NBA Roundtable

Bargnani vs Player X

In General NBA on September 18, 2009 at 6:06 am

I am going to compare Bargnani to made up player.

Introducing Player X

Player X is a set of general characteristics — average defender + average rebounder while being a slightly below average scorer with poor scoring efficiency.

Also, let’s assume Bargnani and Player X are equal as passers + screeners + turnovers per minute. To avoid overly complicating things.

The Comparison

Defense

I think for the majority of Raptors fans there’s an agreement on Bargnani’s defense; that Bargnani is a good post defender but a poor team defender. Personally, I’d go a little further and rate Bargnani is a below average one-on-one defender because I think he does a poor job in man-to-man D outside of the post. But anyway, I think that most Raps fans would agree that Bargnani is a below average defender.

So Player X has an advantage here because he is an average defender. Therefore, the Raptors are better defensive team with him on the floor than with Bargnani.

Rebounding

A couple of months ago I listed the rebounding rates for the starting centers in the NBA. Bargnani is a terrible rebounder and that list aptly describes how poor of a rebounder he is.

Okay, so over Bargnani’s 35 minutes, he would grab roughly 6 rebounds. An average rebounding center would grab 9 rebounds in that same time.

Since the Raptors were out-rebounded last season, well for the last seven seasons really, and figure to be out-rebounded again this coming season, there clearly will be a lot of available rebounds out there. So, Player X should be able to grab his rebounds without eating into other player’s rebounding numbers.

Therefore, the Raptors are a better team with Player X and have an extra 3 possessions per game.

Offense

Andrea Bargnani scored 19 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 57.6% last season. He took 14.57 field goals and 4.26 free throws to score those points. So let’s say Bargnani used 16.45 shot-taking possessions to score his 19 points.

Player X is a below average scorer for a center, so let’s say he scores 10 points in his 36 minutes. The average true shooting percentage for the league is around 54%, and I think it’s slightly higher for a center, but since Player X is below average let’s make him flat out poor and give him a TS% of 50%. Okay, so in order to score his 10 points, Player X must attempt 8.9 field goals and 2.4 free throws. So, Player X uses 10 possessions to score his 10 points.

Differences In Possessions

Offensively

This frees up 6.45 possessions for the rest of the Raptors team.

Okay, we’ll to go to an extreme here and say that those extra possessions are used very poorly by the rest of the Raptors team.

  • Let’s say the Raptors lead the league in turnovers with a turnover rate of 17.5%. That wipes out 1.13 possessions, leaving the Raptors with 5.32 shots to go around.
  • Let’s also say that the Raptors players are not as efficient at scoring the ball as Bargnani is — a good bet since Bargnani is so efficient as a scorer — but let’s go even further again and say they are well below the league average and like Player X, have a true shooting percentage of 50%.

Okay, so the Raptors freed up 6.45 possessions offensively. This Raptors team leads the league in turnovers and is way below average in scoring efficiency. The Raptors team scores another 5.32 points.

Therefore, Player X brings his 10 points to the table while his teammates score another 5.32 points with the leftover shots. Giving his team 15.32 points for the same number of shot-taking possessions used up by Bargnani.

Advantage Bargnani — Andrea scores 19 points per game so he adds 3.68 points to the Raptors per game over Player X.

Rebounding

Remember, Player X has won an extra three rebounds for his team giving his team three extra possessions.

Once again, his Raptors teammates lead the league in turnovers and score at a very inefficient rate. With these three possessions, they manage 2.48 points per game.

Total

Player X’s offensive contribution + rebounding contribution now stands at 17.78 points per game.

Therefore, Andrea Bargnani still leads the contest with his 19 points.

Defense

Andrea Bargnani is a below average defender. Player X is an average defender. There is an advantage there, but how much does that advantage add for the Raptors?

I’m not going to put a number out here … since it’s so subjective … I’ll leave this to the readers to come up with their own evaluation/number.

The question is, does Bargnani’s lesser defensive contributions  versus an average defensive big man cost the Raptors more or less than 1.22 points per game? Over the course 35 minutes a night? What do you think?

Final Thoughts

Let’s ignore the question of Bargnani being a star player, a core player, a possible All-Star for now … instead, let’s ask a far simpler question:

Is Bargnani better than Player X?

A player who is not even an average player overall. A mediocre defender + rebounder, and a below par offensive player.

And secondly …

Even if you feel Bargnani is better than Player X … shouldn’t Bargnani be blowing a player like this out of the water.

