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Archive for September 2013

Why Demarcus Cousins probably wasn’t worth his rookie salary last year, let alone a max contract

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USACE Sacramento District Comander greets King...

USACE Sacramento District Comander greets Kings player DeMarcus Cousins (Photo credit: USACE HQ)

Was Demarcus Cousins even worth his rookie salary last season? (& introducing some new stats)

The Kings decided to give Demarcus Cousins a 4 year, 62 million maximum extension. The move is insane on multiple levels. Even if they are believers in Cousins’ immense talent and his chance to reach it despite 3 years, 6500 minutes played of underachieving so far, letting him play out his 4th season is a perfect opportunity to see what he is.

The extension is as if the Kings believe Cousins is a great player now. If not worth the max, then close enough to it. This can’t be more misguided. Cousins isn’t a great, 10 million a year center overpaid for potential. I’d in fact argue he wasn’t worth 3.88 million to the Kings – what he made from his rookie salary last season.

To help show why, I added together the Kings total possessions (FGA + 0.44 FTA + TOV), totaling 8924.36, then divided it up between every player on the roster (% in brackets). From there, I separated them into groups by Dean Oliver’s individual ORTG statistic, roughly measuring how well a player uses a possession. The groups I used were above the Kings team DRTG (111.4), above the Kings ORTG (106.2), above league average ORTG (105.9) and under league average ORTG (105.9):

Over Kings DRTG (111.4)

Isaiah Thomas 1098.28 possessions (12.31%) – 115 ORTG

Patrick Patterson 193.16 possessions (2.16%) – 114 ORTG

Cole Aldrich 50.84 possessions (0.57%) – 112 ORTG

Over Kings ORTG (106.2)

Tyreke Evans 1012.24 possessions (11.34%) – 110 ORTG

Jason Thompson 936.64 possessions (10.49%) – 108 ORTG

Marcus Thornton 897.44 possessions (10.05%) – 111 ORTG

Chuck Hayes 255.12 possessions (2.86%) – 111 ORTG

Toney Douglas 146.04 possessions (1.64%) – 111 ORTG

Over league average ORTG (105.9)

John Salmons 745.4 possessions (8.35%) – 106 ORTG

Jimmer Fredette 520.56 possessions (5.83%) – 106 ORTG

Aaron Brooks 388.88 possessions (4.36%) – 106 ORTG

Under league average ORTG (105.9)

Demarcus Cousins 1447.12 possessions (16.21%) – 102 ORTG

James Johnson 380.48 (4.26%) – 87 ORTG

Thomas Robinson 339.24 (3.80%) – 91 ORTG

Francisco Garcia 231.16 (2.59%) – 101 ORTG

Travis Outlaw 218.88 (2.45%) – 103 ORTG

Tyler Honeycutt 16.88 (0.19%) – 64 ORTG

Cousins 16.21% of Kings possessions is easily the highest on the team, yet his 102 ORTG ranks 11th on the team. After Cousins, the next 7 highest possessions users – Thomas, Evans, Thompson, Thornton, Salmons, Fredette and Brooks, are all above 106 ORTG. Cousins’ 102 ORTG is barely within shouting distance of his most featured teammates efficiency. By TS%, Cousins ranks 10th behind Aldrich, Thomas, Brooks, Evans, Douglas, Patterson, Thornton, Fredette and Thompson, including 6 of the other 7 top 8 possessions users (Salmons falling out).

Notably, Thomas, Patterson and Aldrich are the only Kings players above team DRTG, or the average opponent’s ORTG. To be more efficient than the opponent, is the root of Ws. If a player is more efficient than the opponent, he’s added positively to the team’s efficiency differential. If less efficient, he contributes negatively to it. The opponent’s offense is the break even point.

I created a stat based on this concept. Here is how I calculate it. I take the player’s above total possessions, then multiply it by (Individual ORTG / team DRTG). I subtract this number from total possessions * 1, to give me a “points above the other team” number. Since this is for the full season, I divide it by 82 then multiply by 2.7, an estimate for points per win, to get a “Wins vs Average” number.

