogans himself, gives me a knowing look. I respond by saying something like, "Yep, there's his nightly basket." Sometimes Bogans will even make a second basket, in which case one of us will say something like, "You can't guard Keith Bogans. Don't even try."
After that, Bogans will generally recede into the background, not to be heard from again until the first quarter of the next game. I'm not sure about the actual numbers, but it seems like an awfully high percentage of Bogans' points come in the opening period. The Bulls have generally not started fast this season. Despite their fine overall record (34-15, .694), Chicago is 27-21-1 in first periods (.561). It's become the fashion to assign the blame for the slow starts to Bogans.
The basis of Sam's defense of Bogans is logical. He says that he doesn't care about the player, only the unit. Regardless of whether or not Bogans is putting up numbers, if the starting group is functioning well as a unit, that's all that matters. He's right of course. We know by now that there are a variety of roles to be played at all times on the floor and some of those roles aren't captured particularly well by statistics. Would the Bulls' starting lineup function better if Bogans were replaced by, for example, a high-usage player like O.J. Mayo? What effect would that have on the efficiency of Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, et al? Most teams need facilitators to balance the lineup, make sure shots are going to those who should get them, set screens and play defense.
I agree with the argument that the success of the unit is more important than the success of the player. However, at the time we started this discussion, I couldn't help but notice that the Bulls kept getting outscored while Bogans was in the game. Bogans posted a negative plus-minus figure in every game he played from Nov. 13 to Dec. 4, a span of 11 contests. The Bulls won six of those 11 games--it was actually their worst stretch of the season to date--but it's not like they were mired in a massive losing streak. They weren't playing their best basketball, but they were worse with Bogans on the floor and that was true night after night.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been a stalwart defender of Bogans' place in the lineup, to the point that he often sounds annoyed when asked if "he's planning any changes to the starting lineup." The rate of those queries has ebbed as the Bulls' place in the Eastern Conference standings has climbed, but the prevailing opinion remains this: As good as Chicago has played, they could be even better with a deftly-orchestrated upgrade at the two-guard. In fact, you could argue that no contender could be improved more with a single upgrade of a non-core player.
Since I noticed Bogans' negative streak, I've found myself keeping a close watch of his nightly plus-minus numbers. Needless to say, he's gotten a lot better. Over the Bulls' last 31 games, all of which Bogans has started, Bogans has been positive 19 times, or 61.3 percent of the time. That seems pretty good, until you consider that the Bulls have won 24 of those games (77.4 percent). So, yes, the unit is more important than the player. But in Bogans' case, the Bulls have generally played better without him on the floor.
All of this got me to wondering what we might learn from counting up all the games in which a player's team is outscored (or not) while he is on the floor. At 82games.com, they've long tracked the records of different lineup groupings, but as far as I can tell, no one has built won-loss records for individuals based on this simple question: Was the team outscored while Player X was in the game?
Since raw plus-minus numbers are a part of the official box scores posted at NBA.com, they are also part of the NBAPET database, so calculating these records was actually very simple. I've termed each player's simple individual won-loss record by this method as his BOGANS record, lest we ever forget who inspired this exercise.
What does BOGANS tell us? To be up front, I can't say that I have an answer for that, but that's not to say that the numbers aren't interesting. I think BOGANS offers a different perspective than plus-minus, but it is also subject to the same limitations. First and foremost, using unadjusted plus-minus means you aren't making any attempt at separating player performance from lineup performance. In this case, that's fine because we're not trying to create yet another new measure of player value. Instead, I think BOGANS tends to raise questions, the answers of which are important when looking at the way teams deploy its players. BOGANS may also be a useful data point when considering player consistency.
To see what some of these numbers look like, let's use the Bulls as an example:
PLAYER TEAM W L T PCT TM% RATIO
Kyle Korver CHI 34 13 2 .714 .694 1.029
Derrick Rose CHI 33 14 1 .698 .694 1.006
Luol Deng CHI 30 18 1 .622 .694 .897
Ronnie Brewer CHI 28 21 0 .571 .694 .824
Omer Asik CHI 27 19 3 .582 .694 .838
C.J. Watson CHI 25 21 3 .541 .694 .779
Keith Bogans CHI 25 24 0 .510 .694 .735
Carlos Boozer CHI 22 8 1 .726 .694 1.046
Taj Gibson CHI 21 20 6 .511 .694 .736
Kurt Thomas CHI 17 12 1 .583 .694 .841
Joakim Noah CHI 15 9 0 .625 .694 .901
James Johnson CHI 7 4 1 .625 .694 .901
Brian Scalabrine CHI 5 9 0 .357 .694 .515
Didn't see that one coming, did you? Kyle Korver has more individual "wins" than any other Bull, though Derrick Rose missed a game or else he might have matched Korver. The tables list each player's individual winning percentage, in which ties (or games in which a player's plus-minus is zero) count as a half-win. The team's overall winning percentage is listed next. The final column lists the ratio between individual and team winning percentage. This number is really only useful when comparing players on the same team. For instance, on the league's worst teams, like Cleveland, every player's individual figure is better than that of the team. The opposite is true for the players on the the 42-8 Spurs, so team-to-team comparisons of BOGANS ratio don't tell us much.