After all, the man is being given 35 minutes a night and is considered one of the Raptors four best players, and has just been handed a $50 million contract extension.

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  1. Dave,

    ——————————————————————
    re: Rebounding

    Remember, Player X has won an extra three rebounds for his team giving his team three extra possessions.

    Once again, his Raptors teammates lead the league in turnovers and score at a very inefficient rate. With these three possessions, they manage 2.48 points per game.

    Total

    Player X’s offensive contribution + rebounding contribution now stands at 17.78 points per game.

    Therefore, Andrea Bargnani still leads the contest with his 19 points.

    Defense

    Andrea Bargnani is a below average defender. Player X is an average defender. There is an advantage there, but how much does that advantage add for the Raptors?

    I’m not going to put a number out here … since it’s so subjective … I’ll leave this to the readers to come up with their own evaluation/number.

    The question is, does Bargnani’s lesser defensive contributions versus an average defensive big man cost the Raptors more or less than 1.22 points per game? Over the course 35 minutes a night? What do you think?

    Final Thoughts

    Let’s ignore the question of Bargnani being a star player, a core player, a possible All-Star for now … instead, let’s ask a far simpler question:

    Is Bargnani better than Player X?

    A player who is not even an average player overall. A mediocre defender + rebounder, and a below par offensive player.

    And secondly …

    Even if you feel Bargnani is better than Player X … shouldn’t Bargnani be blowing a player like this out of the water.

    After all, the man is being given 35 minutes a night and is considered one of the Raptors four best players, and has just been handed a $50 million contract extension.
    ——————————————————————

    First-rate stuff right there!

    Minor quibble #1. The offensive and defensive efficiency of Player X’s teammates would both improve substantially as soon as Player X is introduced into the rotation and afforded Bargnani’s minutes, therefore, these performance “numbers” for them would all be increased, as well, given the re-invigoration they would experience playing beside someone who they can rely on to get the job done on the glass and defensively.

    Minor Quibble #2. Sincee there are currently no generic “stats” available for “regular fans” to consider which are focused on the debilitating effects of poor team and individual defense the actual negative effect of a player like Bargnani is very difficult for “regular fans” to evaluate properly and even more important than what you’ve been able to suggest right here. When the coach of a winning team decides to sit down one of his better offensive players in favour of a different teammate who gets the job done in a way that allows the team to succeed in the vital areas of the game that are difficult to track for “regular fans” … who have a tendency to “just watch the ball”, and not the entire game … it’s because that type of offensive player really isn’t very important in the grand scheme of how to go about building a championship-calibre team in the NBA.

    Offensive only players are NOT foundations players in the NBA.

    Offensive only players are the kind of players who should get added to a team as it prepares to make the jump over the proverbial hump.

    All-around players ARE foundations players in the NBA.
    Then comes players who are focused on Defense & Rebounding.
    Then comes players who are focused on either Defense or Rebounding.

    Good job on your part!

  2. Some notes on the numbers

    Possessions Difference

    I left the offensive production by Bargnani’s Raptors teammates as league-worst production to make it, well, worse than any realistic worst-case scenario. I thought the extreme viewpoint would help highlight the issue.

    Here are some other numbers:

    (1) If Bargnani’s teammates turned the ball over at a league average (15%) and scored at an average rate (true shooting percentage of 54%), that would add a further 0.89 points to the Raptors.

    Meaning that Player X’s superior defense would only need to be worth 0.33 points per 35 minutes for him to draw even with Bargnani. If his defense was worth more than that, then he’d out-do Bargnani’s efforts.

    (2) If Bargnani’s turned the ball over at an average rate but scored with good efficiency (56%) … Player X would be equal to Bargnani before we even consider his advantage defensively.

    Defense

    These numbers have no credibility whatsoever in my eyes … which is why they’re not in the post … but I was curious as to what they’d look like so I decided to work them out for myself and share them in case anyone was interested.

    Okay, so here’s an attempt at quantifying Bargnani’s defense by using defensive efficiency marks:

    We’ll adjust the Raptors defensive efficiency of 110.0 and adjust for pace and minutes — the team playing 92 possessions a game (last year’s mark), and with Bargnani + Player X tabling 35 minutes — how many points do that Raptors give up during this time?

