Kris Humphries, Fancy Stats, and Why the Wizards Chose Right in Free Agency
The Washington Wizards, somehow, landed one of the NBA’s top rebounders over the past four seasons this summer to come off their bench in 2014-15.
The fact that Kris Humphries was joining a team already with plenty of veteran presence in the paint—Marcin Gortat, Nene, Drew Gooden, and Washington was known to be going after DeJuan Blair at the time—didn’t seem to matter much to him. That’s big: Good, backup big men—who are affordable—just don’t fall off the free agency tree.
“There’s always sacrifices all the way around when you’re trying to work for something greater—from guys who are already there to guys coming in,” said Humphries in a call with media last week. “When you’re on a team like this, which I feel blessed to be in this situation, everything you do is important and you feel important. You come in and get a stop—whatever you do on a winning team is magnified.”
Or in plain English: when you win, people want to play for you. The Wizards got their backup center/power forward for three-years and $13 million with a team option for the third year. That’s cheaper than Trevor Booker.
Since being taken 14th overall by the Utah Jazz in the 2004 NBA Draft, Humphries has spent a decade in the league, playing for five different franchises (Washington is No. 6) and appearing in 627 regular season games. He’s been to the playoffs just three times and only once in the past six seasons. He’s never been to the second round.
“Just the philosophy is to be part of a winning organization, looking at guys like Nene and Marcin… Those guys can really pass and play, and I think the guys that we have at the 4 and 5 spot that we’re going to have quite a force.”
The Wizards are big enough to keep up with other top inside trios in the East, especially in the playoffs—Hibbert, West, and Scola in Indiana; Noah, Gasol, and Gibson in Chicago; Love, Varejao, and Thompson in Cleveland.
Boards Aren’t Boring.
Total rebound percentage (TRB%) is an advanced statistic that attempts to estimate the percentage of all available rebounds that a player grabs while he’s on the floor. Thirty NBA players have played 6,000 or more minutes and have grabbed 2,000 or more rebounds since the 2010-11 season. Only Kevin Love and Dwight Howard (20.7 TRB% each) have bested Humphries’ ability to clean the glass (19.1 TRB%, slightly better than DeMarcus Cousins, 19.0%, and Zach Randolph, 18.8%).
The Wizards averaged a 50.0 TRB% as a team last season, tied with the New Orleans Pelicans for 17th-best in the league. Washington fared better at defensive rebounding, 75.7 percent, tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for seventh-best. When countering Kevin Love’s general defensive inefficiencies—particularly according to the eye test—many point to how his defensive rebounding will end an opponent’s possession, putting the ball in the hands of his own team to score. Some advanced stats, such as Win Shares, overrate defensive rebounding for this very reason, discounting that another individual player’s defense may have forced a missed shot. Nonetheless, Love has led the NBA with a 30.7 defensive rebound percentage (DRB%) over the past four seasons. Humphries ranks sixth-best in that time period with 26.7 percent.
“The way that I kind of established myself in the NBA was being a guy who was like, ‘OK, let me just play hard, rebound, defend, and run the floor, everything else comes.” —K. Humphries
When Marcin Gortat and Nene played alongside each other, Washington’s TRB% increased, barely, from 50.0 to 51.0 percent, and the team DRB% increased from 75.7 to 79.0 percent.
But when either had to be paired with Trevor Booker, team rebounding suffered—Booker and Gortat: 49.9 TRB% and 73.8 DRB%; Booker and Nene: 48.9 TRB% and 72.4 DRB%.
Humphries is not necessarily a replacement for Booker (at least not like the premise of a Washington Post Fancy Stats blog post by Neil Greenberg about the two players), but Humphries brings the ability for Randy Wittman to pair more size (two more inches in height and 2.75 more inches in wingspan than Booker) and better rebounding next to Nene or Gortat, or even Blair or Gooden. Humphries also allows the Wizards to avoid designating Kevin Seraphin as their primary backup center (since Nene cares not for playing center).
