Monday, January 31, 2011

The First Alaa Abdelnaby Award for the Least Team-Oriented Offensive Player

This week, we will attempt to identify the NBA’s least team-oriented player (or, at least, one of the league’s least team-oriented players).  To make such an analysis more accessible, I will start with a glossary of statistical terms, which can be referred to by the reader.
SPR = [2PFGM + 1.5(3PFGM) + (FTM/2) + AST]/[FGA + (FTA/2) + AST + TOV]
TOT = TOV/[TOV + FGA + (FTA/2) + TRB + STL + AST]
SAR = [FGA + (FTA/2)]/AST

I will admit from the outset that identifying the least team-oriented offensive player in the NBA, and subsequently bestowing him an “award” named in “honor” of Alaa Abdelnaby, is not entirely fair to Mr. Abdelnaby.  While he was a senior “forward-center” (a Finisher, by my calculated player quintile) at Duke University in 1989-90, Abdelnaby inherited the derogatory moniker “The Black Hole” – an acknowledgement of how infrequently the ball came out of his hands after he received a pass in the low post.  As a Duke senior, it appeared that Abdelnaby seldom found a ball that he did not find suitable for shooting, and said balls inevitably found their way into the vortex that becomes either a made basket, or an opponent’s rebound.
With a Shot-to-Assist Ratio (SAR) of 16.3 in his final college season, the nickname seemed appropriate on the surface.  But a deeper look reveals that Abdelnaby converted his field goals 62% of the time, and his free throws greater than 77% of the time – both rates that justify his inclination to shoot.  Perhaps detractors felt that in light of his talented teammates – he played that season with future NBA players Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Brian Davis – Abdelnaby should have given the ball up more on the basis of the riches that surrounded him.  But Abdelnaby’s shot selection was excellent that year (his Shot Selection Index, or SSI, was .509), and he converted offensive possessions with remarkable efficiency:  His Successful Possession Rate (SPR) was .602, which would rank him among the best of playmakers, and his Turnover-Adjusted Points per Shot (TAPPS) was a sky-high 1.16.
And you couldn’t argue with Abdelnaby’s overall results, either as an individual or a team player.  Taken on his own, Abdelnaby averaged 15.1 points per game in the 1989-90 season, and added 6.6 rebounds.  As a team member, Abdelnaby started on a Blue Devil squad that went all the way to the NCAA Championship Game, where they lost to a virtual All-Star team from UNLV (one that included Larry Johnson, Stacy Augmon, and Greg Anthony).  So “The Black Hole” nickname was, at the time, entirely unfair.
Nevertheless, it was prescient:  After being selected in the first round of the NBA draft in June of 1990, Abdelnaby went on to have an NBA career that could qualify as selfish.  Compare below the statistics Abdelnaby compiled in his senior year at Duke with those he accumulated during his entire NBA career:
                        PPG      RPG     FG%     FT%      SAR      SSI        SPR      TAPPS  TOT
Duke, ’89-’90   15.1     6.6       .620     .775     16.3     .509     .602     1.16     .068
NBA Career     5.7       3.3       .502     .701     19.3     .260     .473     0.89     .093

