The following is a cross-post from our sister site, The NBA Geek, called “Put Me In, Coach”. In it, I take a look at some of the rookies who have so far played extremely well but don’t seem to be getting rewarded for it with more playing time from their coaches. You can read the original article here.
Believe it or not, one of the reasons I wrote the software for the NBA Geek’s stats sections is because I’m super curious about the data, and I love sorting/filtering/searching through data to find things to write about*, but there wasn’t a tool for me to do so efficiently. There are tons of sites out there, but Basketball Reference is the only one that comes remotely close to offering the kinds of sorting/filtering that I want, and of course, until my site and the one that Andres built at The Wages of Wins, most of them didn’t have wins produced, or only had it for their favorite teams. I used to get downright itchy waiting for David Berri to profile a team or player I liked. Finally I got fed up and decided the only way to always get the answers I wanted was to write a tool myself.
Today I’m going to use that tool to evaluate the rookies that, in my mind, are getting a mystifying lack of burn from their coaches. Take a look at the entire rookie class on the player page. Feel free to mess around with the sorting. Here are the top ten sorted by minutes played at the time of this writing (before games on Jan 5th):
And here are the top ten sorted by WP48 (I ignored players with < 50 minutes):
Notice any glaring differences? 6 of the top 10 per-minute performers aren’t in the top 10 minutes played. And half of the players getting the most minutes are playing terrible basketball. I realize we are still in the realm of small sample sizes. But here’s two things: 1)the sample sizes aren’t going to get big very fast if you are allocating minutes in nibble-size chunks instead of hearty meals, and 2) it’s not like some of these guys have all-stars in front of them getting minutes.
The one that confuses me the most is Greg Stiemsma. I mean, look at that Celtics team. This is a team that has had reporters all season (and pre-season) long saying that their center position is weak. Their options are:
- Kevin Garnett playing out of position (and let it be noted that Rivers wants to rest Garnett a lot, so this option has limits)
- Jermaine O’Neal, who’s old and hasn’t played good basketball for a decade. Relying on him to return to 2002 form seems like a fool’s mission to me.
- Chris Wilcox, who’s always been average/above average, but is getting old
Then, along comes a rookie who seems to be answering all of the Celtics’ prayers:
The kid’s basically doing what he’s supposed to on a team full of veterans: rebound, block shots, don’t turn the ball over, don’t take bad shots, hit free throws. He’s just what the doctor ordered. Unless you are Doctor Rivers, who usually employs him on the bench. Look, I don’t know, maybe he’s just on a hot-shooting streak. Maybe he’ll foul out every game if you gave him 25 minutes. But again, you’ve got Jermaine O’Neal on the floor. Isn’t it worth giving him some minutes to just see what happens? How much worse than O’Neal can he possibly be?
And how about Enes Kanter and Alec Burks? These two have really got me confused and #SMH.
Here’s a shooting guard who’s shooting the ball well (that is what the shooting guard is supposed to do, right?), passing well, and getting to the line like he’s Dwyane Wade. And a center whose shooting woes are made up for by several positives: 1) he rebounds like Kevin Love, 2) he apparently has a grip of steel because he’s rarely turning the ball over, and 3) he’s not chucking lots of shots so his shooting percentage isn’t really hurting much. And this is a team that clearly is going all-out on youth anyway. They traded away Okur. They aren’t going to make the playoffs with these veterans. What is Utah worried about!? Why is Raja Bell playing even one minute instead of Burks? More importantly why is Raja Bell still in the NBA!?
Then there’s Derrick Williams. Speaking strictly as a Timberwolves fan, I’ll be the first to say that Williams has not been amazing. He’s made his share of bone-headed plays. But he should be playing more. A lot more. And the primary reason is that for all his rookie faults, he’s still having a decent season. And, far more importantly, he is so much better than Michael Beasley that…well, I have no words:
Note that I am comparing Beasley to SFs and Williams to a combinations of the average SF/PF; Williams WP48 would be higher if we treated him as an SF and Beasley’s would be even lower if we treated him as a PF (see Calculating Wins Produced for the section on how we adjust for position).
Basiically, if you gave all of Beasley’s minutes to Williams, the Wolves could easily have won 4-5 games by now. No, I’m not joking. Beasley is truly earth-shatteringly bad. To put in perspective what a selfish chucker Beasley is, he ranks 8th among small forwards the NBA in FGA per 48 minutes (50 minutes minimum), but fifty-first in true shooting. No, not 51st in the NBA, 51st among small forwards. That means that essentially all of the starting SFs and two-thirds of the back-up SFs in the league are shooting better than he is, but he’s shooting 22 shots per 48. And I don’t keep stats for “contested 22-footers per 48” but having watched every Timberwolves game I’m going to guess he leads the league by a fat margin, ahead of even Kobe (I’m guessing that’s the reason that he’s 25th among small forwards at getting to the line, despite all those shots). Oh, yeah, and he turns the ball over a shitton. In short, Beasley is the very definition of a player that shoots you out of games. Every single time they choose to iso Beasley instead of just letting Ridnour or Rubio create off the dribble / pick-n-roll, a Timberwolf pup dies in the wild.
Williams is as turnover prone as Beasley, but I can chalk Williams’ TOs up to rookie mistakes and a general rookie “over-eager” attitude, which he may learn from. Most of his TOs come from ill-advised passes. Beasley, however, is a third-year player; the vast majority of his turnovers come from him trying to “create a shot” (a phrase that I guarantee I’ll be ranting about in a future article) and I don’t expect him to change anytime soon.
Last but definitely not least is Jon Leuer:
As I wrote on Monday in my Geeks of the Week post, Leuer has been amazing so far. He’s shooting efficiently, has a a bunch of steals and blocks and almost no turnovers. But he hasn’t played many minutes. He could just be playing well over a small stretch, but why on earth wouldn’t Scott Skiles want to play him more and find out? Does he have Kevin Love and Blake Griffin ahead of Leuer on the depth chart? What on earth is going on? I find this exceptionally puzzling since Mbah a Moute appears to have been struggling with injuries.
It’s particularly odd that teams seem so reluctant to dole out minutes to rookies because they seem equally reluctant to let go of 2nd- and 3rd-year players on their rookie contracts who are truly terrible. Minnesota’s examples include Wes Johnson and previously Jonny Flynn and Corey Brewer — there’s simply no reason to hang on to these players (or give them minutes). It’s times like these when I start to think that minute allocation by most coaches may as well be arbitrary.