At one point, near the end of a drunken night in Portland, while discussing the not-so-recent Zach Randolph for Channing Frye and Stevie Franchise trade, a group of constituents and I were reporting to each other the speculation we'd heard about the future of Francis. Assuming the Blazers didn't want anything to do with him, there was word that they would either buy him out or try to trade him. Specifically, to the Clippers. for what? I have no idea. I don't remember anyone having any idea what the Clippers could package that would work under the cap, and I don't just mean us, I'm also talking about the professional writers and analysts.
It's been months since the conversation, so how we got to discussing the strength of LA's roster and what Francis' relative place would be in it is understandably fuzzy. What has stuck with me since: me alleging that Corey Maggette was the second best player on the team and it being counted by one of my friend's argument that it was Quinton Ross with a statement as dismissive as, "sure, Maggette scores more." Saying that in such a way, he was implying that Ross brings a great deal more to table that isn't measured by simpletons that are distracted by flashy production (PPG, and to a lesser extent, RPG and APG), but underestimate what a defensive stopper like Ross brings to a team. I think of myself as someone who isn't stupid, so when I got home to my stolen internet connection, I fired up the laptop and checked to see how Maggette and Ross rated in more advanced statistics that would take into consideration more than simply points and rebounds per game. Being relatively new to said advanced statistics, the first I checked were PER and Win Shares, which Maggette easily outpaced Ross.
Starting in the 2004-2005 season, Ross' first in the league, here's how they break down in PER (note that the last numbers reflect their statistics through January 11th of the current season):
Maggette: 19.95, 18.89, 18.67, 17.93
Ross: 8.92, 7.36, 10.54, 8.36
Win Shares (basketball-reference only has the statistics through the last completed season):
Maggette: 21, 8, 19
Ross: 5, 5, 9
The obvious problem with relying too heavily on PER and Win Shares is that they're heavily weighted towards statistical production and miss those contributions which "don't show up in the stat sheet." It's clear, though, that if one were going to measure Ross' ability to Maggette's, they would have to almost completely rely on different metrics, because in only one of those three seasons did Ross' Defensive Win Shares out-rate Maggette's (2005-06). It does need to be said that 05-06 was the one season that Maggette missed 49 games due to injury, considering Maggette's consistency, it's likely the numbers would have resembled the seasons sandwiching it had he been able to play even as many games as he did the year before, 66.
The next number I decided to look at was plus-minus. It's a rough stat because it doesn't take into account the other players on the floor, but here's how they match up:
Maggette: + 0.8, + 5.2, + 5.4, + 8.4
Ross: - 9.1, + 3.0, - 5.0, - 4.3
With the exception of the 2005-06 season, which was also the only season Ross' Defensive Win Shares were higher than Maggette's (because of the injury), they're not close, but how about looking at how the most efficient lineups for the Clippers were composed from 04-05 on? Choosing the top ten, admittedly a somewhat arbitrary number, on court combinations for each season, here's how they break down:
Maggette: 7, 3, 6, 7
Ross: 2, 3, 2, 5
Here they come out a bit closer, and in fact in that second season, Ross was featured in the one that ranked first. Of course, looking closer at that season, the number 1 unit (Cassell-Ross-Mobley-Brand-Kaman) played 629 more minutes and finished with a differential of + 88 whereas the second lineup, which is the same save for Maggette in the place of Ross played 233 minutes and finished with a + 84. The first team outscored their opponents 29 out of a possible 47, which is 61.7% of the time, the second outscored their opponents 17 times out of a possible 20 times, which is 85%.
Aside from a formula that Dan Rosenbaum (82games.com) created that measures individual defensive success (I haven't seen the statistics for any year but 04-05, but it's reasonable to assume that Ross continued to rank higher than Maggette, because as every other statistic suggests that he wouldn't have a job otherwise), there isn't a statistical measure that says that Ross is a better player than Corey Maggette. In fact, other than the 05-06 season, one appears so much better than the other that it may seem unfair to even suggest comparing them, that is before remembering that Ross actually started a higher percentage of games in which they were both available than Maggette throughout the last two full seasons and the start of this one, 59.8% compared to 42.5%. Obviously someone involved in the decision-making with the Los Angeles Clippers seems to agree with my friend that his team is better with Ross in the place of Maggette. Why?