Rocketscience: Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry is having a career year, right?  I mean, he’s averaging career highs so far in points (11.1), assists (6.6), offensive rebounds (1.3), defensive rebounds (2.8), steals (1.8), blocks (.4), 3ptm (1.2), and FGm (3.7) (to name a few).   The casual fan might stop there and conclude that he has finally taken the next step.  There’s only one problem with that analysis, which any more-than-casual fan already knows – those are per-game averages, ignoring a plethora of variables, with perhaps the most important being minutes played.   This season has in many ways been a coming-out party for Lowry, but has he actually improved or is it just a result of increased usage?

I did two things with this analysis.  First, I compared totals of certain minutes-adjusted statistics (we’ll broadly call it “productivity”) from prior seasons to this season.  Those are already aggregated at a number of different websites, and this time I went with Hoopdata.  From that data I can conclude if there is a trend in productivity from season to season.  Next, I broke down the past couple of seasons on a per-game basis, paying no attention to whatever particular season in which the games were played.  That way I could see if there were differences in productivity due to the “role” or “mindset” of Lowry from season to season, or if it is simply a product of minutes played.

Per Season Productivity – Data

Lowry Hustle Productivity Chart 300x60 Rocketscience: Kyle Lowry

Click to Enlarge

First things first, a few of Lowry’s productivity metrics by season are actually teetering on career-worst levels.  Career lows include TS% (51.8%), DRR (9.7%), And1% (1.4%), FTR (.38), and charges (took his first of the season vs. Orlando…his first!  Through 41 games last year he had already taken 32 charges).   Other stats that are below his average are ORR (4.3%), FT% (72%), FG% (40.6%, though his eFG% has not been bothered due to his taking and making more threes), and from, Points/40min (13.4), and Rebounds/40min (4.8).

It should be noted that he has made improvements in three-point shooting and assists, but I think those improvements only reinforce my analysis:

Per Season Productivity – Analysis

Before I begin, let me say that there are an incredible number of variables that are not controlled in this sample, including injuries, coaching strategy, supporting cast, time of year (only the first half of this season), shoe brand, etc.  Understanding that all NBA stats (especially ones you see from me) are noisy, let’s pretend these are somewhat reliable and can actually allow us to draw conclusions.

From what I see, there is a significant drop-off in all of Lowry’s “hustle” stats, which can loosely be defined as stats accumulated through a combination of effort and a willingness to put your body in harm’s way.  On offense, driving to the basket and drawing a foul requires more effort, and puts a player in more dangerous situations, than passing or settling for a three-point shot.  On defense, the ultimate hustle stat is perhaps charges taken,* as it requires both effort and incredible exposure to injury (or at least pain).   Well, is it really just a coincidence that immediately after signing a fat contract, Lowry’s hustle-related productivity has plummeted?  He is taking (settling for) more threes, taking less free throws, grabbing less rebounds (I’m especially concerned with his ORR, which has really been his bread and butter), and taking significantly less charges.  If that is not a concern, I don’t know what is.   In my mind, a big part of what differentiates Lowry from other point guards in the league is his success in the aforementioned categories.

One possible explanation for this drop off in productivity is that, given his increased minutes and importance to the team, he is both conserving energy so that he can play the whole game and limiting his risk of injury so that he will be there for us every game.  The first point is what I’m about to test, but think for a minute about the second point:  in his young career he has witnessed first-hand two superstar teammates suffer career-destroying injuries, and then the starting point guard of his team lose his job after an injury (interpret cause-effect however you want).  From that angle, he is not only protecting his longevity in the league, but also perhaps looking out for our best interests by limiting the chances of another heart-breaking Rockets injury.**

Game Log Productivity – Inputs

The only way to debunk the “fat contract” and “self preservation” theories that I have just proposed is to show that Lowry’s productivity is more a product of minutes played in that particular game, rather than expected minutes (or average minutes) of that entire season.  In an attempt to control for Lowry’s progress as a player,*** I only included game logs from the past three seasons in the data set.   I compared minutes played to some selected “hustle” stats – TRR, Charges, and FTA.  I’m going to do a simple linear regression for each variable independently, with minutes played being the independent variable and TRR, Charges/48min, and FTA/48min being the dependent variables.  For each, I looked to see if there is a significant relationship between minutes played.  The idea is that if there is a significant (negative) relationship, it’s just a coincidence that Lowry’s hustle numbers are down this year, because his productivity numbers are a result of playing time (something that has increased significantly this year).  If there is no relationship, however, we must conclude that his fall-off must be due to some other reason – maybe even one of my theories.

Game Log Productivity – Analysis

After looking at several different angles with his data, it looks like there is no significant relationship between minutes played and hustle productivity.  Correlation numbers between minutes and the three stats were all insignificant.  I did some more statistics-based calculations and did not find any significant relationship.  Here is a simplified chart showing Lowry’s productivity in banded ranges of minutes:

Lowry Hustle Productivity 300x180 Rocketscience: Kyle Lowry

As you can see, there is nothing to look at, but the lack of relationship is just as informative.  Regardless of Lowry’s playing time, he is generally consistent in his productivity.  The argument that he is conserving energy when he plays big minutes clearly is not valid.   Instead, Lowry’s dip in productivity this year – especially in those stats related to hustle – must be attributable to something other than his playing time.

* On a side note, I believe taking a charge to be the best defensive play in basketball (with zero research to back up that assertion).  It draws a foul, eliminates a high-percentage attempt, and forces a turnover.  It is criminal that this stat is not part of the box score.  While I’m on the subject, it should actually be two stats – successful charges and attempted charges (that resulted in blocks), and then a ratio.

** I of course am staunchly against any type of self-preservation strategy in basketball, especially when it negates your (Lowry’s) biggest advantages on the court.

*** I lied; Hoopdata only went back three seasons for Lowry, so that’s all I have.

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