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We Really Need More Of This In NBA Advanced Metrics

ESPN Insider is doing something funny with its advanced nerds at the Las Vegas Summer League: The stat guys are talking shop with the players.

Kevin Pelton and Bradford Doolittle are running a series out of summer league where they talk to first- and second-year players about their advanced stats the way NBA nerds talk about them. The difference is obvious, given the players aren't just retrofitting analysis onto the numbers, but actually know what they're trying to do, and how to contextualize them. They still talk in athlete cadence, which is more or less how you're taught to answer at a deposition, but acknowledging that yeah, of course they look at this stuff too, and seeing how they incorporate it into actually playing is something we don't see much.


This makes sense at summer league, since college and pro stats on Synergy are funny in that they're spat out in exactly the same format, but mean vastly different things. LaMarcus Aldridge's scoring efficiency would rank him pretty good in college ball, instead of one of the very best big men. Here's Pelton talking to Doug McDermott about his crazy usage rate in college, and how his stats will look different in the NBA:

McDermott used 36.2 percent of Creighton's plays, the nation's third-highest usage rate.

KP: Do you sense a difference already in the NBA?

DM: Definitely. Here it's only two games, but we've got a lot of guys who can score the ball, and the spacing's a lot wider, so there's more space out there to operate.


KP: How about defensively? How is that different on the wing? [Ed. McDermott allowed just 20.4 percent on spot-up shots, in the 96th percentile nationally]

DM: Like I said earlier, there's a lot more space out there, so there's more room to guard. You're put in tough closeout situations. Everyone's good. You're going to get scored on. You've just got to move to the next play.

And here's Doolittle talking to Jabari Parker about his defense:

5. Synergy rating against isolations: 52nd percentile, overall defensive rating: 19th.

BD: According to video analysis metrics, you scored pretty well on defense in isolations, but not so well overall. How good of a defender can you be at the NBA level?

JP: I think I've been doing a really good job on defense lately. Especially defending the post, and defending the ball screens. I even did that at Duke. It's one of the underrated aspects that I have that people overlook. Because if I play really good defense, I'll also have the ability to score. I was really big on that end for my team, because if I don't show up, we don't win. I think that's one of the underrated parts of my game, that I'm continuing to work on.


This is a sneakily complex idea Doolittle is introducing here, but one the format doesn't allow him to expand on too much. Essentially, he's getting at Parker being more or less fine as an iso defender, meaning he's got the tools to defend his position, but really sucking when he's got to defend in the team framework. This can be for a lot of reasons—Parker would be matched up against lesser players in iso, typically; he was a first year player in a team defense playing a high level of competition; his teammates might have sucked too—but Parker's response is just as interesting. Defending the post and ball screens are two areas that catchall analytics still have a hard time sorting finely. It's something that Stan Van Gundy was adamant about this year at Sloan, and it's possible that a lot of good effort from Jabari went unnoticed in the raw points per possession numbers.

Even something as simple as Giannis's ridiculous turnover rate—he "only" averages 1.6 per game, but plays 24.6 minutes and had a usage rate of 14.6, meaning that 1.6 is a TON—has some depth:

6: Turnover percentage: 19.4 percent, 10th highest in NBA.

BD: Last year, turnovers were an issue for you at times. This summer, it seems like you've improved your ballhandling. How much has that been a focus for you this summer?

GA: I'm focusing on decision-making. But coaches tell me to stay aggressive. If I screw up on offense, they tell me to stay aggressive. I can draw two guys on me, three guys. Coach tells me last night I had three guys on me and told me to find the open pass. I just try to throw a good pass.


On one hand, yeah, this is the same sort of conversation you'd have if you watched every single Giannis game. But in the advanced stats shorthand of, Oh damn, Giannis turns the ball over HOW much? it's just a really easy way to address the halfassedness of a lot of basketblogging's worst tics. So, good job ESPN nerds.

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