The NBA’s assistant coaches have made their choices for the NBA’s Rookie Challenge. And missing from the roster – as Henry Abbott at TrueHoop noted yesterday — is Ty Lawson.
The argument that Lawson is a very good player has been made by many people (John Hollinger, David Thorpe, etc…). But apparently these arguments didn’t impress the assistant coaches.
In an attempt to understand what did impress the assistant coaches, let’s first examine the selections for the sophomore team. And that examination begins with the following list [PPG=points per game, WP48 = Wins Produced per 48 minutes, numbers after 41 games played]:
- Derrick Rose: 19.4 PPG, 0.053 WP48
- Brook Lopez: 19.0 PPG, 0.141 WP48
- O.J. Mayo: 18.4 PPG, 0.100 WP48
- Eric Gordon: 17.0 PPG, 0.085 WP48
- Michael Beasley: 16.1 PPG, 0.061 WP48
- Russell Westbrook: 16.1 PPG, 0.109 WP48
- Kevin Love: 15.2 PPG, 0.431 WP48
- Marc Gasol: 14.8 PPG, 0.199 WP48
- Danilo Gallinari: 14.8 PPG, 0.117 WP48
The above is a list of the nine leading scorers from the sophomore class. And all nine were selected by the assistant coaches to the Rookie Challenge roster. Yes, it appears that scoring was the dominant factor coaches considered in making these selections.
When we turn to the rookies it’s a similar story, although the coaches faced a significant constraint. Here are the top six scorers in the rookie class:
- Tyreke Evans: 20.9 PPG, 0.145 WP48
- Brandon Jennings: 17.9 PPG, 0.063 WP48
- Jonny Flynn: 13.9 PPG, -0.051 WP48
- Stephen Curry: 13.4 PPG, 0.099 WP48
- Omri Casspi: 12.6 PPG, 0.145 WP48
- James Harden: 9.8 PPG, 0.136 WP48
Each of these players was selected by the assistant coaches. The next two players on the scoring list – Ty Lawson [9.4 PPG, 0.173 WP48] and Marcus Thornton [9.3 PPG, 0.022 WP48] — are both guards. Of the top six scoring rookies, though, five are also guards. Consequently the assistant coaches ran into a significant problem. The rookie challenge roster cannot consist of just the nine “best” (however that term is defined) players. The players selected have to play in an actual game. That means the team needs someone for each position on the court. And consequently, Lawson and Thornton – if points per game is the deciding factor – had to be skipped over.
Moving further down the scoring list we see the following three names.
- Tyler Hansbrough: 8.5 PPG, 0.018 WP48
- Jonas Jerebko: 8.4 PPG, 0.116 WP48
- Taj Gibson: 8.3 PPG, 0.065 WP48
These three players are quite close in scoring per game. But Hansbrough missed 12 of the first 41 games and hence the assistant coaches turned to Jerebko and Gibson.
Of the eight players noted so far, none have played significant time at center. The top scorer at that position only ranks 16th among all rookies in points per game. And that player is DeJuan Blair [7.1 PPG, 0.273 WP48]. One could argue that Blair is really a power forward (although he has played some center this year). But if you move past Blair, the next center on the list is David Anderson, and he only averages 6.0 points per game (and after Anderson you have Hasheem Thabeet at 2.8 points per game).
A Familiar Story
So it appears that we have a familiar story. Scoring dominates the evaluation of players in the NBA. Obviously scoring can increase if a player improves his shooting efficiency. But scoring also increases with shot attempts, and hence players have an incentive to shoot as much as their coach will allow.
Many examples of this observation have been provided before. The latest is the case of Jonny Flynn. Al Jefferson is generally considered the “star” of the Minnesota Timberwolves (if a 9-38 team can have a star). And Flynn — the team’s point guard – does make sure Jefferson gets his shots. But after Jefferson, the player with the second most shot attempts is Flynn. Flynn, though, is well below average with respect to shooting efficiency. So why does he so often call his own number? Because he probably knows that the more an NBA player scores, the more accolades an NBA player will receive.
And the assistant coaches choices for the Rookie Challenge are not the only evidence in support of this proposition. You see the same story when you look at free agent salaries, voting for the All-Rookie team (by NBA coaches), where a player is selected in the draft, and the coaches’ allocation of minutes (we discuss all of this in our next book).
If we move past scoring to WP48, what other snubs do we observe? Here are the top five forwards and centers among the sophomores in WP48 (minimum 15 minute per game, 20 games played):
- Kevin Love: 0.431 WP48
- Greg Oden: 0.316 WP48
- Marc Gasol: 0.199 WP48
- Ersan Ilyasova: 0.146 WP48
- Ryan Anderson: 0.146 WP48
And here are the top five sophomore guards:
- Rudy Fernandez: 0.165 WP48
- Russell Westbrook: 0.109 WP48
- Brandon Rush: 0.101 WP48
- O.J. Mayo: 0.100 WP48
- Eric Gordon: 0.085 WP48
Greg Oden is hurt, so he can’t play. So it appears the snubs – if WP48 is the measuring stick – are Ilyasova, Anderson (maybe if the coaches wanted five frontcourt players), Fernandez, and Rush. Despite these omissions, the average WP48 on the sophomore roster is 0.144. So the sophomore team – as it’s assembled – is pretty good.
Turning to the rookies, here are the top five forwards and centers (same minimums as above):
- DeJuan Blair: 0.273 WP48
- Serge Ibaka: 0.145 WP48
- Omri Casspi: 0.145 WP48
- Jonas Jerebko: 0.116 WP48
- Chase Budinger: 0.090 WP48
And the top five rookie guards:
- Ty Lawson: 0.173 WP48
- Tyreke Evans: 0.145 WP48
- James Harden: 0.136 WP48
- Stephen Curry: 0.099 WP48
- Brandon Jennings: 0.063 WP48
So the “snubs” for the rookies are Ibaka, Budinger (maybe if the coaches wanted five front court players) and Lawson. As assembled, the rookies have an average WP48 of 0.110. Replacing Flynn with Lawson boosts that average to 0.135. So adding Lawson would have made this game quite competitive.
As it stands, though, the sophomores look to be the better team (once again). This is not surprising, since second-year players are generally better than rookies. This year, though, the gap could have been mostly closed with one different choice. Unfortunately, the choices Flynn has made (he gets to shoot) means Lawson gets to stay home.
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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:
Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.