The Missing Piece: Building an Advanced Team

Last Week, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference took place in Boston, and some interesting presentations were made that might or might not influence decision makers in the NBA, both now and in future generations to come. There is an old school vs. new school debate going on right now in NBA circles, with the “eye test” going head to head with advanced stats and analytics. I fall somewhere in the middle, believing that one should be used to reinforce the other, as opposed to thinking that they are mutually exclusive. I love stats, but I think Charles Barkley put it best when he said, “Stats are like women in bikini’s – great to look at, but it doesn’t tell you the whole story.”

But to disregard them and instead just go with the eye test or “your gut” would be as foolish as looking at only numbers when putting together your team. There are so many X-factors that can’t be measured, but that is not a good enough reason to disregard all the numbers. With new technology and tracking ability, several things that were once immeasurable are now measurable. Theories that were developed because of eye tests and gut feelings can now be proven or disproven.

Each year, the Sloan Conference features papers and presentations by some of the smartest people on the planet, directing their analytic focus on what was once thought to be a simple game. Obviously it is not, if the most brilliant people in medicine, technology, and systems analytics can not come to a consensus as to how to build the best team possible. For this issue of The Missing Piece, we will take a look at some of the latest theories put forward at this year’s conference and identify players that the Hornets should target according to these brilliant minds.

Theory #1 – Teams Should Pursue Offensive Rebounds

Some teams crash the offensive glass while others get back in favor of helping their transition defense. A group of MIT students researched whether crashing the offensive glass really effects transition defense, and their conclusion was that there were more pros than cons with regard to the strategy of crashing the glass.

Who to Target:

1. JJ Hickson, PF/C, Portland Trailblazers (UFA) – JJ Hickson is in the top ten in the NBA with a offensive rebound rate of 13.7%. He is also a nice fit next to Anthony Davis, equally able to play in the high post or down low. Additionally, he has the speed and athleticism to get back in transition after crashing the boards.

2. Jordan Hill, C , Los Angeles Lakers (trade) – Prior to his injury, Jordan Hill was the best offensive rebounder in the league at over 20%.  The Lakers will have massive payroll issues this year and might be willing to give away the expiring contract of Jordan Hill away if they re-sign Dwight Howard.

3. Nikola Pekovic, C, Minnesota Timberwolves (RFA) – Pekovic is 17th in offensive rebound rate this season, down from last year when he was #1 in the NBA. Last season, he had Kevin Love taking a lot of the focus off him, but teams are focusing on him more this year with Love injured. Putting him next to Anthony Davis, another elite offensive rebounder, could provide the Hornets with a duo that would be unmatched.

4. Zaza Pachulia and Samuel Dalembert (UFA) – Two more backup center options that are top ten in the league in offensive rebound rate who could replace Lopez if he was traded for a perimeter player.

5. DeMarre Carroll, SF, Utah Jazz (UFA) – The highest rated perimeter player available in this category, Carroll has an offensive rebound rate of 9.3%. By comparison, Aminu is an elite rebounder and he is only at 7.4%. Carroll is non stop energy and effort; a guy Monty and Dell would love and he could likely be had at half the price when compared to Aminu, a quarter of the price when compared to guys like Budinger or Corey Brewer.

6. Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA (Draft) – Muhammad is a weird prospect because he has two categories that are elite, and he really doesn’t give you anything else at all. He is a great scorer with a high usage rate, and a fantastic offensive rebounder (9.2%) for his size. In fact, he is one of the rare prospects that has a higher offensive rebound rate than defensive rebound rate.

Theory #2 – Acceleration is the Most Important Skill in the NBA

This is not just pure speed, this is the ability to accelerate and decelerate at elite levels. We use terms like “quick first step” to normally discuss this attribute. This is acceleration and Phillip Maymin says it is the most important skill a player can have. The more players you have with this skill, the better your team. Again, it’s not speed. For instance, Ray Allen ranked very high in this department while Kyle Lowry was considered poor.

