Tag Archives: Phoenix Suns

Looking Forward: Phoenix Suns

We all used to love the Phoenix Suns, but things changed a bit last year. Under Terry Porter until the All-Star break, the Suns failed to meet expectations. The new coach was given the unenviable task of trying to change the Suns’ identity. Instead of an all-out running attack, Porter wanted to play a more controlled style of basketball. Less quick shots, less chaos, more defense, more rebounding.

It didn’t work. They slowed the pace down a little bit, but their defense got considerably worse. Players such as Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa seemed downright frustrated at times, not knowing when they had the green light to shoot. The offense wasn’t the same and the players weren’t comfortable (despite Steve Nash’s genuine effort to make it work). Their roster wasn’t capable of becoming a lockdown defensive team, especially after the Jason Richardson trade, and it came as a surprise to no one when Porter got the axe and was replaced by Alvin Gentry. Sure, Shaquille O’Neal put up great numbers (with and without Amar’e Stoudemire in the lineup), but it wasn’t necessarily best for the team to make him a focal point. Even with the improvement under Gentry, the Suns remained a mediocre team and missed out on a playoff berth by 2 games.

This summer, the Shaquille O’Neal experiment was put to rest when he was moved to the Cleveland Cavaliers for salary relief. Matt Barnes headed to the East, too, signing with Orlando. All the Suns have done is re-sign veterans Steve Nash (36 in February) and Grant Hill (37 before opening day), draft forwards Earl Clark and Taylor Griffin, and sign free agent Channing Frye. My initial thought about all this: “What exactly are they doing? Do they even have a plan?” These are not moves I should endorse. They’re not ones that will put the team back where it belongs, legitimately in title contention. They’re not ones that will ensure future financial flexibility, planting the seeds for rebuilding. Rather, they are lateral moves, keeping them in a spot where they have just enough talent to make the playoffs if things go right. When I thought about it, though, I realized I was happy that they had kept Nash, happy they’ve pledged to keep the run-and-gun style going. It’s because, at this point, I just don’t want to see him in another uniform.

Here’s some of what Kelly Dwyer said about Nash in his top 10 point guards of the last decade list:

We play to win, I guess, but we’re also playing because it’s fun. Nobody says, “I’m going to go down to the Y later this afternoon to try and contribute to a winning cause.” We say, “I’m going to go play basketball,” a game, a game that’s fun. You’ve seen this dance before.

So, he’ll get burned on D. And at the end of the day, other players will have more points, rebounds, steals and assists, even. But man, isn’t his game something to behold?

Take this quote and apply it to the whole team. They have flaws. Obvious, season-shortening flaws. We know they are going to be overmatched, some nights. In a cold, rational world, the smart thing would unquestionably be to blow this thing up and start over. Ditch the veterans, develop young guys, rebuild. We live in the real world, though, a place where Phoenix Suns fans would be distraught if the franchise abandoned its fiery Canadian saviour. It’s really a shame that this franchise fell short of winning a title this decade, and it’s a shame that this year’s team won’t measure up to those of years’ past. Still, they’ll be fun for another year or two, and that’s what we want.

I can’t honestly say I’m very excited about the 2009-2010 Phoenix Suns. I can’t even say I find them that interesting, beyond seeing if Amar’e can successfully come back from eye surgery and start playing defense again. Still, I know I’m going to end up watching a ton of their games and I know I’m going to love it. They might not be the Suns of old, but they’re still worth our time.

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Filed under Free Agency, Looking Forward, Phoenix Suns, Trades

A Closer Look: TS% and the Toronto Raptors

This is a guest post by my buddy Julian, who writes the blog Comedy Landfill. Like me, he’s a huge Raptors fan. Also, he’s fond of playing with numbers, so get ready for a barrage of stats the likes of which have never been seen before on this site! Anyway, enjoy. And follow him on twitter.

