Archive for the ‘Stats geekery’ Category

Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors

Earlier this week, I wrote about how the Raptors are still far from a surefire playoff team next season, and I maintain that. Upset wins over teams like the Pacers and Knicks or blowout wins over the Pistons don’t make any more of a statement for next season than losses to the Bobcats, Cavaliers and Wizards do.

If you recall though, my main concerns in the immediate future of this team are addressing the glaring hole at backup point guard, finding another competent big man (whether a solid bench big or a starter who can let Amir excel as the third big) and getting some value out of either trading or amnestying Andrea Bargnani. The current starting lineup, however, despite all of the negative attention on the combined shot selection of Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, may just be good enough heading into 2013-14.

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Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors

Most basketball fans knows about the statistical/analytical revolution happening in the NBA right now, similar to what baseball went through years earlier that inspired “Moneyball” – both the term and the film. The advanced metrics unearthed during this revolution have helped us break down and understand both games better than ever, regardless of the traditionalist criticisms, and the NBA recently added all of the advanced stats you can ask for to its own website.

The NBA may actually be surpassing Major League Baseball in terms of how far this revolution will be taken thanks to “SportVU,” a program currently used by half of the Association’s teams which records every single second of action on the floor “and spits it back at its front-office keepers as a byzantine series of geometric coordinates,” writes Zach Lowe of Grantland.

Lowe’s fascinating feature on SportVU should be read by all, especially basketball savvy Raptors fans who want the organization to immerse itself in stats and analytics, as one of the main points the in-depth feature makes is that “The NBA is undergoing an analytical transformation, and the Raptors are one of the teams at the forefront.”

Sandwiched in the intriguing Grantland post which focuses on the Raptors are a few talking points for Raptors fans…

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We already knew Andrea Bargnani was playing at a career-best level before a calf strain put him on the shelf, maybe even at an All Star level. Most of that was based on his impressive and efficient offensive arsenal to start the season, and also on what fans and experts alike agreed was a dramatic improvement in his team defence (he was already a decent man-to-man defender, whether you want to believe it or not).

But nobody, not even the most optimistic Raptors fan or Bargnani supporter could have predicted or imagined this:

After I got over the shock of this tweet, I began to wonder what exactly this meant. Did it mean Bargnani had the lowest Defensive Points Per Possession rating when he was on the floor? Did it mean Bargnani had the best rating in terms of one-on-one situations? There’s obviously a big difference.

Luckily for us, Hardwood Paroxysm founder Matt Moore responds to tweets and gladly answered my questions. Here are his responses:

I won’t argue with you if you say 11 games is too small a sample to officially proclaim Bargnani a changed player, but as I wrote yesterday, there hasn’t been that much to get excited about in the first quarter of this season, so Bargnani’s apparent evolution from one-dimensional bust to a complete package and possible All Star (if he gets back on the court this week and picks up where he left off) is what we’re left with.

Who knows how Bargnani will look and play when he returns from injury? Maybe a month from now we’re all frustrated about the return of “Old Bargnani.” But for right now, Andrea continues to provide us with hope and evidence (even when he’s not playing) that the Raptors have at least one of their five positions filled with an above average player, on both ends of the floor, for the next few years.

No “D” in “Free”

Anderson Varejao attempts a free throw against the Raptors

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on how for a team that was in a lot of close games (and had a record of 3-4 at the time), the Raptors’ lack of free throw attempts and a possible improvement in that category could make quite the difference.

Two weeks later, there have been few competitive games since, and the Raptors now sit at 4-11. What hasn’t changed since then, however, is Toronto’s situation at the free throw line. They’re still not getting there enough and their opponents are getting there too often.

On the positive side, despite their recent struggles and current six-game losing streak, another thing that hasn’t changed since opening week is the Raptors’ defence. The Raps currently sit in a tie for third in opponents’ field goal percentage (41.2), sit ninth in points allowed per game (92.1) and sit a very improved (from last season) 19th place with a defensive efficiency of 100.9 points allowed per 100 possessions.

However, one of the main reasons that last stat (defensive efficiency), and perhaps the most important one, isn’t as good as it could be comes back to that aforementioned free throw problem. Last time I wrote about it, I was more concerned with how rarely the Raptors were getting to the free throw line (and I still am), but this time, I’d like to focus on how often Toronto allows its opponents to get to the stripe.

When looking at the statistics, it’s clear to see that the Raptors are the second worst team in the NBA (only better than the Warriors) in terms of free throw attempts allowed. They sit 29th in opponents’ free throw attempts per game (27.6), 29th in opponents’ free throw attempts per field goal attempts (.354) and 29th in opponents’ free throw attempts per possession (.269). And they actually sit dead last in opponents’ free throws made per 100 possessions, at 22.869.

No matter how good the Raptors have been or will continue to be in terms of making it difficult to score during the natural flow of a game, they can’t allow teams to go to the line on such a big chunk of their possessions if they want to have any serious kind of success, whether it be this season or in the future.

Being a hard-nosed defensive team is great, but if you’re gift-wrapping free points away by sending your opponents to the charity stripe, then it kind of defeats the purpose.

