Men's Basketball

May 22, 2012

Was the Cupboard Bare When Dawkins Arrived?

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By Max Wernecke
2012 NIT Championship - Final - Stanford v Minnesota

Max Wernecke returns to The Daily Axe for another statistics-based analysis of Stanford basketball. This time, he turns his attention to a common adage heard among the Cardinal faithful: head coach Johnny Dawkins inherited a program wiped of its traditionally high level of talent. Click here to check out Max’s analysis of Cardinal basketball recruiting.


n March, columnist Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News wrote a blog post claiming that Johnny Dawkins had plenty of incoming talent his first season, and denouncing Cardinal fans that claim that the “cupboard was bare” for the first-year head coach. Wilner notes that seniors Lawrence Hill (first-team all-conference in 2007), Mitch Johnson (honorable mention all-conference in 2008) and Anthony Goods (also honorable mention all-conference in 2008) returned along with future pro Landry Fields.

Unfortunately, honorable mentions are not the most accurate way to measure quality.

Here is a chart of the classic three per-game stats and the win shares (WS) of the aforementioned players (with all statistics from

Win shares include all statistics and account for defensive value, so I will use WS to compare the players.

In 2007, the players combined for 8.3 WS, mostly attributable to Hill’s excellent season. In 2008, Trent Johnson’s final year as Stanford head coach, the players contributed 9.1 WS. In Dawkins’s first year, the players totaled 13.4 WS, significantly better than any other of their previous totals. Clearly, a large part of the increase was the development of Fields. But even removing Fields, the total is 9.2 WS, far better than the total of 8 WS of Goods, Hill and Johnson in 2008.

In other words, Dawkins utilized the four players that Wilner mentioned at least as well as Johnson did. The problem was the talent, or more accurately the lack of talent, that Johnson left behind. To get some perspective, Dawkins had less talent in his first three seasons than any previous Stanford team in the past decade. Using the data from the Top 100 recruits I looked into previously (a summary can be seen on the right), I calculated how much talent each Stanford team had during the past ten years.

First a list of the Top 100 recruits since 1999:

 (All rankings from *summer rankings)

Next, here is a breakdown of how each season finished, with the number of top 100 recruits, the number of NBA players, the Pomeroy ranking and the weighted WS for each team:

(All information from, except the Pomeroy rating)

As I mentioned before, by almost any measure, the teams in 2009, 2010 and 2011 had the least talent of any Stanford teams surveyed. Johnson left behind 1 Top 100 recruit, Lawrence Hill (with only 1 season remaining), and 1 future NBA player, Landry Fields (with 2 seasons remaining). Furthermore, Fields developed under Dawkins, not under Johnson, as can be seen in the initial chart. I’m not going to claim the mythological cupboard was completely bare (like when Larry Krystkowiak took over at Utah a year ago). However, I don’t think it is wrong for Stanford fans, in comparison to how much talent the team usually has, to claim that the team had less talent than usual, and by that token the cupboard was comparatively bare.

As an added bonus, I looked at how the Stanford teams did with respect to the amount of talent (in terms of Top 100 recruits’ weighted WS). Below are graphs of their WS compared to their final Pomeroy Rank, their total wins and their conference wins.

The three graphs all suggest that 2008, 2009 and 2010 were above-average talent years (send your regards to Mr. Fields for that one).  It also seems that 2003, 2007 and 2011 were disappointments, although Stanford fans rarely have had as much talent as the 2003 team did, and almost certainly didn’t view it as a major letdown.

The other years are far more mixed. Two seasons aren’t a fair measure of Montgomery’s coaching, so I will leave the 2004 team out of the discussion. The other seasons boil down to this: which man did more with the talent at his disposal, Dawkins or Johnson? Of course, it is impossible to count 2009 or perhaps even 2010 only for Dawkins, especially given that they were low-talent outlier years on The Farm.

Johnson had two seasons, 2005 and 2006, that were disappointments in all the indicators other than conference wins. Furthermore, Johnson had lots of left-over talent from Montgomery: Rob Little (for 2005 only), Chris Hernandez, Matt Haryasz and Tim Morris. Johnson’s 2007 was a slight but noteworthy disappointment, and 2008 was a big positive.

Dawkins, with his players (in 2011 and 2012) has had one good year and one bad year in terms of wins and/or Pomeroy rank relative to talent. Next season will be crucial to determining if his success in 2009 and 2010 are due to his coaching ability or were attributable to Johnson. It will indicate Dawkins’s ability as a coach, and therefore the future of the Cardinal men’s basketball program.

(Headline image courtesy of @Daylife)

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About the Author

Max Wernecke
Max Wernecke is a junior at Stanford University, where he studies Management Science and Engineering.


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