Project for Summer League

Jacob’s Summer League project…

Table of Contents

  1. The infancy of the NBA’s next unexploited stat
  2. The search for the next Draymond Green may be simpler than we think
  3. Jackson Pollock: Where to find the paint
  • 3A) Europeans
  • 3B) D-League Retreads

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  1. The Infancy of the NBA’s Next Unexploited Stat

As a basketball community, we’ve become obsessed with shot tracking. Synergy Sports tracks catch-and-shoot opportunities, pull-up opportunities, whether the shot was contested, and how many feet out the shot was taken from. We’ve been able to learn things about efficiency through this shot tracking. Just last season, the sample size of 100,000+ jump shots taken in the NBA suggests that catch-and-shoot opportunities are generally more efficient attempts than pull-ups.

Catch + Shoot: 23,546 -for- 60,682 (38.8%) 

Pull-up: 19,169 -for- 52,205 (36.7%)

So while NBA teams that are privy to this advantage have tailored their offenses toward more catch-and-shoot opportunities, there’s yet another advantage to find.

Clearly, not all catch-and-shoot opportunities are created equal. There are no public studies conducted on where the pass was received prior to the shot. Or, as I like to call, “shooting pockets” — a difficult (yet not impossible) number to track eventually, based on where spot-up shooters prefer to receive their catches in the spot-up position.

So, where do we start to gain a better understanding of shooting pockets?

Draymond Green’s passing dashboard (made accessible on NBA.com/stats) reveals an interesting case study to understanding the nebulous stat — particularly when talking about Andre Iguodala as the spot-up shooter.

In his playoff career, Iguodala is shooting just 8-for-36 (22.2%) on passes from Green.

Meanwhile, Iguodala shot 15-for-35 (42.8%) on passes from Stephen Curry over that same stretch.

So why is this? Why is Iguodala virtually twice as good a shooter when he gets the pass from Curry? Well, after extensive examination of Iguodala’s shooting, it’s clear that Iguodala’s preferred shooting pocket tends to be lower than the average NBA player’s. Upon receiving a pass out of the spot-up position, Iguodala is far more likely to hit his shot if he receives the pass low — where Steph tends to hit him. Draymond Green, meanwhile, tends to hit his teammates with passes that are chest high (as we were taught in practice as kids).

This video below will start out general, comparing Nick Young’s (pass to D’Angelo Russell) pocket passes to LeBron James (pass to RJ). It becomes more specific when contrasting Green and Curry’s passes to Iguodala in following clips:

If we place an emphasis on tracking where players’ preferred shooting pockets are, it’s reasonable to assume the catch-and-shoot numbers will improve even further.

Takeaway: Teams can and should invest resources into pocket-pass tracking, which would lead to more efficient catch-and-shoot offenses. Meanwhile, some passes that look good may actually lead to lower field goal percentages for certain shooters. 

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2. The search for the next Draymond Green may be simpler than we think

We, as a basketball community, are obsessed with finding the next Draymond Green. That is, a defensive swiss-army knife who’s equally adept defending on either end of the pick-and-roll, guarding the post, or protecting the boards. In the NBA playoffs, we saw Green’s value illuminated in the earlier rounds (sans Curry) and later on in the Finals.

I argue, that rather than look for a player with Green’s total package, teams should explore replicas of Green who cover the three essential components of Green’s skill-set: 1) positional versatility on defense. 2) wing-developed offensive skills (shooting, passing, handling) and 3) proven defensive rebounding success.

Post-ups in the NBA are dying. And while certain organizations believe in zagging while the other teams zig (i.e. the Raptors doubling down on posting big men with JV and Jared Sullinger), it remains apparent that the skilled offensive big man isn’t quite as much of an equalizer as it used to be.

While Draymond Green was the first true success story in this role as “Death Lineup Center,” my hunch is that we’re only starting to scratch the surface with this trend.

Fortunately, Synergy Sports tracks post defense, so we can identify precisely which guards hold their own against the league’s top big men. Corroborating Synergy’s statistics with my observations over film, there are at least two candidates who could/would explode in value, filling in as a Draymond Green-lite, and an additional handful who have promising potential.