You have to expect Nene to miss a game—or several—here and there. And you expect Nene’s minutes to be monitored more than ever—we’ve heard Nene’s complaints about minutes before, and he’s spending the summer playing for Brazil at the FIBA World Cup. It will be interesting to see how much Humphries and Gortat are on the court at the same time. Gortat averaged 32.8 minutes per game last season, tied for 54th most with Greg Monroe amongst NBA players who played 50 or more games. Marcin, the $60 million man, will continue to get his fill (and more, perhaps). Nene averaged 29.4 minutes last season. Humphries averaged just under 20 minutes per game with Boston in 2013-14 and 18.3 with Brooklyn the season before. He used up 32 percent of Boston’s minutes at center, per 82games.com, and 20 percent of the team’s power forward minutes.
New Bigs vs. Wizards Bigs.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe recently wrote an interesting article, “The NBA’s Bigs Problem,” that speculated on market trends with NBA big men, particularly as they pertain to Greg Monroe’s free agency this summer (he is reportedly signing Detroit’s $5.5 million qualifying offer before the October 1 deadline), and the free agency of Tristan Thompson and Kenneth Faried next summer. From Grantland:
“Some trends have emerged over the last three summers. The price of shooting at all positions has gone up. And one player type has become less and less desired, to the point it may already be a market inefficiency: the power forward who can’t shoot 3s and can’t protect the rim or provide real fill-in minutes at center.”
Lowe in discussing Washington’s additions of Humphries and Blair as third and fourth bigs (depending on how you place Drew Gooden):
“The Wizards will pay Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair about $6 million combined this season—about what teams pay on average for their third and fourth big men. Hump provides some shot-blocking, and Blair brings the lower-body girth to bump centers. But in the big picture, each fits the ‘out-of-style power forward’ archetype.”
Lowe then went on to tout Booker’s ability to cut, sometimes move the ball, and essentially wrote that Booker can make great on Utah’s large (but relatively non-guranteed) investment if Booker
can learn the corner 3 (doubtful). But Lowe ultimately conceded that Booker, like Humphries and Blair, is amongst the “out-of-style” types. Or rather, those who lack all the skills of modern team-building desires.
And that’s OK. Not every player can suddenly, or perhaps ever will, fill the trending archetype.
Lowe, however, does concede this about Blair: “has a nice floater touch on the pick-and-roll and is a skilled passer.” It’s Blair who should be considered more of a replacement for Booker than Humphries. Per NBA.com, Blair was 9-for-19 on “floating jump shots” and 14-for-26 on “running jump shots” (essentially the same thing)—23-for-45 (51%) on such shots is absurd for a big man and could be a killer threat when rolling/diving off screens for Bradley Beal or John Wall.
Passing and Picking.
One of Greenberg’s main conclusions via “Fancy Stats” is that Humphries’ success will depend on chemistry with his new team. His past includes being a brat on a recruiting visit to Kansas, being married to Kim Karadshian (via something or another about him being accused of partying too much during the lockout), and once being called “soft” by Jason Terry. This was because Humphries got in a scuffle with Rajon Rondo (Humphries tweeted about needing a Tetanus shot afterward); the two later became teammates with the Celtics. Irrelevant: Humphries once posted a video called “Blatche eats chicken” to social media.
Boston media members wrote about Humphries turning heads with his positive attitude after a slow start to last season with new Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens. So the passing and picking have nothing to do with Kim K. or whispers otherwise about Humphries being a locker room issue, but are instead areas that involve team chemistry which we’ll comparatively measure with basketball digits.
Points created by assists per 48 minutes (via NBA.com player tracking):
- Nene: 10.8 (ranked 102 in NBA; 50 or more games played)
Similar: Paul George 10.7, Alec Burks 10.8, Tim Duncan 10.9, Bradley Beal 10.5.
- DeJuan Blair: 6.7
Similar: Scola 6.8, Caron Butler 6.7, Danny Green 6.7.
- Marcin Gortat: 5.7
Similar: Nick Young 5.8, Michael Beasley 5.7.
- Kris Humphries: 5.6
Similar to those above.
- Trevor Booker: 5.1
Similar: Kenneth Faried 5.1, Tobias Harris 5.1.
- Kevin Seraphin: 3.5
Similar: Derrick Williams 3.5, Kyle Singler 3.5.
