Five Wings : Analyzing the George Karl effect

Doug Pensinger

The system that he runs ... He gets the best out of his players... I feel like a lot of people over-achieve when they play for him - Ty Lawson on George Karl

Ty Lawson is right...

It's no secret that George Karl and his system has a way of bringing the best out of guys. All you have to do is examine the growing list of players who have had their best seasons under Karl. Rather than re-hash previous articles I've written documenting this, I thought it'd be fun to look at how George Karl's system affects his players' shot locations. For this article, we will focus on wing players that recently played for the Nuggets under Karl.

Our first subject is Corey Brewer. A former lottery pick, C-Brew was well on his way to obscurity before being traded to the Nuggets for almost nothing from the Mavericks. Below are his shot locations in his year prior to Karl compared to this year:



At Rim Attempts FG% 3-9 feet FG% 10-15ft FG% 16-23ft FG% 3Pt EFG% % Good TS%
Corey Brewer Pre-Karl 5.4 56.3 1.7 29.3 1 35.5 2.9 33 3 41.2 60% 48.2

Post-Karl 6.2 64.4 1.2 46.2 0.8 27.8 2.2 39 6.2 44.3 75% 50.6

*All charts are shots per 40 minutes

I've added the "Percent Good" column to illustrate the percentage of a player's shots that are either at rim or three pointers--the two most efficient shots in basketball. As you can see, Corey Brewer's attempts and efficiency at the rim have gone way up, and the number of long 2's attempted have gone down. He still takes too many 3's for his level of efficiency, however I'd still prefer that to two point jumpers because of their greater Effective Field Goal Percentage. The key stat here is that C-Brew has upped his good shot percentage from 60-percent to 75-percent.

Some would argue that Karl tends to have this effect on young, impressionable players only, but how about someone who's already in their prime? Our next subject is Andre Iguodala:



At Rim Attempts FG% 3-9 feet FG% 10-15ft FG% 16-23ft FG% 3Pt EFG% % Good TS%
Andre Iguodala Pre-Karl (2011-12)
2.5 75.2 0.6 33.3 0.6 47.4 3.4 31 3.1 59.1 55% 53.7

Post-Karl

(2012-2013)

3.5 74.7 0.6 34.1 0.8 32.1 2 28 3.6 45.9 66.00% 51.6

As with Brewer, his at rim attempts are way up and long 2's are way down, bringing his percentage of good shots up from 55 to 66. Unlike Brewer, however, it hasn't affected his True Shooting percentage - yet. I say yet because his free throw and three point percentage are well below last years averages. Iguodala has definitely been taking better shots under Karl, they just haven't gone in at the same rate as in years past. Let's hope this is a comfort issue that he will overcome, because if he does that makes the Nuggets that much better.

So now we see his system affects a veteran in their prime and a young player, but what happens to players who've excelled under George Karl, then leave for another team? Our next example is one of my favorite ex-Nuggets, J.R. Smith.



At Rim Attempts FG% 3-9 feet FG% 10-15ft FG% 16-23ft FG% 3Pt EFG% % Good TS%
JR Smith

Pre-Karl

(2006-2007)

3.9 51.5 0.6 20 0.8 25 3.9 36.2 5.8 55.6 52 51.5

Karl

(2007-2008)

4.3 64 0.8 31 0.5 21 1.8 37.8 11 56.7 83 58.5

Post-Karl

(2012-2013)

2.8 65.9 2.2 33.8 1.87 34.9 4.91 35.2 6.8 52.8 51.6 51.8

I was a little selective with the years by taking his last season in New Orleans, first year in Denver, and this year in New York. The difference here is amazing -- JR's percentage of good shots is approximately 50 Pre and Post Karl, yet in his first year with Denver it was a staggering 83%! Under Karl, Smith took more shots at the rim, almost double the three-point attempts, and less than half the amount of long 2's.

It's no surprise that he was ultra-efficient in his first seasons with Denver, and well below average efficiency in New Orleans and New York. Sadly, this run of great shot selection only lasted two years, although he never approached the levels of poor selection that's being exhibited in New York. One can only wonder what might have been if JR had only adhered to the system, because he was pretty clearly the model offensive player for Karl.

JR is an example of a player in his prime getting better under Karl and then worse afterword, but JR is an eccentric and unpredictable player who wasn't known for his practice habits. Surely someone with a great work ethic and professional attitude wouldn't suffer the same fate, would they? Let's take a look at Arron Afflalo:

At Rim Attempts FG% 3-9 feet FG% 10-15ft FG% 16-23ft FG% 3Pt EFG% % Good TS%
Arron Afflalo Pre-Karl (2008-2009)
2.3 62 0.2 40 0.6 39 3.2 35 3.5 60.3 59 54.8
Karl (2011-2012) 3.9 68 1.4 31.1 1.1 39.7 2.7 40 4.2 59.7 61 58.4
Post-Karl(2012-2013) 3.1 65.3 1.3 41.6 2.3 53.8 4.1 42 4.1 45.2 48 52.7

More of the same. At rim attempts down, long two attempts way up, efficiency way down. Not much need for explanation here, but let's hope for AAA's sake that this is just a blip an otherwise upward trend in his career.

Finally, the last example should have Denver fans extremely excited about the future. Let's take a look at Wilson Chandler:

At Rim Attempts FG% 3-9 feet FG% 10-15ft FG% 16-23ft FG% 3Pt EFG% % Good TS%
Wilson Chandler Pre-Karl (2010-2011)
3.5 73.2 2.5 34.7 1.7 40 3.2 40.3 5.4 51.9 54 53.7

Post-Karl

(2012-2013)

5.7 65.8 2.2 40 1 30 2.4 22 4.1 59 64 53.9

This player came to Denver with a bad habit, one that seemed to irk readers of this blog so much that they labeled him "Meh". Chandler seemed to have a penchant for faking the three point shot, and then stepping in for a long 2. Because of that, his 10-23 ft attempts were high for someone who converted at his rate. What ever happened to Meh? George Karl killed him, that's what.

As you can see, his long two attempts have gone down by 25%, and his number of at rim attempts has drastically increased. This is HUGE because Wilson has historically finished at the rim at an elite rate. His at rim FG% is actually down this year, but it's still very high for his position, and the sheer number of attempts more than makes up for his dip in efficiency. Even more impressive is his jump in Free Throw rate, from 1.9/36 in 2010-11 to 4.1/36 this year.

[edit] Courtesy of Sensemaking, here are Wilson's heat maps... Pretty cool!

Wilson_medium

via s21.postimg.org


These five players illustrate why George Karl's tenure with the Nuggets have yielded consistently good offenses despite the level of talent, or even perhaps in spite of it. No matter the player, coach Karl has managed to get his wings to be more effective because they simply take more of the "good" shots and less of the "bad". How he does this is perhaps the subject of another article, but it's safe to say that it just plain works.

I think this is very important to think about for those in the "Fire George Karl" camp, and to be honest I'm terrified at the thought of the Nuggets without their coach of the last nine years. If Karl were to leave the Nuggets, would he take his players' efficiency and shot selection with him? I don't want to find out.

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