July 21, 2009

Sebastian Telfair: An Underrated Gem!

Filed under: Uncategorized — wwinston @ 9:48 am

On Tuesday July 21, 2009 the Timberwolves traded Sebastian Telfair to the Los Angeles Clippers.  Most commentators believe the Wolves thought that draft picks Johnny Flynn and Rickie Rubio would be their great guards of the future. I am sure the Timberwolves did not realize that in Telfair they already had an outstanding point guard. Traditional NBA player metrics obscure Telfair’s value. For example, in ESPN commentator’s John Hollinger PER rating Telfair scored a 12.1 PER rating, well below the average PER rating of 15. My partner Jeff Sagarin and myself have rated players and lineups for the Dallas Mavericks for 9 years.  We believe a player’s value is based on how he helps the team play well or poorly; not his individual box score statistics.

                Let’s look at how the Wolves2008-2009 performance varied based on Telfair’s presence or absence in the game. The following table shows for each player on the team how the Wolves performance varies based on whether Telfair is in or out of the game.

               Telfair In   Telfair Out

Foye           3.2                    -4.3

Jefferson 2.35        -4.89

Love         -2.54            -7.79

Miller         1.22            -7.87

Gomes       .88               -9.62

For example, when stud center Al Jefferson was in the game with Telfair, the Wolves played 2.35 points per game better than an average NBA team. However, when Jefferson was in the game and Telfair was out, the Wolves played 4.89 points worse than average. Looking at all numbers in the table makes it clear that Telfair has a very favorable impact of the Wolves team performance.  Overall with Telfair in the Wolves were an average team while with Telfair out the Wolves played 7.35 points worse than average. The amazing thing is that Telfair makes under $3 million per season!


                I hope this post convinces you that box score stats are only the tip of the iceberg!

                Our rating system tells us that  despite his poor statistical profit, during the 2008-2009 season Telfair played about 6 points per game better than an average NBA player.


  1. Good to see you’re doing some research to fill in the ???

    Comment by Vivalkakira — August 7, 2009 @ 11:11 am

  2. [...] short article from Mathletics on how Sebastian Telfair is underrated: We believe a player’s value is based on how he helps the team play well or poorly; not his [...]

    Pingback by Sebastian Telfair: Secret Stud? | Fully Clips | A LA Clippers Blog — September 16, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

  3. Or maybe the above data tells you that when Telfair exits the game and Randy Foye moves over to the point, Foye hurts the team immensely. I think this is most likely the case for why numbers are down when Telfair is out of the game. Now, if you replaced Telfair with another PG and numbers still went down, or were worse than when he’s on the court, then you’d have something.

    Comment by Tyler — September 16, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

  4. How did you work out these performance ratings? Is it based on past game stats? Can a coach use this theory during games as they are being played or throughout the season to determine whom on his team is the most effective on the floor? Thx!

    Comment by Coach Bob — September 16, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

  5. When Telfair was out, Randy Foye, Kevin Ollie or Bobby Brown played the point. I have no doubt that Telfair is a 7.35-points-a-game better point guard than those three. I’m not sure that makes him a hidden gem.

    Comment by Justin Wonder — September 16, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

  6. we can also rate lineups and do this for mavs

    Comment by wwinston — September 16, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

  7. If it is adjusted player pair data it appears the raw Telfair-Foye pair data faced unusually tough opponents or weak teammates in the rest of the lineup. Foye without Telfair is much much the same raw or adjusted, if this is adjusted.

    (With the “without” being total raw +/- at 82 games minus the with Telfair data)

    Comment by Crow — September 16, 2009 @ 4:26 pm

  8. adjusted +-

    Comment by wwinston — September 16, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

  9. it is adjusted

    Comment by wwinston — September 16, 2009 @ 4:34 pm

  10. Bassy had a nice adjusted +/- last year, I’ll give him that. But it was the first time he’s ever been significantly positive — in 2005, he was -7.72; 2006, -7.26; 2007, 1.16; and 2008, -2.44. Instead of assuming Telfair has somehow turned his career around and is now a hidden gem, wouldn’t it be more logical to assume that his 2009 performance was a one-year 2,000-minute fluke from a guy whose 6,500 minutes of past performance establishes him as a below-average player?

    Comment by Neil Paine — September 16, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

  11. Nice article. One little thing from the grammar police: we’ve been working for years to help rid basketball of the frequent and incorrect use of “myself”, i.e. “My partner Jeff Sagarin and myself have…”. Tip: take out the other person and then say the sentence. You are not “myself” – you are “I” or “me” depending on the sentence.


    Comment by Michael — September 17, 2009 @ 1:43 am

  12. Alright Wayne, thanks for the clarification. Sorry if you prefer not to have links and some of the other detail I posted. I figured Dallas was a good bet to have player pair adjusted.

    Comment by Crow — September 17, 2009 @ 2:52 am

  13. Never mind. I see all of my previous comments now. My mistake I didn’t see them still there a moment ago.

    I don’t know if you ever compute the player triplet for a perimeter or a front line but I think the subunit data for perimeter-interior or backcourt-frontcourt combinations would perhaps be among the most meaningful groups to look at, though any player and the PG or the star would be important to.

    Comment by Crow — September 17, 2009 @ 3:00 am

  14. Tyler & Justin Wonder,

    Those #s are based on Adjusted +/- as opposed to Traditional Old-Skool +/-. The Old Skool version is exactly what you’re talking about: if Telfair is replaced by someone awful then he’d look great, but if he was replaced by someone amazing, he’d look sucky. Which makes the Old Skool +/- pretty limited in value. However Adjusted +/- compares the player to the “average” player not their backup. Meaning, the “Telfair In” #s would stay the same even if his backup was Chris Paul. Thus, except for Kevin Love, all four guys performed above average when Telfair was in. Considering how many games the Twolves lost last year, they clearly didn’t consistently play above average the entire game (&every game) or they’d have won a bunch more. So your comments that Telfair’s backups sucked is definitely true, as proved by the the across-the-board negative #s when he was out. However, if the team had the completely average backup, the #s with him off-the-court would be zero. So the key isn’t to compare the #s btw him in and out, but rather that when he was in 4 out of 5 of those players had positive #s. Rather than saying Foye was 7.5 pts better with Telfair instead of his lame backups, it’s more useful to look and see that Foye was 3.2pts better with Telfair playing instead of the average player out there.

    Comment by FullyClips.com — September 17, 2009 @ 1:25 pm

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