Simply put, Marcus Smart and PJ Tucker are truly effective post defenders as you’ll see in the video below:

Most of this comes down to lower body and core strength. In last year’s postseason, Paul Millsap was able to exploit the Celtics’ interior defense for much of the series. Boston adapted by switching point guard Marcus Smart onto Millsap as a seeming last-resort, which completely stifled the Hawks’ big man (as shown in the video above). Moreover, because Smart is only 6’4, Millsap perceived a mismatch, which led him to play iso-heavy on play after play — disrupting Atlanta’s offensive flow. This phenomenon (i.e. going away from a usually-efficient offense to exploit a perceived mismatch) is called “The Steve Novak Effect” – made popular in this ESPN article.

  1. Marcus Smart (rebounding percentage on court goes from 75.6% to 73.8%)
  2. P.J. Tucker (rebounding percentage on court goes from 77.4% to 76.4%) 
  3. Justise Winslow (rebounding percentage on court goes from 79% to 76%)
  4. Dion Waiters (though, team defensive rebounding drops for him)
  5. Langston Galloway (defensive rebounding on court goes from 76.2% to 75.4%)

It’s important to clarify that this isn’t necessarily about building the most complete team on a game-to-game basis. This is about building the most adaptable team for the playoffs. While these players could serve as your big men against most teams in the NBA, it will still be imperative for any team employing this radical strategy to keep defensive-minded big men on the roster (think Aron Baynes), in case of a matchup against a top post-player such as Demarcus Cousins or Brook Lopez.

Meanwhile, more conventional Green facsimiles exist in versatile big men such as Anthony Tolliver and Darrell Arthur, who both signed for approximately the MLE this summer. Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 1.15.15 PM

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 1.17.04 PM

 

As these charts (above) show: Langston Galloway defended the post on 51 possessions in 2015-16, allowing just 13 FG on 40 FGA (32.5%), making him an elite post defender.

Takeaway: Lower body strength may be even more important than height in determining post defense success. This can eventually lead to more positional versatility on both ends. ________________________________________________________________

 

3. Jackson Pollock: Where to find paint

With contract valuations skyrocketing on the open market, the benefit of adding a low-risk, high-reward hidden gem is exponentially more crucial to succeeding in today’s market. Below are four candidates (two from Europe, two from the D-League) who I believe have enough tangible NBA skills and tools to make them valuable role players in the NBA. Positional versatility was a priority in this search, knowing certain teams value certain positions more than others. Knowing this, I profiled two wings, one point guard, and one big man.

3A) The Europeans

Thomas Heurtel (Anadolu Efes)

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6’3″/ 175 pounds / 27 years old / French

Agent: Pedja Materic (also represents: Joffrey Lauvergne, Damien Inglis)

PROS:

  • Shot 121-for-275 (44%) on jumpers off the dribble in half court in Turkish League (Projects well toward crunch time potential. Ranks 92nd percentile in EuroLeague)
  • 111-for-255 on jump shots off dribble in EuroLeague (has Lillard pull-up skills)
  • Lifetime 124-for-314 (39.5%) 3-point shooter in EuroLeague
  • Gets to the line 4.2 times per 40 minutes pace adjusted, 80% FT shooter
  • Nice complimentary interior touch to supplement strong perimeter shooting
  • 55-for-106 in Turkish League on runners/floaters in 2015-16 (elite finisher in spite of height)
  • Led EuroLeague in assists per game (7.9 assists)
  • Excellent court vision
  • Laser passes + great skip-passer:

CONS: 

  • Not much of a defender but works diligently. Has some Prigioni in his defensive stance/hustle.
  • Plays exclusively in half court (just 12.7% of possessions in transition – Synergy)
  • Turnover prone: ~21% of possessions end in turnovers (big question mark for the fast-paced NBA)

Takeaway: At just 27, Heurtel certainly has enough skills to be a solid backup at the NBA level. Remember, Pablo Prigioni had a successful rookie season as a 35-year-old with the Knicks. 

 

Mathias Lessort (Espoirs Chalan)

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6’9″/ 230 pounds / 2o years old / French

Agent: YouFirst Sports (Kristaps Porzingis, Serge Ibaka, Marcelo Huertas)

Pros: 

  • Gets to the line: 6.7 FTA per 40 minutes (pace adjusted). Shot 67.8% on FTs
  • Very fast in transition (somewhere between Hakim Warrick and Jason Maxiell as player type)
  • Quick feet laterally. Could theoretically defend every position with coaching/experience.
  • Good passer for his size. Nice feel for the game.
  • Rebounds off the walls: 14.3 rebounds per 40 minutes (pace adjusted) in French League
  • 2.4 blocks per 40 minutes (pace adjusted)

Cons:

    • Struggles with balance when moving laterally (correctable)
    • Foul prone (6.2 fouls per 40 minutes pace adjusted in 18 EuroCup games)
    • Not much of a shooter (just 3-for-12 lifetime as a shooter)
    • Logged just 12-16 minutes per game, so his stamina remains a mystery

Takeaway: After going undrafted in 2016, Lessort’s future is a bit up in the air. He’s extremely raw but at just 20 years old, he already has elite rebounding abilities to compliment his impressive court awareness on both ends of the floor. 

