Saturday, February 25, 2012

More Special Rookie: Irving or Rubio?

In today's ESPN TrueHoops, the question is asked whether Kyrie Irving or Ricky Rubio is the more special rookie in this year's NBA.  The question is subsequently addressed with traditional statistics, though no definitive conclusion is reached.  This is understandable, given that an analysis utilizing alternative statistics also reaches an equivocal conclusion.  Please refer to the Basketball I.Q. archives for the derivations of the statistics used here: Successful Possession Rate (SPR); Turnover-Adjusted Points Per Shot (TAPPS); Turnovers per Touch (TOT); and Shot Selection Index (SSI).

Rubio: SPR .598; TAPPS .754; TOT .113; SSI .402
Irving: SPR .584; TAPPS .958; TOT .110; SSI .286

Keep in mind, when analyzing these stats, Rubio has a Shot-to-Assist Ratio (SAR) of 1.40, putting him in the Primary Distributor ("point guard") category, whereas Irving has an SAR of 3.30, making him a Combination Distributor ("combi-guard" or "off-guard").  Rubio and Irving, therefore, fulfill different roles on the court.

The SPR assesses the ability of a player to create a successful possession for his team, given the opportunity.  The slight edge here (.598 vs. .584) goes to Rubio -- though the margin is quite small.  When one considers that the statistical skew created by assists favors a Primary Distributor over a slightly less willing passer (or, depending on how you  look at it, a more intent finisher), the SPR evaluation is either a dead heat between Rubio and Irving, or slightly in favor of Irving.

The TAPPS assesses the ability of a player to finish an offensive possesion successfully on his own, and favors the more intent scorer (in this case, Irving) because of their generally lower turnover rates.  In this case, however, there is a wide chasm between Irving and Rubio, despite the fact that Irving turns the ball over at a similar rate to Rubio: Irving's TAPPS of .958 is excellent, and an ocean away from Rubio's .754 (this is due to Rubio's much poorer shooting).  The advantage here is clearly in favor of Irving.

The TOT is a turnover rate in relation to a player's meaningful touches.  This appears to be a dead heat between the players (Rubio .113 vs Irving .110), but this actually favors Rubio: it is expected that players with very high assist totals should turn the ball over more, since passes toward the basket are inherently risky.  Combination Distributors should have TOTs that are below 10%, and Irving does not.  The slight advantage here is to Rubio.

The SSI assesses the likelihood that a player will get fouled when he shoots, suggesting that a high SSI means a player has good shot selection.  This STAT is more qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, than the other stats mentioned here.  With an SSI of .402, Rubio has an excellent shot selection, whereas Irving, at .286, is merely average.  However, the traditional stats bear out that Irving is the much better shooter, and so he may be allowed wider leverage in his shot selection.

In conclusion, Irving can take a game over all by himself, whereas Rubio is more likely to help his teammates do so successfully.  Both players need to take better care of the ball.  Rubio needs to work on his shooting, Irving should work on his shot selection and get to the free throw line more (and hit his free throws more accurately).  Though it is close, and any team would be happy to have either player, the edge here goes to:

Kyrie Irving.

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