Thursday, August 15, 2013

Monroe's free throw rate

This post started with good intentions and ended up, as the Pelican Debrief's Joe Moore said, basically like the confirmation bias-driven Wins Produced. There's plenty of quality raw data here and the modified stats that appear below might be interesting to some, but there's not much I can say with certainty at the end of this post. It's being published for posterity.

On Tuesday, Sporting News writer Sean Deveney Tweeted out the following:
The death of the big man has been bemoaned by nearly every NBA writer over the last decade. As the league has become more perimeter-oriented, the emphasis on post scoring has diminished. The 2009 Orlando Magic made Dwight Howard the crux of its offense, and current teams like the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers have designed inside-out attacks, but otherwise, most teams have emphasized perimeter play, seeking an elite point guard or small forward to run their offense through. Meanwhile, the most notable post play of the last two seasons has been Lebron James' evolution, bolstered by his offseason workouts with Olajuwan.

I've long been of the belief that Greg Monroe has the best post moves in the league. In spite of his ability to get looks at the rim and shake defenders on the block, Monroe goes unmentioned by most discussing elite post players. That could be because he plays in a black hole of a media market, or because he struggles to finish (he completed a league average 53% of his looks at the rim), but regardless, there's something that's keeping him off of most analysts' radars.

One thing that always struck me about Monroe's post game is how rarely he receives foul calls. Using the players Deveney singled out in addition to other notable centers, I broke down each player's 2012 free throw rate (FTA/FGA) to see if Monroe's low conversion rate at the rim is influenced by an inability to get to the free throw line.

Greg Monroe 1058 392 0.37
Dwight Howard 813 721 0.88
DeAndre Jordan 488 249 0.51
Joakim Noah 630 237 0.37
Andre Drummond 342 159 0.46
Roy Hibbert 859 224 0.26
Marc Gasol 869 316 0.36
Kevin Garnett 850 201 0.23
David West 1009 315 0.31
Zach Randolph 1024 300 0.29
Brook Lopez 1094 392 0.35

This is where my thesis kind of fell apart. Compared to the likes of Howard, Jordan, and Drummond, Monroe has a notably lower free throw rate. This is expected: those three are athletic pogo sticks who shoot almost exclusively at the rim. Stopping them often necessitates fouling (to say nothing of the Hack-A-[center] strategies that each encounter).

Hibbert's numbers are staggering. His inability to draw fouls stands out amongst these big men and his numbers are comparable with the league's point guards, not dominant centers. Noah, Garnett, and Gasol have relatively low free throw rates but have play styles that dictate those numbers. Gasol has become known for his midrange jumper--and it's the staple of Garnett's game--taking nearly as many shots outside the paint last year as he did around the rim. You wouldn't expect him to draw a significant amount of fouls in that area of the court. Noah, meanwhile, has such a janky offensive game that he shouldn't even be included with these offensive centers.

Because the original data set didn't give me the numbers I wanted, it's time to rig the game. This is embarrassingly unscientific, but I'm in it this deep so it's worth applying a little logic to the raw data and seeing if I can't get something approximating what my eyes are seeing (confirmation bias, wheee). The logic I'm applying here is that most centers in the league aren't drawing shooting fouls away from the basket. These aren't the Dwyane Wades of the league drawing fouls by pump faking rookies into the air. It's reasonable to say, then, that a player like Marc Gasol is drawing the majority of his fouls inside rather than on his midrange jumper.

So instead of taking the players' raw FGAs from the season, I used shotcharts from the season and extracted only those shots around the basket. Adjustments for each player are what you might expect: everyone's FTR increases, with Gasol's taking a significant spike after extracting his midrange tendencies.

FGA near basket FTA Modified FTR
Greg Monroe 842 392 0.46
Dwight Howard 752 721 0.95
DeAndre Jordan 464 249 0.53
Joakim Noah 458 237 0.51
Andre Drummond 318 159 0.50
Roy Hibbert 600 224 0.37
Marc Gasol 357 316 0.88
Kevin Garnett 260 201 0.77
David West 472 315 0.66
Zach Randolph 678 300 0.44
Brook Lopez 697 392 0.56

Predictably, Howard, Jordan, and Drummond--players who shoot primarily close to the basket--don't change significantly. Gasol's numbers, as aforementioned, make a drastic spike, as well over 50% of his FGA are excised. Even Noah's numbers jump following the exclusion of about 25% of his total FGAs. Hibbert's modified FTR remains shockingly low, and remains the only FTR on the list below Monroe's.

Though the standardized adjustment theoretically works to equally affect each player in the list, it more accurately demonstrates the differing playstyles of these centers. There is little insight that can be drawn from the modified FTR numbers, but with more accurate possession statistics (is this what Synergy Sports can do for me?), my hypothesis might be verified. Otherwise, this is a mass of numbers that hopefully illuminates a trend I've seen in Monroe's game--an inability to draw fouls--but more likely creates statistical noise.

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