For example, Thomas has 1098.28 possessions used. With an individual ORTG of 115 and the Kings DRTG of 111.4, 1098.28 * (115/111.4) = 1133.77, +35.49 from 1098.28 * 1. 35.49 divided by 82 and multiplied by 2.7, is +1.17 Ws. This indicates Isaiah adds 1.17 Ws compared to the opponent over the season. If the entire team’s Ws added to 0, that would indicate they are roughly 41 W caliber, or average. Here is the full Kings roster using this:

Isaiah Thomas  79 GP – 13.90 poss/game 115 ORTG 111.4 DRTG  1098.28 possessions  (+35.49 pts) (+1.17 Ws)

Patrick Patterson 24 GP – 8.05 poss/game 114 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 193.16 poss (+4.51 pts) (+0.15 Ws)

Cole Aldrich 15 GP – 3.39 poss/game 112 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 50.84 poss (+0.27 pts) (+0.01 Ws)

Toney Douglas 22 GP – 6.64 poss/game 111 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 146.04 poss (-0.52 pts) (-0.02 Ws)

Chuck Hayes 74 GP – 3.45 poss/game 111 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 255.12 poss (-0.92 pts) (-0.03 Ws)

Marcus Thornton 72 GP – 12.46 poss/game 111 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 897.44 poss (-3.22 pts) (-0.11 Ws)

Tyler Honeycutt 9 GP – 1.88 poss/game 64 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 16.88 poss (-7.18 pts) (-0.24 Ws)

Tyreke Evans 65 GP – 15.57 poss/game 110 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 1012.24 poss (-12.72 pts) (-0.42 Ws)

Travis Outlaw 38 GP – 5.76 poss/game 103 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 218.88 poss (-16.50 pts) (-0.54 Ws)

Aaron Brooks 46 GP – 8.45 poss/game 106 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 388.88 poss (-18.85 pts) (-0.62 Ws)

Francisco Garcia 40 GP – 5.78 poss/game 101 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 231.16 poss (-21.58 pts) (-0.71 Ws)

Jimmer Fredette 69 GP – 7.54 poss/game 106 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 520.56 poss (-25.23 pts) (-0.83 Ws)

Jason Thompson 82 GP – 11.42 poss/game 108 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 936.64 poss (-28.59 pts) (-0.94 Ws)

John Salmons 76 GP – 9.81 poss/game 106 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 745.4 poss (-36.13 pts) (-1.19 Ws)

Thomas Robinson 51 GP – 6.65 poss/game 91 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 339.24 poss (-62.12 pts) (-2.05 Ws)

James Johnson 54 GP – 7.05 poss/game 87 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 380.48 poss (-83.34 pts) (-2.74 Ws)

Demarcus Cousins 75 GP – 19.29 poss/game  102 ORTG 111.4 DRTG 1447.12 poss (-122.11 pts) (-4.02 Ws)

When added together, the total is about negative 13 Ws, a perfect fit with the Kings’ expected W/L of 28-54. That’s not to say every team’s total is a perfect match if this method is done, the limitations of the ORTG stat create a common few W difference.

Cousins’ rating is awful, because of his combination of using many possessions at a rate less efficient than his opponent. While it doesn’t explain him ranking last on the team, the poor defense of Cousins’ teammates contributes to that W score rating so low. Thus, is there any way to sort out how much Cousins contributed to the defense? Here is the list of on-court DRTGs for the Kings players and in brackets, their on/off defensively (a negative differential is good, indicating the team is better defensively with the player on the court):

On-court DRTG:

Under league average DRTG (105.9)

Cole Aldrich 105.1 (-6.7)

Under Kings DRTG (111.4)

Tyler Honeycutt 106.5 (-5.1)

Toney Douglas 107.0 (-5.0)

Chuck Hayes 107.3 (-6.0)

John Salmons 109.7 (-4.3)

Isaiah Thomas 110.3 (-2.7)

Francisco Garcia 110.4 (-1.4)

Over Kings DRTG (111.4)

Tyreke Evans 111.5 (-0.1)

Jason Thompson – 111.7 (+0.4)
Travis Outlaw 111.7 (+0.2)

Thomas Robinson 112.2 (+0.8)

Demarcus Cousins – 112.3 (+1.8)

Patrick Patterson 112.6 (+1.3)

Marcus Thornton 113.8 (+4.0)

Jimmer Fredette 114.2 (+3.5)

Aaron Brooks 114.4 (+3.8)

James Johnson 115.3 (+4.8)

While this isn’t a perfect way to measure Cousins’ D, the results do not look good. Cousins rates 6th last in on-court D and has the 5th worst on/off defensively, with +1.8. There’s nothing here to counteract the popular belief that Cousins is a poor defender at C, from a combination of youth and laziness. This is despite strong defensive rebounding numbers.

