FanPost

The NBA: Where Amazing ... Scheduling Happens

This is the first of a three-part series that will examine the differences between this season and the past few seasons, the empirical impact of the compressed NBA schedule, and finally examining which teams understand the schedule and what their adjustments have been.

So the Nuggets lost to the Blazers last night in a brutal Back-to-Back-to-Back game where not only had the Nuggets played 3 tough opponents in 3 nights, had played 4 games in 5 nights, but the Blazers were coming off one day of rest. What does it tell us about the Nuggets and the Blazers? To be honest, absolutely nothing, except how Karl views these types of games (hint: for the most part, he treats them as normal games). While there’s not much we can read into the specific game result, there are some larger themes at play here. One of the largest is the effect of a shortened training camp, lack of practices, and a shortened schedule on the league as a whole.

First, subjectively, there has been an unusual number of terrible NBA games, blowouts, low scoring affairs and terrible offense. If we take a look at the statistical evidence, this season is a statistical anomaly in several ways. As we’ve written before, and as our old friend Dean Oliver wrote in his book Basketball On Paper, the best predictor of a basketball game are what he terms the 4 factors. On offense, these are: eFG% - describes a team’s shooting percentage after accounting for the added value of 3 pointers, TOV% - describes the rate at which teams turn the ball over, Oreb% - describes the rate at which teams rebound the ball on the offensive end and FT/FG - describes a team’s ability to draw shooting fouls. The same 4 factors also apply on defense: eFG% - a team’s ability to limit the opposing team’s shooting percentage, TOV% - the rate at which their defense forces turnovers, Dreb% - the rate at which teams get defensive boards, or put more succinctly, their ability to limit possessions, and finally FT/FG – how often a team fouls an opponent’s shooter.

The following tables the 4 factors since the 2006-2007 seasons:

Offensive 4 Factors

Year

eFG%

TOV%

Oreb%

FT/FGA

2011-12

48.10%

14.20%

26.50%

21.10%

2010-11

49.80%

13.40%

26.40%

22.90%

2009-10

50.10%

13.30%

26.30%

22.80%

2008-09

50.00%

13.30%

26.70%

23.60%

2007-08

49.70%

13.20%

26.70%

23.10%

2006-07

49.60%

14.20%

27.10%

24.60%

Defensive 4 Factors

Year

eFG%

TOV%

Dreb%

FT/FGA

2011-12

48.10%

14.20%

73.50%

21.10%

2010-11

49.80%

13.40%

73.60%

22.90%

2009-10

50.10%

13.30%

73.70%

22.80%

2008-09

50.00%

13.30%

73.30%

23.60%

2007-08

49.70%

13.20%

73.30%

23.10%

2006-07

49.60%

14.20%

72.90%

24.60%

When looking at the data from past seasons and comparing it to this season, a few things immediately jump out. First, and most importantly, eFG% is down about 2% from previous seasons, which were very consistently around 50%. The second thing that jumps out is that teams are turning the ball over – 6.5% (if we throw out 2006-2007) more than in previous seasons. Finally, FT/FG are down more than a percentage point from previous seasons – almost 8% (without 2006-2007) from league average the last 4 years.

The 2006-2007 needs a bit of explaining as it, too was a bit of an outlier season. If you look at the 2006-2007 data TOV% was also way up and FT/FG was way up. There were a few interesting curveballs the league threw at the players that season. The first was an added emphasis on cleaning up the league and an increase in technical fouls called. If you’re interested in more specifics, you can go here. The second curveball the league threw at the players was a new microfiber composite ball. If you recall, the ball seemed to bounce off the rim in weird ways and also players complained of bleeding fingers. While it doesn’t completely explain the increase in TOV%, in absolutely played a factor. The league changed the ball back to the old ball on January 1, 2007 and TOV% after that day until the end of the season 14.01%. Prior to the ball change, TOV% was 14.60%.

