Wesley Matthews the Role Player

March 15, 2013

I have covered the Blazers’ starters this past week, from Lillard to Batum and Aldridge to Hickson, so check them out if you missed them. There’s just one left!

Wesley Matthews and his 14.9 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game don’t exactly jump off the page. In fact, even when you adjust for minutes played, they don’t become any more impressive (because Matthews plays a lot of minutes). A 15-point average in the NBA is nothing to scoff at, but it’s still just 13th best among shooting guards. It’s safe to say that Matthews isn’t what you’d call a volume anything. What Matthews is is consistent. During the past three seasons, all with Portland, Matthews’ has been almost machine-like. Check out some of his key stats below:

Season

3pt%

FT%

TS%

Usage

Rebs

Pts

PER

2010-11

0.407

0.844

0.582

15.3

3.4

17.0

15.5

2011-12

0.383

0.860

0.539

13.8

3.6

14.6

14.1

2012-13

0.403

0.784

0.578

14.5

2.9

15.5

14.5

Not a lot has changed from Matthews since he became a Trail Blazer, and the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) sums that up appropriately. Matthews’ role is that of a, well, role player, and the 15-ish Player Efficiency Rating (PER) over the past three seasons exhibits that. John Hollinger, the creator of PER, sets the league average to 15.0 every season. This year, some of the shooting guards closest to 15.0 include Ben Gordon, Ray Allen, and Andre Iguodala, if that gives you any frame of reference.

The present and future of this franchise belong to LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, and to some extent, Nicolas Batum. Those three also happen to score 57% of the Blazers’ points. Matthews doesn’t really need to score in bunches, and he won’t get a lot of assists either since his touches aren’t designed for passing. Matthews, perhaps more so than any other starter, needs to be an efficient offensive player. That means limiting his turnovers, nabbing a few offensive rebounds here and there, and shooting high percentages.

Shooting

It’s a good thing, then, that Matthews has the best True Shooting Percentage (TS%) among Blazers’ back court players, and the 8th best TS% among shooting guards in the league. Matthews will probably never score 20 per game, but as long as he continues to shoot 40% from three, and nearly 1.15 points per possession, he’ll be a productive complement to the Blazers’ other starters.

Rebounding and Turnovers

I’m obviously not too concerned with his lack of volume scoring or his 14.5 PER, but one thing that he could do better as a role player revolves around rebounding. I’m mostly concerned with the fact that Matthews ranks 50th among the 66 qualified shooting guards in offensive rebounding percentage. Matthews doesn’t use a lot of team possessions for himself, so he should have extra time to crash the boards. But instead, he can be found ranked behind the likes of Kobe Bryant, Gordon Hayward and Jimmer Fredette when it comes to the offensive glass.

You might conjecture that these guys just get their own misses often enough to pretend to be good offensive rebounders. However, according to 82games.com, just 16% of Morman Jim’s scoring opportunities have come from “inside,” 22% for Bryant, and 25% for Hayward, as compared to Matthews’ 23%.  All these guys hang out away from the basket, too, but they get more of those OREBs! Plus, Matthews is hardly undersized at 6’5, 220 pounds, so I have to conclude that he just needs to get his ass in there and earn one more offensive rebound per game. One more offensive rebound could be worth a point per game. Another point per game on average translates into an expected three-win upgrade for the Blazers. I wouldn’t mind three more wins. It’s the little things! Okay maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but he could still get in there more often.

As for ball security, Matthews actually limits turnovers pretty well. He ranks 19th in possessions used per game among shooting guards, but has only the 25th most turnovers per game. More time with the ball in his hands + less turnovers = good thing. Matthews’ turnover numbers are definitely not hurting the Blazers.

In total, our #2 is a quality role player. His 15 points per game make him a high-scoring role player, but still a role player. His offensive skills are fairly one-dimensional, and while he’s a good outside shooter, he’s not the best in the league.* He doesn’t give away possessions turning the ball over, but he doesn’t earn them back getting offensive rebounds either. Matthews will never be a star, but many teams need a Wesley Matthews around. The Blazers have one. Check.

*It turns out that Martell Webster guy we traded away for Luke Babbitt is currently 4th in the NBA in three-point percentage. Awesome. 


J.J Hickson: Apologies for the Conspicuous Lack of Stripper References in Article

March 11, 2013

Last post, I pondered why LaMarcus Aldridge has been shooting from farther away this season. After posting, I noticed something interesting about J.J. Hickson’s stats. Check out his scoring efficiency by true shooting percentage and points per field goal attempt over the past three seasons.