The defense against Cousins’ offensively, is that he’s a high volume player. With those 19.3 possessions used a game and 17.1 points a game, that the Kings need a go-to player offensively and he draws attention from teammates. Thus saying that the high ORTG of players like Thomas, Patterson, Thornton, Evans can be attributed to him.

On one hand, going against this is that the Kings have an ORTG of 107.2 with Cousins off the court, compared to 105.3 with him on, thus 1.9 points better without him. But even ignoring that, I made a stat that’s very favorable to volume and players like Cousins. I modeled it after OPS (On Base Plus Slugging), except using Efficiency and Volume.

To calculate Efficiency I subtract 96 from the player’s individual ORTG, then multiply the difference by .025. To calculate Volume I just multiply the player’s possessions per game by .025. I then add the numbers together. This of course favors players who not only use a high volume per minute, but players with a higher minutes per game to stack up those possessions per game totals.

Using Thomas as an example again, he has a 115 ORTG, for a difference of +19 – multiplied by .025, that makes his Efficiency score .475. He uses 13.9 possessions per game, * .025 that’s .3475 Volume, or .348 rounded. Added together his total is .823. Here is the full Kings roster:

Isaiah Thomas .823
Tyreke Evans – .739

Marcus Thornton .687

Patrick Patterson .660

Demarcus Cousins .632

Jason Thompson .586

Toney Douglas .541
John Salmons .495

Cole Aldrich .485

Chuck Hayes .461

Aaron Brooks .461

Jimmer Fredette .439

Travis Outlaw – .319

Francisco Garcia .270

Thomas Robinson 0.041

James Johnson -0.049

Tyler Honeycutt -0.735

Although not rating as awful in this category, it’s still not enough for Cousins to be above 5th on the team and half decent. In my brief experiment with this all-star caliber offensive players are typically over .800 or .900.

To use a comparison to some of the other standout offensive Cs in the league, Brook Lopez’s score would be .923, Nik Pekovic’s is .872, Marc Gasol’s is .842 and Al Jefferson’s is .783 (Jefferson had a better season last year with .857, despite league wide efficiency dropping 2 points. If making the base ORTG 94 to reflect this, he’d have been at .907 in 2011-2012). Compared to star offensive Cs, once again there’s no reason to believe Demarcus Cousins is a great offensive player, or even more than an average one.

But all in all, if forced to sign him to an RFA contract this summer, I may have defended the Kings for shooting for the moon with Cousins’ upside – my personal talent grading by the way, would rate him as not only talented, but an MVP talent. Plus the Kings may have known that even in worst case scenario, the likelihood of another team trading for him. What makes this extension crazy is how they weren’t forced into it. They maxed out a player who was below average if not below replacement caliber in 2012-2013, with no incentive but to make him less moody next year. And that incentive to improve his attitude, may backfire if the money makes him lazier and entitled than if playing for a contract. It’s a crazy deal that may warn of storm clouds for Sacramento fans, regarding the competence of their new ownership and management. The Kings may have finally divorced a drunk husband, only to end up dating another.

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Written by jr.

September 27, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Is Russell Westbrook’s talent level overrated?

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Wizards v/s Thunder 03/14/11

Wizards v/s Thunder 03/14/11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I tried to make a list of the 30-40 most talented 25 and under players, using my talent grading system. I may not post it. My apprehension is that a large number of the players are too closely graded, making it hard to rank one over the other.

However I will say that if I do post it, Russell Westbrook will be ranked lower than you can imagine. Now, by making it onto the list, Westbrook is still a blue chip talent. Some other players I gave a similar grade include Chandler Parsons, Derrick Favors, Jrue Holiday, Larry Sanders, Mike Conley, Jr. to name a few. All excellent talents, but in a tier below superstar, perennial all-star talent, which many believe Westbrook has.

As a talent Westbrook has a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. In what I call “physical impact talent”, Westbrook may be as gifted as any PG in NBA history. Westbrook is one of the most athletic specimens in all of sports, pairing that explosiveness with a strong body. Add in elite ballhandling and he’s as dynamic as it gets in the NBA, for skills attacking the basket off the dribble. In both the halfcourt and transition he puts relentless pressure on the opponent that defines the pace of the game.

However, the above only makes up 1/3 of what I use to rate talent. Where my doubts about Westbrook’s talent lie is the other 2/3.

