Scoring Sabermetrics: Can You Smell What The Wizards Backcourt Is Cooking?
Kobe and Nash will make a great duo. That’s what the numbers say anyway.
Nash had the highest assist percentage in the NBA (53.1) and made the most passes to spot-up shooters (389) in the pick-and-roll last season. More often than not, 62 percent of the time, Nash passed the rock in the two-man game, and his Phoenix Suns teammates shot 51 percent on those passes.
“With Nash taking over primary ballhandling duties and Kobe handling the ball less, expect the Lakers to get more open shots and shoot the ball at a higher percentage, including Kobe,” wrote Ryan Feldman and Rachel Eldridge of ESPN Stats & Info. “Kobe doesn’t get open very often, but when he does he’s a highly efficient shooter. If Nash is able to get open shots for Kobe, expect the Lakers to be a strong contender.”
While Nash’s move to Tinseltown may deliver another deep playoff run to Los Angeles, there’s reason to believe that fans in D.C. can sit back and enjoy some down home country cooking. Washington’s star point guard, John Wall, got plenty of reps in the pick-and-roll last season, and some of the team’s recent roster additions indicate that their offense is ready to turn on the burners.
Only Steve Nash, Tony Parker and Chris Paul ran the pick-and-roll more often than John Wall did last season (885 plays). In those situations, Wall passed the ball a total of 476 times, the sixth-highest total in the NBA (behind Nash, Parker, Jose Calderon, Paul and Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley), making 217 passes to spot-up shooters specifically.
So, is Wall part of the pick-and-roll elite? Not quite.
“The number of passes seems very good since he ranks so high, but it’s flawed since he ran so many plays himself,” said Feldman, who helped put together this scouting report for Truth About It.net. “He has the ball in his hands a lot. Of the 10 players with at least 400 pick-and-roll passes, Wall passed the ball the least often (53.8 percent).”
Wall passed the ball even less often in isolation.
“Of the 36 players with at least 30 isolation plays, Wall’s 14.4 percent ranked as the 6th-lowest percentage of passes on isolation plays,” said Feldman. “Of those 36, only Carmelo Anthony, MarShon Brooks, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, and Jamal Crawford passed the ball less often on isolation plays.”
But here’s a little something to whet your appetite: When John Wall did share the ball, his teammates shot 50 percent from the field. (The 50 percent ranked 12th-best among those 36 iso-heavy players, per Feldman). And when he passed in the pick-and-roll, his teammates (like Nash’s) tended to knock shots at a decent clip:
“You can certainly make the argument that he needs to pass the ball more often based on these numbers. His teammates shot better than him on his pick-and-roll plays. When he kept the ball in his hands on pick-and-roll plays, he shot 35.6 percent. When he passed it, the teammates who received those passes shot 45.2 percent. Of the 14 players with at least 300 pick-and-roll plays, Wall’s 35.6 percent shooting was the worst (Jordan Crawford was one spot ahead of Wall in 13th place with 35.9 percent shooting). Of the 41 players with at least 200 plays, only Detroit’s Brandon Knight was worse. Of those same 41 players, Wall averaged the fewest points per play (Crawford was 36th).”
The sabermetrics suggest that Wall should trust his teammates more often. But that hasn’t been an easy sell over the past few seasons. Where were the shooters?
In 2011-12, the Washington Wizards posted the third-worst True Shooting Percentage (TS%), a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-pointers and free throws. Washington’s 0.508 TS% last season was only better than Charlotte (0.483) and Cleveland (0.505). It was more of the same in 2010-11, Wall’s rookie season, where the Wiz posted the league’s second-worst TS% (0.513). Only the Milwaukee Bucks shot worse (0.511). Making matters even more difficult last year, the Wizards not only had the third-worst assist-to-turnover ratio in the NBA, but they also recorded the fourth-lowest percentage of assisted field goals.
As for the guys John Wall was kicking the ball out to … well, they weren’t exactly worldbeaters. Clearly, Jordan Crawford, the incumbent starter at the two-guard, isn’t an effective scorer in the pick-and-roll. But he fared a bit better as a spot-up shooter despite shooting a lower percentage from the field. The reason? The 3-point shot. Crawford scored 0.92 points per play (PPP) on 165 spot-up plays (100 of which were attempts from downtown). Crawford only scored more PPP in transition and on offensive rebounds.
Chris Singleton scored 0.87 PPP on spot-up plays and 33.1% from behind the line as a rookie. Accuracy from range has never been one of Singleton’s strong suits — he’s working on it. Also spotting-up: Roger Mason, 1.03 PPP (88th in the NBA); Mo Evans; 0.9 PPP; Trevor Booker, 0.82 PPP and Andray Blatche, 0.73 PPP. And then there’s 10-day contractor turned re-signed veteran, Cartier Martin, who emerged as the Wizards best hope from deep. Martin led all Wizards in 3-point field goal percentage (38.7%) last season and scored 1.26 PPP on 72 spot-up plays, the 12th-best mark in the league. That helped, but it wasn’t enough.
Enter Bradley Buckets.
Superscout David Thorpe, NBA analyst for ESPN.com and executive director of the Pro Training Center, tuned into the Wizards’ first Las Vegas Summer League game against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday. He tweeted, too:
Beal has a game, and a plan. He’s going to end up being solid in any environment. With the potential to be great.
