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Hard-Driving New Teammates

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?

Only three:

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
2007 PHI Andre Iguodala SG 23 3086 117 3062 124
2007 PHI Andre Miller PG 30 2937 115 2144 98
2004 WAS Jerry Stackhouse SG 29 2747 114 774 102
2004 WAS Gilbert Arenas PG 22 2866 110 2066 105
2006 NYK Steve Francis PG 28 2978 113 659 118
2006 NYK Stephon Marbury PG 28 3281 110 2193 109
1960 NYK Richie Guerin SG 27 2558 119 2429 116
1960 NYK Dick Garmaker SG 27 2493 109 745 99
1980 BOS Cedric Maxwell SF 24 2969 171 2744 152
1980 BOS M.L. Carr SF 29 3207 109 1994 101
2009 MIL Richard Jefferson SF 28 3200 120 2939 112
2009 MIL Michael Redd SG 29 2702 109 1203 99
1972 CHI Chet Walker SF 31 2927 110 2588 120
1972 CHI Norm Van Lier PG 24 3324 108 2140 110
2010 POR Andre Miller PG 33 2976 109 2500 114
2010 POR Brandon Roy SG 25 2903 108 2419 113
1959 SYR George Yardley SF 30 2843 117 420 105
1959 SYR Larry Costello PG 27 2746 107 2750 102
1999 WAS Rod Strickland PG 32 3020 112 1632 106
1999 WAS Mitch Richmond SG 33 2569 107 1912 103

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?

19 Responses to “Hard-Driving New Teammates”

  1. Neil Paine Says:

    Btw, that 171 you see for Cornbread Maxwell is not a typo. Among non-bigs, he was the undisputed king of this metric:

    Pos Year Age Team G MP FGA FTA FTR FTRI
    SF 1978 22 BOS 72 1213 316 250 79.1 161
    SF 1979 23 BOS 80 2969 808 716 88.6 171
    SF 1980 24 BOS 80 2744 750 554 73.9 152
    SF 1981 25 BOS 81 2730 750 450 60.0 134
    SF 1982 26 BOS 78 2590 724 478 66.0 145
    SF 1983 27 BOS 79 2252 663 345 52.0 126
    SF 1984 28 BOS 80 2502 596 425 71.3 143
    SF 1985 29 BOS 57 1495 377 278 73.7 147
    SF 1986 30 LAC 76 2458 661 562 85.0 157
    SF 1987 31 TOT 81 1968 477 391 82.0 152
    SF 1988 32 HOU 71 848 171 143 83.6 158
  2. Andrew Says:

    Although the pairing got off to a rocky start, Brandon Roy and Andre Miller were able to play the same way. Also Carmelo Anthony and AI didn't qualify for this list? Personally I can't wait to see LJ and DWade attack opponents in the paint because they might be the greatest pair of finishers to ever play together. This will be a huge advantage for them when they have to play teams with loaded front lines like the Lakers, Celts and Magic. Hopefully Spoelstra won't try to make one of them become more of a jumpshooter but then again this will be the first time ever that we will get to see Wade or James take OPEN jumpers. Great post Neil.

  3. Neil Paine Says:

    Thanks! Melo and AI just missed the list because Melo had a FTRI of 107 (I was sorting by the lower of the two FRTIs for each pair). Iverson was at 114 and then later ramped up to 120 while Melo hovered around 109, so it's another case of the players having to decide who got to be more aggressive, and Iverson "won".

  4. P Middy Says:

    Seems to me LeBron's greatest skill is his passing (as opposed to his greatest talent being his athleticism/size combination). If the HEAT are smart, he'll be playing point. That should tone down his attacking some.

    On the side on of the non-analytic, I want you to watch this video, and ponder what it is about this that will be easy (or easier) for the defenders.

  5. Mark Says:

    Shouldn't usage also be taken into effect? I think what strikes most people as unusual about the Wade/James pairing is that they both post such high usage rates (whether they are explicitly aware of the stat or not). The combined usage rates of the players in the other pairings from the 2000s are in the 40s whereas the South Beach All-Stars are almost 70.

