From the always enjoyable Bleacher Report - an analysis of Kevin Love.
The opening salvo:
During the recent contest in Los Angeles between the Lakers and Clippers, commentator Ralph Lawler digressed from the action at hand to discuss Kevin Love, animatedly claiming that the Minnesota Timberwolves power forward was a superstar.
Not an emergent superstar or a potential superstar, mind you, but a straight-up, flat-out, current superstar.
Boy, do they throw around that term these days.
OK. First time I've really heard of anyone calling him a superstar. I mean, I know that we've been talking about him potentially developing into one at some point, but whatevs. Dude's been good, right? Wrong.
[Editor's note - what I love most about Bleacher Report analyses is coming up, so watch for it. It's the use of 'advanced' looking stats (or rather advanced stats talking points) without actually using the correct stats to back up the claim, or even better in failing to recognize the value of certain contributions - for example, Love's absurd offensive rebound rate as an aspect of his overall rebounding effectiveness, or even better his absurd defensive rebound rate as an important contribution to his defensive game (not that it's a great, but come on. Comparing Love with Amare? Read on).]
Love’s retina-bursting rebound numbers seem to cloud popular perception, shrouding the fact that he is extremely inefficient on offense and plays defense like a mannequin. He’s like a housekeeper who spends hours cleaning the glass but neglects do the laundry or sweep the floors.
Love’s 20.4 points per game is also misleading, as his 44 percent field goal average is downright awful for a big man. Digging deeper, he cashes a paltry 53 percent at the rim, where he should be earning his living. In comparison, Kevin Garnett makes 77 percent of his attempts at the rim. Oh, that’s because Rajon Rondo sets him up nicely? Well, pint-sized Jose Juan Barea shoots 66 percent in those situations. Oh, that’s because he’s crafty?
OK, kind of grouped a bunch of points together there - sorry
about that. OK, I briefly touched on how, in this author's humble opinion, Love's absurd defensive rebounding counts for something when it comes to defensive ability. Love isn't great at D, this I can't (and won't) argue against, but the claims made in this critique are difficult to swallow.
Let's talk about offensive efficiency. It's true that Love's fg% is pretty low, especially considering the shooting percentages of other big men. And it's also true that arguably Love's biggest offensive weakness is his low .530 shooting at the rim, a mark indeed bettered by guys such as KG and Jose Juan Barea. Check. But is field goal percentage truly indicative of a given player's offensive efficiency?
To look at this, I went over to bball-ref and used their player season finder, sorting for guys over 6'-9" (because seriously, comparing guards and forwards/centers in terms of shooting percentages in my mind requires two cohorts because how the guys get their shots and the roles they play in an offense is so different. So anyways, the list is guys over 6'-9", with a TS% over .570 and who qualify for the scoring title.
Of the top guys in minutes, we have Amare, Lamar, Galinari, Love, Dirk, Al Horford, Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, KG, and Channing Frye. That's a pretty good list of company to be in. Of course, of those top ten guys in minutes, only three rank in the top ten for TS% (Marc Gasol, Dirk, and Lamar), so not sure what to make of that. Of course, then there's the unsettling fact that despite KG's awesomeness at converting at the rim, his TS% of .584 is only marginally better than Love's .572 TS%.
So why focus on TS%? Per bball-ref:
True shooting percentage is a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws. True Shooting Percentage; the formula is PTS / (2 * (FGA + 0.44 * FTA)).
So TS% takes into account how well a guy can shoot the ball in all aspects of the game, specifically bringing into account FT shooting ability. This is important because let's say
you have a guy like Shaq who shoots a pretty high percentage of shots, gets fouled a lot, and is a terrible FT shooter. Is he the epitome of efficiency? Maybe, maybe not. The point is that TS% gives us an avenue for looking at and comparing Shaq's in game shooting ability with other guys, such as Kevin Love, because this BR analysis would have us believe that Kevin Love is in fact a very inefficient scorer. However, amongst his peers (as I have defined them in the above list), Love ranks 7th in FTAs per 36 minutes. This is highly important because while Kevin Love may only convert about half his shots at the rim to KG's 75%, Love draws 6.4 FTAs per 36 (scoring 5.66 points on them) to KG's 3.4 FTAs per 36 (netting 2.91 points) for a FT scoring difference of +2.75 for Love.
That's, relatively speaking, a lot of points. How many, precisely? Let's find out!
Love is averaging 34.8 mpg this season, and KG is averaging 32.1 mpg. I'm going to call this close enough to equal to make direct comparisons with their numbers. So with that in mind, per 82games, what kind of shots do each of these guys take? Kevin Love takes 14.9 shots a game, with a whopping 45% of them considered 'inside' (or 6.7 shots a game). KG, on the other hand, attempts 12.1 shots per game, with only a paltry 22% attempted 'inside' (or 2.7 shots a game). At it's most basic, then, despite KG's masterful efg% of .717 on in
side shots (which is his fg% on inside shots because, well, he's not taking three's from inside), he's only scoring 3.82 points on those inside shots (I don't have any way of taking FTs into account here, so I'm not going to worry about it). Love, despite shooting a far worse (by comparison) .556 from inside, still scores 7.46 points inside, or +3.64 points per game MORE from inside than KG, in fewer than 3 minutes more per game of PT.
