You Are Here > Basketball-Reference.com > BBR Blog > NBA and College Basketball Analysis

SITE NEWS: We are moving all of our site and company news into a single blog for Sports-Reference.com. We'll tag all Basketball-Reference content, so you can quickly and easily find the content you want.

Also, our existing Basketball-Reference blog rss feed will be redirected to the new site's feed.

Basketball-Reference.com // Sports Reference

For more from Neil, check out his new work at BasketballProspectus.com.

Optimizing the Rockets II

Posted by Neil Paine on April 20, 2010

As if everyone isn't already tired of this debate (one which will never be satisfactorily settled, I'm sure), here's a final note on who contributed the most to the 1995 Rockets' offense during the playoffs, Hakeem Olajuwon (mega-high usage, average efficiency) or Clyde Drexler (mid-to-high usage, mega-high efficiency)...

My last post attempted to create a simple model of team offensive efficiency using Dean Oliver's Offensive Rating, Possession %, and what Dean called "Skill Curves", or the relationship between changes in individual usage and efficiency rates. In general, both Oliver and Eli Witus found a quantifiable inverse relationship between increases in usage and predicted offensive efficiency -- in other words, there's diminishing returns to increasing your usage, and as you add more usage you become less and less efficient (which only makes sense to anyone who's ever played basketball).

This model -- based on a ton of real-world evidence, not mere hunches and beliefs -- predicted that the 1995 Rockets' starting lineup would actually be better off on offense by taking some possessions away from Hakeem and re-allocating them to Drexler, and it implied that Drexler was in fact the player who added the most on a per-team-possession basis to the Rockets. In essence, when the Rockets' starting 5 was on the court together, Drexler was their most important offensive player and should have even taken a bigger role in the offense if the Rockets wanted to maximize points per possession.

However, although the model holds for all players in general, there's always the chance it could be flawed for specific players with specific playing styles, and Olajuwon/Drexler could certainly be one of those cases. When I was putting together a WARP-style stat based on Skill Curves, APBRmetrician Dave Lewin once warned me that a player's impact on team offense is not entirely explained by his offensive rating and possession rate, and that a regression between an on/off points per possession metric and box score stats could surprise me in the sense that its outcomes would not always match the general Skill Curve model.

But luckily for us, in 2005 Lewin's mentor Dan Rosenbaum actually did run a regression using boxscore numbers to predict his Adjusted Offensive +/- metric. If you're unfamiliar with adjusted offensive +/-, it's the same as regular adjusted +/- but it only deals with the team's points scored per 100 possessions when a player is on the court vs. off, adjusting for the quality of his teammates, backups, and opponents. The results?

                                           The SAS System       14:08 Wednesday, August 10, 2005  63

Model: MODEL1
Dependent Variable: OFF1                                               

                                        Analysis of Variance

                                           Sum of         Mean
                  Source          DF      Squares       Square      F Value       Prob>F

                  Model           12 9291008.6501 774250.72084      118.118       0.0001
                  Error         1081 7085843.2932 6554.8966634
                  C Total       1093 16376851.943

                      Root MSE      80.96232     R-square       0.5673
                      Dep Mean      -0.42353     Adj R-sq       0.5625
                      C.V.      -19115.86189

                                        Parameter Estimates

                                 Parameter      Standard    T for H0:
                Variable  DF      Estimate         Error   Parameter=0    Prob > |T|

                INTERCEP   1     -7.056284    0.61411305       -11.490        0.0001
                PTS        1      0.702730    0.06387650        11.001        0.0001
                TSA        1     -0.525243    0.06276998        -8.368        0.0001
                FTA        1      0.083834    0.06323568         1.326        0.1852
                TA         1      0.327152    0.04249266         7.699        0.0001
                AS         1      0.640857    0.04863086        13.178        0.0001
                OR         1      0.733202    0.10084425         7.271        0.0001
                DR         1     -0.138614    0.05560930        -2.493        0.0128
                TO         1     -1.042591    0.14327755        -7.277        0.0001
                ST         1      0.713849    0.14956205         4.773        0.0001
                BK         1     -0.111075    0.10316250        -1.077        0.2819
                PF         1     -0.093128    0.08545434        -1.090        0.2760
                MPG        1      0.043603    0.01161761         3.753        0.0002
Where:
PTS = points per 40 minutes
TSA = true shooting attempts per 40 minutes
FTA = free throw attempts per 40 minutes
TA  = three point attempts per 40 minutes
AS  = assists per 40 minutes
OR  = offensive rebounds per 40 minutes
DR  = defensive rebounds per 40 minutes
TO  = turnovers per 40 minutes
ST  = steals per 40 minutes
BK  = blocks per 40 minutes
PF  = personal fouls per 40 minutes
MPG = minutes per game

So now we can look at what Dave was talking about -- perhaps Hakeem and Clyde are a situation where the skill curve model works on paper but is contradicted in the real-life results...

