Looking at VORP with Colorful Charts, Vol. 3: Matt Moore on Usage and PER

For those of you who don’t know, in addition to the leaguewide NBA writing I do over at Both Teams Played Hard, I also chime in from time to time over at Matt Moore’s Hardwood Paroxysm. It’s a great site to check up on the rest of our association and certainly much more educational than BTPH.

And as it so happens, Matt just did a mammoth post looking at PER and “usage rates” for every team in the league. I wasn’t planning to get into the advanced stat stuff for our “VORP Series” until later in the week, but we may as well fold his yeoman’s work into this whole talk. I’ll still bust out the rest of the advanced stuff and show the Pacers players vs. the league average in a future post that may speak more to the “VORPiness” of the team, but Matt has some even cooler and more colorful charts than I will, and this stuff all dovetails with what we’ll be talking about later, so let’s just run with this, too, eh.

(See also Looking at VORP, Vol. 1: Offensive Production and Looking at VORP, Vol. 2: Shooting Percentages for past breakdowns if you care to be caught up to speed on the whole VORP concept I keep rambling on about.)

For the uninitiated, PER and usage rate are two of the more useful advanced stats we have, with the former being the John Hollinger-created “player efficiency rating” and the latter being a less-contentious measure of the percentage of possessions a player “uses” while they are on the court. Guys like LeBron, Kobe and Dwyane who take a lot of shots, get to the line a lot and turn the ball over a lot typically have the highest usage rates, naturally, but how the stat often proves more insightful is by revealing which players who get less playing time tend to dominate the ball/shoot a lot.

That’s exactly what it shows us about this year’s Indiana Pacers.

Pacers PER Usage

Danny leads the team by using 29.0% of the team’s possessions when he’s on the floor. For reference/perspective, Dwyane Wade leads the league at 35.2% and guys like Kobe, LeBron and Carmelo all come in around 33%. On this team, 29% is probably about right for Granger, although it would be nice if he would use a few less of those possessions to chuck threes. (But that’s a discussion for a different post.)

The more interesting thing is that the next two biggest “ball hogs” on the team are both rookies, with Tyler Hansbrough and AJ Price gobbling up 25.2% and 23.5% of the team’s possessions when they’re out there, respectively.

The rest of the curve isn’t too unsurprising, but three things do stand out:

  • Roy Hibbert probably deserves more looks at the hoop given his (relatively) high FG%.
  • Brandon Rush never shoots.
  • Troy Murphy, the team’s most accurate shooter (and second most efficient player), doesn’t use many possessions.

Here is Matt’s assessment of Indy’s usage curve:

Price’s confidence is admirable, and he’s playing well. Granger should be the top, Tyler should probably not be that high, but who else, really? Uh… free Jeff Foster?

Step 2 in the Hardwood Paroxysm analysis was to look at whether or not those players “deserve” to be using as many possessions as they do. PER is a highly contentious stat among many NBA fans (again, a different discussion for a different day), but — at worst — it is a good crude measure of general statistical production, so it should help illustrate some stuff we might not otherwise notice.

So what Matt did was overlay each player’s PER on top of the usage curve.

Here is what he came up with for the Pacers:

Pacers PER Usage 2

While those of us unfortunate enough to have suffered through every Pacer game this year may have some more nuanced things to infer from this chart, it’s safe to say that Matt’s quick assessment is pretty much exactly what anyone familiar with these stats would see:


For perspective’s sake, it might help to look at the PER/usage overlay charts for all the teams, but basically what we’re seeing here is that Tyler and AJ both have used a boatload of possessions, but haven’t used them particularly efficiently. Both have very high usage/middling PER. The spots where the interior yellow blob-thing (PER) juts out closer to the edge of the blue seashell-looking mass (usage rate) illustrate the players whose PER is more closely aligned with their usage. These are the guys whose shots are more “just” or “deserved.” (See, Troy Murphy, or to lesser degrees, Hibbert, Watson and Danny.)

Thus, Tyler and AJ’s low productivity calls into question whether they should be taking so many shots.

Should somebody (whether it is the coach or the other players on the floor) reign in the rookies? Or is what we’re seeing here — like it seemed to be with Jarrett Jack last year or Dahntay in November — a situation where the two rookies are simply the two guys more willing to attack while everyone else stands around passively?

And regardless of the answer to either of those questions, is it ultimately a good thing that these young guys are getting so many more reps than projected, even if they aren’t really using those reps to help the team score (given that, ya know, Tyler is shooting an embarrassing 36.0% from the field and AJ is shooting a not-all-that-much-better 40.8%)? (This last question obviously also needs to be prefaced by the fact that both players’ “high reps” have come in curtailed minutes — Tyler due to his ongoing and more-worrisome-by-the-day injuries and AJ due to only making his way into the rotation recently.)

A few other observations:

  • Troy Murphy has the best-looking PER/usage distribution on the team and his “high PER/low usage” suggests he deserves more looks.
  • Roy Hibbert’s overlay looks pretty good for a second-year center who was expected to develop slowly.
  • Mike Dunleavy has not bounced back to pre-injury production rates and, since he is still such a big part of the offense, that fact is really not helping the offense.
  • Luther Head has shot a lot more often than he probably should.
  • Ditto Dahntay Jones.
  • TJ Ford’s benching wasn’t statistically unwarranted.
  • Brandon Rush has been reluctant to do much on offense so far this year — and with good reason.
  • Earl Watson looks to be filling his role as he should.

Interesting stuff. Thanks to Matt for his serendipitous timing on this and helping further color our analysis. (Get it? Color … whatever … your mom’s not funny either.)

Tags: Stat Talk

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