Gimme the Rock Part 4:Jacks of all Trades

Posted on 11/06/2010 by


“Jack of all trades, master of none, though oftentimes better than master of one” – common

I know it took me a while to get to this piece. I’ve been a little preoccupied.


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Over the last few days I’ve been working on my brand new series . It’s called gimme the rock and it’s all about quantifying return of investment on offense. So far I’ve covered:

The Intro and the Paradox of Melo

Point Guards and the Nash Equilibrium

Shooting Guards and the Shooters Dilemma

For this part were going to focus on the NBA ‘s utility knives, the jack of all trades, the small forward. Why the jack of all trades? Let’s go to the Wikipedia definition:

“The small forward, or colloquially known as three, is one of the five positions in a regulation basketball game. Small forwards are typically somewhat shorter, quicker, and leaner than power forwards and centers, but on occasion are just as tall. The small forward position is considered to be perhaps the most versatile of the main five basketball positions, due to the nature of its role. Current NBA small forwards are between 6′ 6″ and 6′ 10″ in height. The typical placement for a small forward would be between the key and three-point line. Most small forwards are very versatile and very essential in a line-up.”

“Small forwards are primarily responsible for scoring points and also often as secondary or tertiary rebounders behind the power forwards and centers although a few, such as Hedo Turkoglu, who play as point forwards have considerable passing responsibilities. Many small forwards in professional basketball, however, are prolific scorers. The styles with which small forwards amass their points vary widely, as some players at the position like the Hornets’ Peja Stojaković are very accurate straight up shooters, while others like the Los Angeles LakersRon Artest prefer to “bang inside”, initiate and/or not shy away from physical contact with opposing players, while others are primarily slashers such as Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. One common thread between all kinds of small forwards is an ability to “get to the line”, that is have opposing players called for committing shooting fouls against them, as fouls are frequently called on the defense when offensive players “take the ball hard” to the basket, that is, aggressively attempt post-up plays, lay-ups, or slam dunks. Therefore, accurate foul shooting is an imperative skill for small forwards, many of whom record a large portion of their points from the foul line.Defense is often a major priority for small forwards, who are often counted on using their athleticism and size as defensive advantages. Shawn Marion of the Dallas Mavericks, Tayshaun Prince of the Detroit Pistons and Trevor Ariza of the New Orleans Hornets who with their length and athleticism are able to guard any position on the floor and are often called upon to do so. In 2009 the Orlando Magic acquired small forward Matt Barnes, primarily with the intention of guarding prolific swingmen such as Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant. Former small forwards known for their defensive abilities include Scottie Pippen, one of the best one-on-one defenders in the NBA for most of his career.”

So, Jack of all trades, master of none, though oftentimes better than master of one, seems like totally the right quote.Small Forwards are called to do many things and as scorers they will be all over the place. They will be many things to many teams.

Many kinds of small forwards and also many batmans

Let’s get to it shall we?

The Intro (ver. 2.0)

This has gone under some changes since part one based on reader feedback and comment (and just general observation while working it out).

The genesis of this series came from an article on Carmelo Anthony by Jeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company:

The motivation the article is that the author, cannot believe the premise that Carmelo Anthony is inefficient. While he admits that he in most cases believes in statistics, in this case the statistics do not match his conclusions drawn from direct observation. Faced with this quandary, he decided that he was going to take a look at the numbers himself and while I admire his efforts I disagreed with his results. He argued that while Melo was not an efficient scorer he could be if he chose to be. I find a fundamental problem with this idea. I think young players can be molded to appropriate behavior by the right system but veterans are who they are for the most part.

The real funny bit is that Melo so far this season might be proving me wrong (see Is Melo playing better by trying to play worse?). It’s the perils of a small sample size.

There is an ineffable calculus that makes a person an efficient generator of offense. The end goal is simple, the player needs to find the best possible look or find the man that has it and get him the ball without turning it over. The details, is he open, is it a three, will he get an and 1, etc., are not so simple. If the player is successful his team scores. The needs of the many do indeed outweigh the needs of the few or the one. Measuring this is a challenge and by now you know how I feel about challenges.

Not accepting this challenge would be illogical

The Metric & The Recap

The goal remains to develop a simple measure for the return (points) on investment (possessions) for players on offense (i.e. Player offensive efficiency). The concept is based on the idea that were I an NBA gm paying a player I would care about getting value (points) from my assets (possessions). I want to do this simply in a way that anyone can understand and using publicly available information. My method will be as follows:

  • Look at all the data for the 2008, 2009 & 2010 for every player and get:
  • Player Position
  • Minutes Played (and eliminate all players with less than 1200 Minutes Played which leaves 383 players)
  • Pts48 (points per 48 minutes)
  • FGA48 (field goal attempts per 48 minutes)
  • Pts per Attempt (pts per attempt = pts48/fga48)
  • AST48 (assists per 48 minutes)
  • TO48 (turnovers per 48 minutes)
  • FTA48. This was added because of two of my fabulous readers (some dude and Man of Steele take a bow) who pointed out that some free throws while free do end possession. They’re right of course. So we are going to add the SD-MOS hack-a-shaq correction.
  • Offensive possessions used per 48 (FGA48+AST48+TO48 +.44 *FTA48 term (an approximation for possessions used thru Free Throws from Prof. Berri) this is the possesions spent by the player)
  • Offense Generated (Pts +Asst *2.68) per 48. The 2.68 is the average points generated per FGA for 2008 thru 2010
  • Offense generated per possession used. This is the key measure as it reflects how many points the team generates when the player in question gets the rock.
  • Offense Generated at 30 possessions used. Here I’m just projecting every player at an even number of possessions.

