Friday, November 23, 2012

John Henson Sighting! He was in South Beach...

As a Bucks fan, the numbers that I study are typically only useful in explaining, in precise terms, how the team is once again irrelevant. When the Deer selected John Henson, my third-ranked player this past draft, and as I see it, a near can't miss prospect, this was a rare and exciting convergence between numbers and fandom. Suffice it to say, I've been watching Mr. Henson very closely...which is not to say there has been a great deal to see.

Henson sprained his knee in the preseason and has been stuck behind the totally productive Epke Udoh and Larry Sanders on the Bucks depth chart. However, when Sanders was ejected in the Second Quarter of Wednesday's game at the Heat (oh, Larry) Henson received his meaningful extended run of the season...and it was AWESOME.

In 27 minutes, John put up 17 points and 18 rebounds (eight offensive). He was aggressive, he hit a couple of open jumpers, and the Bucks probably should have won the game. I realize the current reality of the Bucks rotation means most of Henson's minutes are going to be filling in for Larry Sanders when he gets ejected (still sort of often), but hopefully Skiles can carve out a regular 20 minutes a game for him.

The 12.5% Report: Out of the Gates and (Mostly) Running

Even with only three weeks of basketball under our belts, past years have shown we can get a pretty good idea of how most of these youngins inaugural season is going to pan out. Let's take a look at which players are getting it done thus far:

The Good                                                WP48* (avg- .100)        
Andre Drummond                                             .361
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist                                     .258
Anthony Davis                                                  .257
Bernard James                                                  .170
Festus Ezeli                                                       .141
Jared Sullinger                                                   .128
Damian Lillard                                                  .120
Harrison Barnes                                                .117

Andre Drummond was the proverbial "Door Number Two" of the 2012 Draft. Was he an obvious dominant big-man prospect in a league without dominant big-men? Was he DeMarcus Cousins redux: a fatally flawed player despite more than looking the part? Or, would he bust all together as his lackluster rebounding and sub 30% free throw shooting implied was at least an outlying possibility? Fortunately for the Pistons, it's kind of looking like the first one. Now if only they didn't have the worst guard play in basketball by alot...
Davis and MKG were our (and reality's) top two prospects and have rewarded our faith in them. If you don't believe me, just get a load of those Bobcats...
As for our other highly-rated prospect making an appearance on this list: Sullinger and his back are extending defenses and scoring with great efficiency and one of our second round favorites, Bernard James has successfully transported his shot-blocking and toughness from Tallahassee to Dallas. 
So, what did we not see coming? Lillard is posting respectable assist numbers, protecting the ball, and sticking 39% of his threes: offensively there isn't a ton more you can do. We aren't necessarily shocked by these developments, especially after the show he put on in the Summer League, but he has been more efficient than we were expecting. We still feel somewhat vindicated by his non-contributions to the NBA's 3rd worst defense, but don't get us wrong, we think he can play.
DI was higher on Barnes than many of our contemporaries, likening the forward to a poor man's Marvin Williams. However, early returns suggest that that Williams comparison might need no qualifier. Festus Ezeli is filling the gaping hole at Center for the Warriors with surprising competency. He is converting a lot of dunks and rebounding better than he did at Vandy thus far.

The Bad                                       WP48*
Austin Rivers                                  -.091
Tyler Zeller                                     -.043
Dion Waiters                                  -.040
Jeffrey Taylor                                 -.009
Bradley Beal                                    .001
Andrew Nicholson                           .034

Speaking to the overall decency of the Class of 2012, there are more guys making significant contributions than are not, however there are a few players whose new teams might start to be wondering whether they made the right call. DI was unambiguously down on Austin Rivers and he has been every bit as bad as we thought he'd be. Somebody needs to tell him to shoot less and try to get get to the hoop, play some defense, (waive a towel).
Zeller and Waiters were supposed to add depth and punch to a young Cavs team on the rise but instead have just been part of the problem in Cleveland. I think both guys are better than this, but the Index predicted they would just be role players.
DI gave its highest grade to Bradley Beal and we can't help but be concerned with what we are seeing so far. It should be noted that Beal is 19 years old and playing on an absolute wasteland of a basketball team, but if he can't improve his shot from outside, there's no ostensible difference between himself and Jordan Crawford- and that ain't good.

