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February 2, 2012
Projection vs. Production
Wall, Bosh & Chandler

by Bradford Doolittle

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We love to be surprised. At Basketball Prospectus, we go to the trouble each season of generating projections for both players and teams in the NBA. Projections can be used in countless ways, but perhaps the most important consequence of doing them is to set a baseline of expectation. In other words, we want to know what to anticipate because when we're wrong, that's when the issues we love to analyze bubble to the surface.

We call our projection system SCHOENE and it was developed by my colleague Kevin Pelton a few years ago for the first edition of our Pro Basketball Prospectus series. While it projects a full suite of our favorite metrics, the bottom-line number to watch for is WARP (Wins Above Replacement), which measures how many more wins a player adds to his team's total than a freely available guy plucked off the scrap heap. Replacement level, a concept borrowed from our baseball analyst brethren, is an essential part of evaluating player value. All the WARP numbers you see in this article have been prorated to 82 games.

While no single number can capture everything that happens in an interdynamic team sport like hoops, WARP points you in the right direction. When you see a WARP number that surprises you -- and remember, we know when to be surprised because we've predicted all these WARP scores -- the next step is to ask why. That's what we're doing today -- looking for surprises and then asking, "Why?"

BETTER THAN WE THOUGHT

Tyson Chandler

Projected WARP: 4.3; Current WARP: 11.2

Statistics have tended to do an injustice to Tyson Chandler, as they do to any player whose value is strongly tied into his individual defense and ability to set screens. There are measurables that he has always excelled at, namely offensive rebounding and field-goal percentage, but this year Chandler's overall contributions have far outstripped what anyone could have reasonably expected.

This is Chandler's fourth straight year with a new team, the 11th campaign of his career, and he's never been better. Whereas Amar'e Stoudemire's production has faltered in the Knicks' stagnant offense, Chandler's has blossomed. The amazing thing is that he's taken on a lesser offensive role than he did last season in Dallas. Chandler has always been a low-usage player. By definition, the average NBA player uses up 20 percent (or one-fifth) of his team's possessions while he's on the floor. Chandler's usage rate has hovered between 13.7 and 14.5 percent in recent years; this year he's at 11.3 percent, the second-lowest mark of his career.

To say the least, Chandler has made the most of his opportunities. Last season, he led the NBA with a robust True Shooting Percentage of .697. That was the most efficient season posted by a qualifying player since Artis Gilmore set the league record with a .702 percentage in 1981-82. This season, Chandler is blowing that mark out of the water with an otherworldly TS% of .767. Part of the story is foul shooting. Chandler was projected to get to the line on 19 percent of his possessions this season, but his actual foul-drawing rate is 29 percent and his 78 percent success rate at the foul line is easily a career best.

From the field, Chandler has taken 83 of his 98 shots at the rim this season and he's finished 77 percent of those looks, 14 percent better than the league average and 4.3 percent better than he did last year. According to 82games.com, a full quarter of Chandler's attempts have been dunks. In other words, all those good looks that seem to be missing from Stoudemire's game have been found in Chandler's. It's no wonder that Mike D'Antoni has been using Chandler as his primary ball screener instead of Stoudemire.

A player's two-point percentage is something that tends to regress to established career patterns, so it seems unlikely that Chandler will continue to shoot 70 percent from the field. Unlikely, but not impossible. More than ever before, Chandler seems to understand what he can and can't do on the floor. What he does well, he does very well and he's one Knick that seems to thrive playing alongside Carmelo Anthony. This is historically good stuff.

WORSE THAN WE THOUGHT

John Wall

Projected WARP: 8.4; Current WARP: 3.6

There have been two recent career paths for one-time John Calipari point guards and Wall seems to be on the wrong one. Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall all thrilled analysts and fans alike with their performances as rookies. Rose got even better in his second year and then became the MVP in his third. Evans was statistically comparable to young versions of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James as a rookie, but battled foot problems and regressed in his second campaign for the Kings. It's the latter pattern that Wall has followed.

Wall's decline has been entirely tied to the shoddy outside shooting he was supposed have been working on during the lockout. He's fallen short in assist rate and turned the ball over more than we projected, but his shooting percentages are what really jab you in the eye. Wall is shooting just 40.6 percent inside the 3-point line and is just one of 11 outside it. He attempted 115 treys last season, hitting just under 30 percent, but this year he's lost so much confidence in his long-range stroke that he's ceased to even shoot from out there.

Wall has actually improved at the rim this season, though his 60.2 percent finishing rate is a bit below league average. However, his percentage between the rim and the 3-point arc is an almost unbelievable 23 percent, and that's on 150 attempts. Something is very wrong with Wall's shot and until it's fixed, teams are going to sag well off of him, nullifying his fine drive-and-kick skills.

The good news is that even though Wall's jump shot has never been his forte, there is nothing to suggest that he's contracted basketball's version of Steve Blass disease. Part of the problem might have been the offensive system of former Wizards coach Flip Saunders, which had basically fallen apart by the time Washington made its coaching change. In the first four games after interim coach Randy Wittman took over, Wall shot 24 for 50 (48 percent) from the field and made his first 3-pointer of the season. Alas, he shot 1 for 12 against Orlando on Wednesday, so we may not be out of the woods just yet.

If Wall can start hitting a reasonable percentage of his jump shots, the rest of his game should open up accordingly and his turnovers should drop. He's too talented to keep shooting this poorly and most of his recent results have been encouraging.

WHO WE THOUGHT HE WAS

Chris Bosh

Projected WARP: 10.9; Current WARP: 11.2

There was a lot of hullabaloo about Bosh re-inventing himself during the offseason so that he'd be a better fit with his talented running mates in Miami. He got stronger, worked on his back-to-the-basket game and just generally adopted an nastier demeanor. Reportedly. If it actually happened, you'd be hard pressed to find it in the numbers.

That's not a bad thing though -- Bosh is a very good player. He's shooting the ball a bit better than last season, which has kept his overall value on target. As for his supposed heightened physicality, he's fallen short in terms of foul-drawing rate and rebounding rate. The distribution of his shots is pretty much the same as always, though like many players on the Heat, he is getting more transition opportunities.

Nevertheless, Bosh remains a jump-shooting big man and as long as that is the case, he won't be any more or less of a player than we projected. And that's perfectly fine.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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