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.