Bogans has started all 49 games for the Bulls and Chicago has outscored its opponents in barely half of those games. Bogans' BOGANS ratio is the worst on the Bulls, except that of little-used Brian Scalabrine. When looking at each player line, you have to consider how the player is used. In Bogans' case, he's used mostly at the start of each half, playing alongside a powerful group of starters. That the Bulls would consistently struggle to this degree with Bogans on the floor is a clear signal that the position needs to be upgraded.
Let's scan a few other BOGANS highlights around the league:
- As well as the Celtics have played overall, they've been even better with Rajon Rondo on the floor. That's certainly no surprise, but perhaps the degree to which this is true is noteworthy. Rondo's BOGANS is 32-7, an .821 winning percentage that is better than the team's .760 season mark and is the best individual figure in the league. Kevin Garnett is the only other Celtic better than the team average. Surprisingly, Boston is just 20-29-1 in Nate Robinson's stints on the floor. Every other rotation player is over .500.
- The Cavaliers have just two players over the .400 mark. Samardo Samuels is 6-9-4 (.421) and Ryan Hollins is 15-22-4 (.415). Cleveland has been outscored with Christian Eyenga on the floor in 14 of 15 games. J.J. Hickson is 7-40-2, the worst mark in the league among rotation players. His 40 individual losses are the most in the league, two more than Ramon Sessions.
- Remember when we were wondering how the Mavericks would split time at the center position? Dallas is 31-16 (.660) with Tyson Chandler on the floor. Brendan Haywood's BOGANS is 17-26-5 (.406).
- I've never been a particularly big fan of Detroit's Chris Wilcox, but he's gone 16-9-3 (.625) this season. At the other end of the spectrum, Greg Monroe is 17-31-1 (.357) and Austin Daye is 14-28 (.333).
- Should there be a lineup shakeup in Golden State? Andris Biedrins is 16-24 (.400); rookie Epke Udoh is 16-9 (.680).
- The Rockets have just a .462 winning percentage this season, but they've outscored their opponents overall and have four starters over .500 in BOGANS, led by Kyle Lowry's 28-17-3 (.615) mark. Aaron Brooks may be unhappy with his diminished role, but his BOGANS mark is perhaps the league's most shocking. The Rockets have been outscored with Brooks on the floor 20 out of 28 times this season. It's not hard to understand why Rick Adelman is more comfortable with Lowry on the floor.
- In Indiana, Jeff Foster is 15-9-3 (.611), while Brandon Rush is 11-25-1 (.311).
- LeBron James leads the NBA with 38 individual wins, though he trails Rondo in winning percentage. Pau Gasol is second with 37 wins. The Heat are 16-20-3 in Juwan Howard's stints.
- The Knicks don't have any individual standouts, as most of their rotation players are above .500 but not markedly so. However, Danilo Gallinari limps in with a BOGANS of 19-22-2 (.465).
- For all my bashing of Vince Carter, his 28-12-1 (.695) mark is one of the league's better tallies.
- Why are the Kings struggling? Sacramento's two worst BOGANS records among rotation players are DeMarcus Cousins (13-29-5, .330) and Tyreke Evans (12-28-2, .310). Those are your franchise cornerstones.
- Every player on the Spurs with significant minutes has a BOGANS percentage of .570 or better except for Chris Quinn (10-16-4, .400) and Tiago Splitter (14-22-3, .397). Manu Ginobili leads the way (35-11-4, .740).
- Among starters in the non-Cleveland category, the laggards are John Wall (9-28-1, .250) and DeMar DeRozan (14-36-1, .284).
- Other than Paul Millsap, the Jazz's leaders are all bench players. Deron Williams is 24-24.
Note: I added a tab to the fantasy projections worksheet with the complete BOGANS numbers for all players currently on a team's roster. The sheet can be downloaded from your 'Manage Profiles' page.
You can follow Bradford on Twitter at twitter.com/@bbdoolittle.
The 2010-11 Pro Basketball Prospectus is now available in paperback form on Amazon.com. For sample chapters and more information, see our book page.
Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.