Suns Squared: An Introduction

Welcome to Suns Squared, my name is Brooks Ohman, I am a new contributor here at Valley of the Suns.

I spent the last 4 years working as a manager for the Auburn Men’s Basketball team and hope to bring some of the insight I gained there to covering the Suns. This will be an introductory column that will be the beginning of a weekly column on advanced analytics applied to breaking down the Suns.

As a manager for Auburn I worked closely with our video coordinator and became the analytics guru for the coaching staff. I tracked stats behind the bench during all games and applied them in a variety of ways to help us gain a slight edge. This manifested itself with coaches making certain lineup changes or playing a player more to help us win. I used a variety of metrics in order to judge a player, lineup, and team performance and will use many of those in covering the Suns. I wanted to use this first column to introduce these metrics.

*Note, I use basketball-reference.com for all stats unless otherwise noted.

Offensive and Defensive Rating:

Offensive and Defensive Rating have long been cornerstones of basketball analytics. Often, they measure the points scored or allowed per 100 possessions. These ratings were developed by Dean Oliver, who is seen as the father of basketball analytics. Oliver goes into great depth with both measures in his book: Basketball on Paper. If you are a big basketball numbers guy I would recommend reading that book. Both Oliver’s book and basketball-reference.com have long explanations of how to calculate possessions and then how to get an offensive and defensive rating, you can find the explanation via basketball-reference here: (http://www.basketball-reference.com/about/ratings.html).

The short reason as to why I like using these metrics is because they can tell you how good or bad your offense/defense is and are not skewed by pace of play (which would skew per game numbers). I will evaluate them for both the team as a whole and for specific lineups or combinations of players.

DRE – (Daily RAPM Estimate)

DRE is the second metric that I will use when covering the Suns. DRE was developed by Kevin Ferrigan at Nylon Calculus. You can find his full article on it here: (http://nyloncalculus.com/2015/02/23/introducing-dre-a-hopefully-better-simple-metric/).

The short explanation of DRE is that it is a number that is found via an equation that weights all of the boxscore stats from a game and then spits out one number to rate a player’s performance over that game. It specifically produces the net points contributed per 100 possessions number. The formula Ferrigan produced is: PTS + .2*TRB + 1.7*STL + .535*BLK + .5*AST – .9*FGA – .35*FTA – 1.4*TOV – .136*Min

I love using this because it can show value beyond just scoring points. It proved itself in identifying some of the better all-around role players and really gave them a chance to shine, it should do the same when applied to the analysis of the Suns.

At Auburn, I slightly modified the formula by removing the minutes component (as it was calculated based on NBA games with 48 minutes) and would then divide the new number by the minutes played to get a per minute number. I will use that version in the NBA as well as Ferrigan’s original formula.

As an example, I calculated the numbers for the Suns game against the Pistons on Wednesday, November 9th. For context, a DRE of 20 or better is a legendary single game, while with the DRE per minute, Lebron’s career number is at 0.294.

Player DRE (with minutes) DRE per minute
Alex Len 9.13 0.36
Jared Dudley 7.68 0.38
Eric Bledsoe 1.32 0.15
Leandro Barbosa 1.24 0.26
PJ Tucker 0.83 0.16
Brandon Knight 0.07 0.12
Devin Booker -1.63 0.06
TJ Warren -4.07 0.003
Marquese Chriss -5.09 -0.25
Dragan Bender -6.96 -0.76

It’s easy to tell from the chart that Alex Len really played well and he did it in heavy minutes as well (37) which was a huge part of the Suns’ victory considering Tyson Chandler didn’t play and the other bigs, Chriss and Bender, did not perform well.

Usage and Efficiency

The final metrics I want to highlight will be usage percentage and True Shooting percentage. Usage measures how often a player uses a possession while he is on the floor, which includes making or missing a shot, getting to the free-throw line and turning the ball over. A good way to think about the usage number is that if all five players shared the ball equally, then all players would have a usage of 20%. Obviously, players that have a big offensive load have higher numbers, like Russell Westbrook or even Joel Embiid whose usage is just under 40% (39.5). True Shooting percentage is a measure of efficiency when it comes to shooting and factors in three pointers and free throws. These two work as a great foil to each other in order to understand how players are performing with the ball and who gets the heaviest offensive load. It is normal to see a players True Shooting drop as their usage increases and many players with super high True Shooting have it as a result of being used very little.

If you want more of the nuts and bolts of both these numbers you can check basketball-reference.com.

Below is a chart to map the Suns Usage vs True Shooting so far this season. 

SunsChart

The chart makes it easy to visualize the Suns’ heavy use and heavy efficiency players. The veterans, Chandler and Dudley, have very low usage but are high-efficiency, while the stars have more of a burden but are maintaining solid True Shooting numbers.

There are many different metrics and measures that can be effectively used to analyze statistics to create valuable, usable data. One analytical nugget taken from this article can be that the promise of the Suns’ young talent is shown in the data but the need for the veterans, like Jared Dudley, to step up when called upon will be a key to the season progressing positively.

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