*numbers through 11/21/12 - from

Friday, November 16, 2012

Setting the Pace: What The Best Coaches Get And Why Mike D'Antoni Might Be In For A Long Season

In the numbers community, we don't often give much consideration to coaching. It, along with chemistry, clubhouse culture, and various pseudo-psychological tropes are the type of ambiguities we set ourselves in general opposition to. Even if the middle-aged guy in a suit standing by the bench had an appreciable effect upon the outcome of the contest, if we couldn't quantify or predict this effect, that knowledge wouldn't be worth a great deal to us.

Our respected colleagues at Wages of Wins put together an interesting and quite exhaustive study on NBA coaches and their impact upon wins.  The focus of this work, you will note, is the allocation of minutes; specifically which coaches 'get it' and which do not. While I do have a couple of follow-up questions for the authors (isn't is easier to decide between Michael Jordan and Jud Buechler than Calbert Cheaney and Tracy Murray?), I do think this is an excellent jumping off point and a fair description of the relationship between a coach and the success of his team.

As I see it, a coach has two chief functions: deciding who plays and how they play. WOW has taken a good look at minutes, and I'd like to share a few thoughts on pace. A coach is largely responsible for dictating the pace his team will play at- he installs the system, calls plays and sets, and issues directives and adjustments to both throughout a game and a season. Surely, some do this better than others...
Let's go the numbers.

When Gregg Popovich took the reigns in San Antonio, the Spurs were operating under a fairly dynamic offensive system. In Brian Hill's final full season, the Spurs were 9th in offensive possessions and 6th in points. With the addition of Tim Duncan, Pop ground that down to pace so stifled some commentators wondered if a Spurs dynasty might actually kill professional basketball.

From 1997-2008, the Spurs ranked 23rd, 19th, 24th, 19th, 20th, 19th, 23rd, 23rd, 27th, 28th, 26th respectively, an unbelievably consistent brand of basketball that perfectly reflected the strengths of those teams. In 2009-2010, the Spurs posted 50 wins, which was actually the team's worst winning percentage in a full season under Pop (that is so gross), Duncan looked aged, the wonder guards were having a hard time staying healthy, things seemed to be wrapping up.

Shifting on a dime, Pop added a whole bunch of shooters to a team that could already shoot, hoisted the 7th most threes in the league and hit the highest percentage of them of any team (39.8%). That 2010-11 team ran at the 14th quickest pace and won 61 games, the following year they won 50 in a shortened season and paced 7th. So far, the Spurs are 7-1 and running at the 7th quickest pace. Pop's Spurs have always had good players, heck, they've always had Tim Duncan, but the numbers show that Pop's teams were tightly pace-controlled.

I'll spare you a similar enumeration of the feats of the league's all-time winningest coach Don Nelson, well, because he coached for goddamn ever, but we similar trends with his teams. In Nelson's first gig with the Bucks he inherited a young team fronted by Marques Johnson, Junior Bridgeman, and Alex English- gunners all of them. Early in Nelson's term, the team drafted defensive specialist and complete ass-kicker Sidney Moncrief and traded for big man Bob Lanier.  The team's pace dropped to that of a snail and Nellie would win 50 or more the next seven seasons. Not one of those teams would crack the top half of the league in possessions per game.

If you know anything about his later work in Golden State and Dallas, slow-ball is not the hallmark of Nelson, on the contrary, he probably would have preferred to run some of those Bucks teams like hell. Once again we see evidence of a coach both dictating and managing pace to great effect. Most of those 80's Bucks teams weren't exceptional at shooting the ball, but they posted better shooting percentages (3's and overall) than their opponents in all but Nellie's first season. They achieved this by going slow and D-ing it up. That is understanding your team.