I think I will finish this post with this example because I think it serves as a nice snapshot into how stats can be used selectively to influence our perceptions of players. You can read the BR analysis yourself and enjoy such comments as:
In fact, Kevin Love is rather similar to the old Amar'e Stoudemire. During his Phoenix Suns days, Amar'e was also a one-note song. You could count on him night-in, night-out for a bunch of points, several highlight reel dunks, a board or two and perhaps a defensive series in which he pretended to try.
Despite the obvious holes in his game, Stoudemire too was prematurely considered a superstar, even as experts
admitted that you probably couldn’t win a title with him as your leader. As it is with Love, Amare’s studly qualities often hid the fact that he was hurting the team with his weaknesses.
On the other hand, with his physical gifts it made no sense that Stoudemire wasn’t a better rebounder or defender, and this year he is singing a different tune with the New York Knicks. He has clearly improved in the effort, hustle and mental departments, and he no longer has significant flaws. Amar'e is now a genuine superstar and might even be the savior of New York basketball.
[For the record, Amare's total rebound rate right now ranks as tied for sixth best in his career (9 seasons), and is nearly a full 10 points lower than Love's (14.7 to 24.6). In terms of defense (as determined by DRtg), this season ranks as Amare's second worst of his career. In terms of hustle, there aren't really any stats that measure that, but we could probably safely consider rebounds to be a hustle stat to a certain extent, as well as steal and block percentage. In terms of steal and block percentages, this year is Amare's sixth best (in a tie) of his career for steal percentage, but third in block percentage. Put in total context, Amare's WS/4
8 of .152 ranks only as the fifth best season (so far) of his career. In other words, Amare was more of a superstar before he landed in NY than after. If anything, Amare is worse this year when compared to his previous years. He hasn't improved his rebounding at all. It's debatable whether he's improved his defense or hustle at all, with the metrics I have available suggesting that at best he's producing at career average levels. Far from no longer having significant flaws, Amare still has exactly the same flaws he's always had. Arguably the single biggest difference between Amare's 'pre-superstardom' and 'post-superstardom' is the home market he plays in.]
OK, so back to my point: stats can be used selectively to influence our perceptions of players. Digging in deeper to the stories and contexts behind the numbers (and perceptions) of guys like Amare, or the difference in shooting efficiencies of KG and Kevin Love, can reveal an awful lot about a player. Like Kevin Love, much of Amare's increases in scoring and rebounding (I guess), comes simply from averaging a career high in minutes per game and a career high in usage rate. As a player Amare hasn't really improved at all, posting rate numbers no better than the top third of his career nearly across the board, and in some cases (like rebounding) bottom third numbers.
In the case of Love, he's benefitted greatly from simply playing more minutes and with a higher usage rate. However, unlike Amare (and yes this is very early in Love's career, so we need to keep that in mind that there's less of a track record to compare to), Love has actually significantly improved in a number of key stats - his defensive rebound rate has improved significantly over an already great 28.6 to 35.7, all while teams are keying on stopping him getting boards. His shooting percentages are better as well - his TS% of .572 is .023 better than his previous career high, and his efg% of .495 is also nearly .020 better (.017) than his previous career high. Lastly, despite his greater minutes and his higher usage rate, Love has decreased his TO rate to a career low as well as the number of fouls he commits per36 to a career low. What I take from this is that while Love's basic per game stats have indeed improved a lot from simply playing more per game and being featured more (higher usage rate), his other stats (unlike Amare's) actually suggest that Love has improved as a player this year compared to his other two years.
Lastly, just finish up the comparison I had start
ed earlier with KG, looking at a raw number like Love's .530 fg% on at the rim shots compared to KG's .770, can we really call KG more efficient when KG is taken 78% of his shots as jump shots (making them at a rate of only .474)? Again Love proves to be the worse shooter (.401 on jumpshots), but he raises an interesting counterpoint to KG in that he only takes 55% of his shots as jumpshots. Taken as a whole, KG looks like the more efficient offensive player, but digging deeper we see that Love devotes a significantly greater percentage of his field goal attempts to higher percentage shots (the inside shots). This is most likely what leads to Love's high offensive rebounding and higher FTAs when compared to KG, and as you might have guessed, FTs are the highest percentage shot either of these guys can take (and the only shooting percentage where Love has KG beat). To recap, then - KG appears to have better basic numbers than KG, yet Love devotes more of his shots to higher percentage shots and opportunities to get to the line, whereas KG devotes the vast majority of his shots to his worst make rate and most likely lowest FTA rate - jumpshots. So who's to say that KG is more efficient than Love? Looking at it this way you could say that Love is more efficient than KG in that Love appears to try and favor his highest percentage shots instead of his lowest percentage.
Alright, this post is ridiculously long. I'm going to go and enjoy the windchill.