These weekly roundtables have quickly become a part of our regular routines and we have every intention of extending through the of the regular season. We hope you’re enjoying them as much as we are. Don’t forget to check out question 6, which asks for answers from you, the readers.
Editor’s Note: Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla) is the author of this week’s questions
1. After a little more than a week of exploring, what’s your favorite OR least favorite SportVU stat, and why?
Cole Patty (@ColePatty): My favorite stats are still the touches stats — which I wrote about extensively here — I just think there is so much potential for that tab going forward.
Jacob Frankel (@jacob_frankel): The rim protection stats, with touches coming in a close second.
Kyle Soppe (@unSOPable23): I like the touch stats as well. Points per touch is an interesting concept and I think this system can take efficiency to a whole new level.
Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin): It seems like we all love the touches stats, so I’ll list my personal favorite – Time of Possession. The one problem that I’ve always with Usage Rate is that it doesn’t account for players who consistently create shots for everyone else – if John Wall dribbles around for 18 seconds before dishing to Bradley Beal, Usage Rate doesn’t account for it. Statistically, there has never been any difference between an assist with 20 seconds on the shot clock and one with two seconds on the shot clock. Now there is.
Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh): I’m really enjoying all of them and I’m really excited for the point where sample sizes are large enough for them to move beyond just curiosity. However, I do find it frustrating that the filters are so limited and you can’t group players by team or position. It’s ridiculous to be complaining about this unexpected statistical gift but those seem like such simple fixes to the presentation.
Andrew Johnson (@CountingBaskets) I am interested in both the Drives and Catch and Shoot stats, they both fit into the vague Expected Value of Everything model I have in my head.
Andy Liu (@AndyKHLiu): Hypothetically, charting how much players run helps with figuring out how coaches should scale back playing time relative to injuries. Steve Blake is also second in total miles traveled. Small sample size is great.
2. You’re a GM, and you can have one of the following Jazz players on your roster for the next five years at $14 million per season: Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter. Who are you taking and why?
Patty: My mind is telling me Hayward, who is the most proven commodity of the Jazz’s core four. My heart is set on Derrick Favors however, he has the kind of potential to be a dominant force on both ends of the floor, and strong play both ways is a rare commodity from any big man in this league.
Frankel: Favors. He’s already makes a bigger impact on defense than Hayward does on offense, and I think he has more potential to develop on the opposite side of the ball than the one he is already good at.
Soppe: Give me Hayward. Words like “upside” and “potential” seem to follow Favors around, but I’ll take the player who is better at this very moment (“potential” gets a lot of coaches fired). That’s not to say he won’t live up to the hype, but if I’m inking a player to a five-year deal, I’ll side with the “safer” option in this case.
Conlin: CARRY ON MY HAYWARD SON. THERE’LL BE PEACE WHEN YOU ARE DONE.
Levy: Kanter. He’s like a young, edgy Tom Gugliotta.
Johnson: I think I am going with Kanter, he actually looks like he has a more complete game than Favors right now.
Liu: Gordon Hayward is one of my favorite players in basketball. But I’ll go with Derrick Favors because I wouldn’t be able to live with myself when he’s Dwight Howard in two years.
3. What are the odds the Knicks dig a hole from which they can’t recover without the injured Tyson Chandler?
Patty: HUGE, and I was even a Knicks supporter after this offseason. After thinking they wouldn’t be as bad as the general consensus, I take back a lot of my thoughts after this latest injury.
Frankel: Verrrrry high. I was in the same boat as many others already predicting a big regression for the Knicks, and Chandler is huge for them. This injury puts them in the muddled battle for the 7th and 8th seeds and I can see scenarios in which they miss the playoffs.
Soppe: This is a funny question. I didn’t think the Knicks were any good coming into the year, so the hole that they dig is something I thought might happen even if Chandler was healthy. For the sake of the question, I’ll say there is a 100% chance that they dig a sizeable hole here, but I’m not sure that it is based solely on the injury to their defensive star.
Conlin: If there is a word that would be even stronger than “certain,” that word.
Levy: Well they had already broken ground on that enormous hole even when Chandler was playing, so I’ll say somewhere in the area of 1 to 1.
Johnson: Don’t forget this is the East. They can recover enough to be the sixth seed and lose in the first round of the playoffs, rather than be the fourth seed and get swept in second round.
Liu: Get back to me when they max Carmelo and sign LaLa as the General Manager. Then it’s going to start being truly hilarious.
4. If you were the Hall of Fame’s sole gatekeeper, would you let in Shawn Marion, or would you let his career drift into the ether?
Patty: I would, but I’m also a supporter of having a huge hall of fame. Marion is one of the most underappreciated players of the currently aging generation, let him in and have more to educate fans on about the sport.
Soppe: HOF. He fits the exact mold that it takes to qualify for my HOF. Play a valuable role on a championship level team. Check (2010-11). Give a consistent effort at both ends of the floor (seven seasons in which he averaged at least 15 points and 3 stocks … steals + blocks). Check. Sustained excellence (numbers have declined a bit, but he continues to play 30-plus minutes and make a positive impact). Check. Great nickname (“The Matrix”). Check. Hall Of Famer. Check.