[Note: Drew Gooden created 4.5 assists per 48 minutes in limited action.]
What does this tell us? Well, despite the similarities to Swaggy P and Super Cool Beas—both perimeter players—we know that Marcin Gortat is a willing and decent passing big man. In a Washington offense that moves the ball well (the Wizards were one of the top five passing/ball-moving teams last year), Gortat set a career-high in assists per 100 possessions (2.7). Humphries should fit right in. Per the stats above, he showed he was as capable of moving the ball for a poor Boston team last season. Humphries’ 2.5 assists per 100 possessions in 2013-14 was the best mark since his sophomore season in the NBA.
P&R Efficiency, the Roll Man (via mysynergysports.com):
The below statistics track each time a player received the ball on offense as the roll man off the pick-and-roll (P&R) and their possession ended in a field goal attempt, free throw attempts, or a turnover. Players are listed by the points per possession (PPP) they produced on these plays from most to least.
- Drew Gooden – 56 times (25.9% chances),
1.16 PPP, NBA rank: 22, 5.4% TO rate.
- Kris Humphries – 138 times as roll man (23.3% all offensive chances),
1.05 PPP, NBA rank: 60, 5.8% turnover rate.
- Marcin Gortat – 285 times (23.3% chances),
1.04 PPP, NBA rank: 64, 8.1% TO rate.
- DeJuan Blair – 198 times (35.4% chances),
0.96 PPP, NBA rank: 96, 10.1% TO rate.
- Nene – 193 times (19.5% chances),
0.87 PPP, NBA rank: 119, 9.8% TO rate.
- Trevor Booker – 79 times (15% chances),
0.87 PPP, NBA rank: 119, 8.9% TO rate.
- Kevin Seraphin – 56 times (20.1% chances),
0.70 PPP, NBA rank: 152, 16.1% TO rate.
What does this tell us? Nene is not that great at offensive action as the roll man (perhaps because he usually settles for jumpers, but this also does not measure the times Nene makes the extra pass). Both Booker and Seraphin were sub par last season, and just look at how many times Seraphin turned the ball over out of the roll—16.1 percent!
The addition of Blair (and his aforementioned floater), a full season of Gooden, and the addition of Humphries should provide a nice boon to what the Wizards are able to do off pick-and-roll action—if not to benefit the point count of the big men directly, certainly to increase offensive spacing for the backcourt. For the Post, Greenberg does point out Humphries (and the Celtics) did not fare well when he was paired with point guards Jerryd Bayless (minus-13.4 NetRtg) or Rajon Rondo (minus-17.1 NetRtg) last season. Humphries spent 458 minutes with Bayless over 36 games and 415 minutes with Rondo over 28 games. Not enough time to develop chemistry on a rebuilding team upon which we can judge Humphries’ ability to develop chemistry on an up-and-coming team with different players.
Shoot it Big, Defend the Rim.
Grantland’s Lowe on analyzing NBA trends and big men:
“There are methods beyond shooting to create enough space for a flowing offense. If a team can pair two non-shooting bigs with just enough of those skills, they might be able to forge powerful defense and rebounding combinations on the cheap, without sacrificing too much offense.
“Ball movement is the active way to create spacing for teams that don’t have 3-point shooting at the big-man spots, and it can be just as effective a tool as Ersan Ilyasova chilling behind the arc. The passing doesn’t have to be flashy, either. Find two bigs who can navigate the elbows, hit cutters along the baseline, work ass-first handoff screens, and swing the ball to the right shooters, and you can carve out a powerful offense.”
The stats say that Humphries is capable of filling passing and pick-and-roll needs. His numbers in a contract year with the Celtics say he can hit the jumper, too, albeit not a 3-point shot.
Last season 36.7 percent of Humphries’ field goal attempts came from beyond 16 feet but inside the 3-point line. In his prior 245 games with the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, only 18.4 percent of his shots came from that range (just under his career average of 18.7 percent).
With Boston, Humphries hit 42.6 percent of those 16 feet to 3-point line shots. He’d previously shot just 35.2 percent from that range with the Nets.
