Daryl’s Doublespeak

Daryl Morey is an interesting subject to me.  Much like Warren Buffet, he is generally viewed as a leader in his field.  Also, much like Warren Buffet (and this is strictly my opinion, based on anecdotal evidence), he often tells the public one thing while doing another.  This may seem dishonest, but when enough of the market is paying attention to your words and actions, it’s impossible to gain an advantage without withholding information.  When you are constantly hounded by the media and peers for advice and thoughts, your options are either to 1) make no comment, 2) reveal your best secrets and lose any competitive advantage, or 3) tell a story that sounds plausible, but is not the full truth.

The topic of interest today is the seeming disconnect between his strong pursuit of a “star” and his disbelief in the value of “clutch players.”  According to 82games.com, clutch is defined as “4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points.”  In the 2009-2010 regular season, 172 games, or 13.98% of all games played, were decided by 3 points or less.   That’s a pretty high number of games that come down to clutch situations.  Last season the Rockets were 5-5 in games decided by 3 points or less, and 20-20 in games decided by 4 to 9 points.  For a GM purportedly not interested in clutch players or statistics, it has to be a concern that the Rockets are already 2-4 this year in games decided by 3 points or less, and 4-5 in games decided by 4 to 9 points.

Circling back, we know that Morey has potentially made conflicting assertions.  If a star’s usage increases during clutch time, it seems that the need for a star is concurrently exacerbated during clutch time.  With such marginal clutch performances last year, followed by a downward trend thus far this year, I am starting to believe that Morey may have misled us in his apparent disregard for clutch-time statistics.  After all, actions speak louder than words, and his intentions this past off-season were in clear pursuit of a big-time star and legitimate go-to player in the clutch.  So, before we blindly go with the assumption that Morey actually does look at clutch statistics, let’s take a look at some of the evidence supporting this view.

I wanted to see if there is any difference in wins for a team leaning heavily on one player in the clutch versus a conglomerate of players.  In this mini-study, I chose one player from each team in the ’09-’10 season, courtesy of 82games.  The player chosen had the highest combination of games played, minutes, and FGAs per 48 minutes of their respective teams.  I’ll call each of these players their teams’ “clutch players”.  Last year it was Aaron Brooks for the Rockets.  Here is the complete list:

The “star” versus “committee” difference takes care of itself when you take a single player from each team, because if a player is sharing possessions with someone else in the clutch, his per-48 minute numbers will be lower than a player taking the lion’s share of possessions (ie. LeBron).  In other words, players with lower per-48 minute numbers are on teams with no defined go-to player or “star.”

As usual, I compared a number of different metrics with wins, and looked to see which were the most correlated.*   Here are some of the more interesting results**:

Here are my takeaways from this table:

1) Points scored are surprisingly the most correlated statistic, more so than any other metrics taking assists into account.

2) Having a single player use more FGAs in the clutch, and even more accurately, more possessions, is more important to winning than that player’s scoring efficiency.

3) Assist numbers are not very correlated to wins (r2 of .038).  When your clutch player passes more as opposed to shooting, the correlation to winning decreases.  That would help explain why LeBron got so much flack several years ago when he passed to Donyell Marshall in the corner for a missed 3-pointer.

This evidence points towards the need for a go-to scorer in the clutch.  The type of player that, regardless of the results, you know decided your team’s fate in the waning minutes of the game.  Kevin Martin may be developing into that kind of player, but what about when Brooks is healthy again?  With Scola using possessions in the post as well, it seems like we are truly a “clutch by committee” team, which does not bode well for winning.  To the right is the list of the top clutch scorers per-48 minutes last year, and their teams’ wins.  Looks like good company to me.

For a more detailed, albeit ancient, examination of clutch stats, see this article.

*A couple of disclaimers here: Total team wins are used, while these stats are only from clutch games, which means that there are many wins that were not attributable to the clutch statistics (number of clutch games played for each player ranged from 20 to 47, with the average being 35.3). Also, these stats are not adjusted for pace, so a faster-paced team will have slightly inflated numbers.

** “Team points”, “created points”, and “team created points” are metrics I invented on the fly in an attempt to break down a player’s impact on the floor.  “Created points” removes points that a player scored from an assist by another player.  It is essentially points scored in isolation scenarios.  “Team Created Points” is created points plus an estimate of points created from a player’s assists.  It can be viewed as all team points that a player created (but didn’t necessarily finish).

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  • Good read man, I hope we can get a Melo or Iguodala.

  • Good read man, I hope we can get a Melo or Iguodala.

  • Stephen

    And what if Brooks is healthy?
    Last yr,when the League wasn’t planning on how to stop him the Rockets were a .500 team.
    In the rest of their games the team was a tad above .500,so it wasn’t like his 4Q efforts were making the team better than it was.
    I would argue some on your assists are bad in clutch time. Do you believe the a team’s clutch player should force a shot when double-teamed when there is a wide-open teammate who is a good shooter?

    And one could argue that a clutch player does not have to be an elite player. For example,a couple of seasons ago Dwight Howard was the elite player on the Finals Magic team,yet Turkoglu was their 4Q guy,their clutch player if you will.

    Still an interesting topic and a great job on Ben’s part. Lots to think about.