Conlin: And now I rant about the Hall of Fame… I’ve always found the Hall of Fame for every sport to be rather silly. If you’re better than the worst player in, technically, you’re Hall of Fame caliber. Players get in for often arbitrary reasons and others don’t just because the voters don’t like them (regardless of merit). If I were the Hall of Fame’s sole gatekeeper, I wouldn’t have “players.” I would have “seasons,” and every season would be represented. From there, each season would have a list of players (or trends) that were vitally important to that season. In Marion’s case, he would certainly qualify for 2005, 2006, and 2007, and possibly even 2011, depending on how much you want to credit him for slowing LeBron in the Finals that year.
Levy: I always struggle with these questions. Defining Hall of Fame criteria at the very margins always feels exhausting and not entirely productive. Let him in. And Carter and McGrady too. Let them all in.
Liu: My knowledge of the NBA doesn’t come close to the people who are in charge of these things. That being said, why not? I’m with Ian. Somebody make a statue of Marion in mid-shot form. That’s good enough for me.
5. Forget small sample size: Did anyone really think Dwight Howard’s usage would significantly increase this season? If you’re Kevin McHale, do you use Dwight any differently than Houston has so far this season?
Patty: Well, this is going to be a boring answer but in terms of the context of the stat. Howard is playing less minutes this season. Dwight is likely being used the same amount over the course of a game, but is higher per minute so to say. Which I am in full support of. Use him while he is on the floor as much as you can, and have his breaks on the bench be longer.
Soppe: Things are going good right now with a scoring superstar in James Harden and another productive big in Omer Asik, so there is no reason to think Dwight is going to be used as an alpha male like he was in Orlando. Should Asik be moved or Harden injured, Howard is capable of putting the cape back on for the short term, but what we’ve seen thus far is what I expect to see for the remainder of the season assuming the personal doesn’t change in a big way.
Conlin: I will inevitably write about this at greater length, but Dwight Howard should be used as the best possible version of Tyson Chandler – rolling to the rim and not bothering about post-ups. However, it seems like Howard isn’t too fond of this, which has always confused me – why does he like posting up so much if he isn’t particularly good at it? But that’s a whole other conversation.
Levy: I think the more versatility they have down the road, the better off they’ll be. That might mean giving Howard a chance to be featured a lot early on, so that everyone else has a chance to get reps and find their spots playing off him. However, I don’t think this is the only offensive approach they’ll need this season and so it wouldn’t surprise me if his Usage begins to fluctuate more with the matchups.
Johnson: The Rockets aren’t built as a Four Out/One In team the way the Magic were, if he liked it so much he should have stayed with Stan VanG. I agree that pick and roll plays with Harden (when Asik isn’t clogging the middle) and put backs are going to be his best opportunity to be productive in Houston.
Liu: Shameless plug for my piece on the Rockets’ experiment! But it’s not likely things will change. Dwight Howard likes to post up because that’s where he’s most comfortable, despite not being especially great at it. Big men want the ball in their hands, not waiting for a guard to maybe or maybe not passing it to them on a roll. Why do you think most centers want to play point guard? Dwight wants to be in control of his own game and that won’t change unless a coach commands his respect in a manner that causes a mental change. The Rockets will be fine in the regular season. But unlike LeBron James who changed his game a bit, tweaked a couple things here and there after a Finals flameout, it doesn’t appear Dwight will ever get there. Is it fair to say he’s long since peaked?
6. For the readers, a repeat of Question 2: Which Jazz player (Hayward, Favors or Kanter) would be the best building block on a five-year, 14-million per year deal?
We’re leaving this last question up to you the readers. Put your answer in the comments or use the hashtag #Question6 to share your answers on Twitter. I’ll find them and drop them in here. Check back throughout the day as answers roll in.
Shot selection and specifically shot locations have become a larger and larger part of the basketball conversation. It’s a topic of great personal interest to me and I’ve written quite a bit about it this season. To add an easily comparably quantitative element to the conversation, I also developed Expected Points Per Shot (XPPS). This metric is based on the expected value of shots from different locations and boils the quality of a player’s shot selection down to a single number. When we talk about high-value shots were usually referring to shots at the rim, three-pointers and free throw attempts. The scale of XPPS is aligned with league averages, numbers which are constantly over and under-performed. For that reason we often compare XPPS to Actual Points Per Shot and look at the difference between the two, which is called Shot Making Difference.
I’ve built visualizations which allow you to explore, sort and filter the XPPS numbers for players, team offenses and team defenses. I know those interactive graphs can be a little overwhelming so I wanted to pull out some of the most interesting numbers from this season and go a little bit deeper with them. Today we’ll be looking at some of the shot selection numbers for individual players, with analysis of teams to follow in subsequent posts.
This first table shows the players with the ten highest and lowest-value shot selections, as measured by XPPS. I separated the players into three groups based on their USG%, to differentiate between players with different roles.
As we mentioned above players over and under-perform the expected values of their shot selection all the time, which is a big factor in evaluating whether they truly understand their offensive roles and strengths. This next table shows the same 60 players, but instead of their XPPS I’ve listed their Shot Making Difference, which is the difference between their XPPS and their Actual Points Per Shot. You can see some players who take high-value shots, but don’t necessarily make them, as well as players who make a lot of low-value shots, usually long two-pointers.
