If you’re not reading Nylon Calculus, you’re making a mistake. The site consistently provides high level analysis which bridges ideas between analytics and what we’re seeing with our eyes to offer insight to us fans. Today they posted a great graphical look at the “style” NBA offenses exhibit that is worth your time. Seriously, go read it. We’ll be here when you get back.
Okay, now that you’re back, I’ll let Ian Levy explain the approach he took for determining each trait which made up the graph:
Ball movement is measured with the average touch time for each team, from the NBA’s player tracking statistics. A lower average touch time means the ball is moving from player to player more quickly.
Player movement is measured with a combination different NBA.com tracking statistics, and works out to average distance traveled per 24 seconds of offensive possession.
Pace is measured with the average length of an offensive possession from Inpredictable, a more accurate representation for how quickly a team is working than traditional pace.
Shot selection continues to be the trickiest measure. In the past I had used Seth Partnow’s XeFG% which estimates what a team’s effective field goal percentage should be given the location of their shots, the mix of catch-and-shoot and pull-ups, and how close the nearest defender was. However, those stats were built on the player tracking shot logs which stopped being publicly available on Jan. 25 of last season. This year I went with a more simplistic measure and used MoreyBall percentage — in this case the percentage of a team’s true shooting opportunities that came at the rim, from the free throw line, or on a 3-pointer. It’s a generalized measure but captures something about how much each team hews to the shots that are, on average, the most efficient.
All pretty straight forward, right? Good. Now see below for the Lakers distribution in graphical form:
Now, a brief explanation from Levy:
On the graphs below you’ll see a line for each team’s offense. As the line moves away from the center of the graph on each axis you’re seeing more of that stylistic trait.
Got it? Great.
So, what does this tell us about the Lakers offense? Well, they like to play fast, employ a fair amount of player movement, could improve in the passing department, and have a ways to go in terms of taking “efficient” shots. They are still a bottom 10 offensive team, which, when you consider the above, makes a fair amount of sense.
I mean, typically, if you’re shooting early in the clock (as the pace metric implies) but are not taking the most efficient shots, conventional wisdom says you’re not likely to be as successful. Ideally, a team is shooting faster because the shot they are taking is either a layup, an open three in transition, or they are drawing a foul which sends them to the foul line. Pushing the ball up court and then taking the first open 18-footer is not what teams should be doing. The Lakers may not do that specific thing very often, but they do run a lot of early clock isolations or P&R’s which don’t typically lead to the best shots.
Which leads me to the next point. The Lakers have a fair amount of player movement, but that is not duplicated by ball movement. If you’re trying to visualize how this might look on a typical set, it’s pretty straight forward. How often do you see Jordan Clarkson or D’Angelo Russell signal to one of the big men to run all the way from the low block to come set a pick, have that big actually set the pick then roll to the front of the rim, only for the guard to come off the screen and shoot a 16-foot jumper? Or, how often have you seen the Lakers run D’Angelo Russell off a double screen in their “loop” action, only to have that pass denied and then have the PG dribble around some more/call for a big to come set a screen (just like I described two sentences ago)?
There are more examples of this too. The Lakers are not a very good team at recognizing and rewarding their guards and wings who cut. Russell and Ingram are both instinctive cutters, but rarely receive the ball in that split second when they break open. Also, even though the Lakers don’t run a lot of weak side motion in their sets, the actions they do run rarely end up leading to the ball being swung/skipped to capitalize on that movement. I could go on and on, but you get the point.
There are many ways to skin a cat and produce a very good offense. If you read Levy’s post, you’d see a great overlapping graph which shows the league’s top-5 offenses and the differences in what traits they display in graphical form. Stylistically, you can see that on the court as well — next time you get the chance, watch the Raptors and the Warriors play in the same night. So, how do the Lakers turn their style into better production?
I think the most basic answer to that question is a combination of growth, experience, and comfort level in the team’s schemes. As they learn how their own games can be successful at this level, then learn better how to incorporate their skills into Luke’s offense, then get comfortable with where their teammates will be and how to deliver them the ball, the team’s efficiency will increase. The pass/shot reads will become clearer and guys who cut off the ball will be rewarded which, hopefully, leads to more efficient shots.
At least that’s the hope. We’ll see if it can come to fruition.
Great read Darius. Love the analytics and the representation of Big Data. Many thanks for keeping this site alive and interesting through another interesting but dismal season. I’ve begun to realize I have a problem… I check your site daily, even though there hasn’t been much good news lately. I’m starting to think I might need to find a treatment group for my Lakers addiction. Geez, I even find the development of our youngsters entertaining. Pathetic!
One caveat I have with this data is that it does not completely reflect the team we are currently seeing on the floor. This is what the Lakers looked like with Nick Young and Lou Williams on the floor. Without them, it looks like there is better ball movement. Lastly, I am not too thrilled with the “Moneyball” method of deciding what shots are best. Losing the tracking data was big since it helps understand why high percentage shots were missed due to shots being contested. My question from all of this is how are the Lakers using big data to help their players?
My question is, if the Lakers have the same record as the Pheonix Suns at the end of the season, who wins the tie breaker? Or should I say loses the tie breaker? As in whoever loses wins, or are the odds split between them to get that coveted higher draft pick?
Great read, sir! This graphic probably confirms that they’ve improved a lot player movement-wise and there’s less ball-watching on offense now compared to earlier in the season or years past. That’s a good enough improvement over one season for me.
If they can then improve on passing to cutters/into the post in training camp, it’ll automatically improve their shot selection and this year’s already borderline-good offense may turn out to be deadly next season.
Omg how i’m hoping this is not wishful thinking because that’ll definitely get me hyped for next season, with or without Lonzo Ball~
Barath Sundar says
Great article. I have a problem with the shot selection. The best shot in basketball is not the 3 pointer or the shot at the rim. It is the uncontested shot. eFG or TS % or points per possession may be better metrics than this shot selection..
Great stuff, Darius!
Thanks also for mentioning “Chasing Perfection” by Andy Glockner, last year. A very worthy read; an excellent intro to basketball analytics.
Back to these offensive “style” graphics: very elegant and useful, I think.
I wonder, along with FredP above, how are the Lakers using analytics to get an edge? They may be constrained from having the best talent right now, but I don’t see any reason why they can’t have a top notch analytics effort.
Fascinating, informative stuff Darius, mucho thanks for posting!