We took a quantitative look at the 4 factors and also can see that eFG% is down, TOV% is up, and FT/FG are down – all contributing to a decrease in scoring. There are several possible qualitative answers to the question of why scoring is down: randomness, teams are playing better defense (better defense creates more turnovers and causes more poor shots), teams are playing worse offense (teams are just shooting worse or executing poorly), or some other factors. Thanks to HoopData, we’ve provided a shot location and shooting percentage chart below:

As usual, the answer is a combination of a lot of factors:

  1. Offense Being Worse - Offensive efficiency tends to increase over the course of the season – it’s a trend that Matt and I noticed a few years ago and has recently been discussed in more detail at the APBR forums here. This suggests that offense takes longer to gel than defense. With shorter training camps and less available practices it has taken offense even longer than normal to get in sync. Teams are shooting worse on mid-range 2’s. To determine if this is bad offense or good defense, we need to look at teams that haven’t had much personnel turnover or scheme change. Last year Chicago and Boston gave up an eFG% of 46.27% and 46.92%respectively. This year, those same teams give up 45.66% and 44.9%, respectively. If the schemes aren’t changing and the players aren’t changing, then opposing offenses are either generating worse looks, missing more shots, or both.
  2. Teams Being Less Aggressive – Teams are attacking the basket less this year and settling for more jumpers, which simultaneously accounts for the lower FT/FG rate and the lower offensive eFG% (less high quality shots results in lower overall FG%). It’ll be interesting to look at next year’s data and decide if this is the new norm in the NBA where teams are going to more aggressive forward trapping and zone defenses, continuing a trend from last year, or if 2010-11 was just an outlier season and percentage of shots taken at the rim regress to historical norms.
  3. Concentration of Point Guards – The concentration of quality point guards on rosters. For example, Andre Miller would be a serviceable starter on a lot of other teams and he’s a good bench player for the Nuggets. Since we’re only looking at offense, we’ll use PER as our measure of a good offensive PG. Out of above average PER PGs - of which there are 24, 2 are on the Clippers (Paul and Williams). If you count Chauncey Billups as a starting quality PG, then there’s another PG that isn’t available for another team. There are 2 concentrated on the Nuggets, Lawson and Miller. The Bulls have both Rose and Watson. Curry and Robinson are concentrated on the Warriors. Nash is aging and they’re trying to limit his minutes in Phoenix. Williams and Farmar are concentrated on NJN, and I’d argue Farmar isn’t good. So, we have a big PG distribution problem where there are a lot of teams with 2 above average PGs and a lot of teams with very terrible PGs. Additionally, some of these above average PER PGs are terrible passers – Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, I’m looking at you. This problem is compounded in a season where depth and schedule play such critical roles in the outcome of games.

Continuing with the point guard distribution theme, consider the Knicks or the Lakers. In New York, the lack of a quality point guard is compounding Amare and Melo’s ball stopping problems. As someone on Twitter said – Melo is a ball stopper, Amare is old and slow, and Douglas, Shumpert, and Walker are chucker clones. In LA, Phil Jackson ran a triangle offense for years that didn’t require a quality point guard. Mike Brown is trying to run a traditional NBA offense where NBA rules favor a point guard that can break down the defense and create scoring opportunities. The Lakers’ offense has been reduced to inefficient isolation plays and low post opportunities where opponents can instantly double Bynum and Gasol. They rarely run anything resembling a coherent pick and roll.

Everything about this season is strange and unprecedented. If you keep in mind the following few points, things will make a lot more sense. The first is that offense has suffered greatly because of the lockout and the abbreviated schedule, for a variety of reasons. The second is that the schedule plays a larger role in determining outcomes than most people realize and your team may look horrible one night and really good the next. Statistics are harder to understand because they’re much noisier due to the number of 3 in 4’s, 4 in 5’s and B2Bs. In fact, home court advantage, which is traditionally worth around 3 point is worth much more this year – some studies have suggested 4.8 points. Finally, there will be an abnormal amount of mind numbing and unwatchable games this year.

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