Since the Bryan Colangelo era began, the Toronto Raptors have been a team that looked to punish opponents with its long distance shooting and offense in general. During the 06/07 season, the Raptors put their excellent shooting on display and managed to win the Atlantic Division (albeit in a year where there wasn’t much competition for the honour) by tying the franchise high 47 wins in a season. Since that point, the Raptors have been mired in mediocrity to just plain not-goodness; this past season being a lot of the latter, mixed with a bit of the former. I think any Raptors fan might be wondering what went wrong. Why were we so gosh darn awful this past season? Are the Raptors going to be any better in the upcoming season?

Getting to know TS%

First of all, let me introduce to you one of my favourite basketball statistics. True Shooting Percentage (hereunto referred to as TS%), is a statistic that measures how efficiently you score the basketball. Most of you, if you’re slightly more than a casual fan of basketball, understand what FG% is. FG% is the number of shots a player makes divided by the amount of shots a player takes, put into percentage form. This was the statistic that was used by the NBA for a long time, long before the 3 point line was introduced to NBA Basketball in the 1979-1980 season. The problem with FG% is that it doesn’t account for 3 point shots, nor does it account for free throws.

FG%

For instance, if you take two players, both of them shooting 40% in FG%, you would assume that neither of these players are very good. However, if someone informed you that “Player A” shot all of his shots from the 3 point line and “Player B” shot all of his from 2, it would be quite easy to see that Player A is a more efficient shooter, because his shots are worth 1.5 times more than the other guy’s! But FG% just sits there judging both players as the same. “It’s not fair!” you’re probably yelling at your computer screen right now. I agree. Let me give you another example: Let’s say that there are two players that shoot 45% FG%. Now, looking at those stats, you would assume that both players are pretty average scorers. But if I were to tell you the “Player C” shot 10 free throws a game, and hit 90% of those free throws, and “Player D” went to the free throw line 1 time a game and shot 50% from the stripe, you would realize that FG% has failed us once again! “Player C” is a far more efficient player than “Player D”!

The solution to this problem is TS%. TS% accounts for two point shots, three point shots and free throws when gauging how efficient a player is from the field. “All right!” you’re probably saying with a fist-pump. I agree. TS% is awesome! Now TS% isn’t an end-all, be-all statistic. It doesn’t account for rebounding or turnovers, so the number of possessions must be accounted for as well, and if you’ve read the sports pages in any newspaper, you will know that the Raptors were a very poor rebounding team. However, TS% does allow us to examine the offenses and defenses of teams and players around the league.

TS%

Applying TS%

Now, back to the question of why the Raptors stunk so badly last season. As a team, the Raptors scored the ball at a 54% TS%. While this is not awful, it is nowhere near the efficiency that the top teams in the league can boast. Cleveland, for example, scored the ball at a 56% TS%. You may be saying to yourself “Hey, are you actually saying that the Raptors and the Cavaliers are only 2% apart in terms of shooting the ball as a team?” And the answer is YES! If you are surprised by that statement, the thing that you are probably not considering is that a basketball game consists of many, many possessions. Cleveland, for example, took 58 2 point shots a game, 20 3 point shots a game and 24 free throws a game. If they scored on 100% of those attempts, they would have scored about 202 points per game. Considering that, a 2% difference in shooting efficiency is going to account for around 4 points per game, which is actually quite a big difference. The 06/07 Pheonix Suns, for example, one of the greatest offensive teams of all time, had a TS% of 59%! Still “only” a 5% difference from the 08/09 Raptors in efficiency. This is why those seemingly small percentage differences actually do matter in the grand scheme of things.

Because a lot of you probably have an idea of what a good FG% is and what is a bad FG% is, I’m going to give you my analysis of how to rate TS% when it comes to players:

