Geek Thoughts: Overrating the Low Usage / High Efficiency Player

One top player is missing from guesses, hint hint

Patrick Minton (@nbageek) wrote a fantastic post over at the NBA Geek — A Low Usage Myth. Between his post and some great followup in the comments, Patrick makes an amazing set of points I’d like to recap here.

Recently, when I talked about how good Andre Drummond is, a commenter objected that Drummond isn’t very good, because after all, like Tyson Chandler, he can’t get his own shot, and he only shoots when he’s wide open. And of course, we heard the usual lazy rhetoric about how the Points Over Par metric rewards guys who don’t shoot very much, which is, of course, why Kevin Durant is leading the league in wins produced (oh, wait).

The big problem is the underlying assumption that somehow only taking 7-10 shots a game, and dunking or laying in all of them is somehow easy. Somehow, Tyson Chandler isn’t really doing anything special when he rolls to the hoop for an alley-oop or when he makes backdoor cut for a lob dunk, or when he grabs an offensive board and puts it back in. That stuff’s easy, right? That must be why everybody in the NBA can do that!

A good question to ask is – how common is the Low Usage / High Efficiency player? Patrick tracked down 34 players this season that take 11 or fewer shots per 48 minutes. How many were above average in terms of efficiency? 12! That’s right, a majority of low usage players don’t shoot well. Alright, next question, how many low usage players have above average efficiency and are also valued by the Wins Produced / Points over Par metric? 8! Let’s also do a quick review (Season rank in Wins Produced listed in parens):

To reiterate, being a low usage, high efficiency player that is productive is not easy. You couldn’t even make a complete roster of players that fit the bill this season! What’s more, look at the distribution. Only one of the top 10 players this season falls under the category, and only three of the top 20!


Patrick sums this up well

So it turns out that “only shooting when you have a really good shot” or “only shooting when you have a layup or dunk” isn’t really a recipe for success. It’s not like Brendan Haywood and Ronny Turiaf didn’t get the memo. It’s more likely that they simply do not have the skills (or talents, I’m not going to start a nature-vs-nurture argument here) that Tyson Chandler has.

It turns out that just getting yourself a few dunks and layups per game is hard. And please don’t argue that it’s easy for Chandler because he plays with Melo. Take another look at this list. Kendrick Perkins also has a pretty good teammate getting lots of attention. Ronny Turiaf and Chris Duhan play with Kobe. Lamar Odom can’t seem to hit a shot anymore even though he plays with Chris Paul.

And Patrick follows up this point in the comments (which you may have missed as it is pretty buried)

1) that’s not what we are saying. To win basketball games, a TEAM needs to do four things: Not turn the ball over, shoot efficiently, rebound, and get and make free throws. That means, of course, you have to have some players who are good at these things.

2) it ignores the fact that you cannot win with 5 players like Carmelo Anthony. It’s pretty appropriate that we’re talking about the Knicks here, because trying to trot out 5 volume scorers is essentially what Isiah Thomas did. How’d that work out for you, Knicks fans?

I think Tyson Chandler is as good as Durant

They have entirely different roles. Part of what Points over Par captures is that these different roles are:

a) equally important to winning
b) based on SKILLS because the data shows that players tend to perform consistently over time, not randomly as one would expect if they weren’t skill based

The perception I am trying to fight is those of you who somehow are under the illusion that just because Chandler’s role is different from Durant’s, it is somehow easier. Which is, frankly, bull. If it were at all easy, lots of guys would be doing it, to grab the same huge 15m/year contract for doing what he does.

So to sum up – low usage / high efficiency players are rare. Even for those that exist, there aren’t a lot overwhelming the top rated Wins Produced players (consider that myth busted!) It’s like Patrick says, it takes certain skills to win in basketball. To be a good player requires excelling in one or more of those skills. And we notice not many players can do this. A good team requires a combination of those skills to win. We notice that many seem to assume players like Chandler are easy to replace, whereas players like Melo are not. The data doesn’t support this. And the other problem we notice is that people assume that things that players like Melo do are “harder” and thus “more valuable” than things like Chandler does. Except, the data doesn’t support this either. Patrick shows us a common theme around here: the assumptions held by many in sports don’t seem to hold up when we hit the data.


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