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Freelance Friday: An Introduction to Playing Time Efficiency

May 29, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Reggie Jackson (15) dribbles past San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter (22) during the first half in game five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Freelance Friday is a project that lets us share our platform with the multitude of talented writers and basketball analysts who aren’t part of our regular staff of contributors. As part of that series we’re proud to present this guest post from Jeff Feyerer. Jeff is a school financial administrator during the day, but on the side he fulfills his love of basketball through coaching and copious amounts of basketball writing and research. He currently is NBA Editor in Chief at RosterResource.com and is starting up a College Basketball analytics site this fall at thetransitiongame.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jfey5 and @NBARosters.

Playing time and how coaches distribute minutes is a piece of basketball that has always fascinated me. It’s probably a resentment of lack of playing time afforded to me by youth coaches, or the fact I watch 82 games of Tom Thibodeau managing a bench every season; but either way, how coaches divvy up playing time and how players respond is a layer of basketball that effects the game’s team dynamics on every level. Whether it’s seeing how increased playing time allows young players to reach their potential, how coaches manage the minutes of aging players to maximize their performance (i.e. Gregg Popovich), or how players accept (or not) a reduced or enhanced role on a team, the role of playing time management is a skill in and of itself.

How to quantify a player’s performance based around the playing time they are allocated proves to be more difficult. There are numerous metrics on hand to shed light on the value of players, but most fall short when related to playing time. One of my favorites is player efficiency, or a player’s points scored/points allowed adjusted for 100 possessions. But, no one in their right mind is going to believe that Chris Andersen (28 net efficiency points) is more valuable than LeBron James (16 net efficiency points).

As I looked deeper into a way to value player’s performance centered around the playing time allocated to them and their role on the team, I found myself fixated on three metrics:

1)     Net Efficiency = Offensive Efficiency-Defensive Efficiency again adjusted for 100 possessions

2)     Playing Time Percentage = Minutes Played by a Player During the Season/Team Game Minutes

3)     Usage Percentage = the number of possessions a player uses (FG attempts, FT attempts, turnovers) while he is on the floor

Each of these metrics provides a piece of the puzzle. In an ideal world, the perfect player is highly efficient on both ends of the floor, plays a high number of minutes and is able to maximize efficiency and playing time with a high usage percentage. But for ease of implementation and in order to take baby steps in my research, I chose to focus on Net Efficiency and Playing Time Percentage, but showing them in concert with Usage Percentage to truly understand the effect playing time and what it does to efficiency.

Taking into account these ideas and the inherent goals of my research (besides making sure Chris Andersen is never listed above LeBron James on any list aside from total tattoos), I established Playing Time Efficiency, or PTE.

Playing Time Efficiency = (Player Net Efficiency-Team Net Efficiency)* Playing Time Percentage

This calculation generates a single number which represents the number of points above or below a team’s average a player is worth if he was given the same amount of playing time he received during the season for every 100 possessions. The baseline for PTE is 0 which identifies a player whose efficiency is exactly the same as the team’s when he is on the floor. A player with a positive/negative PTE has a positive/negative effect on team efficiency when on the floor.

PTE can be broken down even further to separate players who benefit more on offense or defense. Or maybe those who negatively affect teams on both ends. I’m looking at you Monta Ellis.

Before broadening my look at PTE to include its targeted scope, which is to further understand team dynamics and playing time allocation, I’ve included examples of four players and their corresponding statistics from the last two seasons essential to understanding PTE. Each player was in a unique situation and each provides a clear look at how PTE is used as a metric.

Jackson

With Russell Westbrook hampered by injuries and limited to 46 games in last season, the Thunder leaned heavily on Reggie Jackson to pick up some of the slack, especially given the lack of scoring power in the Thunder backcourt without their star point guard. But what Reggie Jackson proved, at least given a one season sample size of expanded minutes, is that his role as a sparkplug off the bench may be a better fit. His weak defense was referenced on numerous occasions by head coach Scott Brooks, but it was really his inefficient offense that was a bigger drag on his overall PTE and the team. The Thunder were over 3 points less efficient offensively when he was on the floor. This may have been mitigated if his usage percentage didn’t increase all the way to 22.6 from 18.6, but for the Thunder without Westbrook, there really was only one efficient offensive option. The MVP.