Year TS% Pts/FGA
2010-11 50.3% 0.92
2011-12 50.1% 0.93
2012-13 61.1% 1.16
Career 54.5% 1.02

Defensive Positioning

Hickson was awful during the 2010-11 season, and he was awful again during the 2011-12 season. Power forwards need to score well above 1.00 points per shot, and I don’t need to explain to you that 0.92 < 1.00 < Good. During that 2011-12 season, he only played 19 games with Portland, and much of that time was spent filling in for the injured Aldridge. Needless to say, Hickson didn’t get to play with Aldridge a lot before this season.

When this season rolled around, Hickson became a model of efficiency. He is currently ranked right behind the ever-efficient Steve Nash and well ahead of guys like Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard when it comes to true shooting percentage. Hickson has played a vast majority of his minutes with the L-Train this season, and you might recall that Aldridge is staying outside more this season than during the past few seasons. Hmmmm…things are starting to come together…but one last thing to check: Hickson’s shot distribution.

Year Inside Pts/FGA
2010-11 45% 1.19
2011 (SAC) 33% 0.98
2012 (POR) 46% 1.27
2012-13 58% 1.20

In those first 19 games with the Blazers, Hickson didn’t look all that different from his previous season in Cleveland. But with an entire off-season to work with Portland, and Aldridge specifically, Hickson’s offensive approach has changed. Though his efficiency inside has stayed pretty constant, he has definitely started going down low with more frequency.  It is perhaps no coincidence that Aldridge moved outside more this year, taking a noticeable hit to his own scoring effectiveness. The Blazers might actually be reaping the rewards of Aldridge’s flexibility in the form of Hickson’s migration down low.

None of this information alters my opinion that Center is the number one starting position the Blazers should be looking to upgrade. In fact, if Aldridge truly is making Hickson look better, then that should encourage replacing Hickson even more. His contract is up at the end of the year, so why not go shopping for a big man that can play a little defense? I mean, if Aldridge’s flexibility can help improve almost any big man’s scoring, then we can reap those same rewards with someone known more for his defensive ability.

Though Basketball-Reference deems Hickson to be the top defender (Drtg) on the Blazers this season, that’s more a commentary as to how bad the Blazer’s defense is. Across the league, Dtrg rates Hickson similarly to Markieff Morris, Troy Murphy and Luis Scola—not exactly defensive stalwarts. And there’s even some controversy as to Hickson being that “good” at all. 82games.com rates his defense as the worst of the Blazer’s starters. Now that just leaves us confused.

Defense is inherently hard to measure. Simply using blocks and steals hides far too much information, so I’m forced to do something laced with bias: use my eyes. In multiple games that I’ve watched at the Rose Garden this season, I’ve taken bits of time to specifically watch Hickson on defense. I would describe his awareness and positioning off the ball as mostly nonexistent. His athleticism seems to occasionally make up for it, but I watched the likes of Marcin Gortat take any position he wanted inside for an entire quarter, and I can’t get that image out of my head.

I would consider myself in the camp that wanted to trade Hickson while his value was high. But the deadline passed, and the Blazers lost an opportunity to find some new talent for an expiring contract. I get the feeling that not all of Hickson’s improvement is his own doing, and that Aldridge makes him look a little better than he is, so I’m down to get another Marcus Camby-like defensive juggernaught and let Aldridge do his thing, circa 2010.


Aldridge the All-star?

March 7, 2013

The L-Train is averaging a modest 20.8 points, grabbing 8.6 boards, and dishing out a career-best 2.6 assists per game. He became just the 8th Trail Blazer to ever be selected to consecutive All-star games, and his Smile Above Replacement rating is off the charts. So what is there to gripe out? Efficiency.

Season   2009-10     2010-11     2011-12     2012-13    
TS% 53.5% 54.9% 56.0% 52.2%
Usage 18.0 21.8 21.4 21.8

Aldridge has been “using” a steady diet of 21-to-22 possessions per game for himself since the 2010-11 season, but his true shooting percentage is telling us that his points per possession ratio is A) not all that good for a big man, and B) at a career-worst this season.  For comparison, here is what the other power forward-type starters have done this year.

Player TS%
Serge Ibaka 0.606
Chris Bosh 0.595
Blake Griffin 0.578
Kenneth Faried 0.574
Al Horford 0.570
Ryan Anderson 0.570
David Lee 0.556
Paul Millsap 0.553
Marcin Gortat 0.542
David West 0.540
Kevin Garnett 0.534
Joakim Noah 0.524
LaMarcus Aldridge 0.522
Al Jefferson 0.521
Zach Randolph 0.507
Josh Smith 0.492

Being more efficient than Zach Randolph and Josh Smith is not something to write home about. Perhaps the top comparable on that list is Chris Bosh, who also plays away from the basket a fair amount, but even his 59.5 TS% is miles better than that of the L-train. In fact, Bosh’s career 57.1% is better than Aldridge has ever achieved in even one season.