    (1) Bargnani’s on court/off court defensive efficiency marks — 75.87 points versus 71.24 points

    (2) Raptors mark as a team (22nd in defensive efficiency) — 73.78 points

    (3) If you feel Bargnani’s defense is very poor, the league’s worst defensive efficiency mark is roughly his on court mark for the Raptors — 75.87 points

    (4) If you feel Bargnani’s defense is in the poor-to-very poor range, let’s use the league’s 24th ranked defense — 74.46

    (5) An average defensive team — 72.38 points — so if the Raptors improved to league average defense without Bargnani, the difference would be 72.48 versus 73.78.

    (6) Let’s say the Raptors improve from 22nd to 18th by moving from Bargnani’s poor defense to Player X’s average defense — 72.91 points versus the 73.78.

    Anyway … I wouldn’t put much credibility into any of these numbers … but I was interested to see what they’d look like.

  3. I’ll state up front, I like Bargs’ game. And hated how Mitchell used him.

    Lets say as someone who sits near the Raptors basket every game that I’ve seen Bargs play defense a lot. He is a very good 1 on 1 defender under the basket. There are very few big men who defend well on the outside (any at all?) – thus the trend in the NBA to develop big men who can shoot. Bargs needs to get better as a team defender. But that is a learned skill – he’s only been in the league 3 years and Mitchell didn’t teach him anything.

    Try to think back, does Bargs really struggle defensively against the “typical” NBA center (who makes $9-12m/yr) – Excepting guys like Howard, Shaq, & Big Z, not so much.

    Bargs isn’t just a good scorer as a center, he’s already amongst the league’s best. NBA lists him as the 6th highest scoring center last year at 15.4 ppg. If he keeps up his starter’s scoring rate, he’ll be 3rd or 4th best.

    And 21 NBA centres scored 10 ppg – so 10s not below average. The median NBA center scoring is 5ppg.

    As an aside, there are a lot of power forwards who’s game could be compared to Bargs – and some of these guys are better. But Bargs isn’t playing PF, so we don’t really know how he’d do if he moved to what looks like a more natural position for him.

    Rebounds for centers, Bargs was 31st. He does need to move up this list. But only 8 centers averaged 9 or more. If Bargs reaches the 18 & 8 level as a center – that all-star contention. And that shouldn’t be out of reach for him.

    And the median rebounding rate for centers is 4 boards.

    The NBA provides a stat line that adds up ppg, rpg and apg, totals it then sorts the players. For centers, Bargs is 15th on that list now and Bargs makes less than everyone listed higher except those still on rookie contracts. And lots of the centers listed in the next 15 spots also make more than Bargs (excepting rookie deals)

    A $10m per year deal for a starting center is hardly an unusual amount of money in the NBA. Really that’s cheap.

    Let’s redo that “below average” center you’re comparing Bargs to and give him real numbers. 5-8 points and 4-6 boards. It’s easy to get confused and believe the 9 centers in the league who score over 1,000 points per year are the typical/average centers – But they’re not.

    And very few players can take their “real” numbers and turn them into their “36” or “40” minute equivalents. Just like its tough for starters to keep their scoring rate up if they have to come off the bench. It’s a fantasy stat that usually doesn’t pan out. I never liked the “let’s pretend” aspect of these equivalent stats.
    (I guess we should start Evans – he’d be good for 20 boards a game, only 5 points but!)

    And by the way – if the Raptors cared about Bargs “rebounding rate”, they’d let him get a couple of the “free” rebounds off of free throws that are available when the other team turns on the shot and runs back down the floor – But they don’t. Maybe they should, lots of guys seem to work really hard to get number 10, even if 4 of the first 9 were exceptionally cheap. Just saying.

    There’s lots of ways to use stats. We tend to use them to prove our own points. (Me too!)

  4. Hey Brothersteve,

    The league averages are per minute and adjusted to equal Bargnani’s 35 minutes of court time.

    If you even out a center’s minutes to 35 minutes, the average scoring mark is a little under 13 points. So 10 points is a fair bit below average.

    An average center grabs a rebound in a little under ever four minutes. So in 35 minutes of court time, he’ll grab 9 boards.

    Note on Player X

    It’s irrelevant whether Player X is one player or two players. It doesn’t make a difference.

    What is important is that it’s a set of general characteristics — average defense + average rebounding + below par scoring — that are on the court for the same amount of time (35 minutes) that Bargnani receives.