— david b. thorpe (@coachthorpe) July 13, 2012
Beal such a great fit next to Wall. He has some Harden in him because he plays at a perfect pace.
— david b. thorpe (@coachthorpe) July 13, 2012
I see Harden in Beal more and more, other than he’s just not the passer overall that Harden is.
— david b. thorpe (@coachthorpe) July 13, 2012
♦ ♦ ♦
That’s high praise for a player the Wizards (and the team’s fans) have pinned their hopes on. This past lockout-shortened season, James Harden‘s third season, the Oklahoma City gunner increased his scoring output by 4.6 points, improved his shooting percentages across the board, even setting a career-high TS% of 66-percent, and he recorded more assists than he did in the previous year’s 82-game campaign. Harden’s play earned him recognition as the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, receiving 115 of the 119 first-place votes.
Like Harden, who was selected third overall in 2009, Beal will have a similar role on his first NBA team. He’ll be the Wizards’ go-to option off the bench. Trusting in Thorpe’s quick evaluation, here’s a look at some of Harden’s career numbers, brought to you by Hoopdata. Consider them a projection of sorts for Bradley Beal’s first few seasons in the NBA:
Not too shabby… It’d be nice if Beal were to follow a similar career trajectory. According to mySynergySports.com, Harden last year was exceptional in several categories: the pick-and-roll, isolation, spot-ups and transition (a staple in D.C.). Overall, Harden scored 1.1 PPP, the 10th-best mark in the NBA, an improvement from his rookie numbers, 0.95 PPP (160th).
’11-’12: 1.03 PPP on 157 plays (rank: 7th)
’09-’10: 0.74 PPP on 96 plays (195th)
P&R Ball Handler
’11-’12: 0.99 PPP on 408 plays (rank: 9th)
’09-’10: 0.8 PPP on 171 plays (89th)
’11-’12: 1.16 PPP on 175 plays (rank: 28th)
’09-’10: 1.14 PPP on 222 plays (47th)
’11-’12: 1.24 PPP on 239 plays (rank: 87th)
’09-’10: 1.11 PPP on 159 plays (182nd)
(I should point out that Harden’s rookie PPP on spot-ups, 1.14 on 175 plays, was better than any mark set by Washington shooters not named Cartier Martin last season. And for what it’s worth, Nick Young scored a career-high 1.18 PPP on spot-ups during Wall’s rookie season and 1.11 PPP as a Wizard in 2011-12.)
At Truth About It, we’ve long believed that Wall is a pass-first point guard who has needed to carry the scoring load if the Wizards were to win games. Washington’s shooting stats over the past two seasons seem to confirm as much. But the addition of Bradley Beal should change the team’s scoring dynamic, and it’s not impossible for him to match Harden’s production as a rookie: about 10 points, three rebounds, two assists, and one steal, while shooting .405 from the field (55.1 TS%).
The Wizards finally put a team around John Wall; he should be more willing to pass the ball with Beal open on the perimeter and Trevor Ariza cutting to the hoop. (Trevor Ariza scored 1.09 PPP on cuts, 1.19 PPP on offensive rebound plays and 1.31 PPP in transition last season.) Of course, better shot selection from Jordan Crawford and another strong year from Cartier Martin wouldn’t hurt, either.
Already, on three consecutive nights, in three consecutive games, Beal has flashed his NBA potential. He leads the Wizards in scoring and has been the high-point man (outscoring all players regardless of team) in meetings with the Atlanta Hawks and the D-League Select team. Beal is averaging 18.7 points per contest and is shooting 41 percent from the field (21-for-28 from the free throw line). He’s second in the team in assists with seven; Shelvin Mack is in first with eight.
That extra space should give Wall that much more room operate — in isolation and in pick-and-roll sets. And if he can come back with a working jumper, Wall might begin to be categorized as “unguardable.” Reports so far have been positive, from current teammates like Trevor Ariza to former teammates like DeMarcus Cousins to future Hall of Famers like LeBron James (who said John Wall is on the brink of becoming a star) to Team USA coaching staff like Jay Triano (who said “he was as good as anyone on the floor”).
What does Wall think of all the attention?
“Just because I’m making [jump shots] now doesn’t mean I can stop, because the season is a couple of months away,” John Wall said after a training session with Team USA. “If you stop now, it won’t work during the season. You just have to keep the same mindset and shoot with confidence. If I miss a couple of shots, I’m still taking the same shots and I think that’s what bothered me throughout my first two years. If I miss one or two, I’m hesitant and you make it tough for the rest of the game and on your teammates.”
He knows he’ll have to do more than look for his own shot if the Wizards are going to make a playoff run.
“I think my decision-making got a lot better,” continued Wall. “At times, I used to make the homerun play. I know right now, that you can’t make the homerun play, especially in this league, because so many guys have long arms and are athletic. That’s one thing I’m going to work on this season, not having a lot of turnovers, and controlling the game at a better pace.”
The lights will shine on the Lakers’ new backcourt, but there are the makings of a tantalizing combo in the nation’s capital. Don’t be surprised if Wall shows himself to be a more efficient offensive player as both a scorer and a distributor this winter. With Bradley Buckets by his side — his sous chef, if you will — fans are going to want more of whatever John Wall and the Wizards are serving up.