The extent to which XPPS is useful in evaluating shot selection is pretty limited if you don’t also understand the context of their skills, limitations and responsibilities within the team’s offensive structure. Here are few of those numbers, both good and bad, with the context more fully fleshed out.
LeBron James – 1.079 XPPS (8th best in the >24 USG% bracket), +0.202 Shot Making Difference – What James did this season in the scoring efficiency department this season was simply incredible, increasing his FG% from essentially every area of the floor. However, he exponentially raised the impact of those gains in accuracy by improving his shot selection as well. Last season 37.9% of James’ shot attempts were long two-pointers. This season that percentage fell to 29.7%, with big increases in both shots at the rim and three-pointers. He made shots at an incredible rate this season, but he also made an incredible effort to make sure he was taking the right shots.
Tyreke Evans – 1.119 XPPS (5th best in the 19-24 USG% bracket), -0.002 Shot Making Difference – For his first few seasons in the NBA, Evans was the poster boy for unconscionable shot selection. A sensational rookie season was met with criticism of his inconsistent outside shooting. Over the next two seasons Evans seemed determined to prove those critics wrong, spending more and more time outside the paint, and in the process, proving those critics right by missing mountains of jumpshots. This season, he made some huge changes and it showed up in his scoring efficiency. First off, he became a consistent three-point shooter, knocking down 34.2% compared to a previous career high of 29.1%. Also, for the first time in his career he attempted more three-pointers than long two-pointers. Those inefficient and inaccurate mid-range shots made up just 16.7% of his shot attempts this season, by far the lowest percentage of his career. We always find time to celebrate the players who become better shooters, but we should also find time to celebrate players, like Evans, who become better decision makers.
J.J. Hickson – 1.111 XPPS (8th best in the 19-24 USG% bracket), 0.070 Shot Making Difference – Hickson is another player, like Evans, who made dramatic improvements in offensive efficiency by making dramatic improvements in offensive decision making. Last season 51.0% of Hickson’s shot attempts came at the rim. This season that number jumped to 65.3%. By being more selective with his long two-pointers, he also became more accurate. Last season he shot 30.5% in that zone, where this season he made 47.3% with a whopping 71% of his makes being assisted on. Concentrating on what you do well can yield tremendous benefits.
Tyler Hansbrough - 1.135 XPPS (2nd best in the 19-24 USG% bracket), -0.081 Shot Making Difference - How does a player who shoots below the league average from every area of the floor end up with a TS% above the league average? Free throws. Hansbrough took 361 shots from the field this season and 263 free throws. Only Dwight Howard and Reggie Evans had a higher ratio of FTA/FGA. He’s not a great finisher or shot maker from anywhere, but he has really focused on his strengths – getting to the rim and getting to the line. That FTA/FGA ratio was a career-high, nearly 50% higher than in any of his previous seasons. This was also the first season of his career where he attempted more shots at the rim than long-two pointers.
Dirk Nowitzki, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman – 0.946 | 0.950 | 0.951 XPPS (3rd, 2nd and 4th worst in their respective USG% brackets) – There is an absolute benefit to having players, especially big men, who can step out and knock down a mid-range jumper. It’s a pressure valve for an offense and can really buoy the efficiency of a group against tough defenses. The problem is when that shot becomes the centerpiece of the offense. Nowtizki is one of the best mid-range shooters in the history of the NBA and having him take that shot on a regular basis won’t break the offense. But the Mavericks stacked their front court with mid-range shooters the entire offense suffered. Last season when Nowitzki was on the floor 21.5% of his teammates’ shots were long two-pointers. This season, alongside Brand and Kaman, 26.8% of his teammates’ shots were long two-pointers. Even making those shots at an above average rate, as Brand, Kaman and Nowitzki can do, provides less efficient scoring that a multitude of other options. The Mavericks’ offense this season was a perfect example of the lesson that, “just because you can make a shot doesn’t mean you should take a shot.”
Evan Turner – 0.973 XPPS (8th worst in the 19-24 USG% bracket), -0.17 Shot Making Difference – Making 36.5% of his three-pointers this season was a big step forward for Turner. He’s also settled into a nice, accurate groove on long two-pointers, making 42.3%. The problem, as always, is balance. This was the third season of Turner’s career, and the third in which his ratio of long two-pointers to shots at the rim was roughly 2-to-1. Those long two-pointers made up nearly half his shot attempts this season and still outnumbered his newly accurate three-point shots by more than 3-to-1. He also shot a career low 47.9% on shots at the rim this season, where the league-average was 64.7%. Turner is a respectable mid-range shooter, but that shot just isn’t efficient enough to be the foundation of a richly versatile offense game. The bottom line is that he simply can’t be a viably efficient offensive player with this shot selection.
Tayshaun Prince – 0.963 XPPS (5th worst in the <19 USG% bracket), 0.008 Shot Making Difference – At this point in his career Prince’s offensive contributions come almost exclusively as a spot-up shooter. For most players this would equate to a lot of three-point attempts, but this season he attempted four times as many long two-pointers as three-pointers. Prince’s three-point attempts per 40 minutes this season were at a career low and even declined further as he moved from Detroit to Memphis. It’s a shame because Memphis is in desperate need of floor spacing and Prince has the skills to have a Shane Battier-like effect in that department. But to make that really work he needs to move a step or two back.
