Jerry Sloan Repeats Himself

Morris Almond finished the 2006-07 college season ranked third in Division I in points scored per game.  Drafted by the Utah Jazz with the 25th pick in the 2007 draft, Almond only played 39 minutes during his rookie season in the NBA.  In the NBDL, though, Almond once again showed his scoring prowess, finishing the season ranked second in the NBDL in points scored per game.  And Almond wasn’t just throwing up shots.  His adjusted field goal percentage of 48.9% in the NBDL tops the performance of an average NBA shooting guard (48.1%). 

With respect to scoring, Almond certainly performed well in the NBDL.  But if we look deeper into the stats, we see some problems.  

Morris Almond and the Average Shooting Guard

Consider the following comparisons between Almond’s 2007-08 NBDL numbers and the numbers we typically see from an average NBA shooting guard (numbers are per 48 minutes played):

Adjusted Field Goal Percentage: Almond 48.9%, Average 48.1%

Free Throw Percentage: Almond 83%, Average 80%

Field Goal Attempts: Almond 25.3, Average 17.5

Free Throw Attempts: Almond 10.0, Average 4.9

Points Scored: Almond 33.1, Average 20.8

Rebounds: Almond 4.6, Average 5.6

Steals: Almond 1.2, Average 1.8

Turnovers: Almond 4.2, Average 2.8

Assists: Almond 2.1, Average 4.6

Blocked Shots: Almond 0.6, Average 0.5

Personal Fouls: Almond 3.0, Average 3.7

When we look at these numbers we see that Almond is above average as a scorer.  But with respect to most everything else, his game has problems.  He is below average with respect to rebounds, steals, turnovers, and assists.  His Net Possessions – Rebounds + Steals – Turnovers – stands at 1.6 (while an average shooting guard would offer 4.6).  And when we turn to Win Score we see Almond posting a mark of 4.3.  The average shooting guard has a Win Score per 48 minutes of 6.1.  In sum, despite all his scoring, Almond was a below average player in the NBDL last season.

Jerry Sloan Channels Red Auerbach

Of course, that is just according to Win Score.  No one in the NBA would look at a player who scores like Almond and think he is below average.  Right?

Well, let’s check in on Almond’s preseason performance.  In the first three games he played 43 minutes, scored 20 points, and shot 50% from the field.  He also had just one rebound, one steal, and one assist.  And apparently this is not making his head coach – Jerry Sloan – very happy. 

The following was written by Ross Siler — of the Salt Lake City Tribune – after a game last week against Phoenix: (H.T. Henry Abbott at TrueHoop)

If you looked at the box score, you’d probably think Almond had a pretty good gave. He scored 10 points and hit 5 of 10 shots in 19 minutes. Only Okur and Korver scored more. But Sloan was not happy, judging from his postgame comments.

“Well, he scored points, but I’m disappointed with the way he runs the floor,” Sloan said. “He looks like he’s not concerned about running the floor and helping defensively. We can’t afford to have that, especially out of our mid-sized people.

“I mean, everybody likes to score. But if that’s all you’re going to do, then it’s hard to play to win. Numbers are one thing, but you can win with less numbers and more effort on the other side.

“He’s got to rebound the ball, pass the basketball, learn to do some other things, rather than just being a one-dimensional player.”

Such comments are certainly reminiscent of The Wages of Wins.  The primary argument we offer with respect to the NBA is that scoring tends to be overvalued.  Wins in basketball are about more than points scored per game.  This argument, though, didn’t originate with our book.  Red Auerbach – the legendary coach of the Boston Celtics – often told the same story (see The Wisdom or Red Auerbach).

We should note that Sloan didn’t just channel Auerbach with respect to Almond.   Here is what Sloan said about C.J. Miles (in another article by Ross Siler):

To start the second half of Sunday’s preseason victory over Portland, C.J. Miles came out and fired jumpers on consecutive possessions. Jazz coach Jerry Sloan was neither surprised nor amused as he watched his newest (and youngest) starter.

“It’s like I don’t get any shots the first half, so I’ve got to show you I can get them off the second half,” Sloan said of Miles. “That’s not a good way to do it.”

And Kosta Koufos – in another Siler article – also faced the wrath of Sloan.

Koufos also was ready to move on after a disastrous second quarter in which he missed all five shots he took in Sunday’s game against Portland.

Asked what he learned, Koufos answered: “Just be patient and play within myself. It was my first game. I’m young, I’m still learning the game, and I know what I did wrong and I’m going to correct it.” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan scolded the 19-year-old rookie for shooting every time he touched the ball. Koufos acknowledged some of his shots weren’t smart and said he would do a better job of running the offense.

So the message Sloan is sending to his team is clear.  Quit focusing on scoring and start thinking about non-scoring aspects of the game. 

Of course, there’s a problem with this message.  The players understand the more they score the more they will get paid in the future.  So Sloan’s message -which will help Utah win more games – is undermined by the salary determination process in the NBA.  And this is why Sloan has to keep repeating his message. 

An Unrelated Story

Let me close by noting that Paul Krugman was named the winner of the 2008 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.  All of this means that Krugman is now a Nobel Laureate.   Although Krugman is now famous for his columns in the New York Times (and his blog and his many books), he is actually a very accomplished economist who had done quite a bit of very good original work.  So it’s nice to see him rewarded for his research efforts (and to see that he can still make fun of himself).

- DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.

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