  5. Two more points in favour of Bargnani.

    First, he averaged 19 ppg in 2009, but his scoring efficiency was equivalent to 22 ppg, or .63 ppm. Horford and Okafor, generally appraised as the leading centres after Howard in the East, averaged .363 and .462 ppm. Though they are defensive and rebounding stalwarts, the offensive gap more than makes up for Bargnani’s shortcomings in these areas.
    Second, in 2009, the Raptors decreased the negative rebound differential. Bargnani was partially responsible by keeping opposing bigs from attacking the offensive boards. One needs to look at the whole picture, not just individual stats.

    In all, in 2009, Bargnani was the second best centre in the East.

    As for Foundation players, we’re talking about perhaps 7 to 10 in the league. After that, it’s the offensive players who have the big contracts, and then the defenders/rebounders.

  6. Dave – very well done. I just finished a piece on “who” Andrea Bargnani “has” to become in order for us to finish somewhere in the 45 win range – and it will not be easy. Andrea will have to make SIGNIFICANT strides for the Raps to get there.

  7. Dave,

    The average center may grab a rebound every four minutes – but that doesn’t mean if you give the average center 35 minutes he’ll grab 9. Most centers don’t play 30+ minutes and most of them would see their per minute stats drop off dramatically if they did. That’s why they are on the bench for 1/2 the game.

    Never believed in the meaning of stats per 36 minutes – if the guy could play 36 minutes and get those stats – he’d be on the floor!

    I know they are used all over the place – I just don’t believe they are meaningful – beyond maybe young developing players fighting to justify more playing time with their coach (and still not always useful)

    Just my view

  8. brothersteve,

    FWIW, that’s basically my take on 36 [or 40 or 48] minute stat projections, as well.

    There are a great many pseudo stats used today by some in the hoops community that essentially have little meaning on a real basketball court.

  9. Frank,

    re: Foundation players

    I’d be in agreement with anyone who says that there are a slew of players in the NBA today getting big contracts based primarily on their offensive ability … without regard to their defensive/rebounding deficiencies … and who have no business being considered as a legitimate Foundation player.

  10. Frank,

    ——————————————————————-
    re: Second, in 2009, the Raptors decreased the negative rebound differential. Bargnani was partially responsible by keeping opposing bigs from attacking the offensive boards. One needs to look at the whole picture, not just individual stats.
    ——————————————————————-

    The Raptors decreased their Rebounding Differential last season … primarily due to the effect of Shawn Marion.

    —————————————————————-
    re: In all, in 2009, Bargnani was the second best centre in the East.
    —————————————————————-

    As just one example …

    I would take last season’s Brook Lopez at Center, over last season’s Andrea Bargnani, everyday of the week and twice on Sundays.

    And, in a very short period of time … expect the gap which exists between these two players to widen even further.

  11. Bargnani’s playing time has never been based on his production. His playing time has been costly to the Raptors throughout his career. But that is because the point of his playing time was not to help the Raptors win: it was to help his development. The question you should ask about Player X is not ‘is he better than Bargnani” it is : is he a 23 year old who looks likely to get much, much better in the next 4 years?

    If Bargnani gets his stats from the second half of 2009 for the rest of his career, he’ll be a serviceable offensive big. But the whole point of Bargnani is that he has the potential to be much, much better than he has played. He could become a 25 PPG, .59 TS%, 8 RPG guy who plays solid defense, and that’s not even his ceiling. His ceiling is Dirk Nowitzki with better defense, that is to say a league MVP candidate.

  12. I didn’t think there was anyone left still making the Bargnani and Nowitzki comparison. Bargnani is not the next Nowitzki and he’s definitely not the next Nowitzki with better defense. Where is that coming from? Who thinks Bargnani plays good defense, even in comparison to anyone? My problem with Bargnani is that he has too many weaknesses to be a premier player. It’s alright if a player is average at something since that at least allows his positives to add up without being subtracted by negatives. The elite players create value on both ends and amass huge differentials. But with Bargnani, the subpar defense and rebounding, especially from a big, take away much of his offensive value. If he was truly stellar at offense, like Nowitzki for instance who scores from in close, from deep, from the free throw line and against elite defenders, then maybe he could salvage his overall value somewhat, but good defenders can shut him down.

    On a championship team, one of the things you can’t have is a liability that teams can exploit. Bargnani’s defense is that liability. Also with him as a big it’s going to be hard to be a good rebounding team which is vital to be a contender.

  13. re: Bargnani as a future MVP candidate

    Amen, brother, steve.

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