Last night's 86-85 loss to the Utah Jazz left Laker Nation in dire need of a little levity. It was a disgusting display of professional basketball, from a team that has quite recently shown to be as capable as any team in the league, and I'd be saying all these things whether the team had won or lost. So we'll be taking a humor break from our normal game breakdowns, analysis and previews. And what better place to turn to for a good laugh than Laker Nation's resident punching bag, Luke Walton.
Let's get one thing straight. I do not hate Luke Walton. I'm actually rather fond of him. I remember his rookie year as a lost soul on a team full of future Hall of Famers, how he seemed to be the only guy on the whole team both willing and able to make an entry pass into Shaquille O'Neal. I remember when Luke suddenly developed a highly effective back to the basket game from 10 feet. I remember when he decided it would be cool to start passing the ball through legs (his own and other people's) and started doing it at least once game. I also feel for Luke. I think it sucks that he's lost time over the past two seasons for an injury that can not be properly diagnosed or treated. I think it's terrible that we can accurately describe Luke's 2010 season with the statement "Luke Walton missed 53 games due to a broken family tree" or that the phrase "Luke will be out six weeks because he's a Walton" makes sense. And I love Luke Walton, if for no other reason than that he seems to be my own personal comedic muse. So Luke, if by chance these words ever reach your eyes, know that I mean you no harm. Please consider the following like your own personal roast.
All that said, there's a good reason Luke Walton has been the butt of so many jokes around here. His play has been atrocious. Consider the following passages that have been penned in Walton's honor recently:
And Luke Walton ... just wow. It's sort of funny, because I always thought a lack of aggressiveness was one of Luke's problems. Now, whenever he gets some burn, he's playing with aggression not seen since The Machine graced us with his presence, and the results are worse than I could ever have imagined. It's a good thing Walton isn't Japanese, because if he had any sense of samurai dignity, the man would be committing seppuku right now.
Luke Walton, ... [is] strictly "Break Glass in Case of Emergency
His teammates didn't fare so well, especially poor Luke Walton. I think Luke missed something like six consecutive three pointers as the Suns made their run in the late 3rd/early 4th quarter. The box score says he only attempted four threes on the evening (and he even made one!), but I'm sticking with my story. At this point, Walton must be secretly happy that his name has been affectionately chanted by the Laker faithful in a remarkably similar way to a fan's most easily recognizable voice of disapproval. Now, when Luke gets all those legitimate boos, he can at least tell himself they might be trying to encourage him.
Really, the only criticisms I have tonight relate to the misguided shot selection of Shannon Brown and the misguided everything of Luke Walton.
So, with last night's debacle (both for Luke and for the team at large) fresh in my mind, I set out to answer a simple question: Is Luke Walton the worst player in the NBA? I decided the only fair and unbiased way to look at this would be to do so through advanced statistics, because advanced statistical arguments are flawless and undebatable.
We start with the baseline look at Walton's numbers. Walton is averaging just under 9 minutes a game, and in those 9 minutes, he's scoring 1.7 points per game on a heroically bad 36% eFG (or if you prefer 37.6% TS). He is near his career averages for rebounds, assists, and turnovers per 36 minutes, so his poor play is really just a matter of being a bad shooter. How bad a shooter? Only one player in the league has shot worse from the field in more minutes than Luke, Jared Jeffries, coming through with a stunningly terrible 30.9% TS in 511 total minutes on the season (Luke has played 452). Of the other players below Luke, only two have cracked the 200 minute mark on the season.
And how about those wonderful catchall stats, those bastions of player comparison, PER and Win Shares? Walton rates a PER of 5.7. A 15 PER is considered average, and a 25 PER is considered a borderline MVP candidate, so it could aptly be said that Luke Walton is a borderline MVP candidate of suck. However, there are plenty of players playing semi-significant minutes who are worse by that measure. The leader in the clubhouse is Jarron Collins, who has a PER of 1.6 in 181 total minutes played. Or, if you don't think he's played enough minutes to qualify, Quinton Ross and Stephen Graham (both of the New Jersey Nets, by the way) have PERs of 3.7 and 3.9 in 353 and 819 minutes respectively. Just based on sheer number of minutes played, let's give Graham the nod as the worst player in the league by PER's measure.