That Aldridge is not an efficient scorer shouldn’t exactly shock you. Aldridge takes a lot of long two-pointers for a big man. On cue, 82games.com is there to tell us that 74% of his scoring attempts have come from jumpers. 74%!?! Not surprisingly, Aldridge scores about 0.85 points per shot from out there, and a much better 1.25 points per shot from inside. His outside shooting is obviously not helping the team directly, so we can only hope he’s creating space inside for the other guys.

However, it’s hard to evaluate Aldridge’s effect on others, and whether or not he’s creating that space. We have to be careful looking at team statistics when Aldridge is on and off the court. For instance, the team shoots better and gets more assists when he is on the floor—but of course, the team shoots better and gets more assists when each of the starters is on the floor. That’s what happens when your starters play together for long stretches of time, and your bench sucks. It’s hard to apportion credit to any one player.

With the information that we do have, we know that Aldridge has not been an efficient scorer this season—not what we expect from an All-star, anyway. But good news comes in the form of an increased assist-to-turnover ratio, ranking him among the league’s best big men. Not that his A/TO ratio makes up for his poor scoring efficiency, but it’s something positive amidst a down year for the big man.

Aldridge is definitely a good player. It takes a special talent to be able to score 20 points night in and night out. But unless the spacing he provides allows the rest of the Blazers to attain significantly increased efficiency, then he is not quite the All-star he is made out to be.

Followup: In the near future I hope to look at some players that have played significant minutes with and without the L-Train in the hopes of finding that they shot more efficiently when playing alongside him. 


Nic Batum Checkup

March 6, 2013

I hadn’t thought about it before, but this is Nicolas Batum’s first full season as a starter for the Blazers. Though he technically started nearly every game his rookie season, he only played 18.4 minutes per game and shared a lot of time with Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw. Outlaw…shudder.

I wrote about how he had improved greatly toward the end of last season, and how he’d maintained his efficiency even after becoming a starter. Now it’s time to see if that improvement stuck.

Nic Batum Checkup - March 2013I think we can say decidedly that it stuck. The 2011-2012 season shows only the 34 games that Batum started. This year, his minutes have increased even more than when he because a starter last season, and he is using an additional possession to himself each game (Usage). It is obvious that Batum is being asked to create more, as his assists have skyrocketed to 4.9 per game and his turnovers to 2.8. Despite the increased workload, his assist-to-turnover ratio has nearly doubled, his TS% is up a bit, and he hasn’t lost anything noticeable on his rebounds and blocks per 36 minutes.

For reference, Batum’s 57.2% true shooting percentage puts him right behind the likes of Dwayne Wade and O.J. Mayo, and just ahead of one Dwight Howard. Sure Howard is having a down year, but, shit, all the guy does is dunk. Basically, Batum has assumed a larger role in the offense than ever before, and he is giving Portland some of the most efficient play of his career.

Who next? Aldridge? Hickson? Matthews?


Damian Lillard Check Up

March 5, 2013

What Damian Lillard Does

Despite a poor 42% clip from the field, Lillard sports a more-important 53.5% true shooting percentage (TS%). Basically, that means he’s more efficient than simple field goal percentage makes him out to be. Lillard cashes in on a modest 35% of his three-point attempts, and shoots an exceptional 86% from the line.

As a rookie, Lillard’s 53.5 TS% edges out that of veteran Andre Miller during his two-year swing through Portland. Lillard is outperforming our last point guard in terms of scoring efficiency while simultaneously using a heavy 24.1% of Portland’s possessions while he’s on the floor. Miller never topped 24% during his career.

What Damian Lillard Does Not

Though a large percentage of the Blazers’ play runs through Lillard, he only turns the ball over 2.8 times per game for a 14.8% turnover percentage. This puts him in the same range as Ty Lawson (14.8%), Jose Calderon (15.1%), and the Blazers’ version of Andre Miller (15.3%). Though Lillard’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.1 doesn’t particularly standout, we shouldn’t expect it to. As a scoring point guard—6th among point guards in the league—Lillard’s ratio doesn’t necessarily need to break 3.0. Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook sit at 2.2, Kyrie Irving at 1.75, and Brandon Jennings finds himself at 2.5.

What Damian Lillard Could Do?