Andrew Nicholson – 0.954 XPPS (4th worst in the 19-24 USG% bracket), +0.154 Shot Making Difference – Including Nicholson on this end of the list may be a little unfair. He actually had a really solid rookie season and proved himself to be a reliable perimeter threat, both spotting up and as the screener in the pick-and-roll. Although his shot-selection looks terrible, with 45% of his shot attempts coming on long two-pointers, he drastically over performed the expected value of his shots and finished the year shooting 43.8% on those long twos. Although his XPPS puts him in the bottom ten, his actual points per shot were higher than Tyler Hansbrough’s, who ranked in the top ten in XPPS. He has the potential to be a supremely better version of Brandon Bass, but if he really wants to push the bounds of his efficiency it would be worth it for him to work on stretching his range out past the three point line. Nicholson didn’t attempt a single three-pointer this season, but shot a reasonable 34.0% from 20-24ft. Besides the added value of potentially earning three points per shot attempt, adding a few feet to his range will also open some considerable space in the paint for his teammates.
This week ESPN gave us a snapshot of what’s become one of their standard summer projects, #NBARank
. As an end-of-season treat they put together an early preview, giving their panel of 111 contributors (myself included) the standard task of ranking each player on a scale of 1-to-10 in terms of ‘current quality.’ This time instead of evaluating the whole league we were just asked to assess a core group, assembling a list of the top 30 players in the league. There were no surprises at the top, with LeBron nailing a perfect 10
I always find this project fascinating, not because of the order the players eventually settle into, but because of what it reveals about the distribution of talent in the league, how that talent is perceived and what scale is created by this sort of mass evaluation. When this project was first run, in the summer of 2011, I looked at how the results reflected the top-heavy talent distribution of today’s NBA. This past summer, I looked at what appeared to be a severe undervaluing of the rookie class. With these latest round of results, I thought it might be interesting to compare the subjective voting to some objective, statistical measures of player quality.
The table below shows each player included in the NBA Rank Top 30. The blue line shows their score from ESPN’s project, the average rating given by the 111 panelists. The red line shows each player’s Win Shares from this season, taken from Basketball-Reference. The green line shows each player’s Wins Produced, taken from Patrick Minton’s site, The NBA Geek. The purple line shows each player’s Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), taken from Daniel Myers’ site, DStats.
One of the things I always struggle with as a voter in this project is how to create separation between tiers of talent, with only the 1-to-10 scale to work with. This season, that meant giving LeBron James, and only LeBron James, a perfect 10. Win Shares and Wins Produced both rate Kevin Durant‘s season as fairly comparable to LeBron’s, but all three measures show an enormous drop-off after those two players. Depending on how you evaluate Durant, leaving the two of them alone in the 9-to-10 range may not even be enough. Making the 1-to-10 scale fully reflect the difference in production between them and their peers may require leaving the score of 8 completely empty as a spacer of excellence.
Looking at the graph, we can see a few other places where the wisdom of the masses differed significantly from the numbers. James Harden was ranked 8th by the voters, but measures out no lower than 5th in any of the statistical systems. All three systems also seem to indicate that Marc Gasol, Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry and Paul George may be undervalued. Although VORP doesn’t like him quite as much as the other two, Tyson Chandler is another player who’s NBA Rank is much lower than his statistics might indicate.
Looking at players who are overvalued by the group is a little bit trickier. These metrics are cumulative which means values are naturally lower for those players who have missed significant time with injury this season. This makes it difficult to realistically compare the ratings for players like Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose, John Wall and Rajon Rondo. However there are some healthy players on which the numbers seem to agree. None of the three statistical systems ranks Carmelo Anthony as a top-ten player, although he was ranked 9th by the ESPN voters. LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard are other players who the numbers seem to agree may have been placed a little too high.
Besides the fact that the statistical systems order these specific 30 players from NBA Rank differently, they don’t even agree on which players make up the top 30. Here are the players from the Win Shares Top 30, missing from this round of NBA Rank:
Those nine players would bump out Dwight Howard, Kyrie Irving, Dirk Nowitzki, John Wall, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Paul Pierce.
Here are the players from the Wins Produced Top 30, missing from this round of NBA Rank:
Wins Produced disagrees about more than half of the Top 30 including players like Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, LaMarcus Aldridge, Brook Lopez and Chris Bosh.
Here are the players from the VORP Top 30, missing from this round of NBA Rank:
Those nine players would bump out Zach Randolph, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Rajon Rondo, Chris Bosh and Dirk Nowitzki.
Three names showed up in the top 30s from all three statistical systems, but were absent from NBA Rank – George Hill, Mike Conley and David Lee. Showing up on two of the three lists were David West, Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, Kenneth Faried and Jose Calderon.
Ultimately, these differences are all academic. ESPN’s goal is not to create a definitive scale of NBA talent, it’s to stimulate and extend discussion. The criteria given to panelists is purposefully structured in an open-ended way, allowing each respondent to make decisions however they see fit. It’s clear though from the results that those factors weighed by each individual are wide-reaching, stretching well beyond pure statistical production.
