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Fear the Fawns

Fact: The Bucks are young.
Animal Fact: A young Buck is a fawn.
NBA prediction based on the facts: The NBA will fear the fawn.

Contrary to my tone thus far, I’m incredibly serious about the importance of teams investing in youth. On a whole, I’ll explain why this tactic isn’t utilized as frequently as it should be. Essentially, other than the Milwaukee Bucks, most NBA team aren not evaluating young players correctly.

There’s a simple and singular reason that investing in youth is an intelligent decision for a sports franchise. It directly relates to an idea called the time value of money, which essentially refers the the fact that the value of money changes over time. It’s a concept similar to inflation: the value of one dollar in 2015 isn’t the same as the value of a dollar in 1915.

In the same way, winning a one million dollar check today isn’t the same as winning twenty $50,000 installments over the next twenty years.  In fact, this is McDonalds’ sly way of paying out its “million dollar” Monopoly prize money, a method which saves them about 200,000 real dollars. In sports, I’ve explained before how a misunderstanding of the time value of money was cleverly used by opponents of the Bucks’ Arena Deal to make it seem more expensive. Unfortunately, this simple concept is sorely misunderstood.

So, what does this business principle have to do with investing in youth? For professional basketball players, along with players in nearly all major American sports, the average player peaks in their mid to late 20’s. Here are a couple analyses specifically with regards to age and statistically peaking in the NBA.

How do these studies evaluate the value of Bucks players in order to predict how many games Milwaukee can expect to win this coming year? One option is to consider looking at the estimated wins added (EWA) metric, which is in my and John Holinger’s opinion, the most comprehensive of NBA stats. By aggregating these EWA measurements for an entire team and backtesting the metric to see how valuable it’s been for making historical predictions, we can create a predictive model for each NBA team. In fact, that’s precisely what ESPN’s subsidiary fivethirtyeight.com does each year, and their predictions performed better than the Vegas win totals more than two thirds of the time.

If we want to predict a record in two or more years though, we need to factor in the time value of NBA players. I’ll explain with an easy example: Say a twenty five year old and a thirty five year old have similar E.W.A’s. In two years from now, the time value of NBA players predicts that the twenty five year old’s statistical value will increase and the thirty five year old’s will decrease. As a result of this empirical trend, investing in the future is investing in youth.

The Milwaukee Bucks’ management agrees with the evidence completely. Most of the time.

Just this past month, we’ve signed our 18-year old first round draft pick, and landed two major multi-year contracts with 25-year old Greg Monroe and 23- year old Khris Middleton. In fact, these two players are THE best two players on the Bucks’ 2015-2016 roster according to the comprehensive EWA.

Age EWA
Greg Monroe 25 10.4
Khris Middleton 23 6.1
Rashad Vaughn 18 N.A.

Yet, for some reason, the Bucks have insisted on signing two “over the hill” players, which as far as the NBA is concerned, refers to anyone over the age of twenty nine sans LeBron and a handful of other hall of famers (fun fact: Larry Bird peaked in his early thirties, statistically speaking).

Age EWA Money
Greivis Vasquez 28 1.7 $6.6 million
Chris Copeland 31 -1.3 $1.1 million

Sad facts: Copeland was worse than 95% of NBA players last year. Vasquez will get paid more than triple the salary of Giannis, even though the Greak Freak’s EWA more than tripled Vasquez’s EWA!

The only logical explanation is that the Bucks organization must desire some sort of veteran backbone to help keep our locker room focused. I’ve heard the age-old wisdom that well-traveled players can teach invaluable lessons to young talent. Yet, neither of these players has the specific sort of valuable experience we need if we truly want to run the table in a , such as winning a conference finals title. The numbers are clear: if we invested optimally, we’d take seventeen year old phenoms from eastern Europe before we began throwing out millions to the NBA elderly.

Can you see why I’m extremely skeptical about these two transactions?

The juxtaposition between the Bucks investing in youth (our fawns) and investing in subpar athletes who’ve played professionally for more than a half dozen years begs the questions: Is Jason Kidd the driving force behind these intelligent Bucks’ front office decisions? Kidd, who himself is one of the youngest NBA coaches, has already expressed interest about procuring a role as GM during his time in Brooklyn. I’ve already brought forth the evidence that Kidd was the true Coach of the year during the 2014-2105. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s pushing for acquiring young talent.

With Jabari returning after his devastating year, and a squad of teammates younger than the age of twenty five such as the Greek Freak and MCW (whose spectacular trade I compared to Kawhi Leonard in a previous article), the Bucks’s are poised for an impressive few years. Why? Milwaukee understands the tivme value of NBA players, just as we understood the time value of money when it came to building the new Bucks arena.

So when I consider the Milwaukee Bucks a legitimate contender for an NBA title in a couple years, I hope you take the deer seriously. By that time, the fawns will have grown into fully mature, and frightening deer. The average Buck is currently 24 years old. In two years, Milwaukee should be close to hitting its stride, with several key players locked into multi-year contracts.

Rest of the league, this is your final warning: Fear the fawns.


Image via NBA.com

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