(Note: Minute-weighted sum of team OPM was forced to equal tmOrtg - lgORtg.)

Player Yr Ag Tm g mpg pts40 tsa40 fta 3pa40 ast40 orb40 drb40 tov40 stl40 blk40 pf40 OPM
Hakeem Olajuwon 1995 32 HOU 22 42.2 30.2 27.0 6.8 0.2 4.1 1.8 7.6 2.9 1.1 2.6 4.0 1.79
Clyde Drexler 1995 32 HOU 22 38.6 20.5 17.5 6.4 4.5 5.1 2.1 5.0 2.1 1.5 0.7 3.1 3.80
Robert Horry 1995 24 HOU 22 38.2 13.2 11.2 3.6 5.1 3.5 1.8 5.3 1.2 1.5 1.2 3.2 1.58
Kenny Smith 1995 29 HOU 22 29.6 14.1 11.6 2.4 6.2 5.9 0.4 2.5 1.8 0.8 0.2 2.7 1.71
Mario Elie 1995 31 HOU 22 28.9 12.2 9.5 2.7 4.0 3.3 1.2 2.6 1.3 1.3 0.1 3.4 0.48
Sam Cassell 1995 25 HOU 22 22.0 19.4 16.5 6.8 4.8 7.1 0.6 2.7 2.6 1.7 0.2 5.3 2.90
Chucky Brown 1995 26 HOU 21 15.5 11.2 11.0 4.4 0.2 0.8 2.4 5.3 1.4 1.1 0.2 5.5 -4.27
Pete Chilcutt 1995 26 HOU 20 16.2 10.8 8.6 2.0 4.3 2.2 1.8 5.2 1.3 0.8 0.5 4.7 -1.67
Charles Jones 1995 37 HOU 19 12.5 2.3 3.0 2.0 0.2 0.0 2.0 5.2 0.8 0.7 1.6 9.0 -7.64
Zan Tabak 1995 24 HOU 8 3.9 7.5 7.3 2.5 0.0 1.2 1.2 0.0 2.5 1.2 3.7 6.2 -6.96
Vernon Maxwell 1995 29 HOU 1 16.0 7.3 18.0 2.4 4.8 2.4 0.0 7.3 2.4 0.0 0.0 2.4 -11.82
Carl Herrera 1995 28 HOU 1 6.0 12.9 6.4 0.0 0.0 6.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.32

...Or not. Using a completely different method, one which takes into account how each player plays, the interaction effects of those styles, and one which was also built using real-life evidence and a large sample of real NBA results, we once again see that Drexler had a bigger positive impact on Houston's offense than Olajuwon. I realize this fairly overwhelming amount of evidence will still not convince a large number of you, dear readers, but I just wanted to put it out there. No bias, just more cold hard numbers derived from real NBA data.

ShareThis

51 Responses to “Optimizing the Rockets II”

  1. James Says:

    There is no way Clyde Drexler was as good as Hakeem Olajuwon in the 1995 playoffs. This is blatant revisionism. Clyde Drexler would be quite embarassed at such a laughable claim. That's the playoff run that catapulted Hakeem into all-time great status. He outplayed two of the best centers in the league, led the Rockets to 4 straight series wins without HCA. The main reason why Drexler played so well in those playoffs is because of Hakeem and Drexler said that himself. He repeatedly insisted Dream was the best player in the league, he's never seen anyone play as well as he did in those playoffs, there should be a reballot for the MVP etc. Glide was rejuvenated playing with Hakeem, these two had a special bond going back to their PhiSlammaJamma days. Hakeem was the key cog in the Rockets offense. Not Drexler. Hakeem was the one who drew all the defensive attention that the shooters and Glide benefitted from. There's a reason Seattle went after Hakeem in 1996 and tripled teamed him on every possession, something tells me they knew a thing or two about the game.

    Clyde Drexler was maybe half the player Hakeem was in those playoffs.