“I’ve kind of seen a lot of the things that Coach Wittman’s done over the years. That midrange shot will be there, running the floor will be there…” —K. Humphries
From a Sports on Earth profile of Humphries, “Better Than He’s Ever Been,” by Howard Megdal last January:
“One reason for his improved accuracy, according to Humphries, is his work with longtime NBA assistant Phil Weber in Los Angeles, after he completed his typical immediate postseason workouts of MMA, Pilates and swimming in Miami, then a month in Minnesota with former NBA player Chris Carr, mostly performing drills.”
“I’ve kind of seen a lot of the things that Coach Wittman’s done over the years,” said Humphries in last week’s media call. He indicated that he’s known Randy Wittman for a while—from back in the Minnesota days, where Humphries grew up and went to college. He said that he Wittman have even owned condos in the same building in Florida.
“That midrange shot will be there, running the floor will be there … John gets past his man so much breaking down the defense, drop offs are there.” See? Even Humphries knows Wittman’s affection for the midrange. Humphries is also a decent free throw shooter, at least better than Trevor Booker, as long as his attempts aren’t getting blocked by a referee. Humphries shot 81.3 percent from the line last season, 77.6 percent over the last three seasons, and 68.6 percent for his career (hint: he’s improved). Booker has shot 61.7 percent from the free throw line over his career and has yet to show signs of improvement.
“But I don’t come into a situation saying ‘OK, where can I score?’ The way that I kind of established myself in the NBA was being a guy who was like, ‘OK, let me just play hard, rebound, defend, and run the floor, everything else comes.’ Although, you do naturally pick up, ‘OK, where are my spots?’ it’s not necessarily a focus for me.”
Humphries knows that plays are not going to be run for him just so he can show off his jumper or pick-and-roll style. He knows that with Wittman, good defense and rebounding can keep him on the court and bad defense and rebounding can keep him on the pine. Him being able to knock down bail-out jumpers off teammate passes from the elbow or short corner areas will make the Wizards better.
But can he defend the rim? Let’s look at more numbers…Per tracking statistics from NBA.com, 98 players defended against three or more opponent field goals at the rim per game last regular season. Spencer Hawes faced the most (10.4 per game), and was closely followed by Robin Lopez and DeAndre Jordan (10.3 each) as the only three guys in double-digits. Gortat faced 9.3 attempts per game, ninth-most. Humphries faced 5.8 (46th-most) and Nene 5.4 (52nd). No other Wizard or Wizard-to-be placed in the top 90 in rim attempts defended per game.
Charlotte’s Bismack Biyombo (4.5 attempts per game faced) only allowed opponents to shoot 38.8 percent against him at the rim, a league best. Kendrick Perkins (41.2%), Roy Hibbert (41.4%), and Robin Lopez (42.5%) round out the top four in defending the rim.
Parties of various affiliation with Wizards:
Name — Opp. FGA at rim per game — Opp. FG% at rim
Gortat — 9.3 — 50.1%
Humphries — 5.8 — 50.8%
Nene — 5.4 — 55.9%
Gooden — 3.6 — 52.6%
Blair — 3.6 — 55.0%
Vesely — 3.0 — 54.9%
Booker — 3.0 — 55.5%
Seraphin — 2.7 — 46.2%
What did we learn? Gortat and Humphries have similar effectiveness in defending the rim; Nene, Blair, and Booker are all at similar levels, which is worse than Jan Vesely (be surprised, or not); and Seraphin is sneakily good. For all his cluelessness, shot-blocking arms and timing are part of Kevin Seraphin’s life.
“Kris Humphries is a better player than Trevor Booker, but not necessarily an upgrade for the Wizards,” claimed the title of Post‘s Fancy Stats blog post about Humphries.
Casting aside the assumption that Humphries is a flat-out replacement for Booker—not necessarily factual, as explained—the case otherwise has been made. Now is DeJuan Blair an upgrade from Booker? That debate might be closer. Offensively, yes. Defensively, no.
Three things we can all agree on: it would be nice to see Humphries shoosh the booing New York Knicks fans with a 14 point, 14 rebound effort; someone needs to get Humphries some Wizards gear for the next time he appears on TMZ; and forgetting about “Shark Week” is a bad thing.