    It may be the case that with this combination of basket-attacking prowess there will also be more opportunity for them to get in each other's way. Conversely, it is also possible that one or both's usages will come down and there will be a commensurate improvement in efficiency as well, which would be a scary thought. Whether it's the former or the latter will probably be the key to whether or not this team is as good as everyone thinks it can be next season.

  6. Anon Says:

    People who keep using the "all Bron and Wade do is attack the basket, just let them shoot it" are forgetting that they CAN shoot it. Wade can hit the midrange shot with success, and Bron can bomb teams from three. They're not marksmen by any means, but with their ability to do EVERYTHING else on offense they don't need to be. With both of them on the same team they can pick their spots and convert on wide open looks they didn't have otherwise.

  7. Ray Says:

    Wade is three years older, and smaller, so I see him being the one who changes his game the most. It's not like he'll stop driving, though, he just won't be throwing his body around anymore now that he doesn't need to.

  8. Jason J Says:

    It'll be interesting to see if their jump shooting improves now that they each have a teammate who can get them open shots.

    Also, Neil, doesn't this whole question remind you of that extended discussion you and I had a while back about great players sacrificing easy shots, particularly getting to the line, for the good of the team? I believe the example I used was Bird evacuating the paint to give McHale, Parish, and Cornbread room to excel, since he was the one front court player who could step away and remain effective (though at 6' 9" he almost always had a size mismatch).

    That's essentially what this post is asking. Who will see his FTRI (and very likely his TS%) drop off because he's being a good teammate?

  9. Keith Ellis Says:

    I like the Goodrich/West case study. After reuniting in '70-71 (when Wilt & Happy both were more offensive-minded than Goody), the '72 Laker backcourt embraced fastbreak basketball, leading to more FGAs & proportionately fewer FTRIs. "Release men" West & McMillian fed Goodrich en route to an Assists leadership for Jerry at an unprecedently old age for a first-timer, while Dipper & Hap vacuumed the boards w/ even greater devotion than before.

    An "FTRI" is conveniently visualized on a StratOMatic card, btw. Despite being big Off Rebounders Dave Cowens & Mel Daniels (at least Mel's early-Seventies version) posted famously low FTRIs.

  10. Anon x 2 Says:

    are there no 2 players with as high as FTRI as Wade and Lebron on the same team (regardless of where they played the year prior)?

    What are the highest combos then? Obviously only regarding perimeter players.

  11. Jax Says:

    I find this approach to be very interesting. However, I don't feel like the analysis of data was thorough enough to be sufficiently convincing.

    For example, the FTRI of Carmelo and AI both went up. How does this support your conclusion? They both got more aggressive.

    I looked briefly at the list. In a few cases the FTRIs went up, some they fell slightly, and some cases show one player dropping. Isn't this simply what we expected? It simply shows that we don't know what will happen, but most likely it'll be scenario B or C.

    The sample size is pretty small; I'm not sure there's enough statistical data to really delve deeply. I'd be interested in seeing how "successful" these pairings were in each of the cases.

  12. P Middy Says:

    Yeah, and on top of that, none of those guys in the sample were considered the best or second best player in the game at that time, which is arguably the case for Wade and LeBron. It's a valiant effort on Neil's part, but these two guys are so uniquely talented and skilled that they break any mold there might have been for big free agency moves. Hence the hullabaloo, hatred, and hope that's been expressed since The Decision.

  13. MyArvydas Says:

    Incidentally, that kind of redundancy explains a lot of Team USA's failures on the international stage - lots of slashers and no true shooter makes it hard to attack a good zone defense.

  14. king kong Says:

    dont know where else to post this:

    can anyone else not see the list of games when they click on playoff series? this is in firefox on osx and IE on windows 7

  15. greggrant Says:

    what about the FTRIs of the Jordan/Pippen duo? I know there's no before pairing data but were there trios of players where all were above average FTRIs? What about Bosh stepping out to a midrange jumper like Haslem, to free up the paint? Or what about adding a low-FTRI player to the mix, a la Mike Miller (I suspect)? Does that make them more effective?

  16. Neil Paine Says:


    I'm getting that too, in IE and Firefox... We'll have to check out what's causing that.

    Thanks for the heads-up!