Now obviously, many Raptors fans would argue that this free throw discrepancy might have more to do with unbalanced officiating against Toronto than it does with the Raptors’ personnel. The problem with this theory is that three seasons ago, the Raps were actually one of the best teams at not allowing free throws, so it’s hard to say the refs are out to get them. And if the officials do have something to do with this problem, I’d assume it has more to do with the officials’ unbalanced calls on young and inexperienced players than the city of Toronto itself.

For the most part, it’s the Raptors players getting themselves into trouble. Amir Johnson is currently seventh in the NBA with 7.4 fouls per 48 minutes and the Raptors have four players (Amir, Ed Davis, James Johnson and Leandro Barbosa) in the top-30 in this category, with all four of those players logging over 20 minutes per game for the team.

The big question is this: Is Dwane Casey’s style of physical interior defence (Casey has said he wants his team to play physical on the defensive end, but has stressed that he wants them to play physical in a legal way) always going to land the Raptors near the bottom of the league in terms of free throw attempts allowed, or is it a simple matter of some of Toronto’s youth learning to play solid defence for the first time?

If it’s the latter, and the Raptors’ core players do learn to limit their fouls on defence over time or the Raptors just bring in more players than can defend legally, it could make a big difference for Toronto’s defensive efficiency.

When you look at how well and how hard the Raptors have played defensively, and when you see how good the numbers are in terms of opponents’ field goal percentage, becoming even an average team in opponents’ free throw attempts allowed could make this a legitimate top-10 defence in the NBA.

If you follow enough Raptors fans on twitter or surround yourself with enough Raptors fans, one thing you’ve probably read and heard enough of is complaints that the Raptors don’t go to the free throw line as much as they should.

Whether it’s due to a lack of aggression on offence or a lack of respect from the officials, here’s what we do know: In seven games, the Raptors have only had an advantage over their opponents in free throw attempts twice, and on average, they are being out-chanced at the line 27-19.

In comparison to other teams, the Raptors currently sit 27th in free throw attempts per game, with 19.1, heading into Game No. 8 tonight in Philadelphia. They also sit 24th in the league in free throws made per game, with 15.

Making their free throws once they’re at the line doesn’t seem to be much of a problem, as the Raps currently rank seventh in free throw percentage. Sure, they can definitely improve their 78.4 per cent success rate, but right now, their percentage isn’t the issue.

The problem is that it doesn’t matter how well the team shoots free throws if they don’t get to the line enough to compete with the other team on the floor.

But all of this sounded too simplistic to me, and raised a very important question. What if the Raptors’ low free throw attempts are simply the result of a slower offensive pace this season and less field goal attempts in general?

Toronto currently sits 29th, second-last in the NBA, with just 74 field goal attempts per game. In addition, the Raps are 26th in the NBA in “Pace Factor,” as the team has only used an average of 91.2 possessions per game during their 3-4 start.

So I decided to crunch the numbers, and look at each team’s average free throw attempts per 100 possessions. Looking at things this way was interesting (and ranked the Raptors 26th with about 21 free throw attempts per 100 possessions), but the problem is that it doesn’t take into account things like turnovers, which negate a chance at free throws without being a direct result of how aggressive the team is or how favourable the officiating is.

I figured the best advanced statistic to look at was free throw attempts per 100 field goal attempts, and as expected, the numbers weren’t too kind to the Raptors. Based on my calculations as of this morning, the best teams in the NBA at getting to the free throw line are the Knicks, Thunder, Nuggets, Clippers and Hawks, with those five teams averaging about 35-37 free throws per 100 field goal attempts.

At the very bottom of the spectrum are teams like the Rockets, Bobcats, Pistons, Bucks and Suns, who average as low as 17.7 free throw attempts in Houston’s case, and about 22-23 attempts in the other fours teams’ cases.

As for those Raptors, they currently sit 23rd in the NBA with 25.88 free throw attempts per 100 field goal attempts, which means whether you’re just making an observation from watching a game, whether you’re looking at basic stats like free throw attempts per game, or whether you’re digging deeper into advanced stats, you’re right when you say that the Raptors need to get to the line more.

Think about it this way. The average team, or middle of the pack team when it comes to getting to the line, gets 29-30 attempts per 100 field goal attempts. If the Raptors got to the free throw line even at just an average rate, for their 74 field goal attempts per game, they would get to the free throw line 21-22 times, instead of their current average of 19 trips to the line per game.

While two to three extra free throws per game doesn’t sound like much (and at the end of the day, maybe it’s just one more per game from each of Bargnani and DeRozan), a free chance at an extra  couple of points per game could be huge for a defensive-minded team that should keep most games close and that’s current plus/minus margin is just -1.2.

One last interesting note from my findings. For all of you out there that believe the officiating is usually slanted against the Raptors, there’s this: While the average NBA team gets to the free throw line about 29-30 times per 100 field goal attempts, Raptors opponents have gone to the line 34.4 times per 100 field goal attempts through seven games. That rate would be sixth-highest in the NBA if one team actually averaged it, and looks even more inflated when you realize that opponents go to the line about nine extra times per 100 field goal attempts than Toronto does during the same game.

I probably won’t have a Six Thoughts on the Game post after tonight’s matchup with the 76ers, but the Raptors are in action six times in the next eight days, so I’m sure we’ll be in frequent contact.

Enjoy your weekend.