Joe Johnson And The Systemic Eval Crashers

And I very much get that nearly every shot by Joe Johnson is forced. Forced does not mean bad. When you methodically drive at that slow a pace, you are rarely not going to have a contested shot. Nique remarks “that was a tough shot” after every Joe shot beecause they literally are tough makes. It is a testament to how good he is.

I am all for Joe taking a one on one forced shot. Anytime he drives for a layup, floater, or close jump shot and no one doubles, Joe should have free reign to take that shot. The problem comes when Joe forces the attempt against three defenders, four defenders, every defender. Those are bad shots especially as the players around him have become more capable of scoring efficiently.

via Mike Woodson thinks there can only be one kind of Joe Johnson, so back off – Peachtree Hoops.

Joe Johnson is a great example of the point where stats and “reality” come crashing into one another and who the hell knows where we stand.

Let’s take Kobe Bryant, since he’s a big name and just mentioning him raises my SEO (TIGER WOODS AFFAIR KANYE WEST LADY GAGA ZOMBIELAND 2 AVATAR LEBRON JAMES TACOS while we’re at it).  Before we get started, go here and here for a post that I want every single Laker fan that dismisses PER because Kobe’s not a top five player by that metric (last year, this year he is) to read before they start throwing out “leadership,” “toughness,” and “being a winner” at me like they’re concepts I’ve never heard before. I was in the Dime Chat the other night and that was the guy’s entire argument. “Kobe’s not a top five player by that rating, therefore it’s useless.”

That’s like saying because someone who is clearly intelligent but had an ACT math score that was low, the ACT is useless. There are millions of ways to measure intelligence, from street smarts to IQ tests to standardized tests like the ACT. The ACT doesn’t even test your intelligence level. It’s got nothing to do with the other. It’s simply a metric that can be used to evaluate how you did in high school. And how you did in high school can be used to evaluate how smart you are, but it’s not the end all be all. There are many smart people that did well in high school and many smart people that did not do well in high school. There are many great players who are not top five in PER, and there are many poor players whose PERs are actually pretty good. There’s some noise in the metric.

SSR’s analysis isn’t that PER is correct, noooo. The author, like any good Kobe fan, can’t think that a metric that doesn’t evaluate Kobe well is perfect. It would be illogical to think that Kobe Bryant is the best player in the league and that an overall player evaluation rating is perfect that doesn’t consider him the best. He does at least understand the metric. Player Efficiency Rating.

Sadly, in terms of finding loopholes and problems with Kobe’s valuation in PER, assists and defense pretty much sums it up.  Any other weaknesses in Kobe’s formula are a result of him not being the most efficient scorer in the world.  The truth of that matter is what it is.  Kobe does have the lowest shooting percentage of the players mentioned in this piece.  Since PER is, at its core, a measure of efficiency, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Kobe doesn’t quite measure up.

Whether you equate efficiency with greatness or value is an entirely different conversation.

See? Everyone wins there. PER is still a valuable evaluation tool, but it fails to accurately accommodate for the things Kobe does so well (along with all the other problems like DEFENSE and team-oriented system problems like Triangle assists, and DEFENSE, and rewarding volume shooters and DEFENSE). It’s not perfect, but when you look at it how SSR did, it makes sense that Kobe’s not up there. If you ask me who the most efficient player in the league is, Kobe’s not going to be in my top five. That’s not his role.

Just like it is with Joe Johnson. For all of the value that modern statistics and those of those of us who support such analysis place in efficiency, it’s not the  only route to the cookie jar, so to speak. There is an element in play where inefficient, volume scoring can help your team be more efficient. I’m going to get back to Joe, but let’s take one more detour.

The Houston Rockets are an incredibly smart, incredibly efficient team with heavy empirical emphasis on decision making. They’re currently ranked 13th in offensive efficiency despite injuries yada yada yada. Trevor Ariza is their third highest player in adjusted plus/minus. Ariza takes a gazillion bad shots. I watch it, and it’s like everything I thought about Ariza despite his little flash and dazzle for eight games in the playoffs has come true. His PER is 13.98.  As of Monday, HoopData.com has the PER average for all players at 14.24. If you use a Hollinger-like qualifier of 5 min per game (Hollinger uses 6.09 mpg), it’s 13.73. He’s barely above the league average. Ariza is 8th in TS% on the Rockets. But he’s second in attempts per game.  Bryant is fourth in TS%, 1st in attempts, as a comparison.

So is this simply a matter of one guy gunning on a team and his team being able to survive? I mean, clearly with Bryant it’s not. And with the Rockets, while I would certainly like Ariza to ease up on the trigger, to a large degree he can’t. Because someone has to absorb those possessions. You can make great passes all day long, and you can work hard to get to the rim, and you can do all the things that smart, efficient, effective teams do, but you’re still going to need someone willing to shoot to provide volume scoring. And Kobe is the absolute best at this. His game has improved to where he’s awesome at everything. Please don’t misunderstand this as me trying to isolate his talents, Lakers fans. I’m just saying this, like a couple other things, is something he does better than anyone.  He takes up possessions and creates volume scoring.And in that pursuit, you’re going to end up with a lot of contested shots, to bring us back to the PeachTree Hoops article.

Kobe’s number one on his team in Usage. By about a mile. Ariza is sixth, but he also doesn’t do much else besides shoot, and among heavy minute players, he’s third. Joe Johnson is first in usage on the Hawks. And these are players that really do tend to be the difference maker in games (well, not so much Ariza, but he’s mostly being paid to be what TMac’s supposed to be, and sucking at it). I’m a big believer in the idea that getting back to what Krolik talked about, high efficiency shots are at the rim and three pointers and low efficiency shots are mid-range jump shots. But if you have guys who can knock that down consistently, they’re going to break that defensive effort. After all, if you play terrific defense, and force the other team in to a low percentage shot time after time, and he hits it time after time, then what’s happened? You’ve taken the high percentage route and ended up with a low percentage result. But these players are guys who can tip that balance. And when so many basketball games are won in a handful of possessions (how many three to four possession games do you see?), it’s that ability to create volume scoring which not only increases your chance of winning, but will open up things for your offense and force the other team to adjust and so on and so on.

Johnson’s in a weird position because so often the Hawks offense will stall out and he just goes into gunner mode. And he’ s not just launching three pointers or PUJs, he’s driving, trying to draw fouls, trying to create. But he’s not elite at it, like Kobe is, like so few players are. But yet what he does is valuable to the Hawks. Nay, it’s necessary. In the realm of things that aren’t the best you can do, but that you have to do, you have to put the best person you can in that position. Superstars are guys that can take those low-percentage opportunities and capitalize on them at a high percentage.

Or maybe I’m just daft and Johnson and Ariza jack it up too much and Kobe just shoots the brains out of anything. That’s possible too.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.