1. Which All-Star selection fills you with blissful joy?
Kyle Soppe – @unSOPable23 – Jrue Holiday, for all the critics who say that the 76ers are a team without a true star player. This kid was a prodigy when he went to UCLA and has been as good as advertised in Philly. He already has 53 more assists than last season (27 fewer games played) and has seen his scoring average jump by nearly 50%. How many point guards in the league average at least 17 points and 9 assists? Only one.
Matt Cianfrone – @Matt_Cianfrone – Paul George. As I Bucks fan I should hate George but I just find it so hard. A superb defender, stupid athletic, great passing young guard who has carried his team minus what many people think is their best player. I am glad to see George rewarded even after his slow start. Also I already can’t wait for his dunks that will come in the game. It is going to be great.
Myles Ma – @MylesMaNJ - Tyson Chandler. Yes, this is a total homer pick. But this selection absolutely fills me with blissful joy. Tyson Chandler has finally made an All-Star team after serving his time as the lynchpin of a Knicks defense whose perimeter defenders volunteer as traffic cones at the DMV. It’s his first All-Star game, and it comes in the midst of one of his finest seasons. Over the past three years, Chandler has decided to limit his offensive game to just dunks and free throws, with spectacularly efficient results. This year, he’s perfected the art of the tap out, turning a lot of J.R. Smith bricks into the midpoints of extra-long possessions instead of the unhappy endings they usually are. He even made No. 8 on GQ’s 25 most stylish men of 2012. Even with that scraggly-ass beard. It’s definitely his year.
Kris Fenrich – @DancingWithNoah - David Lee (I almost typed “David Curry”) with Jrue Holiday coming at a close second. I often refer to Lee as the modern-day Bob Pettit and I’m only partially joking. He scores with ease, rebounds well, has well-above-average vision for a four man and passes well. And none of this is new, it’s just the guy’s never been in a winning situation before. Good to see his multiple skills acknowledged among the league’s best.
Michael Shagrin – @mshaggy -Kyrie Irving. When it’s all said and done, I think this kid will have the last laugh. He’s a Chris Paul look-alike with more size and a smoother J. And he’s only 20 years old! Classic Kyrie outing: the night he returned after breaking his finger, the Cavs played a nail biter against the Lakers with Kyrie going for 28 points. As Kobe tried to wrest control of the game from him in the final minutes, he cooly steered Cleveland to victory. His absence from the starting unit was almost my answer to the following question…
As mentioned in the previous edition of the Weekly Stats Recap, the suggested #StatStudy
for this week was orchestrated to determine the impact of elite assist men. Perry Missner (@PerryMissner
), a noted doubter of the importance of great point guards
, estimated that 65% of the teams with a double digit dime man would win. As it turns out (for this week at least), Perry wasn’t pessimistic enough when it comes to the correlation between individual passing performance and team success.
During this 49 game week, a mere 11 games were won by a team who had a player record 10+ assists. That is a lower number than I would have guessed given the sheer volume of points scored in the NBA, but points are being scored more in isolation sets these days. In addition, teams with a double digit assist player lost 12 times, meaning that if you had a player record 10+ assists, you only had a 47.8% chance of winning.
I decided to also chart the number of assists for the point guard on the winning team. My thought process in charting such a statistic was to see if Perry’s theory that “we don’t need no stinking point guard” was accurate. As expected, because he does his due diligence and wouldn’t make such a claim if not supported, assist totals for victorious point guards was not very high at all. The 49 winning point guards recorded 319 assists (6.5 apg), not a high total considering that the NBA average for points in a game is 97.5 and roughly 103 points for the winning team.
What statistic is on your mind? What do you want me to chart for the next seven days in the hopes of proving/disproving a thought of yours? Tweet me (@unSOPable23) the stat and your prediction for the result, use the hashtag #StatStudy, and I’ll put the wheels in motion. That’s all it takes. Let your opinion be heard!
Without further adieu, here are the stats that went unnoticed for the week that was in the NBA.
Big Bang Theory: the theory that the universe [new era of basketball] originated from the cataclysmic explosion [the draft of LeBron James
in 2003] of a small volume of matter at extremely high [level of production] density and temperature. In layman’s terms, the style of play and level of efficiency that we are seeing from LeBron James
has the potential to change the NBA forever.
There are a lot of ways to describe greatness, but the general NBA fan prefers to look at points scored. It’s a “sexy” and simple stat that is visually appealing to watch (in most cases) and easy to appreciate. Ultimately, the goal of the game of basketball is to score more points than your opponent, making it natural to associate point totals with greatness.
Now, I’m not saying points scored aren’t a valuable statistic, but when LeBron James recorded his 20,000th point against the Warriors, it wasn’t his most impressive accomplishment of the evening. He set up Dwayne Wade for a two handed flush early in the first half, a pass that resulted in his 5,000th career dime. Much has been made of James’ career scoring trajectory (needs to average roughly 22 points over his next 10 seasons to become the NBA’s all time leading scorer), but instead of looking ahead, let me help you appreciate what we have already seen.
