Nichols and Dimes

Innovative Basketball Research

How the Shooting Abilities of Shooting Guards, Power Forwards, and Centers Affect Offenses

Not too long ago I ran a couple of studies measuring the effectiveness of three-point shooting ability for point guards and small forwards.  The general idea wouldn’t be complete without a look at the remaining three positions.

Using the lineup data at http://www.basketballvalue.com, I’ve split the lineups into three groups: those featuring a player from each position who shoots 40% or better on threes, those featuring one who shoots 30% or less, and the remainder.  For each group, I’ve calculated the average Offensive Rating.  In addition, the lineups are split between those at home and those on the road.  The results for shooting guards are in the graph below:

And here are the frequencies for that position:

The results for shooting guards are very similar to those of point guards.  Not surprisingly, having a player at those positions with the ability to shoot accurately from long distance greatly improves the success of your offense.  One thing that is different is the frequencies.  As you can see above, not too many shooting guards shoot less than 30% on three-pointers.  However, the frequencies for shooters above 40% aren’t too high, either.

Up next are the power forwards.  For this position, I had to alter the criteria a little bit.  To ensure adequate sample sizes, I had to change the definition of great shooters to those above 38% on threes, and poor shooters to those below 28%.  It’s a minor change, but it’s fair because of the relative lack of big men who can shoot well from the outside.

At home, it doesn’t seem to matter if your power forward can shoot.  The four categories are essentially identical.  On the road, it appears that your team gets a significant boost if your power forward can shoot threes at a higher rate than 28%.  He doesn’t have to be spectacular in this area; he just needs to be adequate.

Finally, let’s take a look at the centers.  I had to make yet another change for this position.  Even fewer centers can shoot three-pointers accurately, so I removed the cutoff points altogether.  Instead, I classified centers as shooters or non-shooters.  The difference was whether or not the player had a large amount of three-point attempts.  Of course, by changing the criteria from accuracy to attempts, I changed the dynamic.  However, given the scarcity of great-shooting centers, it was necessary.

The center results may not be directly comparable to those of power forwards because of the different criteria, but they appear to be the inverse.  On the road, it doesn’t matter if your center likes to shoot from the outside.  At home, however, it is beneficial.  Either way, the differences aren’t significant enough and the sample sizes too small for me to make a definitive statement.

So there you have it.  To recap:

  • For point guards and shooting guards, it is beneficial for your offense to have players at those positions that can shoot threes effectively.
  • For small forwards, it is best to have a player closer to average (between 30% and 40%).  This may be the result of sharpshooting small forwards being specialists that are weak in other areas.
  • For power forwards, it all depends on the location.  At home, it doesn’t matter how well he shoots threes.  On the road, it’s great if he can shoot them at 28% or higher.
  • For centers, the answer remains unclear.  There simply aren’t enough great shooting centers to reach a reasonable conclusion.

July 26, 2009 Posted by | Studies Using Lineup Data | Leave a comment

At Which Positions Are Bad Players the Most Detrimental?

In my last study, I looked at the importance of great players to a team’s success.  Today, I will be doing the opposite, instead focusing on the weaker players.  The methodology is the same, only I will be using players with an Adjusted Plus-Minus below -3 rather than above three.  For further details on my methodology, click on the article above.  Without further ado, here are the results:

And the home/away splits…

It appears the two positions you don’t want to be weak at are center and small forward.  On the other end of the spectrum, it appears you can manage a lot better with a bad point guard.  Of course, it’s best to have as many good players as possible, so ideally you don’t have to “deal with” anything.

At home, weak players at the guard position don’t appear to be particularly disastrous.  In fact, lineups featuring a point guard with an Adjusted Plus-Minus below -3 still on average tend to be better than their opponent.  On the road, it hurts much more to have a weak guard, especially a 2-guard.  Regardless of location, center and small forward are two positions where you can’t have a struggling player.

Just like I did with my last study, I’m going to look at two potential hidden issues.  The first is sample size.

There appears to be an adequate amount of bad players at each position to make this study valid.  Interestingly, there are more bad players at point guard than at any other position.  Originally I would have guessed centers would be the weakest.

The next step is to calculate the average Adjusted Plus-Minus for each position among those that qualify.  For example, if there are 20 point guards with an Adjusted Plus-Minus of -3.01, that position will look not as important because the players in the study really aren’t that horrible in the first place.  What do the numbers say?

With the exception of small forwards and possibly power forwards, the numbers appear to be pretty even across the board.  This further supports the evidence that having a weakness at small forward is a major problem.  Even though the small forwards in this study weren’t as bad as the other positions, they still had a more negative effect than any other position besides center.

Finally, I’d like to relate this back to my original study.  As you may recall, I suggested that small forwards and centers (especially on the road) are often the most important players to a team’s success.  Today’s results support that assertion.  Not only does having good players at these positions greatly improve your team, but having weak players at these positions worsens your team.  On the other hand, point guards appear to be much less important.  Both good and bad ones have less of an impact.

Like I said in the original article, these studies are by no means the final authority.  I only looked at two potential complications, and in reality there could be many more.  Further studies should isolate the positions further and perhaps explain in more detail why exactly certain positions appear to be more important than others.  I would also like to look at the results of previous years, which is something I may get into soon.

July 19, 2009 Posted by | Studies Using Lineup Data | Leave a comment

At Which Positions Are Great Players the Most Important?

