Investigation of recent snubs in NBA rotations

16 Jan

Recently I ranted on Twitter about Ryan Anderson’s playing time because virtually all advanced metrics suggest he should play more yet for some reason he doesn’t. It got me thinking about players in those situations.
How often does it happen at similar level? What does happen to those players in following years?
In other words, I wanted automated version of the strangest rotation decisions.

To investigate I used excellent set of data collected by Alex at with multiple advanced metrics in one file and a following method: for each team in the last 5 years I sorted players based on average minutes played [with minimum of 1000 total] and their position according to five different metrics [PER, Win Shares, Wins Produced, new RAPM, ASPM – btw, those were the only ones with data for each of last 5 regular season]. Then I simply compared average ranking for all metrics to the ranking based on average minutes and I focused on the Top10 players in each season to find possible explanations.

Let’s start this excercise with the 2010/11 season…

10) JaVale McGee, ranked 6th in minutes per game but 2.2 according to average for 5 advanced metrics.
Two big guys averaged more minutes – Rashard Lewis and Andray Blatche… so it simply means Wizards viewed Blatche as a better option at center than McGee. Strange… but still true because in current season average minutes suggest the same thing and it’s not like McGee has too many fouls…

9) Amir Johnson, ranked 5th in minutes per game but 1st[!] according to PER, Win Shares, Wins Produced, new RAPM and ASPM.
He had [and still has] some problems with fouls so it can’t be blamed entirely on coaches’ decisions… but he also may be the victim of foul trouble treatment. Just play him in every game until he collects 6 fouls and I won’t complain about it ;-)

8) Jason Thompson, ranked 9th in minutes per game and 5th according to metrics.
Kings had a crowded froncourt with DeMarcus Cousins, Carl Landry, Samuel Dalembert and Jason Thompson deserving of some minutes so I actually have only one issue with this one: maybe they should have
traded earlier Landry and Dalemebert [both free agents to be].

7) Josh McRoberts, ranked 6th and 2nd respectively.
Only one big guy averaged more minutes – Roy Hibbert and he is a center.
McRoberts basically shared minutes with Tyler Hansbrough… and maybe the split could have looked differently but other than that it makes sense.

6) Kris Humphries, ranked 6th and 1.8 respectively.
Only one frontcourt player averaged more minutes – Brook Lopez and he is a center.
As above Humphries basically shared minutes with Derrick Favors… and maybe the split could have looked differently but other than that it makes sense. Though it’s very strange that Travis Outlaw in a terrible season averaged more minutes than Kris Humphries.

5) Ramon Sessions, ranked 6th and 1.6 respectively.
According to 4 metrics he was the best Cavs’ player last year… and he played 26 minutes per game!
THREE GUARDS played more than him [Gibson, Parker & Mo]. I know they were terrible but considering ages and contracts it looks ridiculous for me. They should have given him the chance to play starter minutes and they could have sold Sessions at peak of his value instead of burying him on the bench now with Irving.

4) Ronny Turiaf, ranked 8th and 3.4 respectively.
He was probably a casualty of D’Antoni’s style… even though Knicks could have used a center and some defense. Strange but at least I understand what happened there.

3) Ryan Anderson, ranked 7th and 2nd respectively.
First of all, I’d like to mention I feel really good about my perception right now ;-)
He is the only player on that list who played on a contender and considering circumstances even by that method I would have named him the biggest rotation snub of last NBA season.
But I wrote about him a lot so I’ll just add one more thing… FREE RYAN!

2) Anthony Tolliver, ranked 8th and 2.4 respectively.
Well, he played at the same position as Kevin Love so there’s an easy and logical explanation… though I would rather see Love and Tolliver in action at the same time than Love and Darko…
BTW, it’s still true in a current season!

1) Trevor Booker, ranked 9th and 3rd respectively.
This one really is puzzling. Andray Blatche, Rashard Lewis and JaVale McGee probably deserved to play more but being behind Al Thornton and Yi Jianlian on the depth chart must have sucked.
Thankfully it’s no longer an issue because he is a starter now and we will see what he can do.

To sum up, I think the strangest single decisions regarding distribution of minutes in 2010/11 were made by Magic, Cavs and Wizards.
When we consider only contenders this list would include Magic [with Ryan], Grizzlies [Tony Allen was 11th] and Mavs [Tyson Chandler was 13th though he was 1st at his position].

Now let’s move on to the previous seasons which offer more data for “what happened next” question ;-)
But it’s deeper in our memories so I’ll be more brief.


Honorable mentions: Kevin Love [11th], Marcin Gortat [13th], Joakim Noah [15th], Serge Ibaka [16th], Kyle Lowry [17th] and Chuck Hayes [18th] all received more playing time in 2010/11… and all proved to be worthy of it. I think there’s a lesson here…

10) Marcus Camby, ranked 5th in minutes per game but 1st according to average for 5 advanced metrics.
Clippers had Kaman and Jordan while they were rebuilding so it not a bad decision per se… but in retrospect it’s ridiculous how they mishandled trade market. They have nothing to show for him!