I used the beginning of the 2006-2007 season as my starting point as it was the season after James’ first career playoff appearance and now evident that this man would go on to do great things. Since that point in time, he has handed out 3,453 assists that have lead to 7,973 points. That’s more than was scored by Steve Nash (7,310), Ray Allen (7,855), Chauncey Billups (6,871), Paul Millsap has scored (6,175), or Luol Deng (7,446) over the same span of time. Some in the advanced stats community devalue the assist. But even if we only credit LeBron with 1 point for each assist leading to a 2-point basket and two points for each assist leading to a 3-point basket we still end up crediting him with 4,528 points being scored by his teammates. That total still means the Kings has created more points via pass than Tyson Chandler (4,256 points), Andrew Bogut (4,435), Kyle Korver (4,436), or Andrew Bynum (4,523) has scored.
Let that sink in for a minute. That’s an impressive group of players, yet by either scoring system James has passed for more points than any one of them have scored since 2006. Add in the fact that he has himself scored 13,739 points over that stretch, and it is becoming clear just how revolutionary of a talent James truly is.
A big part of James’ point production via the pass is his ability to set up his teammates who are positioned behind the three point line. Tom Haberstroh wrote a nice piece on where all of James’ passes have gone, and upon looking deep into the advanced statistics, a remarkable 31.1% of his assists (1,075) since 2006 have resulted in three points. That means that The King has assisted on more three pointers in his last 489 games than Allen Iverson made (1,059) in 914 career games. Danny Ainge (1,002 career three pointers), hall of famer Scottie Pippen (978), and sharp shooting Mark Price (976) also made less triples in their storied careers than LeBron has assisted on since 2006.
Last but not least, consider this little tidbit. If the season ended today (remember that we still have 44 games left in this regular season), LeBron James would end the season in which he turned 28 years old with 2,384 more assists than Steve Nash at the exact same age. Sure, James has played more games, but it is hard to deny his potential to rank among the very best passers when all is said and done. He needs to average just 5.7 assists (has never averaged less than 5.9 assists) over the next 10 seasons to become the sixth member of the 10,000 assist club.
So the next time you turn on the TV and see the LeBron James highlights, try to appreciate what he does for his teammates. This isn’t an elite scorer who stumbles into assists; this is a point forward that is changing the path of the NBA.
This week’s #StatStudy
was suggested by our very own Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh
), a great basketball mind who will stop at nothing to make sense of this game we all know and love. Mr. Levy was curious as to the ideal number of possessions, a stat that I measured by recording the OffEff (points per 100 possessions) of every winning team this week (52 games).
Oddly enough, the result from this study closely resembled a standard bell curve. The mean number of possessions for winning teams was roughly 93 with 68% of the data (one standard deviation in either direction) being between 88 and 97 possessions. There was a two way tie for the mode, as 94 and 97 possessions were the numbers that occurred most frequently. However, the mean number of possessions (93) was also the peak when it came to average OffEff of the winning team. Thanks in large part to the Heat’s dismantling of the Kings (a game in which they scored 137.6 points per 100 possessions), victorious teams that had 93 possessions averaged the greatest OffEff at 117.42. Of the teams that fall outside the norm (88-97 possessions), it was the teams who had more possessions that were slightly more efficient. When a team recorded more than 97 possessions in a given game, their average OffEff was 110.4 while teams who had fewer than 88 possessions averaged 108.6 points per 100 possessions.
In conclusion, it is about finding the quickest offense your specific team can run while maintaining solid shot selection. More possessions doesn’t mean a higher efficiency, however, as the lowest possession count of the week (82) had a higher efficiency (120.7) than the winning team in the game with the most possessions (108). The average winning team in the NBA averaged 108.03 points per 100 possessions, with only three teams winning by averaging less than a point per possession.
We’ve got a #StatStudy lined up for the week ahead (what is the impact of double digit assist men on the outcome of the game), but what would you like to see studied in the future? There are almost no restrictions, as the topics can range from advanced statistics to production by a player with the best nickname. Each week in the NBA features roughly 50 games, so your idea will receive a pretty decent sample size. Tweet me @unSOPable23 with the next great idea and we will discuss the logistics to make it happen.
Without further adieu, your stats from the week that was in the NBA.
Fridays With Fenrich is a weekly feature here at Hickory-High, the aggregation of an extended, week-long email conversation on a single basketball theme, between myself and Kris Fenrich of Dancing With Noah.
Ian: We’re rapidly approaching the half-way point of this NBA season. What are a few of your favorite moments? Who have you really enjoyed watching? Who makes you change the channel searching for re-runs of the Cosby show?
Kris: Favorite Moments – It’s strange, when I think back across the first couple months of the season, moments don’t come to mind. Nothing does, it’s just a blank abyss at which I have to look closely and deeply with the right kind of eyes and even then the image I get is far from what I’d call “favorite.” It’s an image of Dwight Howard with that ridiculous headband on, those silly arm wraps, trying with all his might to look gladiatorial, but instead looking like an unknowing court jester, struggling to understand where fun ends and work begins.