Which brings us to Mike D'Antoni. His first two seasons with the Suns the team lead the league in possessions and never finished lower than 5th. And why not? Lead by Steve Nash, a young Amare, and a revolving cast of excellent athletes and shooters, how else were they going to play? Not many really questioned the D'Antoni system and frankly most thought Steve Kerr was in the wrong for bringing in Shaq and blowing up the fun and gun Suns.

D'Antoni would land on his feet, two seasons later with the Knicks. In New York, he inherited a team that couldn't shoot a lick and harbored first-rate chuckers Al Harrington, Jamal Crawford, and Larry Hughes. Would the coach run a system that would minimize the shooting deficiencies of his squad (fewer possessions) or make light of them (more possessions)? We of course know how that played out- the Knicks finished with the 2nd most possessions in basketball and lost 50 games and three lousy seasons later D'Antoni was back on the bread line.

In L.A., D'Antoni has a team that needs to run like it needs Kobe to take more shots. Last season the team ranked 2nd in rebounds, 2nd in points in the paint, and 26th in three point shooting percentage...AND THEN they traded for Dwight Howard. This team cannot play like the Showtime Lakers because they can't shoot like Magic and Worthy. Jesus, they can barely shoot like that Knicks team with Harrington and Hughes from the outside.

There are a couple pretty firm truths here, 1) teams don't play like those Suns teams if they don't have to, the VAST majority of champions look more like Duncan's Spurs than Nash's Suns. 2) A team's ability to make better usage of their possessions than their opponent is fundamental to winning the game. If you can run like hell, stick more shots than the other guys, and turn it over less, it behooves you to flood the game with possessions. Contrastingly, if you can grind a team to powder, then you don't want to give the other guys more shots with which to maybe get lucky. Mike Brown was probably a pretty good coach for this team, actually.

If D'Antoni can't have his Pop or Nellie moment, the moment where he decides to run the team he has rather than the team he wants, this is going to be a short and ugly experiment in L.A.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

They Are Who We Thought They Were: Early Season Edition - The New York Knicks

As much as advanced statistics are allowed a seat at the table in 2012, there is still a general perception among mainstream journalists and talkers that it is something of a parlor trick- a path to understanding among many paths. Inevitably, it is said, "sure, your numbers say Jason Kidd at 39 years old is still a top 5 point guard, but you don't actually believe that, right?" Well, with very few caveats, I do actually believe that.

What better case study on win-based metrics could we possibly have than the 2012-2013 New York Knicks? The Knicks, seemingly since Ewing hung 'em up, have been the poster children for bloated, ultra-conventional team management...and they usually blow a ton of money on it too. From the inexplicable signings of Eddy Curry and Jerome James, to the 'Starbury' deal, to the more recent progress-stunting Carmelo blockbuster, the Knicks have gotten very little right this century.  

Coming off a first round sweep and saddled with two max contracts and another big one in Chandler, the Knicks entered the off-season with limited options for improving their roster. In acquiring Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Camby, and Kurt Thomas, all for peanuts, the Knicks had a David Berri wet dream of a summer. If they were to contend for a championship for the first time in a over a decade, wouldn't that strike a heavy blow in the name of numbers?

I would say so, and though it is very early, the 5-0 Knicks are grabbing headlines and look like the second-best team in the Eastern Conference by not a little bit. Let's go to the numbers.

Player                                        Wins per 48 minutes (league average .100)
J. Kidd                                                                       .540
R.Brewer                                                                    .336
J.R. Smith                                                                   .314
T. Chandler                                                                 .269
P. Prigioni                                                                    .147
C. Anthony                                                                  .118
R. Felton                                                                      .76
R. Wallace                                                                   .74
S. Novak                                                                       .60
K. Thomas                                                                   -.01
(numbers through 11/15/12 - taken from

We can already hear the ESPN debate: to whom
do we attribute the Knicks' success? The huge
scoring totals of Carmelo Anthony, the absence
of Amare, Mike Woodson for some reason...