Honorable mention: Ognjen Kuzmic (unlucky in first NBA stint, pitted behind Bogut, Ezeli, and Speights with GS. Excellent rebounder. Competent offensive option). 

3B: D-League Retreads 

Chris Douglas-Roberts (Texas Legends)

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6’7″ / 200 pounds / 29 years old 

Agent: Leon Rose (Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Victor Oladipo) 

Pros: 

  • Healthier lifestyle. Seems like a different type of person. Has gone Vegan, plays less selfishly.
  • Very creative with his moves, gets space consistently. Very long, 6’10 wingspan.
  • Has a skill-set that will age well if he changes his game. Has serious Shaun Livingston potential.
  • Developing post-game. 8-for-16 on postups in 2015-16 in D-League

  • Developing post-game. 8-for-16 on postups in 2015-16 in D-League
  • Only one post-up attempt in NBA over his last three stints (Dallas, Charlotte, LAC); scores with up-and-under against Thunder triple team.
  • Shot 38.6% on threes in his last full NBA season with Charlotte. Clearly has capabilities here.
  • Having trouble ignoring his 2012-13 season in 11 games with Texas Legends, in which he averaged 4.7 assists per 40 minutes pace but more importantly had a 21.5% Assist Percentage (Giannis Antetekounmpo, Raymond Felton territory)

CONS: 

  • Not a capable shutdown defender like his length would suggest.
  • Improving with understanding team concepts but is definitely better suited to defend guards than forwards. Diet has made him even skinnier.
  • Doesn’t get to the line as much as you’d like for a player with his scoring ability. Just 4.2 FTA per 40 minutes pace.
  • Enigmatic personality, described as “difficult” from several scouts.

Takeaway: Signing CDR would certainly represent a risk to a front office. His attitude has turned off coaches and teammates in the past. Still, with a clear blueprint to follow toward effective NBA role playing (posting-up), CDR is an undeniably talented option with an unusually low price tag.  

 

John Holland (Canton Charge)

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6’5″ / 209 pounds / 27 years old 

Agent: Jason Ranne (Marc Gasol, Marcus Smart, Tiago Splitter) 

Pros: 

      • Excellent finisher: 54-for-80 around basket (67.5%) (94th percentile for D-League
      • Excellent off the dribble in the half court: 32-for-73 (43.8%). Quick first step.
    • Improving catch-and-shoot player: 33-for-90 (36.7%)
    • Good three point shooter (38% last season with Canton), though nearly 40% of his threes came off the dribble. (Actually missed his last eight C+S opportunities at season’s end)
    • Skilled in the post (13-for-24), though reluctant.
    • 17-for-25 on cuts. Very good at moving off ball. Excellent footwork on Catch+Shoots.
    • Total hustler, willing to grab offensive rebounds.
  • (On par with Paul George and Lance Stephenson with 3.1% O-Reb percentage.
  • Low turnovers (10.4% of possessions per Synergy)
  • Nice, smooth release with rotation. High arc. Fairly quick and good in close spaces (17-for-53 on C+S while guarded)
  • Rates as a very good defender, per Synergy. Opponents scored just 38.5% of the time against him (71st percentile).
  • Ranks as the 24th most efficient perimeter defender in D-League.
  • Nice lateral quickness and big hands.
  • Great kid. Hard working. Humble.

Cons: 

  • Not much of a left hand
  • Rhythm shooter completely.
  • Will he stay confident against tougher competition?  (shot just 33% (156-for-471) from 3-point range for three seasons from 2012-2015 in Europe)

Takeaway: John Holland is a good two-way player who rates out well in nearly every category on Synergy. In a market where role-playing wings can make up to $20 million annually, Holland is certainly worth taking a shot on for little cost.

Honorable mentions: DeAndre Liggins (domestic assault in 2013 overshadows his talented defense (2x DPOY in D-League) and competent shooting), Deshaun Thomas (best off-the-dribble scorer in D-League. Soft defender), Darington Hobson (Specimen athletically. Still struggles with team defense schemes). 

 

 


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