  17. chibi Says:

    Let's see if there's a relationship between LeDwyane's FTAs and the quality of perimeter shooting on the floor. If I had time I'd do a more thorough job, but Wade for instance avg'd more FTAs per minute last season than the year before; and the team 3pt% last season(minus Wade) was better than the previous year's team 3pt%(minus Wade).

    Another thing: Spoelstra has said he wants to push the pace a bit, in order to prevent opposition from loading up on one side defensively. Is that not revealing? Sounds like a coach not too confident in his team's halfcourt potential.

    Also: the Heat were a superb defensive rebounding team last season, but I wonder whether that is due to sacrificing transition opportunities in exchange for a better chance of securing rebounds. Can they get LeDywane easy transition buckets without sacrificing 2nd shot opportunities?

    Tangentially: the Heat had a high d-FTA/FG ratio themselves. How are they supposed to get out and run if their opponents are sinking freethrows and making them take the ball out of bounds.

    Also, what kind of lineups are being used? Anthony can't space floor for Bosh, Wade, or James. Ilgauskas can space the floor, but the team sacrifices speed. Bosh and Haslem can man the pivot and space the floor, I suppose, but the team sacrifices strength.

    Upon closer inspection, Anthony clogs the paint, making driving into the lane more complicated. The other centers are liabilities, matchups to exploit. How are the Heat supposed to get out in transition if guys like D. Howard are beating Ilgauskas down the floor and scoring on the break or in early offense? How are they supposed to fast break if Shaq is sealing Bosh underneath the rim, or commanding double-teams and hitting open shooters?

    Preliminarily, I think the Heat are easier to defend in the halfcourt; in transition, definitely not. But getting out into transition is going to be problematic for the Heat, for sure.

  18. Ross Says:

    Isn't it true that both LeBron and Wade would have higher FTR if they didn't have so many three point play opportunities? I couldn't find this stat online last year, but I did find a site that listed it for the 05-06 season. The leaders? LeBron was #1, Amare #2, Pierce #3, and Wade #4. So I'm guessing it's not going on a limb to assume that Wade and Bron were both top 10 last year in "and one" opportunities. While it may not be a huge difference, it adds up over the course of a season. Lebron had 107 "and one" chances in 06, which would mean if he hadn't finished each of those plays, he would have attempted 107 more free throws. In short, both of these players would have higher FTR if they weren't so good at finishing shots when they already get fouled.

    Which I guess leads me to the main point that I want to make here, which is that even though there have been some decent historical examples on this question, we're dealing with a whole different beast here. If the Heat decide it is in their best interest to let them both play as aggressively as they have before (which I'm almost positive it is), there will be plenty of situations where only LeBron is needed to create a scoring opportunity. You're dealing with 2 guys who can catch an outlet pass--whether it's from a made basket, rebound, or turnover--and run up the court and score on a defense if all 5 players aren't back and committed to stopping them. And that will happen...this is the NBA we're talking about.

    In the half-court, they will have to pick their spots, definitely. It will require the whole team to be aware of floor spacing on a level they probably haven't been required to know before. But I don't think it means one of these guys becomes a jump shooter. Yes, they'll get more open looks and should knock down their field goals at a higher percentage, but if they want to be, they also can be even more selective with their shots because of how easy it will be for them to pick a defense apart. If the Heat ever decide to go super small, they'd have LeBron guarding the other team's 4 with Bosh at the 5, Miller at the 3, Wade at the 2, and Eddie House at the 1. Now, assuming a team doesn't want Miller and House to shoot open 3's, there is still a lot of space for LeBron, Wade, and Bosh to play a game of 3 on 3 on the other side of the court. And I think we know who's winning that game.

    I know they won't run with this lineup a ton, but even so, there are ways of hiding people on offense (Joel Anthony, Mario Chalmers at times) so you end up with the people you want with the ball having room to operate in the space that they like to operate in. It will be an absolute nightmare to defend. This team is going to have to learn very quickly how to play with each other since none of them have played on an NBA team like this, but I'm guessing they'll figure it out pretty quickly...with success.

  19. Yong Yoon Says:

    Howdy. This post was really helpful, and kinda gave me a kick in the butt. Cheers.