Tag Archives: Raymond Felton

The Dissection Of Shot Selection: Offensive Gravity


Last week, I used Hardwood Paroxysm to the story of my own personal obsession with shot selection. I’m of the camp that the quality of shots is one of the biggest factors in a team’s offensive success, an opinion I mean to continue codifying and supporting with evidence. My first contribution to this march forward was the development of Expected Points Per Shot (XPPS), a metric for evaluating the quality of a player or team’s shot selection. XPPS is built on the understanding that not all shots are created equal. A layup is much more likely to go in than a long jump shot. A three-pointer is also less likely to go in than a layup, but if it does go in it earns an extra point. All these trade-offs can be measured numerically. I’ve looked at 13 seasons of NBA shot data and calculated the expected value for shots from different areas of the floor. To calculate XPPS, I take a player or team’s shot selection and overlay those expected values to arrive at an average measure of expected points per shot for that player or team.

I have a few disclaimers before we go any further. The first is that XPPS relies on league averages, which means I use the same expected value on a corner three-pointer by Ray Allen as I do for one by Charlie Villanueva. Obviously this lumps everyone together and doesn’t account for a player’s own innate abilities and tendencies. For that reason I usually compare XPPS to Actual Points Per Shot. This helps us see who is over or under-performing the expected value of their shot selection. Second, we are measuring shot selection only by the expected value of each shot’s location. This doesn’t account for defensive proximity or game situation. Although we will be referring to the quality of shots this way in the aggregate, a corner three-pointer well defended and forced at the end of the shot clock is not necessarily a good shot just because it comes from that location. By the same token, mid-range jumpers have the lowest expected value of any shot location, but may actually be a good shot when a wide open opportunity is created within the flow of a well-structured offense. Also, although I use the phrase ‘per shot’ I include shooting fouls and free throws in my calculations, so ‘per scoring opportunity’ may be a better way of thinking about it.

The numbers for both players and teams can be found at Hickory-High. For me these numbers feel like an important first step to some deeper understandings of offensive efficiency. Over the next few weeks here at Hardwood Paroxysm I’m going to be digging into the numbers, trying to parse out trends and some of those important understandings. One of the first things I thought would be interesting to look at in the context of these XPPS numbers, is the way certain players affect the shot selection and shot performance of their teammates.

Nate Silver, of political analytics fame, put together some research in 2011 that found significant added value from a player like Carmelo Anthony in the way his offensive gravity created easier shots for his teammates. Silver’s research found that most of Anthony’s teammates with the Nuggets posted a significantly higher TS% when they played with Anthony as opposed to when they were on the floor without him. Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus did some more digging and found the shooting effect to be slightly smaller than Silver found, but that Anthony also decreased his teammates’ turnover rates quite a bit.

Using XPPS and Actual Points Per Shot we can further this discussion by looking at how the quality of a team’s shot selection and accuracy change with certain players on and off the floor. The first group of players to look at in this context are high-usage scorers, like Anthony. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that having a potent individual scorer, even one who isn’t particularly efficient, puts pressure on the defense, and creates more space for their teammates. To begin testing that idea, I collected the NBA’s top-20 in Usage Rate and calculated their team’s XPPS, Actual Points Per Shot, and Differential when they were on and off the floor. For the ‘on’ portion I subtracted the player’s own points and field goal attempts to focus the results on their teammates. Here is the raw data:

Screen shot 2013-01-10 at 6.59.49 AM

The table above is sorted by the difference in Team XPPS when a player is on the floor, versus when they are off the floor. I find it incredible that the two players in this group who seem to make the biggest difference in the quality of their team’s shot selection are Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton, both of whom flamed out spectacularly in Portland last season. It is important to remember that these numbers are subject to all the statistical noise one usually finds in On/Off statistics and are heavily influenced by both the other players on the floor and the quality of backups. However, we aren’t using these numbers to judge the overall quality of a player’s production, but rather to look at what they mean to their team. If data tables aren’t your thing, I’ve also created some graphs to show the numbers above.

The chart below shows the On/Off split for each player in XPPS:


Although there definitely seems to be an effect, only a handful of players made a significant difference in the quality of their team’s shot selection. We could probably attribute many of the small differentials to the difference in quality between a starter and a reserve as opposed to a fundamental shift in offensive approach implemented by a specific player. Of course we also need to look at accuracy and the graph below shows each player’s On/Off split for Actual Points Per Shot:


When you look at the graphs, Felton’s importance becomes even more striking. Although he plays most of his minutes with Anthony, his On/Off XPPS split is +0.056, more than twice that of Anthony’s. That may not seem like a huge number, but again we’re looking at things on a per shot basis. Stretched out over 100 shots, the Knicks’ shot selection is nearly six points better with Felton on the floor.

We see the same thing when we look at accuracy, where the Knicks Actual Points Per Shot is +0.098 with Felton on the floor, nearly triple Anthony’s differential. Again, stretching that out over 100 shots that’s a difference of almost 10 points. In an effort to remove as much noise as possible, I also calculated Jason Kidd’s numbers, since he isn’t included in this high-usage group. The Knicks shot selection is slightly worse with Kidd on the floor compared to when he’s off the floor, a mark they are over-performing but not nearly as significantly as the differential for Anthony or Felton.

