The NBA season is coming to an end soon. It is around this time of the year that “Awards Watch” talks begin to heat up. Typically the two most relevant and interesting races are the MVP and Rookie-Of-The-Year awards. This year LeBron James has had the MVP award locked up for some time now.
That leaves us to ponder over the top rookie title. Unlike the MVP race, this award has plenty of qualified candidates. The media, who vote for the award, have generally focused on three players as the most likely to win – Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, and Brandon Jennings.
What I want to focus on today is the play of Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings. More specifically, I want to talk about his ability (more like inability) to put the ball through the basket. In order to win a basketball game it is very important to make the shots you take. This idea is really simple and I think every basketball fan generally knows this to some degree. However when “experts” discuss the ability and productivity of a basketball player, especially in comparison to other players, this idea is generally ignored. The most cited stat of choice, sometimes the only reference of comparison, is Points Per Game. If you score a lot of points in the NBA you are generally considered a good player, no matter how many shot attempts it costs you to achieve that score. To most NBA observers a player scoring 25 PPG is very good, most of the time they’re right. However, what is often ignored is how they amass those points. Does it take them 20 shots or 30 to 40?. There is a big difference and a team has only a limited number of possessions to use. Empty (scoreless) possessions put a team in a hole. All of this brings me to note that making shots is something Brandon Jennings struggles to do. Because of this I don’t think Jennings should be considered the top choice for Rookie Of The Year.
When I say Jennings is struggling, I think I need to put it in perspective. Brandon Jennings field goal percentage (37%) is the lowest of any player, who shoots as often as he does, in the last 30 years (Evidence here). Now Jennings is a good 3 point and free throw shooter, so his low FG% is a bit misleading. However, when you look at his True Shooting Percentage (Which takes into account 3 pointers and free throws), he still comes up short. His TS% is 47.4%, he ranks 32nd of 38 among qualified rookies according to ESPN.
I have established that Jennings struggles making the shots he takes but what does this mean to his team? I’ve taken a long time to get to the point in the title but the question I ask is “What if Brandon Jennings could shoot like Stephen Curry?” I chose Curry as a point of comparison for a few reasons. First, they are both rookie point guards. They both play generally the same role on their team. And they have very similar non-shooting related statistics. Most important, Curry is a very good shooter.
If Jennings could shoot like Curry, what would it mean to the Bucks? This is where statistics come in. Curry scores .96 points per possession while Jennings scores .85. The Milwaukee Bucks as a team have an offensive efficiency of 101.7(Basically, their teams Points Per Possession times 100). Milwaukee as a team uses 91.2 possessions a game. Of these possessions Brandon Jennings uses 17.9 (on average). Using these possessions Brandon Jennings manages to average 15.4 points. If Jennings shot the ball like Curry he would average 17.18 PPG. That is a difference of a whole 1.78 points. That would give the Bucks an Offensive Efficiency of 103.5. If you subtract a teams defensive efficiency from its offensive efficiency you get its efficiency differential (Basically, how badly a team tends to beat their opponent). The Bucks currently sport a differential of 1.2. If BJ shot like Curry it would be 3.0.
Blah, blah, blah…what does this all mean? Well, efficiency differential is the best tool to use in determining which basketball team is the best. As such, it is the best tool for predicting future performance as well. As an example, Duke University led the nation this year in efficiency differential. A team with a zero point differential should finish 41-41 in an NBA season. A typical NBA team with an efficiency differential of 1.2 should win between 44-45 games. A team with an efficiency differential of 3.0 should win about 49 games. (I’m saying this because NBAStuffer.com tells me one point of efficiency differential = 2.7 wins, if this is incorrect please let me know). So if Brandon Jennings could shoot like Stephen Curry the Milwaukee Bucks would be 4 to 5 wins better. That is a significant amount considering it is just one aspect of one players production. So that answers my original question.
As I said Curry is an efficient scorer but what if Brandon Jennings scored like Chauncey Billups, who is one of the most efficient point guards in the NBA (1.08 PPP). If Jennings scored as efficiently as Billups then the Bucks would be looking at a projected record of 54 to 55 wins (a ten win difference!). No wonder a Chauncey Billups led team has reached the conference finals for six consecutive seasons (Now that we know how important making your shots is to winning, who would ever trade Billups for Allen Iverson?).
This weekend is All-Star weekend in Dallas. Many of the NBAs best players are there participating. Many of these players are also looking forward to free agency this summer including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. With this in mind they have been asked about teaming with each other or moving to a bigger market such has Chicago or New York City. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh have said they’ll consider all options . If I were them I would try to team up with one of the others, I think it’s a fine idea. It may not work financially but ideally it makes sense to me.
One person it does not make sense to is ESPNs Jamele Hill. In her commentary (LeBron James with Dwyane Wade? No!) she argues that they should not team up. Any comination of those three teaming up would simply be too ‘boring’ because superstars need to carry teams to a championship on their own. After all she states, “Jordan is considered the greatest because he won six titles with teams consisting primarily of him, plus role players. Had he ever paired with another superstar, he might not have been looked upon as invincible.”
Right, because we all know it was Michael Jordan and four Adam Morrison’s that won a regular season record 70 games and six NBA championships. Imagine what he could have done with another superstar on his team. All he had to work with were role players like Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. We all know how limited Pippen was. A 6-8 forward who was one of the NBAs 50 greatest players, all-defensive first team eight times, who could also play pointguard, shoot from three, and dunk on you for good measure. Don’t get me started on Rodman. All he did was win Defensive Player of the Year twice, to go along with first team all defense seven times, all while being the best rebounder of his generation.
That quote might be the dumbest statement I’ve ever read. This idea that players win championships by themselves is absolutely ridiculous. Magic, Bird, and Jordan were all great but were on teams with other great hall-of-fame level players. Every NBA champion you look at is stacked with great players.
I think this started after the Lakers won another championship last year. The media has been dying to give Kobe all the credit they can possibly give him. Kobe goes from missing the playoffs to NBA champion, it was all Kobe’s determination of course. It had nothing to do with trading for all-star center and perfect complement Pau Gasol. And if he wins it again this year it’ll have nothing to do with Pau, Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum and for good measure Lamar Odom coming off the bench. His team isn’t stacked, he’s clearly willing his team to the finals.
The idea that this is boring is also baffling to me. Fans love super teams, fans love greatness, fans love winning. It’s really as simple as that. Everyone talks about how great the 80s were with the super teams, Celtics and Lakers, going back and forth. What is more exciting, Kevin Garnett wasting away his career on terrible Minnesota teams? Or joining Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo to win an NBA championship? I think fans in Boston (as well as the NBA in general) would prefer the latter. As for Dwyane Wade we all know it’s more exciting watching him stuck on mediocre-at-best teams during the prime of his career. Teaming up with Shaq and producing one of the best finals performances ever was clearly boring.
I disagreed with this entire article so I could go on forever about it. But my main point is that individual players (Mainly the guys who score the most points) are wrongly attributed all the success or failures of their teams. Superstars teaming up not only should happen because it is more exciting but it has to happen if those players want to win a championship. The idea that one player can take a bunch of role players and win a championship is simply a fantasy.