1- The Mendoza line: A TS% of 48% or below. If you are shooting a TS% of less than 48%, you are hurting your team every time you take a shot. Players who shoot this type of percentage are usually fringe utility players that play deep on a team’s bench, and are brought in (occasionally) for rebounding, defense or playmaking. Most of the time, this type of TS% means you will be out of the league soon.
2- Awful: A TS% of 48% to 50%. This is still quite bad.
3- Poor: ~51% TS%.
4- Not good: ~52% TS%.
5- Acceptable: ~53% TS%.
6- Fine: ~54% TS%.
7- Good: 55% to 56% TS%.
8- Very Good: 56% to 58% TS%.
9- Excellent: 58% to 60% TS%.
10- Outstanding: 60+% TS%. Anything over 60% TS% will put you near the top of the league for efficiency. At this point, you are either a guy who is an unbelievably efficient scorer (think Steve Nash), or you are a guy who scores only by way of dunking or laying the ball up via an assist (think Tyson Chandler — former center for the New Orleans Hornets — who got gift-wrapped dunks and layups from Chris Paul).

Now, this same logic doesn’t apply to teams, because teams of players usually incorporate not only very good scorers, but also defensive players, rebounders and playmakers, who may not be as efficient scorers as the star players on the roster. What happens is that while you may have a player that is exceptional at scoring the basketball, the TS% of the team maybe dragged down by other players on the team who shoot a much lower percentage.

TS% and the Raptors

Perhaps at this point you are saying to yourself, “These statistics are great and all, but how do they explain last season’s woes?” That’s a good question. As I just explained, the best scorers on a team in terms of TS% may be dragged down by the rest of the team. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the players on Toronto’s roster last season.

Below are the players who played for the Raptors (minus a few players who rarely saw floor time), with the amount of shots (FGA) and free throws (FT) they took, as well as their true shooting percentages.

-Chris Bosh: 1263 FGA, 617 FTA, 56.9%
-Andrea Bargnani: 958 FGA, 266 FTA, 55.9%
-Anthony Parker: 754 FGA, 145 FTA, 52.4%
-Jose Calderon: 644 FGA, 154 FTA, 61.3%
-Jason Kapono: 604 FGA, 42 FTA, 52.5%
-Joey Graham: 480 FGA, 160 FTA, 54.2%
-Jermaine O’Neal: 456 FGA, 142 FTA, 52.6%
-Shawn Marion: 342 FGA, 62 FTA, 52.3%
-Roko Ukic: 324 FGA, 60 FTA, 43%
-Jamario Moon: 317 FGA, 65 FTA, 56.2%
-Will Solomon: 181 FGA, 24 FTA, 51.2%
-Pops Mensah-Bonsu: 96 FGA, 41 FTA, 42%
-Kris Humphries: 90 FGA, 48 FTA, 51%

A few things on the above list may pop out at you. One could be “Wow! Jose Calderon is outstandingly efficient!” or “I thought Jason Kapono was a really good shooter, why is he only shooting a 52.5% TS%?” or maybe even “We had a lot of really inefficient scorers on our team last season.”

First, let me tackle Jose Calderon. Yes, Jose Calderon was incredibly efficient for the Toronto Raptors last season, even though he was injured. He has also been a very efficient player over the past 3 years as well, boasting a 58.8% and 60.7% TS% mark in his previous two seasons with the club. From my own experience, this is because he takes a lot of good shots, and hardly ever takes a bad one. He shoots when open, and when he isn’t open, passes the ball. This also explains why a guy with such a high TS% doesn’t take more shots. I think every Raptors fan would like to see Jose take more shots, however.

Secondly, Jason Kapono’s TS% is not an aberration. In fact, if you watched most of the Raptors games last season, you’ll know that Jason Kapono, while a good 3 point shooter, was absolutely awful whenever he was not shooting a 3 point shot, which was actually quite a bit. While his 3 point average of 42.8% is quite impressive, his two point percentage of 43.4% was not, and he took about 150 more 2 point shots than 3s. Also, if you take a look at the above graph, Jason Kapono averaged an anaemic 42 free throw shots for the season! Jason played 1,831 minutes that season, which roughly translates to 0.02 free throw attempts per minute, or one free throw every 45 minutes of playing time. In comparison, Pops Mensah-Bonsu played only 263 minutes and got virtually the same amount of free throws. It’s no surprise that he didn’t score very efficiently when you take those factors into account. On top of that, Kapono was by far the worst defender on the team, but that’s a story for another day.