So Abdelnaby got to the NBA and both his scoring and rebounding rates went down – not surprising given the improved level of competition, and the fact that Abdelnaby was a bench player as a pro.  What is remarkable, however, is that Abdelnaby’s shooting percentages – both field goals and free throws – also declined, and yet his SAR went up from 16.3 in college to 19.3 in the pros.  What this means is that, as Abdelnaby’s ability to score with accuracy went down, he nevertheless chose to shoot at an even higher rate.
What’s more, Abdelnaby’s shot selection as a pro deteriorated, suggesting that he was forcing the issue – his SSI went from an outstanding .509 to a slightly below average .260.  And, again, even as Abdelnaby’s ability to contribute to team success diminished – his SPR fell to a marginal .473 as a pro; his TAPPS was a pedestrian 0.89; and his TOT of .093 represented a turnover rate seen with the likes of swashbuckling passers, but not low-post players – he held on to the ball even more, and passed it out even less.
And so it is with that precedent that I have endeavored to award the First Alaa Abdelnaby Award for Least Team-Oriented Offensive Player.  The nominees for the 2010-11 NBA Season are:
1.      Drew Gooden
2.      Charlie Villanueva
3.      Yi Jianlian
4.      Al Harrington
5.      Carl Landry
6.      Emeka Okafor
7.      Morrese Speights
Before we get to our “finalists,” I would like to discuss the cases of three players who I suspected of selfish offensive play, but quickly removed them from the list of nominees after examining the record.  Those players are Tyson Chandler, Serge Ibaka and Andrew Bynum.  Chandler and Ibaka were originally chosen because of their astronomical SARs (18.9 and 19.8, respectively), while Bynum was chosen for a slightly high SAR (10.5), though one he accrued while playing with some of the most efficient offensive players in the league (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom).  But a peek at their statistics shows that none of these players are truly selfish:
                        PPG      RPG     FG%     FT%      SAR      SSI        SPR      TAPPS  TOT
Chandler         9.9       9.0       .670     .790     18.9     .854     .626     1.22     .062
Ibaka               9.8       6.9       .562     .755     19.8     .322     .549     1.07     .050
Bynum             11.4     7.3       .575     .684     10.5     .436     .564     1.05     .061

Chandler can justify just about any shot he takes: his field goal shooting is phenomenal; his free throw shooting is excellent; his shot selection is beyond reproach; his SPR is in the Magic Johnson range; his TAPPS is at the top of the league; and his turnover rate speaks of his ability to take care of the ball.  Chandler’s SAR is essentially irrelevant here – every shot he takes can be justified, and you couldn’t ask for more of a team player.
Ibaka, it appears, is a younger and less mature version of Chandler, but nearly as good.  He is an excellent shooter from the field and the line; his shot selection is slightly above average; his SPR is very good for a low-post player; his TAPPS is excellent; and he takes remarkably good care of the ball.
And Bynum, as you can see, is somewhere in the middle of Ibaka and Chandler – and his shot selection is much better than that of Kobe Bryant, his nearly deified teammate (if only Bynum could improve from the line).  In summary, none of these players, though quick to shoot the ball, are at all selfish – their ends justify their means.
And so we move on to the seven “finalists” for the First Alaa Abdelnaby Award for Least Team-Oriented Offensive Player.  Here are their statistics:
                        PPG      RPG     FG%     FT%      SAR      SSI        SPR      TAPPS  TOT
Gooden            10.8     6.5       .442     .776     15.3     .277     .473     0.88     .058
Villanueva       13.0     5.8       .437     .761     15.0     .189     .526     0.99     .051
Jianlian            5.9       3.3       .436     .744     14.2     .289     .451     0.84     .087
Harrington      12.0     5.0       .418     .743     6.71     .171     .557     0.94     .083
Landry             12.4     4.9       .488     .719     12.8     .447     .501     0.93     .081
Okafor             11.1     10.2     .598     .549     18.2     .539     .526     1.01     .072
Speights           5.9       3.9       .500     .725     10.6     .274     .503     0.92     .072

