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Wizards Similarity Scores: The Oldsters


Yesterday, I posted "similarity scores" for the Wizards young guns: John Wall and Bradley Beal. The results left an optimistic afterglow. Their similars were a healthy mix of solid professionals, All-Stars and All-NBA types -- suggesting good things from the team's backcourt duo.

Today, I'm pointing the spreadsheet at the oldsters who man the frontcourt: Emeka Okafor and Nene Hilario. I've found the team's strategy of coupling aging big men with youthful guards to be puzzling, but I've written about that previously. Several times. In several venues. For now, let's focus on what the Wizards have in these two. First up: Okafor.

I explained similarity scores in yesterday's column. If you want more detail, I encourage you to click the link above and give it a read. Here's the short version: my similarity score system measures the difference between players in 14 statistical categories. The smaller the overall difference once those category differences have been combined, the more similar the players.

My similarity calculator uses per minute stats that have been standardized to a pace of 100 possessions per 48 minutes, which permits for comparison across eras. The "test" player's Sim Score is always 100. The closer to 100 the similar is, the more...umm...similar he is to the "test" player. The database includes every player season with 500 or more minutes since 1977-78.

Got all that?

Emeka Okafor 2012-13  30  WAS 100  138  178  24 
Billy Paultz 1978-79  30  SAS  88  122 164  29 
Olden Polynice 1995-96  31  SAC  87  126 127  29 
Joe Smith PF  2003-04  28  MIL  87  143 143  28 
Emeka Okafor 2011-12  29 NOH  87  123 178  24 
Kris Humphries PF  2010-11  25  NJN  87  146  146  25 
Swen Nater 1978-79  29  SDC  87  125 147  31 
Benoit Benjamin 1994-95  30  NJN  86  96 132  25 
Bill Walton 1983-84  31  SDC  86  138 223  25 
Lorenzen Wright 2003-04  28  MEM  86  98 110  29 
P.J. Brown PF  1999-00  30  MIA  86  138 177  33 

Don't get too happy about seeing Bill Walton's name on the list. This was the post-injury Walton who was more of a rebounder/defender type than the do-everything star he'd been before his numerous foot and ankle problems.

Overall, the list is about what I expected: solid, unspectacular players who can contribute, but can't carry a team. The collective record of the teams Okafor's similars played for: 378-426 -- a .470 winning percentage (which translates to about 39 wins over an 82-game schedule).

It's also worth noting that of the 11 players listed as Okafor's similars (including Okafor), 9 had their peak season at a younger age. The point should be obvious: players don't typically get better in their 30s. 

Nene Hilario  PF  2012-13  30  WAS  100  119 176  28 
Mickey Johnson PF  1981-82  29  MIL  92  131 145  27 
Danny Manning PF  1996-97  30  PHO  90  107 157  25 
Frank Brickowski PF  1990-91  31  MIL  89  123 123  31 
Mickey Johnson PF  1980-81  28  MIL  89  115 145  27 
Shareef Abdur-Rahim PF  2005-06  29  SAC  89  116 145  26 
George McGinnis PF  1980-81  30  IND  89  81 145  27 
Christian Laettner PF  1997-98  28  ATL  89  127 146  27 
Mickey Johnson PF  1983-84  31  GSW  88  83 145  27 
Armen Gilliam PF  1994-95  30  NJN  87  126 137  27 
Kenny Carr PF  1983-84  28  POR  87  126 126  28 
I know what you're thinking: Who's Mickey Johnson? Gotta admit that I have zero recollection of ever seeing him play, although with a career than spanned from 1974-1986 I surely watched him a number of times. Johnson was a PF listed at 6-10 and 190 pounds. Not a typo -- a 190 pound, power forward. If he'd come along in the 2000s, he'd almost certainly be directed to the weight room where he'd add 40 pounds of muscle. Or he'd be a stretch four. Judging by the numbers, Johnson looks more like a hybrid 3/4 where Nene is a 4/5. He scored, passed and was at least a competent defender. He was also a bit of turnover machine.

Overall, a solid group of players, but none who were stars. It's worth keeping in mind that this was one of Nene's less productive seasons. If I'd developed similarity stats earlier, his comps would have been more impressive. The question about him, of course, is whether his performance this season was purely caused by injuries or whether it's a sign of age-related deterioration. Either way, the Wizards should be concerned. Older players often have more injury trouble than younger ones. And, even if his diminished production this year was due to injury, he'll be 31 next season, which is an age where NBA players typically have a drop-off.

Considering the size and length of his contract, the Wizards are hoping Nene can stay healthy and productive for a few more years. But, this is the hazard in buying the post-30 years of a player's career. Like Okafor's list, Nene's comps peaked before they were 30. Mickey Johnson -- the guy who shows up most frequently -- didn't have a season average or better after age 29. That was a long time ago, and medical care, nutrition and conditioning are much improved. So there's hope Nene can be productive. He's not likely to recapture the high level of play Denver enjoyed 2008-11, but there's a reasonable chance he can be at least solid.

For me, the biggest takeaway from this check-in on the oldsters is merely a reinforcement of what I've thought since the Wizards acquired them: they need to find some younger PF/C types who can play. Nene and Okafor aren't going to last much longer, even in a best-case scenario. At minimum, the team needs to acquire frontcourt depth for next season. The team has no short or long-term options to replace either of them currently on the roster. 

Questions or comments? Leave me a note in the comment section or tweet me @broom_kevin.