Posted by Neil Paine on September 17, 2010
One common observation about the new-look Miami Heat goes something like this:
- Dwyane Wade is a great perimeter player who makes his living attacking the basket. He's unstoppable when he drives into the lane, but not as good when you force him to shoot a jump shot.
- LeBron James is also a great perimeter player who makes his living attacking the basket. He, too, is unstoppable when he drives into the lane, but not as good when you force him to shoot a jump shot.
- Won't this redundancy in skills make the Heat easier to defend?
If only we could quantify this dilemma, find similar situations in the past where two hard-driving teammates joined forces, and see if their offenses were as potent as expected...
Oh, wait, we can.
Enter good old Free Throw Rate (FTA/FGA). Because the majority of fouls are assessed on interior shooting attempts and/or aggressive offensive plays, FTR is actually a pretty good indicator of where a player likes to operate from on offense. Players like Glen Rice and Dennis Scott were known for their low FTRs because they took a ton of perimeter jumpers, shots on which a foul would land you in the serious doghouse. And at the other end of the spectrum there's Reggie Evans, whose legendary FTRs tell the story of a player who rarely attempts a shot outside of point-blank range. Obviously there are some players who are exceptions to this rule, but the majority of players' inside-outside tendencies can be described simply by looking at FTA/FGA.
So that should be the starting point in examining the issue of hard-driving teammates. The next step is to compare everyone's FTR to some universal standard, and to do that I borrowed this method from PFR's Doug Drinen. I don't want to bore you with the details, but it basically compares everyone to the league average; 100 is average, numbers greater than 100 mean the player attacks the rim more than the average player, and numbers under 100 mean the player is less aggressive than the average player. The theory is that if we just look at these "FTR Index" numbers for perimeter players (PG, SG, SF), we can find players who drove to the basket the most, which best describes LeBron and D-Wade's playing style.
On different teams in 2009-10, James was 5th among perimeter players with an FTR Index of 122, and Wade was 13th with 117 (FYI, Corey Maggette was #1 with 134). Are there other instances in history where two perimeter players joined forces after each posting an FTRI of 117 or more the year before?
- Grant Hill (previous FTRI: 122) and Jerry Stackhouse (122), 1998 Pistons
- Gail Goodrich (120) and Jerry West (118), 1971 Lakers
- Sleepy Floyd (120) and Rodney McCray (117), 1988 Rockets
Both Hill and Stackhouse saw their FTRIs decrease to 117 and 115, respectively, in '98, and Hill saw his efficiency fall off a cliff that season as well. It should be noted, though, that it's not really fair to blame this on the Stackhouse/Hill dynamic -- Hill was already suffering through a miserable slump even before Stackhouse arrived in mid-December.
Meanwhile, when Goodrich and West paired up, they had to make a choice about which guard would continue to attack the rim aggressively and which would become more perimeter-oriented. Obviously, it would be The Logo who continued to be in attack mode (his 120 FTRI in 1971 was even higher than it had been in '70), while Goodrich dramatically altered his game (his FTRI dropped all the way down to 94 in 1971). Perhaps due to that sacrifice, the partnership was a success: Goodrich and West both maintained their efficiencies, L.A.'s offense improved from +1.0 pts/100 poss better than the NBA average to +4.2, and the Lakers went on to capture that elusive title in 1972.
Likewise, Floyd and McCray had to make a decision about which player would maintain their aggression, and it was the established Rocket McCray (118 FTRI in '88) who got to keep driving with reckless abandon. Because of this, Floyd (104 FTRI) struggled to fit in with this new offensive role, but Allen Leavell saw an expanded role because he was able to play a more perimeter-bound style with efficiency.
Other notable pairs of hard-driving new teammates include:
|Year||Team||Player||Pos||Age||Prev MP||Prev FTRI||MP||FTRI|
|1972||CHI||Norm Van Lier||PG||24||3324||108||2140||110|
It seems as though LeBron and D-Wade have a decision to make this season -- either they both cut back on their forays into the paint, or one of the two has to play with reduced aggression while the other maintains his attacking style. Either way, from these historical examples it's clear that someone will have to alter their style of play for the good of the team. The question is, which option will they choose, and how will that impact the team's offensive efficiency?