  • Billy

    I think the fact that you use total wins as opposed to some kind of “clutch” wins really distorts this. The players that score the most in the clutch are going to be the best players, because, when a player is that good, his teammates will automatically defer to them in the clutch (hence the largest numbers of fgs taken and points scored). So, the teams with the best players win the most games, this makes sense, but these teams could win a lot of games by large margins. I wish you could look at each “clutch player’s” team’s record in close games.

  • Easy

    Good read, Ben, as usual.

    Some of your takes seem to defy commonsense, though. It seems to me that efficiency is the most important thing in the clutch because you don’t want to lose the possession. So being able to pass to an open teammate who has a better percentage shot seems to be better than forcing up a difficult shot at the clutch.

    What seems to make sense is that a single high usage player is better than a committee because in the clutch the defense would put all their focus on that player, giving the rest of the team a better chance of scoring.

  • durvasa

    Interesting stuff.

    When you say “wins”, is that total regular season wins? You may consider using clutch win% instead, which 82games.com has on the player clutch-time pages.

  • luislandry

    I don’t understand why anybody wants Iggy or Gerald Wallace. Look, solid guys, but purely complementary pieces. They’re just asked to play as leaders by their coaches, but they’re just not good enough shooters. Iggy fit that defensive stopper role for team USA, but he would just foll some strange Ariza+Battier niche on the Rockets, taking too many shots but being a defensive ace. Neither will attract another big name to come here in several years.

  • ben heller

    Yes but isn’t clutch win% an individual stat? That would only show which players are the most clutch, not which tactic (go-to guy vs. team effort) is more effective.

  • ben heller

    Yes I know it bothered me too, but I just couldn’t pull together the resources to make a more comprehensive study. It also would be nice to have other seasons, adjust for pace, and perhaps even have splits such as comparing which position (guard/forward/center) is the best for your go-to guy or if more/less fouls are called in the clutch (negating part of a player like Kevin Martin’s game).

  • ben heller

    Stats are the most powerful when they are contrary to common sense 🙂

  • durvasa

    I wouldn’t say it is an individual stat. It says how often the player’s team outscored the opponent in clutch time. Overall win% depends on a lot of factors that aren’t directly connected to performance in the clutch.

  • fat bastard

    Would you like a smoke and a pancake!

  • Stephen

    They are “name” players who make hi-light plays.
    Me I’d take Iggy in a heartbeat as with right coaching he’s the uber-second banana. Rebounds,plays D,passes pretty well,runs the court and finishes. Just have a hard time seeing Philly dump him this season.
    Wallace on the other hand I wouldn’t take unless I’m getting an unprotected First-and then I’d trade him as fast as I could. He plays hard,but w/no thought. Is notorious for not following an offense(yeah,I’m sure Rick would love that) and is constantly getting injured and missing several games at a stretch. He’s never averaged 20ppg,has only once missed less than 10 games in a season,has only made more than 1/3 of his 3s once,has only ave’d as much as 3 assists/game 0nce,is 29 yrs old,hardly a youngster,is signed for two seasons after this @ $10.5mil and has hardly lead the Bobcats to team success.

  • Easy

    Stats are most powerful when they are contrary to subjective perception (e.g. who is the most clutch player), not commonsense logic–unless the commonsense logic is flawed.

  • luislandry

    Neither are even an uber-third banana. Let’s look at good teams: Lamar Odom is better than both of them and the Lakers got smashed by the Spurs last night (for whom third banana is…offensively Duncan, overall not sure, but better than Iggy or Wallace). The Celts 3rd guy is who out of the big 4? Would you rather have Iggy or Serge Ibaka? Bosh? Dallas is the only top team I can see where AI would be the third best player (though Dallas has no need for him since he wouldn’t fit their team in place of Dirk/Terry/Kidd/Chandler). Is he better than Boozer/Noah?

    I just don’t see a team that’s successful with a poor-shooting wing as one of their best options.

  • Blake

    What about the Lakers and Kobe Bryant? Iguodala and Wallace have about the same TS% and eFG% as Kobe.

  • gah

    You are underestimating AI; he is a great third banana and an excelent one for us, an ace wing defender and pretty solid guy to insert in our offense.

  • luislandry

    I’m just pointing out that good teams have third bananas that are objectively superior, plus the “type” of player that those guys are (athletic wings who aren’t very good shooters) aren’t typically found on winning teams recently. Thus, not worth the money or trading assets which might be more easily movable than AI once he gets here.

  • gah

    I get your warning and understand there are reasons to be cautious, but is not logical to assume that just because you can’t find a similar player as a 3rd bananas in a contender you couldn’t count on him in that role. You have to analyze what he would bring to a contender, I think in our system he would fit pretty well as the third best player.

    He brings great defense and playmaking to the team, he is an upgrade over Battier and Ariza, arguably in both sides of the court, he is truly a 2way player something that can’t be said about the other two.

  • luislandry

    That’s true, I was basically assuming he couldn’t be had for the price of Battier. Perhaps not.

  • gah

    I don’t know what the price would be, If all it took was expirings I’d do it in a heartbeat, past rumors suggest they want way more than that. Philadelphia hasn’t looked as desperate as last year and they have been playing better as of late, we’ll have to wait and see.

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