This week's mailbag features your questions on whether Chris Paul's height is the secret to his early playoff exits, the best single-team rookie classes ever and more.
"I wanted to ask you about incorporating height into advanced stats (based on this Jonathan Tjarks and Albert Burneko pair of articles). Albert makes the point that height is a big difference in the playoffs and may be the thing that holds Chris Paul back from being a player capable of putting a team in the Finals on his own (like LeBron, KD, Steph). Do you factor height into WARP at all?" -- Mat Thomas
I don't incorporate height, no. It is a factor in ESPN's real plus-minus (RPM) because co-creator Jerry Engelmann has found that it helps predict players' defensive impact, as measured by RAPM (adjusted plus-minus without any box score stats to improve stability, which RPM uses). It's remarkable how good Paul's defensive RPM is given height is a factor.
Looking at Paul specifically, I'm not sure I buy the argument that height is a major impediment to his value in the playoffs. Here's how his player win percentage (the per-minute version of my wins above replacement player metric, akin to PER) compares in the regular season and the playoffs:
With the notable exception of 2008-09 (when he was weirdly ineffective in a five-game loss to the Denver Nuggets) and 2011-12, Paul has generally been about the same player in the playoffs as in the regular season -- even, and perhaps especially, when the Clippers have lost early.
Those playoff losses are naturally the source of the perception that Paul is less valuable in the postseason, which makes it interesting to note that this year's first-round loss to the Utah Jazz was the first time the Clippers have been outscored in a playoff series with Paul on the court since they traded Eric Bledsoe to the Phoenix Suns in the summer of 2013.
In the most disappointing Clippers playoff losses, to Oklahoma City and Houston in the conference semifinals in 2014 and 2015, the team comfortably outscored the opposition with Paul on the court. The Thunder series was lost with Paul on the bench; the Rockets series was lost despite the Clippers outscoring Houston by 22 points over seven games.
Certainly, some of that has to do with Paul's minutes generally coming alongside other starters because Doc Rivers rarely staggered his playing time with fellow All-Star Blake Griffin. Still, to me those numbers suggest the Clippers' playoff shortcomings have much more to do with Rivers' inability to build competitive benches around his stars than they do with Paul's height.
"Not a Cleveland Cavaliers fan or anything, but I have always been enamored by their 1986-87 season. They had five rookies on that team: Hot Rod Williams, Mark Price, Johnny Newman, Ron Harper and Brad Daugherty. All five of those guys had long, successful careers with each having over 50 win shares. Is that the best rookie class for a single team in NBA history?" -- Rob Haley
In terms of total win shares, the 1986-87 Cavaliers (325 win shares) come in second behind the 1969-70 Milwaukee Bucks, whose rookie class consisted of two players: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (273 all by himself) and Bob Dandridge (80). To emphasize depth, borrowing a favorite Bill James method, I multiplied each player's win shares by his rank among the team's rookies. That puts Cleveland far and away atop the list:
Besides the Cavaliers, just one other rookie class had more than two players with at least 50 win shares, and oddly they didn't make the list. The 2001-02 Golden State Warriors drafted Gilbert Arenas, Troy Murphy and Jason Richardson, but they just miss out because none of them had many more than 50 win shares (Richardson topped the group with 60) and that was the extent of their rookie contributions.
How did Cleveland get so many talented rookies? They traded Roy Hinson to Philadelphia for the rights to Daugherty, the No. 1 pick, and drafted three valuable players in the second round: Newman, Price and Williams, the last of whom was drafted in 1985 but didn't debut until 1986-87 because of his trial for alleged point-shaving while at Tulane.
Before 1986-87, the Cavaliers had made the playoffs just once in the previous eight seasons, but the strong group of rookies helped propel them to the playoffs eight of the next nine years, including a pair of 57-win campaigns that both resulted in losses to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
"Should luxury tax implications really drive decision-making? I assume teams are making enough money to cover the luxury tax from the income they generate. And even if they don't aren't we talking about very rich owners whose franchises are often worth double or triple what they paid. Bottom line, I find it hard to believe this really impacts teams all that much, but maybe I'm missing something." -- David
I don't think it's a good assumption that teams are making enough money to cover luxury tax. Obviously this varies from team to team and on the amount of luxury tax, but few teams have the kind of cushion to handle a large non-repeater tax bill. Take the Portland Trail Blazers, for example. I'm not sure how much net income the Blazers have annually, if any at all, but I'd doubt it's more than the $40-plus million they were looking at paying in tax before the Allen Crabbe trade.
The latter aspect really drives the question of whether tax implications should drive decision-making. Certainly, nearly all of the majority owners in the league have the ability to comfortably handle losing money on their NBA team. Still, it's a lot easier to spend someone else's money than your own.
Another key factor here is that few teams are owned exclusively by a single wealthy owner. Minority owners are typically less wealthy and more likely to balk at a cash call to cover operating expenses. These are the type of real-world concerns that make most teams reluctant to pay the tax.
#peltonmailbag with the advent of 2 way deals and 1:1 nba/g league team relationships. should the nba consider a supplementary rd?
— hutch (@HutchNGo) August 3, 2017
@kpelton not sure if you used my ?, but i meant a comp rd btw rd 1 and 2 for teams that lost big named free agents
— hutch (@HutchNGo) August 4, 2017
I'm not a big fan of supplementary picks, which essentially act as a tax on free agency. Even if teams aren't directly losing picks (as with baseball's compensatory picks), the possibility of getting supplementary picks by losing more free agents than you sign (as in the NFL) still incentivizes teams to avoid free agency. That's not something players are likely to accept without significant concessions from the league in return.
Above and beyond the collective bargaining aspect, I don't think teams that lose free agents are owed anything. In the case of most stars who change teams as unrestricted free agents, that's only after they've played a minimum of seven years for their original team, typically at below-market salary. (This is basically always the case for stars' rookie contracts and often the case with their second contracts because of lower maximum salaries.) I think that's already plenty of value derived from those picks.