Lastly, and most importantly is that the Raptors DID have a lot of sub-par scorers taking a lot of shots last season. Kapono, Parker, O’Neal, Marion and Ukic all did not impress on the offensive end. But surprise surprise! If you look down the list, virtually all of the players apart from Bosh, Bargnani and Calderon are either no longer apart of the team, or figure to have a much smaller role with the club next season. So, let’s take a look at the players that will either be gone, or have their minutes marginalized next season:

-Anthony Parker: 754 FGA, 145 FTA, 52.4%
-Jason Kapono: 604 FGA, 42 FTA, 52.5%
-Joey Graham: 480 FGA, 160 FTA, 54.2%
-Jermaine O’Neal: 456 FGA, 142 FTA, 52.6%
-Shawn Marion: 342 FGA, 62 FTA, 52.3%
-Roko Ukic: 324 FGA, 60 FTA, 43%
-Jamario Moon: 317 FGA, 65 FTA, 56.2%
-Will Solomon: 181 FGA, 24 FTA, 51.2%
-Pops Mensah-Bonsu: 96 FGA, 41 FTA, 42%
-Kris Humphries: 90 FGA, 48 FTA, 51%

In all, those players took 3,644 shots last season, accounting for well over half of the Raptors’ 6,673 shots total. A curious mind such as my own wondered what the TS% of that group of players was. I did the calculations, and found that that group of players averaged a TS% of 52.6%; rooted somewhere in between “not good” and “acceptable”. Not exactly an offensive juggernaut, that group. I think this plainly shows the “drag down” effect, which mitigates the accomplishments of Bosh, Bargnani and Calderon on the offensive end.

With that in mind, why don’t we take a look at their replacements? While the roster may not be totally completed as of yet, we now have a idea of what the Raptors roster will look like come tip-off time. Below is a list of players that we have acquired this summer, with their number of FGA a game (I’m using per-game metrics because some of them were injured and missed time), FTA a game and TS%.

The Replacements

Hedo Turkoglu: 13.3 FGA/G, 5.1 FTA/G, 16.8 ppg 54.1%
Jarret Jack: 10.4 FGA/G, 3.2 FTA/G, 13.1 ppg 55.4%
Marco Belinelli: 7.5 FGA/G, 1.2 FTA/G, 8.9 ppg 54.7%
DeMar DeRozan: X, X, x%
Reggie Evans: 2.3 FGA/G, 2.2 FTA/G, 3.3 ppg 51.4%
Rasho Nesterovic: 6.1 FGA/G, 0.5 FTA/G, 6.8 ppg 52.4%
Antoine Wright: 6.6 FGA/G, 1.5 FTA/G, 7.3 ppg, 50.1%
Amir Johnson: 2.6 FGA/G, 0.6 FTA/G, 3.5 ppg, 60.8%

Running the calculations on that group of players, their average TS% was 53.8%. Notice that I didn’t even attempt to extrapolate DeMar DeRozan’s stats, because unlike some statistical experts (*cough* Hollinger *cough*), I have absolutely no faith whatsoever in the college-to-pros numbers game that people like to fool around with, especially when it comes to unfinished “project” players that DeMar figures to be.

While these guys already project to be better than the group of players that they are replacing, I’m going to make a couple of guesses about these stats to paint what I believe to be a more accurate picture of what will transpire next season. I think that Antoine Wright’s minutes are going to go down, and as a result, his shot attempts too, because of increased competition at the 2 spot from Belinelli, Jack and DeRozan. I also think that Jack’s minutes and FGA are going to take a hit from alternating with Calderon. I also believe that Belinelli’s minutes and FGAs are going to increase, now that he’s not in Don Nelson’s doghouse. I think that Johnson will compete with Evans for the backup 4/5 spot, and should get more minutes at the 5 (he’s 6’10”) if Rasho Nesterovic continues to decline.

So now let’s have a little fun and see what the ultimate TS% projects to be for our team, using the non-adjusted stats from last season.

