Dampier: Peak Or Fluke

In my last column, I wrote that Dampier would be a good addition to the Knicks. Well not everyone feels the same way as I do. I received an email from a (hopefully) long time reader who pointed me to an APBR_analysis post of his regarding Dampier dated almost 3 months ago.

From: bob chaikin (bchaikin@bballsports.com)
Date: Fri Apr 2, 2004 2:31 pm

…dampier may be valuable now (with the individual numbers he’s putting up), but almost certainly won’t be as a free agent – i.e. if someone looking at him is expecting this kind of performance in the future from him he won’t repeat a season like this with any consistency, if at all. it can easily be shown that dampier is having, as JohnH would say, a fluke season (see posting 3370), a fluke good one in this case…

he’s already in his 8th season and 29 years old, and up and to this point has never demonstrated this kind of production before, despite getting substantial playing time. and although he looks like a monster offensive rebounder now, its actually his defensive rebounding that has improved more (from last season). his touches/min and player attributes (what he does once he gets the ball) are pretty much the same as last season (he is getting fouled more however), and in actuaity his touches/min is down from prior years, as is his shot blocking – those two right there would worry me. he is shooting better than ever, getting to the line better than ever, and committing fouls the least amount of his career. i’d bet he won’t keep this up, not for any extended period of time in the future. i can’t recall any player that was in the league for 7 seasons that had his career year in his 8th season and kept up that kind of production for any length of time…

…if dampier is traded or signed as a free agent next season by another team expecting from him super rebounding numbers for a few more seasons, they will most likely be disappointed, especially when his rebounding numbers come down along with his shooting, he commits more fouls, and his shot blocking doesn’t return to previously high levels (two years ago he was blocking almost 6% of all opponents shots, now he’s just a little better than half that)…

Part-time KnickerBlogger and full time sports guru, Bob feels that Dampier’s season was a fluke. That is he’s highly unlikely to repeat last year’s performance in the future. In his evaluation, he says to expect more fouls, a lower FG%, less rebounds, and the same or less number of blocks. Browsing through the APBR_analysis message board, I found another part-time KnickerBlogger that has a different opinion on Dampier.

From: Kevin Pelton
Date: Sun Apr 4, 2004 5:54 pm

…Dampier pretty clearly is not having a fluke season, in that he had not “leveled” prior to this year. Before last season, he had leveled off at a sub-mediocre level of performance, but he dramatically improved last year — in fact, in a point I don’t think anyone else has pointed out, JohnH has Dampier as one of his fluke players this year.

Take a look at this graph of Dampier’s efficiency by my formula divided by replacement level year-by-year:

That’s not a player who’s leveled off. PER shows a similar pattern, so I didn’t bother graphing it.

To quote JohnH, “Dampier enjoyed a career year at the age of 28, which means I’ll be looking very closely at him this season. The Fluke Rule says that players who make sudden jumps in productivity after 27 almost always come back to earth the next season, but 28-year-olds do less severely than others.”

Well, Dampier hasn’t come back to earth, he’s been even better. Two years of well above-average play in the middle seems an awful lot to explain away to a fluke to me. Dampier is extremely unlikely to repeat this year’s All-Star level performance in the future, but given the current level of centers in the NBA, he’s still a very valuable free agent…

Fluke or peak, there is one thing that all of us agree on:

Bob: “paying a 29 year old for one really good season with a contract going for 4 or 5 at mega bucks IMHO would be ill-advised.”

Kevin: “I would be careful of giving Dampier too long of a contract or too much money.”

It’s not the amount of money that Dampier would be getting that worries me, as much as the number of years. The Knicks are bent on never getting under the cap, and as long as the Dolans are willing to pay out a luxury tax, I guess it doesn’t matter if they’re $1M over the cap, or $50M over it. If the Knicks have to overpay to get someone to agree to come here, then so be it. It really doesn’t affect us in the short term, since we’re nowhere near being under the cap.

The question is how much longer and at what level Dampier can keep up his production? At this price, he’ll be unmovable for 5 years. So, between him and Marbury, the Knicks will have at least 4 more years of cap hell (which brings us to 2008).

Going into next year, Dampier is a clear upgrade over Nazr Mohammed. He is superior in every measure, offensively and defensively. The Knicks will see some improvement if they have Dampier starting next year. If Dampier is a “fluke” or fizzles out in a few years, then the Knicks will be stuck with an untradeable contract until 2009. Simply put, it’s a short term gain for a long term hit.

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Mike Kurylo

Mike Kurylo is the founder and editor of KnickerBlogger.net. His book on the 2012 Knicks, "We’ll Always Have Linsanity," is on sale now. Follow him on twitter (@KnickerBlogger).