Win Shares is where this gets really fun. Win shares is a stat that attempts to gage how much affect a single player had on his team's win total. So, how many wins has Luke Walton contributed on the season? -.007. Yes, you read that correctly. Luke Walton has a negative value for Win Shares. To be honest, I'm not all that knowledgeable about how win shares get calculated, but how is this even possible? I mean, it's not wins and losses shares. It's not record shares. How can you contribute negative wins? Shouldn't the benchmark here be zero? To be fair, Luke is not alone. There are 6 players in our significant minutes category who have a larger negative value for Win Shares, with the worst being Jawad Williams of the Cleveland Cavs (by win shares/48 minutes) and Ronnie Price of the Utah Jazz (for total win shares).
But, consider the following: a big part of your overall score in win shares is how many wins your team has. The Lakers, as a team, have 56 total win shares (not exactly equal to their 55 actual wins). The Cleveland Cavaliers, as a team, have 15.7 total win shares as compared to 16 wins. Locking onto whatever alchemical formula that spits out a negative win share is impressive in the first place, but it's a lot easier to avoid combating that negative win share with a corresponding positive win share when your team rarely wins. But Luke has managed to accomplish this feat despite the fact that his team has won 71% of their games. Only one other guy has accomplished the feat playing similar minutes on a winning team, former Laker Josh Powell.
Three different ways of viewing the problem, three different indications that Luke Walton is among the league's worst players. Now, let's put them all together. Here's a list of all the players, in the entire league, who fit the following criteria: More than 200 minutes played, True Shooting % under 40%, PER less than 6, Win Shares less than zero. You ready for the list?
- Luke Walton
- Jawad Williams
That's it. Across a variety of statistical categories, these are the worst two players in the league. So, let's get to the tale of the tape, a head to head matchup of epic fail.
Similar minutes, though Walton has played in much more games. Outside of shooting, Walton is better than Jawad in all major categories. He's got a higher PER (5.7 to 4.8) and less negative win shares (-.1 to -.6). He assists a lot more than Williams, though the additional turnovers pretty much make that a wash. His individual offensive and defensive ratings are both better than Williams, but this hardly bears mentioning because the numbers are extrapolated from the team's overall numbers, and the Lakers are among the league's leaders in both categories, while the Cavs are among the league's worst in both. Still, Luke compares too favorably in too many categories.
So, based purely off the numbers, it seems we have a clear cut winner. Jawad Williams, please take a bow and accept your award as the only player in the NBA who is worse than Luke Walton. However, when context is taken into account, is Jawad really playing worse than Luke? It all depends on how you view the importance of being part of a good team. There are only two players in this league who fit the criteria for across the board futility while still playing significant minutes. One of those players is on the worst team in the league, a team devoid of talent, beset by injuries, and dealing with the hopeless struggle of emerging from the shadow of betrayal at the hands of one of the game's biggest stars. The other is a member of the two time defending champions, who have dealt with very few injuries and, despite not quite living up to expectations, remains very much a threat to make another deep playoff run. How much of Jawad's futility is the result of being part of a toxic team environment? How much of his struggle is simply the result of having to reach beyond his means because no one on his team is there to fill the void? The answers to these questions are unknown and unknowable.
How many of those problems apply to Luke? How much of his futility can be chalked up to a bad team environment and a lack of quality cover from his teammates? That answer is very knowable: Zero. Zilch. Nada. In the race for the league's worst player, there are only two contestants. Jawad Williams had plenty of "help" in making the grade. Luke Walton is there entirely on his own merits.
|RECORD||55-22 (3)||34-44 (20)|
|NET POINTS PER GAME||6.7 (3)||-2.6 (21)|
|PACE||90.7 (21)||94.7 (5)|
|OFFENSIVE RATING||111.3 (5)||108.2 (11)|
|Turnover Rate (Off.)||0.123 (2)||0.135 (21)|
|FTA/FGA (Off.)||0.229 (12)||0.185 (30)|
|Free-Throw %||78.0 (7)||76.0 (18)|
|3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)||0.220 (16)||0.248 (8)|
|3PT% (Off.)||35.2 (16)||39.2 (2)|
|Effective FG% (Off.)||50.2 (12)||51.1 (9)|
|True Shooting% (Off.)||54.6 (11)||54.5 (12)|
|Off Rebounding Rate||0.295 (3)||0.266 (14)|
|DEFENSIVE RATING||104.0 (6)||110.9 (27)|
|Turnover Rate (Def.)||0.130 (18)||0.145 (5)|
|FTA/FGA (Def.)||0.178 (1)||0.259 (29)|
|3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)||0.245 (26)||0.225 (17)|
|3PT% (Def.)||33.5 (3)||35.7 (13)|
|Effective FG% (Def.)||47.7 (5)||51.0 (23)|
|True Shooting% (Def.)||51.3 (2)||55.8 (27)|
|Def Rebounding Rate||0.722 (23)||0.693 (30)|