NBA Handicapping: Effects of Gilbert Arenas Suspension
by Trevor Whenham - 1/14/2010
Gilbert Arenas is a talented basketball player. He's also a freaking idiot. By now you've heard all about Arenas' antics with guns, his gambling debts, and his suspension, so there isn't much to add on that front. What we do need to look at, though, is the betting impact of Arenas' long term suspension on the Washington Wizards. Arenas is the team's best player, or at least he is perceived to be, so his absence is going to have an impact. NBA handicappers will want to consider how significant that impact will be, and how the public is going to react to the absence to determine if there will be value in betting on the Arenas-less Wizards, and how to maximize that value. To help you in doing that, here's a collection of thoughts:
Past two years - To get a sense of how Arenas' absence will affect this team we can fortunately just look back at the last two seasons. Knee issues limited Arenas to just two games last season, and 13 the season before. Last year, the Wizards were a dismal 31-49-2 ATS - the second worst in the league. This season, at 12-23-2 ATS, the team also sits in 29th in the league. The rate at which the team covered spreads is about the same both years, so that would indicate that the presence or absence of Arenas isn't the core problem for this team.
In 2007 the Wizards were a much better team, and were a very solid ATS team at 46-36 - the sixth best in the league. In the games which Arenas played that year, though, the team was just 6-7 ATS. The sample size is too small to conclude that Arenas had a negative impact on the team's betting performance, but it's clear that his presence didn't give the team a massive boost. Overall, the absence or presence of Arenas in the past hasn't had a particular impact on the betting success of the team, so it would seem to be a bad idea to overreact to his absence now.
Bench - Arenas was averaging 22.6 points and 7.2 assists per game this year, so the Wizards have a lot to make up for. Fortunately, the team has a couple of decent options that should make the transition reasonably smooth. Earl Boykins is a capable veteran who averaged more than 15 points a game when he was in Denver, and has averaged better than four assists per game three different times. Randy Foye averaged 16.3 points per game in Minnesota last year. Together they have contributed 16.7 points and 5.3 assists a game this year, and that's only in a combined 38 minutes. The two players may not be quite able to cover Arenas' impact this year, but they will be able to come reasonably close.
Caron Butler - The conventional wisdom in the media these days seems to be that Butler will actually benefit from the absence of Arenas because their two styles overlap, and because Butler doesn't seem as good when Arenas is playing. That opinion is backed up by the fact that Butler is having a lousy year this year. Butler is definitely not as aggressive when Arenas plays, but the statistics just don't back up the idea that Butler will be improved. When Arenas is on the bench or out Butler shoots less efficiently from two-point range, and significantly worse from beyond the arc. He also doesn't dish out assists with nearly the frequency when Arenas is gone. Assuming that Butler will excel with more room to move and have a positive impact on the team isn't necessarily a safe way of thinking.
Defensive woes - Arenas improves his team offensively when he plays. On defense, though, he is, in a word, lousy. The Wizards are 1.2 points per 48 minutes better offensively when Arenas is in the court, but 4.8 points worse defensively. In crude terms, that means that the Wizards are about 3.6 points worse when Arenas is in the lineup. Arenas is a multi-time all-star, and a good player. This is a case, though, where it would be easy to overestimate the impact he has on his team. If the Lakers had to play a long time without Kobe, or the Cavs without LeBron, the impact would be very significant. That clearly doesn't seem to be the same in this case - not even close.
Mike Miller - It is going to be very hard to isolate the impact of the loss of Arenas because his absence has coincided with the return from injury of Mike Miller. Miller is very efficient offensively and, when healthy, is a very nice player. Because of his offensive efficiency and a decent attention to defense, the return of Miller will almost certainly have a positive impact on the team. It's almost impossible to assess if the two impacts will cancel each other off, or if the switch of Miller for Arenas will be a net gain or loss for the team - especially because it remains to be seen how healthy Miller will be, and how long it will take him to find his form.
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