Lillard has achieved a level of efficiency not seen from Portland’s point guard position in quite some time, and he has done so as a rookie, while logging the second-most minutes among point guards in the league. There is still room for growth, as Andre Miller is not exactly the gold standard of efficiency for scoring point guards. But even Chris Paul only recorded a 54.2 TS% in his first two years, improving to 58.5% since, so that growth is entirely possible.


College Football Week 14 Notes

November 25, 2012

Here are your top 10 teams in the country, as ranked by the Associated Press. The statistics come only from conference games, except of course in the case of Notre Dame.

AP Rank Team W L PF PA Margin
1 Notre Dame* 12 0 321 124 16.42
2 Alabama 7 1 303 90 26.63
3 Georgia 7 1 268 145 15.38
4 Ohio State 8 0 295 205 11.25
5 Florida 7 1 207 95 14.00
6 Oregon 8 1 448 191 28.56
7 Kansas State 7 1 308 186 15.25
8 Stanford 8 1 260 153 11.89
9 LSU 6 2 180 150 3.75
10 Texas A&M 6 2 313 168 18.13

Oregon’s in-conference margin of victory beats out every top-10 team, and besides Alabama, it isn’t really all that close. It’s unfortunate that so much emphasis is put on just winning, and not the magnitude of the win.

After last weekend, the AP gave #6 Florida a total of 1,171 points to #5 Oregon’s 1,246. This weekend, playing at home, Florida found itself down by a touchdown to Florida State before coming back in the fourth quarter to win by 11. Oregon went out and doubled up Oregon State on the road in Corvallis, 48 – 24, extending its lead to 31 before a late touchdown left the final margin at 24.

So Oregon probably stays at #5 right? Nope. Oregon’s AP poll points dropped slightly to 1,242 while Florida picked up 91 poll points to get to 1,262. In other words, the average pollster felt that Oregon’s performance was worthy of no additional rank status, while Florida’s performance earned them a significant bump — more than a full rank position per pollster on average.

What?! I’m not trying to be a whiny Duck fan. I’m trying to be a logical football fan, but this just doesn’t make sense to me. Oregon State at home is not all that much worse, and maybe better, than Florida State on the road. Oregon won by 13 more points than did Florida. That’s two scores.

Whatever.


Two Wins in One Night?

November 7, 2012

New readers may wonder if this has turned into a political blog, and I wouldn’t blame them. I went ahead and included some sports analogies in this one just to stick to the site’s domain name at least a little!

One single result is rarely enough statistical information to prove a point. Four years ago I went to the Rose Garden to see the Blazers take on the Celtics during Boston’s 62-win season. Brandon  Roy—an All Star in his prime—watched in street clothes as his Blazers pulled out an improbable 5-point win. Despite the outcome, it would have been foolish to think that the Blazers were better starting Rudy Fernandez over Roy. The Blazers’ process for winning games that season revolved around a slow pace and high offensive efficiency. There were games and games of data that showed that Roy was one of the most efficient scorers in the game, and that the Blazers were better with him. Just because the Blazers won a single game without Roy, didn’t mean a new process was needed.

The case of election polls is no different, and Obama winning the 2012 presidential election doesn’t prove that any prognosticator was any more right than the other. There will be approximately 496.23 articles over the next week referring to the vindication of Nate Silver. It’s hard to blame them after looking at his political map Tuesday morning versus polling rival Dean Chambers. As of this writing, it looks like Silver has picked every single state correctly. Projecting the right color for each of the battleground states is not easy to fluke, especially for a small-in-stature, effeminate man of average intelligence.

But still, Silver shouldn’t be vindicated Wednesday morning. If we point to the 2012 election results as proof of his genius, then we are no better than the Dylan Byers and Dean Chambers of the world, or the Blazer fan that watches one game against Boston in 2008 without Roy, and thinks, “hey, we could win without this guy.”

Silver’s vindication is, in fact, long overdue. The second he started projecting baseball players based on a system completely influenced by data; or maybe when he started projecting elections based on an unbiased system of leveraging available polls—those are days that Silver should have been vindicated. His process has been right all along. What Silver does is not magic; it is not voodoo; and, in his own words, it is not wizardry or rocket science. What Silver does is called statistics. Good statistical analysis is done without the influence of emotional bias, but rather the influence of trustworthy data. It turns out, the hardest part for most people about statistics is simply accepting them.

Obama’s win Tuesday night was hopefully a win for the United States of America. Silver’s win Tuesday night was hopefully a win for objective reasoning–a win for statistics. And a win for statistics might just be more important for this country in the long term than any single presidential election.