Who have I enjoyed watching? – Anyone who’s read my blog knows I’ve had a lot of fun watching Golden State this season. Stephen Curry’s a flower in full bloom and I’m considering going to church just so I can pray for his health. And David Lee’s no slouch either. He’s at home in the paint with the ball in his hands. He doesn’t have the most moves or the slickest moves, but like fullbacks who just happen to have a nose for the end zone, he has a nose for the basket and makes me think back to the Bob Pettits‘ and Jerry Lucas’ of the world. But in terms of pure joy, it’s a toss-up between Chris Paul and J.R. Smith. CP3’s just too exquisite to ignore. He’s a conductor out there in the most musical sense of the word. And when his orchestra can’t keep up, he just does it his damn self. Then there’s J.R. … he’s a lightning rod of offense. It’s like he calls forth on the Gods of Thunder and reigns down furious fireballs on his opponents when the Knicks most need it. He dunks, passes, bombs threes and plays serviceable defense … and he’s less than $3mill this year. A man who has access to the Gods deserves more.
Snoozers – Hmm, this is really a circumstantial thing, but unless the following teams are in close, competitive games, I’m usually moving on: Atlanta Hawks (easily one of the most depressing fan bases in the league), Phoenix Suns (it’d be more interesting if Beasley was out there gunning, but the only thing I enjoy watching with Phoenix is Shannon Brown’s inflating self-confidence and flaring nostrils), Indiana Pacers (I know this is your squad, but I haven’t seen these guys play more than five minutes at a time this season).
Ian: It’s funny because I feel like this season has been defined by a collection of contrasts and a few of those contrasts, as I see them, are what stood out to you – the Lakers precarious balance of overwhelming talent and underwhelming performance, J.R. Smith somehow channeling his volcanic and chaotic abilities into a placid sea of stability. I see the Warriors as part of this two-sided coin as well. Save the additions of Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green they are not that far from the “my defense is my offense” lineups of Sasha Pavlovic‘s dreams that they ran out they past few seasons. Yet somehow, without Andrew Bogut, they’ve turned into a tough, tough defensive team, one who controls the defensive glass and shuts down the lane to opposing ball-handlers.
To me the biggest self-contained contrast, and the highlight of my early season has been watching a molten-hot James Harden splash his boiling efficiency all over the court. If you watched Harden walk out of the tunnel you’d think he was a player driven by style and aesthetics but his game is strikingly different. Everything is about efficiency and economy. Every move he makes has a distinct and and driven purpose. Other than it’s striking effectiveness, nothing is eye-popping about what he does between whistles. The Rockets’ don’t have a wealth of offensive talent but Harden’s focus on efficiency has spilled over to his teammates, and they’ve built one of the best offenses in the league primarily around the revolutionary idea of taking good shots.
As the doldrums of late-winter shuffle closer, what basketball candles will you keep burning to drive away the dark and hold out until Spring?
Kris: I love what you wrote about the Rockets and Harden. I wish I’d seen them more particularly because Omer Asik’s forays towards the rim always provide a glimpse at potential disaster and Chandler Parsons’ offensive abilities are a joy to behold.
But winter? So damp, so cold, so uncomfortable, but so full of basketball. It’s this time of year that the season starts to stretch and the weight of 82 games starts to wear on players. For this season, right now as I write this, I’m looking forward to a few things, a few players and this isn’t in any order.
- The returns of Derrick Rose and Andrew Bynum. Eric Gordon made it back, so perhaps these two can do the same. Thibodeau continues to churn out a team that plays hard with discipline and is committed to a unified experience on the court and that’s without their star and some hard-to-replace role players from last year’s team. I don’t know if the east is up for grabs, but if Rose can possibly do an Adrian Peterson-esque impersonation, this team could be upsetting for eastern opponents. And Bynum? I don’t know what to make of this guy. I was watching games the other night and seeing Nikola Vucevic and Andre Iguodala thriving in Orlando and Denver and felt a lot of empathy for Doug Collins. You know he’s hyper aware of what they gave up for the big man and it’d be nice for all of us, and especially Doug Collins, if he could come back and make the Atlantic Division more interesting.
- There’s not much in sports that I enjoy more than booing a villain and throwing rotten vegetables at my flat screen TV. And I tell you, I’ve always been a Tyson Chandler fan. He seems like a straight up good dude off the court, but as a winner, he (and Carmelo Anthony as well) strikes me as a vulgar front runner. He sneers, pushes, shoves, flirts with dirty play, mean mugs, barks, roars and basically pretends to be the New York version of Kevin Garnett’s most villainous Celtic moments. And because of this, I have a lot of fun when the Knicks lose. It’s not personal, Knicks fans. It’s just a Tyson Chandler thing. And what up with those rotten veggies?
- I mentioned this in a longer post I did on my site, but the unpredictability of this Lakers team is fascinating. I was talking to a co-worker who’s a lifelong Laker fan and the incongruity between their talent and results is something so foreign and difficult to conceptualize. I can’t think of recent teams in any sport that have had the same kind of pre-season championship expectations and not just failed to live up to them, but have face planted on the concrete and slipped on banana peels and oil slicks every time they try to stand up. It’s one disaster after another and for me, it’s damn near impossible to turn away from.