Chris Bosh: 16.4 FGA/G, 8.0 FTA/G, 22.7 ppg, 56.9%
Andrea Bargnani: 12.3 FGA, 3.4 FTA/G, 15.4 ppg, 55.9%
Jose Calderon: 9.9 FGA, 2.3 FTA/G, 12.8 ppg, 61.3%
Hedo Turkoglu: 13.3 FGA/G, 5.1 FTA/G, 16.8 ppg 54.1%
Jarret Jack: 10.4 FGA/G, 3.2 FTA/G, 13.1 ppg 55.4%
Marco Belinelli: 7.5 FGA/G, 1.2 FTA/G, 8.9 ppg 54.7%
DeMar DeRozan: X, X, x%
Reggie Evans: 2.3 FGA/G, 2.2 FTA/G, 3.3 ppg 51.4%
Rasho Nesterovic: 6.1 FGA/G, 0.5 FTA/G, 6.8 ppg 52.4%
Antoine Wright: 6.6 FGA/G, 1.5 FTA/G, 7.3 ppg, 50.1%
Amir Johnson: 2.6 FGA/G, 0.6 FTA/G, 3.5 ppg, 60.8%

First of all, this shouldn’t be taken 100% seriously as a real projection, because there are a lot of problems with doing this sort of calculation. One of the problems of course is that we score 107 points and use 84 possessions with only these players, a large jump up from last season, which isn’t likely seeing as we haven’t even included DeMar DeRozan or the scrubs yet, who figure to get around 5-10% of the minutes. What this means is that some of the players are likely to have their minutes and shot attempts scaled back. The TS% of the team works out to 55.2%; a 1 percent jump from last season. Seems like a decent improvement.

Synergy

I think when looking at the upcoming season, you have to understand something. Future projections are always educated guesses that rely on data being the same, or growing in ways that follow a historical or statistical trend. But this is not always how things work in real life, rather, that’s just how things work MOST of the time. The Pheonix Suns of 04/05 are a great example of this. Prior to that season, they were an abysmal 29-53 (very similar to the 08/09 Raptors!) and had a rookie coach who came in mid-season and went 21-40 (extremely similar to Jay Triano!), and had just signed a 30-year old Steve Nash to a contract that everyone thought was insane (very similar to Hedo Turkoglu!), and everything was put together by Bryan Colangelo (very similar to… Well, you get it) and fans were gearing up for a disappointing season. But the Suns came in and blew the doors off, tying the franchise record in wins at 62 and bucking all of the expectations that were placed upon them by stat-head prognosticators such as myself.

But how was the Phoenix rebirth possible? I attribute it to something called synergy. Synergy is the state in which all parts of the team are working together smoothly, like a well-oiled machine. Synergy is when the system employed by the coaching staff fits the roster perfectly. Synergy is when disparate elements come together to become much, much greater than the sum of their parts, and synergy is something that every awful team that has done a bit of tinkering in the offseason can hope for. Before Steve Nash entered the equation, guys like Marion and Amare Stoudemire were putting up the stats, but were not even close to as efficient before he got there. Steve Nash, in turn, had a career year that propelled him to his first MVP trophy.

While the influx of new players seems like it will improve the offense of the ballclub a fair amount on paper, I think that every Raptors fan with a heartbeat hopes that Bryan Colangelo manages to catch lightning in a bottle twice, and the 09/10 Raptors will emerge a synergistic team with a knockout offense able to overcome the obvious shortcomings they have on the boards and defense, much in the same way Phoenix was able to five years ago.

Update from Vittorio: I’ve got to thank Julian again for posting the most-commented article on this site thus far. I like all the discussion. Perhaps I should make start making controversial claims like “Kevin Durant will be better than LeBron James” in my blogs now (not that Julian did anything like this). Anyway, this post and Khandor’s comments have inspired Tom Liston to do some statistical analysis of his own. Here’s his graph, showing the correlation between opponent’s TS% and wins:

Liston's Graph

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Filed under A Closer Look, Free Agency, Guest Posts, Stats, Toronto Raptors, Trades