Loomings: Love and Beasley face the stats

Benjamin Polk —  November 19, 2010 — 5 Comments

Stats nerds analyzing stats. Photo by Peter Renshaw

It’s been a banner week for the Timberwolves’ young ballers. 42 point outbursts, 30/30 games, thrilling buzzer-beaters, interviews on NBATV–it’s like another dimension. But here are some sobering numbers to keep things in perspective.

The first concerns Michael Beasley. Right now, Beasley’s prolific scoring is largely based on hot shooting from from deep two-point territory, generally the lowest-percentage shot in the game. Since the Sacramento game, Beasley his hit 63% of those shots, which is 23 points higher than the league average. Suffice it to say, Kevin Pelton (writing at ESPN Insider) hears the clock ticking on B-Easy’s prolific scoring:

That kind of accurate shooting on long 2s will be difficult for Beasley to sustain. Before [last] Wednesday, he was shooting 42.9 percent from 16 to 23 feet. The league average from that distance is even worse (39.9 percent). While players like Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki show that it is possible to make a living with long 2s as a staple, Beasley has not yet proved to be at their level.

Despite his hot shooting, opponents have been mostly conceding Beasley these long looks. The question is: will defenses at some point begin to challenge these shots, or will they simply sit back and wait for him to cool off? Will Beasley respond–to new defensive tactics and his own inevitable cooling–by taking the ball to the basket? Friday’s game against the Lakers would seem to be a good test of all of these questions.

The next little dose of rain on our picnic is by Brett Hainline of Queen City Hoops and it concerns the defense of one Mr. Kevin Love. Recall that Love’s defensive shortcomings were Rambis’ explanation for his low-ish minutes earlier this year. Ignited quite the commotion, you may remember. Well Hainline explains, confirming what we here at A Wolf Among Wolves have suspected (on more than one occasion), that Rambis’ criticisms were not too far off base. Not too far at all (props to Zach, helming Truehoop today, for the link):

Knowing that the Wolves are a fast team, focus on the pace independent stats – PER, per 100 possessions, and rates. Notice a trend? They’re largely negative and in this case, that’s a bad thing. Opponents are putting up a PER of 18.56 against Love while scoring 25.9 points per 100 team possessions on a TS% of 58.5 – based on their averages the rest of the season, we would expect 16.71, 21.7, and 56.0%…Love’s surrendering of an extra +4.2 points per 100 team possessions to his man is 96th out of 107 big men who have played over 100 minutes this season.

What’s interesting though, is that Love’s defensive numbers are (and this is admittedly a small sample size) currently much better when he plays center (opposing centers have only a 40.6 eFG% and a PER of 12.2). This suggests to me that 1) as they did on Wednesday when they deployed their small lineup against Jarron Collins and the Clips, the Wolves are only playing Love at center when he has a chance at success (although I would not have predicted that he would have played so well against Amar’e Stoudemire last week). And that 2) it really helps one’s defense to be playing alongside Anthony Tolliver rather than Darko. And finally: 3) Power forward is a hugely diverse position in today’s NBA. Players as far afield as Dejuan Blair and Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh and Paul Millsap all claim the four spot as their own. And, unfortunately, as we saw against Blake Griffin and the Clippers on Wednesday, there are some NBA power forwards that Kevin Love really just can’t guard right now.

Benjamin Polk

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5 responses to Loomings: Love and Beasley face the stats

  1. I think this is a really good point:

    “3) Power forward is a hugely diverse position in today’s NBA. Players as far afield as Dejuan Blair and Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh and Paul Millsap all claim the four spot as their own. And, unfortunately, as we saw against Blake Griffin and the Clippers on Wednesday, there are some NBA power forwards that Kevin Love really just can’t guard right now.”

    I hope Love finds some wrinkles to use to help out his D – things such as being really good at taking charges (hat tip to Rambis), or learning how to funnel guys into someone else who’s better at stopping them (say, Darko, perhaps, in the role that Bogut plays for the Bucks). However, I think right now this team needs to be willing to live with Love’s defensive deficiencies. His between the gaps scoring and rebounding along with ball movement facilitation are just too necessary. He, more than anyone else (I believe), enables Beasley to do what he’s been doing these last ten games. They form a pretty compelling yin and yang.

    Speaking of Beasley, I get the long two discussion and regression to the mean and all that, but I think we need to keep the context in mind. Simply put, given the number of shots he’s taking, even if his shooting percentages do regress the guy’s still a 20 ppg scorer. I did the numbers a few days ago and can dig them out if necessary, but essentially if you regress his fg%’s back to what he shot last year while keeping his FGs and FTs the same, the guy’s a 20 ppg scorer on this team. If you regress his fg%’s back to his rookie year (which was a lot better than last year), he’s a roughly 23-24 ppg scorer.

    OK, I just found the numbers as I think the evidence bears sharing. Using Hoopdata’s numbers on Beasley this year, it is true that Beasley is shooting significantly better on long two’s and he’s attempting nearly 1.5 more of them per game than other shots. Interestingly, the only two shots that he’s shooting above his career fg%’s on are long two’s and threes.

    So I put the numbers in Excel and ran his scoring totals with lower shooting percentages on those two shots. Right now he’s averaging 22.1 points on 17.8 FGAs a game. Currently his FT shooting is far below his career average, so if we boost that to his career norm (.780), he gains .5 points a game (hey – if we’re adjusting his totals to what is normal, it’s only fair, right?). Adjust his three point shooting to .350 drops his scoring 1.1 ppg. Assuming that he continues to attempt the same ratio of two point attempts, and that his other two pointers fall at the same rate (which currently are all in line with his career averages for those shots), adjusting the fg% on long two’s to .399 costs him another 1.9 points. So, 22.1 minus 1.1 (three’s) minus 1.9 (long twos) plus .5 (free throws) = 19.6 ppg.

    So, long story longer – Beasley is indeed headed (most likely) towards a regression to his mean, but we need to be mindful of what that actually means. His scoring increase this year has less to do with making long two’s and three’s at an unsustainable rate as it does with him attempting more than four more FGAs a game over his previous career high (along with 1.9 more FTAs a game more than his previous career high). That is, Beasley is scoring more because he’s simply taking more shots and getting to the line more. If those two factors don’t change over the rest of the season, then Beasley’s scoring will be hard pressed to fall below 20 ppg.

  2. Wow, great comment. Thanks Biggity. That’s a really telling way of looking at Beasley’s scoring increase. But I guess what I would say is that 19.6 ppg at a .528 True Shooting % (his rookie year TS%) is significantly worse than 22.1 ppg on a .556 TS% (which is what he’s shooting this year–these numbers are even higher if you tally just the past five games, which is when he began this little explosion). And part of my point was that if he continues shooting long 2′s at the rate that he is, that TS% will likely come down to closer to the .505 mark he hit last year, which is really not very good. If you have a player using almost 30% of your team’s possessions (as Beasley is this year) and scoring that inefficiently, you’ve got real problems, no matter how many points he manages to put up each game.

  3. One aspect of Beasley that is getting ignored is what this success will do to his confidence and BB IQ. He was selected 2nd for a reason. While we love to point out all the busts, they are not all that common. While players may not be all stars, they usually turn out to be in the league 7-10 years.

    Also, Beasley is the go-to option for this team. This obviously wasn’t true in Miami. He may become a much better player because he is really needed to become that go-to player that he wants to be. He will be given a bit more rope and he will be appreciated for what he contributes, not downgraded every time he makes a mistake.

    This is his big chance. How about suspending all the trash talking while we wait a bit to see if he succeeds?

    I thought this was a really good move for the Wolves – and I’m a Laker fan.

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