In the first piece I Looked at the Six Players from the original Melo Piece:

  1. Carmelo Anthony
  2. LeBron James
  3. Kevin Durant
  4. Dwyane Wade
  5. Kobe Bryant
  6. Kevin Martin

And it looked like this:

Carmelo is tied with Durant at the rear of the group (Durant is young and improving however).

But this was just the intro (and for a very nice alternative take you can go see Evanz article on Offensive Efficiency)

Now I could look at every player together but I noticed a funny thing:

Role & position play a huge role in how you affect the offense so for this series we’ll be looking at players by position and then ranking them.

Then while looking at the Shooting Guards. I noticed something else. Usage.

Take a look:


Now the implication isn’t that efficiency and usage are linked. Diminishing returns doesn’t actually happen when players increase their usage. Go to the article below for detail

My take is that the populations in the data are different depending on position and usage.I believe that there is a unique optimum point for returns for every player . However, we can only observe the player’s efficiency at the level of usage they exhibit during the seasons. Take a look at this graph for economies of scale:
Economies of Scale

For some players an increase would be good and for some players a decrease would be good. Studies such as the one referred to above show that players who took more shots on average increased their efficiency. They took/were given more shots because on average their taking more shots would yield increasing returns so the data has a built in bias. My population sample shows the same skew.  The fact that on average  increased usage is proportional to increased efficiency  just means to me that as a whole the coaching fraternity of the NBA can recognize and assign more possessions to successful earners of points (at least on average 🙂 ).

So if I’m going to use my gimme the rock metric to evaluate efficiency, I need to do it by position and by usage. I’ll do this by using the  possession use stats I have lying around for everybody and standardizing and dividing every group into quarters:

  • Group 1 :Very High Possession Usage for Position
  • Group 2 : High possession Usage for Position
  • Group 3: Medium possession Usage for Position
  • Group 4: Low possession Usage for Position

We’ve looked at 79 eligible Point Guards:

Group 1 >1 Std Dev Above Average (The Elite): Nash, Paul, Deron, Chauncey

Group2 >1 Std Dev Above Average (The Good): Calderon,Kidd, Rondo

Group3 >1 Std Dev Above Average (Serviceable): Diener & Carter

Group4 >1 Std Dev Above Average (Won’t hurt you but you need someone else to get the points): Duhon, Knight, Antonio Daniels,Blake, Jason Williams, Jeff McInnis Carlos Arroyo

Then we did the 80 eligible Shooting Guards:

By group:

  • Group 1 >1 Std Dev Above Average (The Elite): Manu, Roy, Wade and Iverson
  • Group2 >1 Std Dev Above Average (The Good): Hinrich,Terry,Allen
  • Group3 >1 Std Dev Above Average (Serviceable): Jaric,West,Redick
  • Group4 >1 Std Dev Above Average (Won’t hurt you but you need someone else to get the points): Barry, Damon Jones,Fred Jones, Anthony Parker

Only four players in the very high usage group are one standard deviation above the mean as generators of offense (Ginobli, Roy, Wade and Iverson). Wade deserves special mention because his use of possession is off the charts with an insanely high efficiency. Iverson it should be clarified is sneaking in at SG (he wouldn’t do so well as a PG). Kobe to be fair is the second highest user of possessions per 48 minutes and still comes in at above average (but he’s clearly not the best shooting guard on the list, that honor belongs to Wade and Ginobli’s the closest).

Group two features Hinrich, Terry and Allen as one std dev. above average generators of offense. Group 3 has Marco Jaric, Delonte West and J.J Redick.

Now, finally, after all that preamble, come the jack of all trades, the Small Forwards and our old friend Melo.


The truth shall set you free



Gimme the Rock Rankings: Small Forwards

The table for all 74 eligible Small Forwards is here and it’s not good news for teams not named the Heat:

By group:

  • Group 1 >1 Std Dev Above Average (The Elite): Lebron,Hedu, Iguodala and Pierce
  • Group2 >1 Std Dev Above Average (The Good): Mike Miller, Kirilenko and Walton
  • Group3 >1 Std Dev Above Average (Serviceable): Childress,Hill and Korver.
  • Group4 >1 Std Dev Above Average (Won’t hurt you but you need someone else to get the points): Battier and Batum.

Only four players in the very high usage group are one standard deviation above the mean as generators of offense (Lebron, Hedu, Iggy and the truth). Lebron deserves special mention because his use of possession is off the charts with an insanely high efficiency. So the two best non point guard generators of offense so far are on the Heat. Add in that their backup, Mike Miller leads group number two and you can see why that Heat team will be getting ridiculous open looks all year.

Melo, not surprisingly, does not do so well.

Comments as always are welcome

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