With the NBA incorporating the new SportVU player tracking data this season, the amount of analytics for tracking players and teams just continues to expand. What started with the basic box score, moved into advanced statistics like measuring a team’s offensive and defensive rating on a basis of 100 possessions. For those that have access, the Synergy database also tracks individual plays on a points per possession model.
On Thursday before the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, I asked Blazers head coach Terry Stotts about some of the player tracking data specific to the his opponent, the Spurs, while I was also curious to see if the players themselves look at the data to assess their individual games, hence conversing with Danny Green.
My question to Stotts: The Spurs have had a few games where seven or more players have touched the ball 40 or more times in a game. Are the Spurs one of the tougher teams to prepare for because of their ball movement?
“With or without that stat, yeah,” agreed Stotts of the Spurs’ ability to spread the basketball. “They move the ball well. They continue to play throughout the shot clock.”
“I’ve been saying this for years, they just keep playing,” continued Stotts on the Spurs, “and the ball doesn’t stop, they make good decisions, and everybody gets involved. So yeah, I think the stat kind of verifies what your eyes see.”
Once the interview was done, Stotts said he was interested in seeing how many other teams have had games where seven players touched the ball 40 or more times in a game.
On the season, the Spurs have five players touching the ball 40 or more times on average per night. Here are the players’ stats as of March 13, 2014.
Tony Parker: 79.0 touches
Tim Duncan: 60.1 touches
Boris Diaw: 48.8 touches
Manu Ginobili: 42.5 touches
Patty Mills: 41.7 touches
That statistic almost jumps to eight players if you look at three players who are very close to touching the ball 40 times each night.
Kawhi Leonard: 39.7 touches
Marco Belinelli: 37.6 touches
Danny Green: 36.9 touches
Based on the numbers above, Stotts was right – what yours see each night with the teams constant ball movement, cutting, and motion, is validated in the data.
On Tuesday, I wrote an analytics piece using the Synergy Sports database which showed where any Spurs core player ranked in the top-25 of the league. With some of the more in-depth statistics still quite new to the media and the fans, I wanted to see if the players use them in assessing their individual game. Spurs guard Danny Green just happened to be one of the featured players from my analytics article, so with him available to speak in the locker room before the game, I asked him if he was aware and if he used the data.
I informed Green that per Synergy, he was ranked 4th overall in cuts to the baskets on scoring possessions, as he was averaging 1.58 points per possession any time he cut to the basket, received the ball, and made an attempt to score. As of Tuesday, he had only done it 26 times this season.
“Cuts?” Said Green of the statistic. “I did not know that one, I don’t really pay much attention to it.” From there, I asked Green if the advanced stats outside of the box score are something the coaches use instead of the players.
“I’m sure they look at some of it (the data),” said Green, “that’s probably part of their job, the stats. I’m sure that all types of stats have come their way, but it’s definitely not something that they focus on (an individual basis).”
As Green and I continued our conversation, he said the coaching staff are the ones that would use any type of advanced data and they may incorporate it into the overall game plan.
As I told Green, in a way it’s probably best that the players don’t get into the individual statistics because they would begin to start assessing their individual strengths and weaknesses. It would take away from the players just going out, and playing the game, as cliché as it sounds.
These days there are just so many statistics out there, and with all of the technology being developed each year, there will continue to be more data made available. The one element to remember is that statistics are mainly a support tool in trying to validate what your eyes might be seeing. Still, basketball isn’t a video game or computer database, it’s a game played by real people, with real emotions, and real minds, controlling the next move, pass, drive, or shot.
(Statistics used via NBA.com/Stats and MySynergySports.com)