Who To Target:

1. Toney Douglas, G, Sacramento Kings (RFA) – Amongst guards who played both positions, Toney Douglas ranked #1 in this study. #2 is Dwayne Wade. Combine that with the fact that he always torches my teams in NBA 2K and I am on board.

2. Kris Humphries, PF, New Jersey Nets (Trade) – Humphries has recently fallen out of the rotation in New Jersey but he scores very highly in both of these categories as he is an elite offensive rebounder and he is #1 amongst power forwards in this acceleration measure.

3. Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana Hoosiers (Draft) – There is no quicker first step in college basketball than that of Victor Oladipo. He attacks from the areas of the floor that this study says are the most common and efficient and he has the ability to change pace at will, staying under control at all times.

Theory #3 – Elite Teams Own Crunch Time

It sounds like common sense but UC San Diego economist states in his paper that elite teams really separate themselves in crunch time. The main point of his paper was to push his theory that teams should be more aggressive with taking three’s, but it also showcased undeniable evidence that great teams are great at the end of games.

Who to Target:

1. Luol Deng, SF, Chicago Bulls (Trade) – Deng is a guy who sees his numbers go up in cruch time, as he shoots 46% in the clutch, compared to 42% regularly. He also is more focused, as he has a 5:1 assist to turnover ratio in the clutch and he performs better on the boards as well.

2. Jose Calderon, PG, Detroit Pistons (UFA) – Calderon shoots 50% from the field in clutch situations and gets to the free throw line at a rate three times higher than an average point guard in the clutch. Normally, Calderon is a jump shooter, but in the clutch he is equal parts shooter and attacker as he takes 50% of his shots from the perimeter and 50% up close.

3. Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown Hoyas (Draft) – Otto Porter has shot 52% this season in clutch situations and is responsible for 54% of Georgetown’s points in clutch situations. He is also an elite defender who can limit opponents in clutch situations.

Improving From Within

The Missing Piece series is closing in on twenty articles with this edition, and in each of those we have taken a look at player’s Dell Demps could add to improve this nucleus. But if you listened to Monty and some of the players speak this week, there was a consitent message of improvement that would come from within. Monty talked about how this summer would be huge for Austin Rivers, noting that he has already seen improvement and that he expects Rivers to make a leap next year. He also said that we would see the old Eric Gordon next year, predicting a breakthrough season for the five year vet.

The Hornets are the youngest team in the NBA with an average age of 23.9 years old, so it is reasonable to expect that improvement can come from within. If Eric Gordon can return to 2010-11 form, that would result in a team improvement of nearly three points per 36 minutes he is on the court when factoring in both offense and defense. Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers have both posted better numbers than they did prior to the All-Star break. If they can make another 10% improvement jump, it would result in a 1.5 point increase in offensive rating, assuming they play 36 and 24 minutes respectively next year.

Just with internal improvement of these three, which is something that is very reasonable to expect, the Hornets can expect to raise their offensive rating to somewhere in the 108 range, meaning that all they would need to do is go from absolutely horrible to just very bad defensively in order to become a .500 team.

NCAA Games to Watch

Syracuse at Georgetown, Today at 11:00am CST on ESPN

Otto Porter simply went off the last time these two met, and a win at home could mean a regular season conference championship for the Hoyas. On the other side of the court, Syracuse PG Michael Carter-Williams has been sliding as of late after once being thought of as a sure-fire lottery pick. A great game here on the national stage and a good Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament run could get him right back into that lottery discussion.

Indiana at Michigan, Sunday at 3:00 CST on CBS

Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Trey Burke, and Glenn Robinson III. These are all guys who will be highly sought after prospects when they declare for the draft. Oladipo will be looking to redeem himself from a disappointing showing in Indiana’s last game and Burke will look to continue his recent hot play. Zeller was dominant the last time these two met, posting 19 and 10 while Robinson was a no-show, going 1-6 and scoring just 2 points.

