Mining the Numbers: Talking Dante Cunningham

Published: August 6, 2015

Unlike most New Orleans basketball off-seasons of recent memory, the season in the past still has a lot of relevance for the upcoming season. The team hasn’t really changed, even if its coaching staff has, so I’m going to be spending some time over the summer pulling out the odd number here and there and posting short articles about them for your consumption. First off the mark:

Dante Cunningham

If you listen to our podcast, you’ll have heard I wasn’t a big fan of the Dante Cunningham signing. I felt that he was a minimum player, eminently replaceable, and questioned why would Dell give guaranteed money over multiple years to go a guy like that.

Well now that I’ve started poking through various numbers and there are some bits that gives me pause.

The most obvious and in my face piece of data is that Dante was one member of the most effective 5-man lineup that played at least a couple games worth of minutes. That line-up was Asik/Davis/Cunningham/Gordon/Evans, and it outscored opponents by 11.4 points per 100 possessions in 210 minutes. That lineup narrowly edged out the big 5 – Asik/Davis/Evans/Gordon/Holiday – which outscored opponents by 11.3 points per 100 possessions in (sigh) only 171 minutes together.

The two line-ups posted very similar overall numbers, with the Big 5 lineup generating higher assist and eFG percentages, but the Holiday for Cunningham switch posting (predictably) much higher rebounding numbers on both ends of the floor.

It’s hard to ignore that – even though it’s equally hard to dig anything else out of Dante’s other numbers that show he’s consistently above average at components of the game. He takes part in line-ups that can’t defend and can defend, line-ups that turn the ball over and don’t turn the ball over, line-ups that generate and defend against fast breaks, and line-ups that can’t do either.

If I had to sum up his numbers profile it would be this:  line-ups with him in them tend to defend very well, tend to rebound well offensively, tend to give up a lot fast break points, and tend to get more shots than normal in the dumb zone.  (none of these are always true, but generally more true than not)  It’s also true that Dante’s line-ups tend to be either effective or very bad.  His line-ups are either +4 or better . . . or -7 and lower.

That does confirm our picture of a guy focused on offensive rebounding (and as a result not getting back defensively), working hard on defense, and taking mid-range jumpers when he shoots.  If you put him in line-ups where he doesn’t have to shoot and there’s another quick big to get back on defense (Davis) he’s going to dramatically help you, especially defensively.  If he’s expected to defend in transition or take shots – you’re in real trouble.  Dante is a player that can be crippling or fairly beneficial.

Do you pay $3mil a year for that guy?

You do if you think Alvin Gentry is a guy who maximizes players more than he minimizes them.  That is clearly what Demps believes, and it is probably the most interesting question about this upcoming season.

I hope he’s right, or he’s probably out of a job.


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