Using the lineup data at http://www.basketballvalue.com, as well as the Adjusted Plus-Minus ratings, I’ve tried to figure out which positions are most crucial to a lineup’s (and team’s) success.  My method was pretty simple. I calculated the average net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) of all lineups featuring a player with an Adjusted Plus-Minus of greater than three at each position.  For example, if the average net rating for small forwards is five, then that means that all lineups featuring a good small forward (Adjusted Plus-Minus greater than three) beat the opposing lineup by an average of five points per 100 possessions.  The easiest way to understand this is to look at it graphically:

Let’s look at the home and away splits:

Overall, it appears that small forwards are the most important, followed by power forwards, centers, shooting guards, and point guards.  I’ve heard people suggest small forwards are crucial to a team’s success in the past.  Three of the remaining four teams in the playoffs last year featured a small forward as their main playmaker.  And as my study on the shooting abilities of small forwards showed, it’s best not to have a specialist at that position.  What you need is a player who can do it all because that position appears to be very important to your team being successful.

Things get especially interesting when you look at the home/road splits.  At home, small forwards still reign supreme.  However, the little guys essentially catch up to the big men in terms of importance.

On the road, though, it appears having a solid interior is crucial.  The importance of great guards is minimized greatly and centers and power forwards are well ahead of the rest of the pack.

Of course, there are a few potential concerns with this data, and I will explore two of them in this article.  First, as always, there’s the question of sample size.  Maybe point guards are just getting a bad rap because the sample size is too small and the ones that do qualify haven’t had that much success.  Let’s take a look at the frequencies of each position having a player with an Adjusted Plus-Minus greater than three among all lineups:

I would say the sample sizes are pretty big.  An observation I had was the relative lack of quality centers compared to other positions.  Perhaps the complaints about there being no good centers nowadays are valid.

A second concern might be the quality of players in each position among those that qualify.  In other words, if there are 20 point guards with an Adjusted Plus-Minus above three but they’re all at 3.01, it’s no surprise that they’ll look worse than the other positions.  To see if this is a problem, I calculated the average Adjusted Plus-Minus for each position among those that qualify:

Three of the positions (point guards, power forwards, and centers) are bunched together, one is clearly lower than the rest (small forwards), and one is clearly higher (shooting guards).  This evidence further supports the original conclusion I made that small forwards are the most important.  After all, we have the weakest group to choose from at that position yet they still have the most positive effect.  On the other hand, there are a lot of excellent shooting guards in the NBA, yet their impact is much less significant.  And still, I have yet to find an excuse for point guards.  They are often seen as the floor general and the player crucial to a team’s success, but remember who the two starting point guards in the Finals were (Derek Fisher and Rafer Alston).  Of course, there are still potentially hundreds of hidden variables that could have an explanation for why my data underrates them.

In a few days, I will follow up on this study by taking a look at the other side: bad players.  At which positions are bad players the most detrimental to a team’s success?  Not only will it be a unique compliment to this study, but it also may shed some light on why today’s results look like they do.  Stay tuned.

July 17, 2009 Posted by | Studies Using Lineup Data | Leave a comment

How the Shooting Abilities of Small Forwards Affect Offenses

The small forward position is one of the most critical positions in basketball.  In most cases, the other four positions have specific responsibilities that don’t change a whole lot from team to team.  However, the roles of small forwards are varied.  Some teams use them as scorers, others as ball-handlers, others as defenders, etc.  The goal of this study today is to determine the importance of three-point shooting ability in small forwards.

Using the lineup data at http://www.basketballvalue.com, I’ve split the lineups into three groups: those featuring a small forward who shoots 40% or better on threes, those featuring one who shoots 30% or less, and the remainder.  For each group, I’ve calculated the average Offensive Rating.  In addition, the lineups are split between those at home and those on the road.  The results are in the graph below:

27.01% of home lineups feature a small forward shooting better than 40% on threes, and 21.22% feature one shooting less than 30%.  On the road, those numbers are 26.56% and 21.62%, respectively.

The results are a bit surprising.  Least surprising is the fact that if your small forward is a liability from long range, your offense tends to suffer.  Clearly there is some benefit to being able to spread the floor.  What is surprising is the fact that lineups featuring a sharpshooter at the small forward position also tend to be worse (although only slightly).  Perhaps this reflects the fact that three-point specialists are often limited in other areas.

It appears the solution is to have a small forward who shoots somewhere between 30% and 40%.   Again, this isn’t because missing shots is in some way beneficial.  It’s most likely because the best shooters are the most likely to have the biggest weaknesses in other areas.

I don’t want to generalize too much, though, and there could be a number of hidden explanations for this.  For now, I’ll present the data and let you draw your own conclusions.

July 10, 2009 Posted by | Studies Using Lineup Data | Leave a comment

How the Shooting Abilities of Point Guards Affect Offenses

Although they all generally have the same duty (run the offense!), different point guards in the NBA possess a variety of skills.  Whether they are big or small, quick or fast, or aggressive or passive, they come in all shapes and sizes.  As it turns out, some of the game’s best shooters run the point.  Is the ability to shoot three-pointers well a key skill for point guards?  Today I’ll take a look.

Using the lineup data at http://www.basketballvalue.com, I’ve split the lineups into three groups: those featuring a point guard who shoots 40% or better on threes, those featuring one who shoots 30% or less, and the remainder.  For each group, I’ve calculated the average Offensive Rating.  In addition, the lineups are split between those at home and those on the road.  The results are in the graph below:

25.6% of home lineups feature a point guard shooting better than 40% on threes, and 30.05% feature one shooting less than 30%.  On the road, those numbers are 25.62% and 30.32%, respectively.

It appears as though the ability of your team’s point guard to shoot the three well is very important.  Overall, the difference is more than four points per 100 possessions.  Similarly, if your point guard struggles with his outside shot, your offense will struggle.

Beyond that, I don’t want to say too much.  It’s too easy to make bold statements without considering some of the underlying factors, so I’ll just present the data as is.  Feel free to draw your own conclusions, though.

July 9, 2009 Posted by | Studies Using Lineup Data | Leave a comment