Big East, Big XII, ACC, and Big Ten Tournaments

More likely than not, your future Pelican will come from here. Target Otto Porter, Marcus Smart, Ben McLemore, Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, and Alex Len when you watch. If you can stay up  late to catch a UCLA game, watch Shabazz Muhammed. Barring something drastic, one of those 7 guys will be the Hornets first round pick this June.

14 responses to “The Missing Piece: Building an Advanced Team”

  1. The 7 guys I’m interested in that are in the draft are Marcus Smart, Ben McLemore, Otto Porter, Nerlens Noel, Shabazz Muhammad, Victor Oladipo, and Trey Burke. I wouldn’t be as happy if we picked Alex Len or Cody Zeller.

    Is there a chance that any of the above nine guys stay in school?

      • I say 5% chance Noel stays. 5% Len stays, 2% Smart or Burke stay. 0% chance anybody else stays

      • Zero percent Noel stays. Go back to school and have to go to classes and rehab, or get drafted top 5 and get paid to rehab?? What would you do?

    • Marcus will be heading to NBA.

      I think all of the potentials leave.

      Still hesitant on shabang. Watch Washington game and wasn’t impressed.

  2. Michael,

    Love this article and the series. Any chance you can publish acceleration and crunch time data for our players? I think knowing what we have would be interesting.

    Also, I thought this article from Bill Simmons was interesting for a few reasons. He basically says Gordon is untradable until he plays more game per season. He also ranks horrible NBA contracts so we can see how bad the ones we might have to take back for Gordon are . My bottom line: we are better off keeping Gordon right now and hoping to benefit ourselves from his future improvement than trading for bad player with a shorter bad contract.

    • I like Bill Simmons and usually agree with his stuff, but I think he left out a few key points in this article. The main one is that NO contract is untradeable. His #1 worst contract, Joe Johnson, was traded just last summer. Gilbert Arenas and Rashard Lewis both had “untradeable” contracts that were traded. Any player/contract can be traded if the right situation presents itself.

      He also conveniently left out in his “how horrible was the Chris Paul trade for New Orleans” spiel that bottoming out allowed us to get Anthony Davis, which was really the point of the trade, and that Austin Rivers isn’t generating that “historically bad” buzz anymore, and it was stupid to begin with.

      As an aside, how does Brandon Jennings look in terms of acceleration? I’m not a huge fan of his, just curious how he stacks up since we’ll probably target him.

      • Yeah, I laughed at that too. Johnson can’t have an untradeable contract-he just got traded!

        But yeah, I LOVED the rashard lewis trade for us…really only something you can do with a smart ownership team. And usually only something done by veteran ownership. You usually see new ownership throw millions of dollars at bad players TO play, BH of to go away.

        I have been waiting to see a reaction to the two big Houston contracts for last year. I felt that the Lin and Osik contracts were brilliant, and a loophole that would begin to get copied.

      • Ya’ll are piling on Bill too much when maybe you should be piling on my paraphrasing. He never said the word “untradable” about any contract. The closest he came was this about Gordon: “You’d have to be doing drugs to deal for that monstrosity of a contract; I’d need to see one full healthy season from him before I considered it.”

      • “Joe is a better and more durable player, but Stoudemire’s contract expires one year earlier. Neither contract could be traded under any circumstances (not during the New and Improved Luxury Tax era, anyway).”

        I am sure he is glad to have fans scouring message boards taking back his words, though. 😉

    • I never realized that we gave L.A. the draft pick that became Magic.

      We also traded them Kobe for Vlade.

      DELL: Don’t repeat the past.

  3. The offensive rebounding part is interesting. Anderson is a very very good offensive rebounder. His rate has dropped this year and I’m betting it’s due to Monty’s scheme. They can get all of the offensive rebounders they want, but if the scheme doesn’t serve the talent it won’t matter.

    I think the real trick is the development from within. Like you say, the key pieces are all young. Add in another high lottery pick and this team needs patience more than a big splash.

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