My “skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent” category treats shooting range as key, in addition to passing or post skills if a player has them. Westbrook is an average shooter at best for a PG. With a career 3P% of .302 and 0.6 3PM/2.1 3PA split, including .321 3P last year and 1.2 3PM/3.7 3PA, his outside shooters are weak – especially considering that with the defenses worrying about Westbrook’s slashing and Kevin Durant, those 3 point shots are likely to be open. Westbrook’s career 81.4% FT rate is respectable for a PG.

With that said, Westbrook is at least a decent passer and his size gives him post potential against smaller defenders.

In this category, I’d rate Westbrook from average to slightly above average.

The final category I look at is “feel for the game talent”, or to put it another way, instincts. Russell’s decision making and awareness of teammates has been criticized throughout his career. Fluidity and control is the biggest smoking guns I look for in feel for the game. Westbrook does not have fluidity that stands out and at times, can look out of control driving to the basket. I’d rate Westbrook from average to slightly below average in feel for the game.

In short, this combination – all time great physical impact tools, but average skill and feel for the game, does not rate as a superstar talent by my system. I do have Derrick Rose on that next level of talent because I see his feel for the game as elite, showing great fluidity and control – while his skills and physical talents are similar to Westbrook’s. Stephen Curry is an all time great shooter with an elite feel for the game, making up for a weakness physically. Rajon Rondo is an elite athlete with an elite feel for the game, but struggles to shoot, albeit making it up with exceptional passing skills. Those players are elite in 2 categories and average in another by my grading, while Westbrook is elite in 1 and average in 2.

Mike Conley, Jr. is obviously physically inferior to Westbrook, however he is a better shooter (.362 3P last year on 3.7 3PA) and is a more controlled, fluid and feel for the game friendly player. Jrue Holiday doesn’t shoot any better than Westbrook, but also has a high feel for the game, in addition to a great combination of speed and strength superior to Conley, but inferior to Westbrook. It makes sense to me that their feel for the game/fluidity talent, or shooting in Conley’s case, would make up for what Westbrook has over them physically.

Ricky Rubio is something of an inverse Westbrook. He has a feel for the game that is truly special – genius, arguably. However with just decent athleticism and serious shooting/touch problems, the “other 2/3s” for him is also a problem.

At other positions, Westbrook’s teammate Serge Ibaka compares favorably to him as a talent, for me. Ibaka has elite athleticism and length, helping him physically impact the game. Struggling to put the ball on the floor hurts his ability to attack the basket. He has a great jumpshot for a PF, better range than what Westbrook has for a PG. However, I likewise do not see more than average feel for the game. He at times can look stiff instead of natural and uses athleticism more than positional instincts to defend.

Now whether you take any of the above as meaningful is up to you. However it poses another question. How can I justify saying this, when Westbrook’s production can (seemingly) only be reached by a superstar talent? There are different methods of evaluating production of course, some may trust his 23.2ppg, 7.4apg, 5.2rpg as meaningful, whereas I’m more impressed by his combination of volume (25.08 possessions/game, using FGA+0.44*FTA+TOV) and above average efficiency (111 ORTG, league average 105.9). Others may point to that he helps spearhead one of the best offenses and teams in the league.

Either way, it’s hard to argue Westbrook isn’t a superstar talent, if he’s producing like one.

My argument against this is unreliable context. In other words, there could be a Kevin Durant effect. Durant is a rare type of superstar offensively, enough that it’s reasonable to present that Westbrook, among other Thunder players like Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison, may benefit in the efficiency category from it.

And certainly, if Westbrook had been traded to his own team last summer, my initial reaction would’ve been “watch out above for falling shooting percentage”. With the extra defensive attention on him, I’d have actively expected that efficiency to fall below the league average rate of 105.9. His TS% of .532 last year is already below average, it may have dripped dangerously to .50 on his own team. Both of this would have made it reasonable to call him a blue chip, but flawed talent.

This isn’t entirely fair, of course. To call out Westbrook’s efficiency for falling, when he’s never had the chance to prove that won’t happen. My point is more to present reasonable doubt. That just because Westbrook has star numbers, doesn’t mean he has to be a superstar talent.

And frankly, it’s not that big of a deal to be ‘only’ as talented as a player like Mike Conley, Jr. or Chandler Parsons or his teammate Serge Ibaka, if he is. Westbrook is an excellent talent and with Ibaka, Sefolosha, Collision, Jackson, etc., along with Jeremy Lamb, who I feel has superstar talent – the Thunder still have a stacked team around Kevin Durant.

Written by jr.

September 14, 2013 at 8:41 pm