Though I was pulling for Harrington to win the Abdelnaby Award, it is obvious that he does not deserve it – and it is not just because of his relatively low SAR of 6.71.  Despite having an absolutely horrid SSI of .171 (because Al, as those who have watched him, loves to stand behind the three-point line and either catch-and-shoot, or catch-and-drive), Harrington nevertheless makes a remarkably high percentage of those poorly chosen shots: Though his FG% is only .418, most of those are three-pointers (shooting 40% on three-pointers is the equivalent of shooting 60% on two's), and his free throw shooting is not too bad.  Given the relatively high rate at which he passes, Al turns the ball over more than he should, but not as much as I would have expected.  For making the most out of his relatively poor decision-making, Harrington must be excluded from final consideration for the Abdelnaby Award.
Ditto Charlie Villanueva, who is virtually the same player as Harrington – with the same type of arc-oriented game, and similar shooting percentages (though much less passing).  Villanueva, however, takes much better care of the ball than Harrington (his TOT is only .051, in part because he passes so infrequently), and he thus is eliminated from serious contention for the “Alaa.”
Like Villanueva and Harrington, Emeka Okafor is just too good to win the award.  His excellent shot selection and his accurate field goal shooting justify his extremely high SAR of 18.2.  If only Okafor could hit his free throws, he would not even merit a nomination on this list, and his fair SPR of .526 would be much higher.  Still and all, even adjusted for his average turnover rate, his TAPPS still exceeds 1.00.
I had nominated Carl Landry with the intention of throwing out his nomination, just as I ended up doing with those of Chandler, Ibaka and Bynum.  Surprisingly, Landry’s numbers demonstrate that he deserves to be on this short list.  Though Landry’s shot selection is very good, his field goal percentage and free throw shooting are only so-so; he turns the ball over an awful lot for a guy who threads an assist only once for every 13 of his shots; and his SPR barely escapes that of the marginal.  And Morrese Speights is, as you can see, virtually the exact same player as Landry, though one with poorer shot selection.
But neither Speights nor Landry can come close to the achievements of Drew Gooden and Yi Jianlian.  Gooden, in fact, has stats that are so eerily similar to those of Abdelnaby’s career that I wonder if the award should be renamed in Gooden’s honor:
                                    FG%     FT%      SAR      SSI        SPR      TAPPS  TOT
Gooden                        .442     .776     15.3     .277     .473     0.88     .058
Abdelnaby                   .502     .701     19.3     .260     .473     0.89     .093

But, no, Gooden will be spared, for if there is any renaming of the award for the least team-oriented basketball player, the eponym will belong to Yi Jianlian.  Jianlian (or is it Yi?) has an SAR of 14.2, which suggests that he does not like to share at the playground, while producing other figures in his stat line that indicate his selfishness is in no way deserved.  Jianlian’s shot selection is average.  His free throw shooting is average.  His field goal shooting is average.  His rate of turnovers is awful – and thus his TAPPS and SPR is in a range so marginal, it calls to mind Adam Morrison (and not the Adam Morrison who played at Gonzaga, but the one who sat courtside and watched the Lakers kindly gather him two rings). 

And so the first Alaa Abdelnaby Award will be the last – and heretofore will be named in honor of its more suitable inspiration, Yi Jianlian.
Final note: Two players with nearly median SARs – World B. Free and Allen Iverson – are often noted as two of the more selfish players to ever take the court.  I wanted to test the hypothesis, using the two players’ signature seasons (Iverson’s nearly successful run at the Championship in 2000-01, and Free’s “Prince of Midair” season in 1981-82, back when he was still called Lloyd).  The analysis is below:
                        PPG      RPG     FG%     FT%      SAR      SSI        SPR      TAPPS  TOT
Free                 22.9     3.2       .448     .740     5.91     .410     .547     0.91     .076
Iverson            31.1     3.8       .420     .814     6.68     .400     .522     0.92     .074

The tale of the tape shows that both Free and Iverson, during the signature years, would have qualified as Balanced Scorers – the third quintile among players, as defined by SAR – with Free producing assists at a slightly higher rate than Iverson.  Their field goal percentages were OK by the standard of each player’s era (Iverson’s 42% should be considered in the context of the weightier role the three-point shot played during his career, as opposed to Free’s).  Both players, as evident in their SSIs, had pretty good shot selection, and Iverson was an excellent free throw shooter, while Free was about average.  Each player’s SPR, TAPPS and TOT was good, but not great (Free gets the edge in SPR, once again, because of his higher assist tally).
In summary, neither Free nor Iverson were terribly selfish players – they passed the ball a moderate amount, they took good shots, and they made them with a degree of consistency.  The real issue with the perception of both of these players, I think, is that both were good, but neither was great – and since they each made themselves the focus of their respective teams, both on and off the court, they were perceived to be selfish.
Next week’s post: Kemba, Jimmer – or Jared?

No comments:

Post a Comment