9) Chris Andersen, ranked 7th in minutes per game but 2.8 according to average ranking in PER, Win Shares, Wins Produced, new RAPM and ASPM.
They had Kenyon Martin and Nene Hilario so even though I understand what happened there some of Kenyon’s minutes probably should have gone to Chris Andersen. Ironically it’s still an issue!
Apparently George Karl loves the small ball.

8) Craig Smith, ranked 7th and 2.6 respectively.
See comment on Camby.

7) DeJuan Blair, ranked 9th and 4.4 respectively.
3) Matt Bonner, ranked 10th and 4.
Both were and still are behind Tim Duncan so that’s nothing to be ashamed of but Spurs probably overestimated Antonio McDyess’ contributions. Other than that it’s just a sign that Spurs had a surprisingly good, versatile and deep frontcourt.

6) Luke Ridnour, ranked 8th and 3.4 respectively.
He played behind Brandon Jennings [defensible due to age difference] and Charlie Bell [um, what?] so Skiles probably loved defense too much. It was a career year in some categories for Ridnour and he changed team so we learnt nothing from it.

5) Dorell Wright, ranked 8th and 3 respectively.
I think it’s clear now Heat underestimated him… though to be fair to them they had two quality players at SG/SF with Dwyane Wade and Quentin Richardson. Dorell probably should have played more than the latter so there’s that.

4) Jamario Moon, ranked 10th and 4.4 respectively.
OK, I’m not going to argue he should have stolen some minutes from LeBron James ;-)
But I’m still a little disappointed how his career ended.

2) Josh Boone, ranked 9th and 2.8 respectively.
Brook Lopez and Yi Jianlian were the only frontcout players who played more… so I guess it was just a curse of a low draft pick. On a related note, Josh Boone is out the league now… so if he is not injured can some GM at least make a phone call? Pretty please?

1) Amir Johnson, ranked 9th and 1.8 respectively.
He had some competition [Bosh and Andrea Bargnani] plus he had problems with fouls… but I think it’s clear now that advanced statistics like him more than coaches. He was Ryan Anderson of 2009/10 ;-)


Honorable mentions: Manu Ginobili [19th], Paul Millsap [17th], Ryan Anderson [15th!!!!!!!], Roy Hibbert [14th], Kyle Weaver [13th], Marcus Camby [12th] and Andris Biedrins [11th].
Considering why I started exploring this topic this is a shocking discovery.
Ryan Anderson should have played more in his previous team! And he was a simple throw-in!
And I hoped I would be less pissed with Ryan’s situation after this investigation…

10) Antonio McDyess [Pistons]
9) Leon Powe [Celtics]
8) Darius Songaila [Wizards]
7) Nick Collison [Thunder]
6) JaVale McGee [Wizards]
5) Darko Milicic [Grizzlies]
4) Carl Landry [Rockets]
3) Ronny Turiaf [Warriors]
2) Joakim Noah [Bulls]
1) Chris Andersen [Nuggets]

Many familiar names and repeat offenders on the list so my guess is that coaches were focused too much on players’ offensive limitations instead of what could they do. Also I have a feeling that Wizards had and still have some problems with distribution of minutes to frontcourt players… at least according to the advanced metrics.


Honorable mentions: Dorell Wright [19th!], Chuck Hayes [17th!], Josh Childress [12th].

10) Jared Dudley [Bobcats]
9) Craig Smith [TWolves]
8) Channing Frye [Blazers]
7) Kurt Thomas [Sonics]
6) Thaddeus Young [Sixers]
5) James Jones [Blazers]
4) Dan Dickau [Clippers]
3) Tyrus Thomas [Bulls]
2) Chris Quinn [Heat]
1) Joakim Noah [Bulls]

It’s Noah’s THIRD appearance very high on those lists… so I guess Bulls could have handled him better. Also I find it interesting that Dudley and Frye became starters in Phoenix… and Kurt Thomas also landed there.


Honorable mentions: LaMarcus Aldridge [19th], Andris Biedrins [18th], David Lee [17th].

9tie) Donyell Marshall [Cavs]
9tie) Antonio McDyess [Pistons]
9tie) Trevor Ariza [Magic]
9tie) Jose Calderon [Raptors]
8) Craig Smith [TWolves]
7) Paul Millsap [Jazz]
6) Dikembe Mutombo [Rockets]
5) Jeff Foster [Pacers]
4) Nate Robinson [Knicks]
3) Darrell Armstrong [Pacers]
2) Ronny Turiaf [Lakers]
1) Renaldo Balkman [Knicks]

A very nice mix of defensive specialists who probably were underused and youngsters who in hindsight definitely should have played more and got a chance later which is actually a good summary of this topic…

If there isn’t a legitimate reason to split minutes on certain positions… team will look really silly for not playing a talented young player which also means that smart NBA general managers should aggressively pursue those players.

Finally and incidentally based on those lists can’t we estimate which teams didn’t use advanced statistics to measure players’ performance?

1 Comment

Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Scrutiny


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One response to “Investigation of recent snubs in NBA rotations

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