- I’m mostly indifferent towards Scott Skiles. It seems like he burns out his players and is perpetually angry and he also looks a little bit like a grown man baby, but all judgments aside, I’m excited for the Bucks, Brandon Jennings and Milwaukee fans. I don’t know anything about Jim Boylan, but in the two games he’s been at the helm, Jennings has had two of his more complete and efficient games of the season. Larry Sanders continues to play well and if Ersan Ilyasova can return to his 2012 form and they can get steady contributions from Monta Ellis, it’ll at least be a fun team to watch. That’s a lot of “ifs” though and as we’re all so painfully aware: If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d never go hungry.
As you might know, I try to limit myself to picking national television games in this space. I like everyone to be able to look out for the things I point out, no matter where they live.
One thing that’s lame about that is that the same teams crop up over and over again. I just want you to know that it’s not my fault; blame whomever schedules the games.
On that note, I’m writing today about the Knicks, who are on national television twice this week. They play the Pacers on Thursday and the Bulls on Friday.
They are both good matchups, but Bulls have had the upper hand so far this season, winning the first two meetings with the Knicks. I think this will be a great game. These teams are just starting to really dislike one another.
Without their superstar point guard, the Bulls have relied on grit to put their winning record together. Joakim Noah has exemplified that. He covers up for the subpar defenders the Bulls employ at guard as well as frontcourt partner Carlos Boozer. With Derrick Rose out, he has also taken a bigger role on offense, particularly as a distributor, though his efficiency has dropped off and his turnovers have increased as a result. Bulls fans have to worry if he can hold up. He shoulders a lot of responsibility and plays 40 minutes a game, near tops in the league. He played even more minutes in two games against the Knicks. But despite the lack of rest and the presence of Tyson Chandler, he managed to muscle his way to the line six times a game against New York. He doesn’t have to shoot well, but if he can keep Chandler occupied and play his normal stalwart defense against the Knicks, the Bulls have a good chance of notching a third win over New York.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially with how well Carmelo Anthony has played of late. Melo is in the midst of his finest season, and looks completely in command as a scorer. With Amare Stoudemire still recovering from a knee injury, Anthony’s usage percentage has ballooned to a league-leading 34%, but he has proved worthy of that level of offensive responsibility, shooting more efficiently than ever, particularly from three. He’s also taking care of the ball, which is huge for someone who has it as much as he does. This looks like the season in which Melo fulfills his considerable potential. All that said, he has really struggled against the Bulls. Chicago has managed to slow down every facet of his game in their two meetings. Anthony particularly struggled at the basket, shooting just 42% against the Bulls, well off his normal 51% clip. If those struggles continue, it will be very difficult for the Knicks to win.
What to Watch For
The Bulls are one of the best defensive teams in the league, and a big part of that is how they defend the three-point line. Teams shoot just 32.9% from three against Chicago, the third-lowest rate in the league. The Knicks shoot more three-pointers than anyone else in the league. The Bulls did an excellent job of limiting the Knicks from distance, particularly in the corners, where the Knicks shot just 1-10. That number needs to improve if the Knicks are going to threaten this stingy defense.
Although the Knicks have played small most of the year, they have been a strong defensive rebounding team. But the Bulls have won the rebounding battle over two games. The Knicks need to play up to their standards on the defensive glass, because the Bulls are among the best offensive rebounding teams in basketball. The battle under under the rim will be decisive in this game.
Why Else Should I Watch?
Because J.R. Smith keeps doing ridiculous things in the air.
How to Watch
ESPN, Friday, 8 p.m. ET
League Pass Bonus Game
San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies, Friday, 8 p.m. ET. You can practice your channel flipping skills with this game Friday night.
For this week’s study my brother (@KurtSoppe
) pondered if FG% or FT% was more directly correlated to the game’s final outcome. He hypothesized that both FG% and FT% would be consistently higher for victorious teams, with the stronger correlation being found in the field goal percentage.
In support of Kurt’s guess, winning teams shot an average of 47.9% from the field while losing teams shot only 42.3%. Winning teams shot better than 50% from the field in 32.7% of the 52 games this week while losing teams made less than 40% of their shots in 30.8% of games this week.
The free throw results, however, showed no correlation whatsoever. In fact, losing teams shot a high percentage from the line in the majority of days this week. A strong showing on Sunday (four of the five winners shot at least 80%) resulted in winning teams edging out losing teams in weekly shooting percentage 73.8% to 73.4%, hardly a large enough difference to assume a direct relationship. The lone team to make all of their freebies this week lost, while five teams made less than 60% of their free throws and managed to win.
This felt like a “Dwight Howard” experiment to me, as we are looking to determine if a high FG% is more influential than a high FT%. According to the study (for this week at least), the Lakers made a wise move, with FG% being the stronger correlated of the two statistics.
I’m challenging you the reader to give me a stat to break down for next week. It could be as simple as the average height of players who score 20+ points or as in depth as percentage of shots made from 3-9 feet that were assisted on. The only rule for stat suggestions is that I have a place to find the stats you want researched. Other than that, I’ll run a week long study on any statistic your heart desires. So what will it be? What has you thinking? What are you interested in? Don’t be shy, tweet me @unSOPable23 and use #StatStudy to put your idea in the conversation for this week.
With that being said, here are your standout stats from the week that was in the Association.