What do you think, Stephen A. Smith?


Index 2012

The 2012 Draft Class is one of the deeper groups in recent memory and features the highest-rated player I've yet encountered. (All hail the brow!)  Without further adieu, Draftability Index 2012!

Greens (1.00 - +)
Anthony Davis                     2.80        
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist        1.56
John Henson                        1.45
Jared Sullinger                     1.08
Bradley Beal                        1.06

Analysis: Davis is as clear a slam dunk as there could possibly be, it seems. I'm not even as cautious about his offense as most. Half the league should be willing to trade their whole team for him. MKG isn't that far behind, a tenacious and gifted player with lots of good habits. There are have been a number of Roy-era UNC-ers who have outkicked their coverage in terms of DI and Henson is likely no exception, but he can rebound his ass off so I still love him. Beal has been garnering a whole lot of Ray comparisons but he sure doesn't shoot like him. There's alot to like here but he won't be able to just live on the perimeter.

Golds (.50-.99)
Tony Wroten                            .94
At 6'5, Wroten is a unique PG prospect.
Jae Crowder                            .92
Kendall Marshall                      .90
Terrence Jones                         .86
Marquis Teague                        .83
Draymond Green                      .72
Thomas Robinson                     .70
Bernard James                          .70
Harrison Barnes                        .68
Tyler Zeller                                .62
Jeremy Lamb                            .60
Moe Harkness                          .59
Will Barton                                .58
Miles Plumlee                            .56

Analysis: Wroten will raise eyebrows as the sixth best player in the draft, I get it, and there are 'ifs' here. But IF he can develop responsible ball skills and IF he can do anything with his shot, he could become a match-up nightmare at the point. He's ridiculously athletic. Two of our high lottery picks make an appearance, Thomas Robinson and Harrison Barnes. They are seemingly competent but I don't see much more for either of them. If there is one player here that I still wouldn't touch, it's Zeller. I guess he'll play 10 seasons, but why did every other player on that UNC team outproduce him? Plus, its not like he's got much room to grow. James, Barton, and Plumlee would be pretty solid 2nd rounders.

Reds (.25-.49)
Terrance Ross                              .48
Andre Drummond                        .45
Royce White                                .45
Tyshawn Taylor                            .41
Darius Miller                                .40
Jeff Taylor                                    .39
Meyers Leonard                           .35
Quincy Miller                               .35
Dion Waiters                                 .31
Damien Lillard                               .29
Fab Melo                                     .28
Robert Sacre                                .26

Analysis: The mainstream intelligentsia have correctly identified Drummond, Lillard, and Ross as the most exciting options among these mugs. Drummond is actually someone I have interest in, as he is really green and reportedly has done next to nothing to further his game, save for going through puberty. Burning a mid-first on Andrew Bynum worked and so could this. Ross and Waiters aren't great shooters or great defenders. I can't play with 'em, can't win with 'em. I haven't seen alot of Lillard, but from what I can gather on the YouTube, he's a pure scorer and a lightning bolt. So what, he's Monta Ellis? I see his perceived value far outstripping his actual value. What can he do other than shoot? DI says nothing. Meyers Leonard is Chris Mihm. That is all.

Plenty more of this to come for Young Man Rivers.

Grays (.00-.24)
Perry Jones                                   .24
Doron Lamb                                 .22
Arnett Moultre                              .21
Andrew Nicholson                        .19
Kim English                                   .18
Orlando Johnson                           .16
Austin Rivers                                 .13
Festus Ezeli                                    .11
John Jenkins                                  .11

Analysis: Allow me to make myself very very clear on this one point: Austin Rivers will be absolutely awful. Terrible. Unusable. Like out of the league in three years bad. I don't mean to pick on the guy, but I can't remember a top 10 prospect with an uglier profile. He shot miserably from the field, he didn't defend anybody, his team was a pretty big disappointment. Dude can't play. I'm pretty confident about that.
As you might imagine, I don't want any of these guys. Lamb and Jenkins could maybe gun off of somebody's bench and Nicholson has a Ryan Gomes-ian quality to him that makes him difficult to totally dismiss, but I'm just spinning yarn here. These guys are bad.

