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More on Perimeter Players & Free Throw Rates

Posted by Neil Paine on September 23, 2010

Last Friday, I posted about teams that formed as potent a slashing combo as the new LeBron James-Dwyane Wade duo in Miami, and found that in an incredibly small sample of similar cases (3, to be exact), at least one -- if not both -- of the players had to change their playing style to accommodate their new circumstance. A lot of people asked about the general effect of the new team member on the offense, though, so today I wanted to quickly follow up and look at whether the driving tendency of the added player correlated to the amount of offensive improvement the team saw.

Since 1952, there have been 267 cases where a perimeter player (PG, SG, SF) who played at least 24 minutes per scheduled game in year Y was added to a new team and played at least 24 MP/scheduled game in year Y + 1. Of those, 155 had a Free Throw Rate Index (FTRI, or FTA/FGA scaled where 100=average, >100 is above-average, and <100 is below-avg) below 100, 99 had a FTRI above 100, and 13 had exactly average FTRIs.

The teams who added a below-average "driver" were, on average, 0.26 points/100 possessions worse than average on offense the year before the acquisition; in year one with their new player, they improved to 0.14 pts/100 poss better than average (that's a difference of +0.4 if you're scoring at home). Meanwhile, teams that added an above-average driver averaged -0.67 pts/100 poss relative to the league before the pickup, and they improved to +0.02 pts/100 poss relative to the league in their first season with the new player (an average difference of +0.69).

All in all, though, there was essentially no correlation (r = 0.02) between the previous driving ability of the new acquisition and his team's offensive improvement when he arrived. Teams were just as likely to improve their offense by adding a hard driver (see Andre Miller, 2004 Nuggets) or a paint-aversed guard (see Nick Van Exel, 1999 Nuggets).

More interesting, though, is the fact that teams who added a >100 FTRI driver to a roster that already had a returning perimeter player with >100 FTRI saw their offenses decline by -0.22 pts/100 poss on average, while teams who already had a >100 FTRI player and added a below-average driver saw their offenses improve by +0.34 pts/100 poss. Similarly, teams whose leading returning perimeter player by FTRI was <100 but added a >100 FTRI driver saw their offenses improve by +0.84 pts/100 on average.

The samples are ridiculously small again, but these findings seem to indicate some kind of "too many cooks" syndrome for teams with multiple hard-driving perimeter players. There are, of course, numerous success stories where two high-FTRI players coexisted on strong offensive teams, and among these hard-driving pairs there may not have ever been a more talented combo than Wade/James. But as we imagine the possibilities for the upcoming season, the open question of whether #3 and #6 can each maintain their rim-attacking ways and simultaneously keep the offense "on schedule" is definitely something to keep in mind.

11 Responses to “More on Perimeter Players & Free Throw Rates”

  1. JTaylor21 Says:

    @Neil, what's holding them back from playing the exact same style they've done for the past 7 years (expect for the holding the rock for 15 seconds before attacking)? I think that if anyone of them hold back and start trying to be something they are not, it would make it easier on defenses. It would be much HARDER on defenses if two of the best slashers in the league were on attack mode at the same time.

  2. Neil Paine Says:

    The conventional wisdom this summer has been that defenses will just start packing it in, daring someone to shoot a jumper rather than letting them drive with abandon. (In the Goodrich/West example, we saw Goodrich respond to that by becoming a jump-shooter, keeping defenses honest.)

    I'm not necessarily saying the conventional wisdom is correct here, though -- like I said, there are historical examples of high-FTRI combos that carried strong offenses. The general trend I found here is that it's more difficult to succeed offensively when you combine perimeter players who have the same inside tendencies, but James and Wade are such a uniquely talented pairing that you may have to just throw history out the window.

  3. Ejypt Says:

    I think what holds them back is just how easy it is to pack in the paint and force Wade/James to shoot 3s, which they're all too happy to do. An unbalanced offense which is too reliant on drives is predictable and easy to defend.

  4. Jason J Says:

    I wonder if you looked at this from the perspective of teams needing good perimeter shooters to pair with hard drivers and comparing that to how many 2 hard driver teams have one that is a consistently good perimeter shooter if that wouldn't pretty much show the issue. I'm wondering if winning is going to show a link to needing a good shooter to go along with a determined driver. Anecdotal evidence and logic lean that way... (Clyde / Porter.Ainge; MJ / Hodges.Pax.BJ.Kerr.Toni; Kobe / Rice.Shaw.Fish.Fox.Horry.Sasha.Radman)

  5. schtevie Says:

    A few suggestions, though they likely imply diminishing your sample size to nothingness.

    (1) A 24 to 30 mpg player is not the kind of player (first guy off the bench) that is most germane to the issue at hand.

    (2) Control for the change in outside shooting ability as well, with ft% (above or below average) perhaps as a proxy.

    (3) See if changes in game pace (poorly measured as it may be) has an influence on outcomes. To realize the potential of slashing combos, maximizing effective shot clock time in the half court would seem to be key.

  6. Leroy Smith Says:

    The only times I can remember teams actually backing off Wade and daring him to shoot the J (as a strategy) was detroit in the playoffs in 2005; and detroit and dallas in the playoffs in 2006. My point being that, Wade's jumper is underrated as he almost nevet get wide open ones. James on the other hand has never really had that luxury, but his 3pt% has gone up each season. in fact, the last two years he has taken more and shot a higher percentage than Bryant. He also shot a better percentage than Anthony last year, but he couldn't dream of taking more threes than Anthony.

    Also, I am 100% sure that no other duo, that match the criteria for this article, consisted of two of the 3 best players in the league.

  7. Nick Says:

    Trying to compare the Heat to anything that has ever come before is an exercise in futility. You have the best player in the league, who happens to LOVE to pass teamed up with the second-or-third best player, who also is pretty fond of passing to the open man. They may both have had similar styles, but they ended up in those styles due to their teams' set-ups. How LeBron will act now that he can people to pass to who are good in their own right cannot be predicted with the information we have.

    There's never been anything like it before. Every Heat game is going to be worth watching, especially against the crappy teams, because you don't know what sort of thing they'll bring out when they're way ahead. It wouldn't surprise me if they have regular season games where Miller shoots 20 3s and scores 30+ points, just because they think it'd be fun to do. This Heat team goes way beyond special into the realm of surreal.

  8. storyofgreats Says:

    Heat is gonna be awesome bulldozing its way to 74-75 wins and going 16-0 in the playoffs shooting 60+ FT's in the process.

  9. notherbert Says:

    i'd be interested to see shot charts from the 2008 Olympics. my poor memory tells me Wade got some open looks there.

    i also wonder what Wade and LeBron's catch and shoot percentages are.

    how much of an increase in efg% would make up for a reduction in FTAs?

  10. JeffD Says:

    The Rick Barry / Jamaal Wilkes combo of GS circa 74/75 would be interesting to include, in that they each shot and drove well, shot FTs well, and won a title together in their first season together. Talk about accomodating each other quickly, and still performing !

  11. Michael Says:

    Neil i was wondering if you would consider revisiting this post. I'd be interested in your thoughts as we approach the half way point.