Love

Very good player, bad team has been the label attributed to Kevin Love in some basketball circles as the Timberwolves have continually missed the playoffs since their “former” franchise player’s entry into the league. His injury plagued 2012-2013 season isn’t the real measuring stick of Love’s value. But what last year’s numbers show is that the T-Wolves were 9.45 points better than the opposition when Kevin Love was on the floor for every 100 possessions. His much maligned defense was even 1.56 points better than the team’s for the time he was on the floor. We’ll see if this holds true when surrounded by the King himself. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it will.

Noah

While Kevin Durant and LeBron James are without a doubt the two best players in the NBA, there may not have been a player who was more valuable to his team last season than Joakim Noah. But it was more than that. He totally transformed as a player. He may have been the Defensive Player of the Year, but it was on an offense totally devoid of playmakers that Noah did his real work. Not only did the Bulls offense run through Noah acting as point guard at the top of the key with the loss of Derrick Rose, but even with 10% increased playing time and an uptick in usage percentage, he almost doubled his PTE. As a team, the Bulls were three wins better than 2012-2013, even with the trade of Luol Deng before the deadline, a deal that signaled to many the Bulls were calling the season. There was a reason he garnered MVP votes last season and here’s hoping that Coach Thibodeau doesn’t totally eliminate some of the offense run through Noah, with the return of Rose.

Smith

Yes basketball fans, it was exactly bad as we thought it was going to be. When the Pistons signed Josh Smith away from the Hawks last offseason with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond already entrenched as the future of the post position in Detroit, many people (with good reason) shook their heads. How is an extremely inefficient player with a propensity for taking bad jump shots going to help a young team? More importantly, how is a player whose skills are better suited for the post going to fit in with a team attempting to develop two young big men in Drummond and Monroe? The answer to both questions is he didn’t. Smith pulled off the difficult task of becoming more inefficient with a decrease in usage percentage. Thankfully for Pistons fans, both Drummond and Monroe produced positive PTEs during the season. Unfortunately, for Pistons fans, Smith is signed through 2017.

Hopefully the explanation of how PTE was developed and how it relates to player performance given the above examples provides another valuable tool for your own basketball evaluation. For the next part of my exploration of PTE, I’ll look at a team’s performance over two seasons and dive into who should have received more playing time, who drastically hurt team efficiency and who would contribute more with a greater amount of playing time. HINT: It’s not Josh Smith.

*All statistics used are from Basketball-Reference.com

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  • Michele Berra

    Where did you find the ORtg and DRtg of Reggie Jackson? Both seem to be wrong…http://www.82games.com/1314/13OKC2.HTM 112Ort and Drtg according to 82Games…These numbers change your analysis substantially.

    • http://www.hickory-high.com/ Ian Levy

      I’m not sure it’s the same thing. If I remember correctly, 82games is showing the team ORTG and DRTG while the player on the floor. Mika used individual ORTG and DRTG from BBall Reference. These are an individual metric that’s calculated differently — http://www.basketball-reference.com/about/ratings.html

    • http://hickory-high.com/ Ian Levy

      I’m not sure it’s the same thing. If I remember correctly, 82games is showing the team ORTG and DRTG while the player on the floor. Mika used individual ORTG and DRTG from BBall Reference. These are an individual metric that’s calculated differently — http://www.basketball-reference.com/about/ratings.html

      • Jeff Feyerer

        Correct. Using the ORtg and DRtg when the individual is on the floor doesn’t measure his total overall effectiveness (in my opinion). I want to know when that player has the ball, how many points can he generate for his team.

  • http://www.ourfaircity.com/ Travis

    I like the breakdown, but USG% still just rubs me the wrong way. “Usage%” is actually more like “Finish%” since it’s tied to how a possession ends.

    Kyle Korver may never touch the ball during a possession, but there’s no way we can say the threat of his 3PT shooting wasn’t being “used” to create spacing for other players.

    Or about how a PnR play where the ball-handler happens to go all the way to the hoop for a score? The player setting the pick is has a pretty high usage for that play, yet it doesn’t show up in USG% other than the physical time he was on the floor (which would be the same whether he made the pick or sat in the back court chatting with a fan).