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A Convenient Excuse for the Blazers

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The most coveted player in the 2007 NBA draft was Greg Oden. The elation of the draft, though, has been followed by much disappointment. An injury cost Oden his entire rookie season. Last year he was only healthy enough to play 1,314 minutes across 61 games. So after two years, Oden hadn't played much. And now, after just 21 games, he's going to miss the entire 2009-10 season.

The fact that Oden hasn't played is certainly disappointing. But a more important question is how much it matters that Oden isn't going to play anymore this year. And that question depends upon how well Oden has performed.

Oden averages less than 24 minutes per game. So his per game statistics (i.e. point scored, rebounds, etc...) don't look very impressive. When we turn to per-minute performance - or per-48 minutes performance - Oden's impact is far more striking.

Before we get to Oden's production numbers, let's start with where the Blazers are as a team today. The won-loss record stands at 13-8. The team's efficiency differential - offensive efficiency (points scored per possession) minus defensive efficiency (points surrendered per possession) - of 5.7 suggests the Blazers (had Oden stayed healthy) were going to win about 56 games in 2009-10.

From efficiency differential we can derive each player's production of wins, or Wins Produced. And we can also calculate Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48]. Again, Oden doesn't play many minutes, so WP48 is going to be the more important statistic.

As a rookie, Oden posted a 0.154 WP48. An average player posts a 0.100 WP48, so Oden was somewhat above average during his first season. Again, Oden was expected to be a superstar. So "somewhat above average" is "somewhat disappointing."

This year, though, Oden was turning into the player teams were willing to lose games to acquire in 2007. After 21 games his WP48 was 0.322.

To put this mark in perspective, let's consider the 188 players who played more than 1,500 minutes last season. Of these players, the following six were the only players to post a WP48 mark beyond the 0.322 we saw from Oden this season.

Chris Paul: 0.451 WP48
LeBron James: 0.436 WP48
Dwight Howard: 0.378 WP48
Troy Murphy: 0.369 WP48
Dwyane Wade: 0.350 WP48
Jason Kidd: 0.329 WP48

Oden's mark of 0.322 surpasses everyone else who played 1,500 minutes last season. And that means Oden - on a per-minute basis - was more productive than Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Kobe Bryant last season. Yes, Oden was very good before he broke his kneecap.

Despite how little Oden played, his per-minute production allowed him to lead the Portland Trail Blazers in Wins Produced this season. But now he's gone.

The good news is that Joel Przybilla - the player who started the majority of games at center last season - is once again available to start. And Przybilla can be very productive [0.288 WP48 last season, 0.182 WP48 this season]. But behind Przybilla, the Blazers are thin in the frontcourt. LaMarcus Aldridge [0.122 WP48] will probably get some minutes at center. And this means second-round pick Dante Cunningham [0.133 WP48] and Juwan Howard [-0.053 WP48] will get more minutes at power forward. When we consider the production of these players it's easy to conclude that Oden's injury hurts more than just him.

There's a saying in sports, though, that injuries are no excuse. Players, though, are not the same. Oden is already better than most players playing the game. And when that talent leaves, wins are simply going to be a bit harder to find. Yes, it is possible for other players to do more (like Przybilla, Roy, Andre Miller, etc...). But Oden is really, really good. So his loss probably can't help.

Hopefully Oden can once again make it back from a serious injury. And hopefully when that happens, the Oden we saw this year returns. If that happens, the Blazers can again expect to contend in the Western Conference. As for this year... well, Portland fans need to remember that the start of the 2010-11 season is less than a year away.

For more information on Wins Produced one is referred to the wagesofwins.com. One can also read the following: Simple Models of Player Performance;
Wins Produced vs. Win Score; What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say; and Introducing PAWSmin -- and a Defense of Box Score Statistics.