There you have it, your scorecard for the 2012 draft. Here's hoping your team isn't the one to take Austin Rivers. Cheers.


Welcome to the Index!

What is the Draftability Index?

The Draftability Index is a metric designed to analyze college draft prospects and their likelihood of producing wins at the NBA-level. Prospects are graded and slotted at one of four levels based upon their likelihood of producing positive win scores. DI is based upon the Offensive and Defensive Win Share metric of Dean Oliver.

How does it work?

After conducting a fairly exhaustive study of the various 'advanced' approaches to player evaluation, I came to the conclusion that Win Shares is the strongest model for predicting and explaining player production. If you care to research it, there are passionate defenses and take-downs of WS from many credible sources. As a mathematical neophyte, my faith in the method derives from the simple fact that the things that WS says will happen actually happen pretty damn often.

With this in mind, I undertook a study to see to what extent outcomes tied to winning translated from college to professional basketball. After running simple correlations on the data, a clear trend emerged: defensive efficiency (DWS) correlates consistently to a mathematically significant degree while offensive efficiency (OWS) is conspicuously, maddeningly non-correlative. Sometimes offensive efficiency translates perfectly, more often there is no relationship whatsoever from college to professional basketball. It is a true red herring and a contributing cause to many poor draft day decisions year after year after year.

To apply these findings, I calculated a mean Defensive Win Score (DWS) that would constitute being able to effectively guard one’s position at the NBA level (by way of regression analysis) and used it as a weight to the college DWS scores of potential prospects. I added to this the most reliable (again, borrowed from Berri) efficiency-based offensive metric (eFG%) to create one all-encompassing efficiency rating score. It is calculated as follows:

                             (Positional DWS) / (NCAA mean DWS)^2 X (NCAA eFG%) =DI

The Index scores, once obtained, are divided into four categories, which indicate primarily, the safety of the prospect.

(0.00-.24) - Grays – Prospects who are highly suspect and show no discernible track record of efficient production.

(.25-.49) – Reds – Prospects who are suspect and have not shown consistency of efficient production.

(.50-.99) – Golds –  Prospects who have produced efficiently somewhat consistently, correlative to professional NBA production at a mathematically significant degree.

(1.00 + Up) Greens – Prospects have produced efficiently and consistently and do so and the majority continue to do so at the professional level.

Why Use Draftability Index?

It works, mostly. Originally, I calculated the Draftability Index score for every drafted player from 2002-2006 and of the 18 players that rated as 'Green' prospects, 16 went on to be productive NBA players. How many front offices have that high of a batting average?

Granted, some of these calls were not exactly revelations (Dwyane Wade, LaMarcus Aldridge) and others while good players, are not franchise changers (Tony Allen, Ronnie Brewer), however a goodly number of my other 'Greens' (Rajon Rondo, Paul Millsap, David West) have proven to be difference-making NBA players and weren't exactly chillin' in the green room on draft night.

On the flip side, of the 17 players selected in the first round over those five seasons who graded as 'grays', only three (Kevin Martin, Kris Humphries, and Chris Kaman) have produced anything in the Association, and really, Humphries is the only one I would actually want on my team. The rest read like a Bleacher Report slide show of biggest busts: Adam Morrison, Marcus Haislip, Ike Diogu, Marcus Banks...

Predictably, the 'reds' and the 'golds' are a lot less clear cut and, as you may have surmised, is where most players fall. There is some actionable data there, but its probably a good thing that nobody has to make every pick for every team. There is still a great deal of mystery in the process...

P.S. You said 16 of 18 'greens' were hits. So what was the big miss, huh?

Yup, that would be Tyrus Thomas. I don't feel this requires any additional explanation on our part.