The Knicks success and overall offensive efficiency have been a huge surprise, at least to me, this season. I wrote in the summer that I was expecting more of the same from them this season, and that I thought Carmelo Anthony’s Olympic summer would actually reinforce his ball-stopping, product-over-process offensive ways. But Anthony is having a career season, especially with regards to his offensive efficiency. His Actual Points Per Shot is up to 1.194 this season, an increase of 0.145 over last season’s 1.049. Most of that bump is because of his three-point shooting. At this point in the season Anthony has made 42.8% of his 6.3 three-point attempts per 36 minutes, both career-highs by a wide margin. It’s possible that at some point in the season his long-range shooting will regress towards his career averages (see Mayo, O.J.), but his overall efficiency won’t drop too far because he has also significantly improved his shot selection this season. Anthony’s XPPS this season is 1.063, up from last season’s 1.045. When we look at his XPPS only when Felton is on the floor, it jumps to 1.072. That means even if Anthony’s shooting averages regress all the way to league averages, he’ll have improved his efficiency by 0.014 points per shot, or 1.4 points per 100 shots, just by improving his shot selection. There are a nearly infinite number of elements here at play, but clearly Felton is doing some positive things for the Knicks’ overall offensive well-being, helping lead the re-focused charge on efficient offensive choices.

One of the other interesting things that I noticed is that several of the players on this list who had a big effect on their team’s shot selection happened to be effective-passing guards and wings – Felton, Crawford, Nate Robinson, Kyrie Irving. Next week we’ll focus on a different group of players, those with high assist rates, and see if we can tease out their effect on the quality of team shot selection.

Synergy Sessions: Debut Edition

A relatively new tool in the world of advanced statistics, mySynergySports offers much in the way of furthering the conversation, as chronicled in HP’s Understanding Advanced Stats series. Author’s note: Please excuse the funky symbols occasionally encountered in older posts — they’re simply HTML leftovers from the Malaysian assault suffered earlier this year. The relevant content is still all there. One day I’ll get around to fixing up my previous posts, but for now my bucket is pretty full.

Synergy is unique in the stats world in it’s approach, giving researchers stats and annual ranks on players by the possession, specifically Points Per Possession (heretofore referred to as “PPP”), as well as logging and categorizing every possession by every player in every game in video logs on offense and defense. The defensive part is especially helpful since defense can often be difficult to quantify by straight numbers. Used in conjunction with other defensive stats we can now get a clearer picture of which players are truly having an impact on the D end of the floor.

However, Synergy is a subscription service with a finite number of ‘scripts available, so much of the basketball world doesn’t have access to these particular metrics. Never fear, we’re here to help!

First up, expounding on the #NBArank conversation on Carmelo Anthony, I got into an interesting exchange with a couple of New York Knicks fans and a Utah Jazz writer wherein I intimated that Melo has been basically the same player his entire career.

Aside from Melo and Big Al’s BasketballReference advanced stats, let’s see what we can find from Synergy, specifically in regards to passing and defense, two of the main points of contention in the convo. Both players posted career highs in AST% last season — Melo by a little, Al by a little more — but when it comes to Synergy, we don’t yet have specifics for the assist stat aside from being the Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler. Nevertheless, we can still learn something about how these players play offense by looking at the types of offensive plays they do post at Synergy. For instance, an isolation play is exactly what it says it is, and not assisted by a pass from a teammate.

As one would expect, Melo is primarily an Iso player, going to it 35.4% of the time, scoring a relatively meager 0.84 PPP on a mere 37.4% field goals, good for only 59th-best in the NBA. By contract, Al goes Iso only 6.3% of the time, scoring 0.83 PPP, 65th-best. Synergy has only been around for three seasons, but Melo went to the Iso about 37% of the time when with the Nuggets.

Jefferson’s go-to move on offense is obviously the Post-up, nearly half the time at 48.2%, scoring 0.96 PPP on 47.5% FGs, 18th-best in the NBA. The Post-up is Melo’s second-most common O play at 13% of the time where he lands 0.95 PPP on 44.3% FGs, good for the 21st ranking in the category. Melo should clearly be posting up more and going iso less. In Al Jefferson’s last year with the Minnesota Timberwolves he went to the Post-up an astonishing 57% of the time. His first year with the Jazz that dropped to 38% of the time. Clearly, once on a team known for passing Jefferson’s game met with adjustments.

Both players post their best PPP in the halfcourt offense on Cuts, a play made by slipping a defender, moving to the basket without the ball, then being found by a teammate. This would be Al’s second-most-used offensive play, 13.9% of the time, where he lands an astounding 1.27 PPP on 63.4% FGs. His last year in Minnesota Al Cut a paltry 6.8% of the time. He’s benefited greatly from the improved offensive system in Utah as compared to that in Minny. Melo goes to the Cut only 4.3% of the time, but he’s very successful when he does, posting 1.21 PPP on 61.1% FGs.

As for defense, in 2009-10 on Minny, Jefferson was overall ranked 299th giving up 0.93 PPP. In 2010-11, his first year in Utah, he leaped all the way up to 70th giving up 38.5% FGs on 0.82 PPP and only 0.74 PPP on 35.5% FGs on Post-Up defensive plays, which was 49% of the time. Surprisingly, his best D-ranking came this year on PnR defense, ranked 36th-best while giving up 0.83 PPP, his being the target of opposing PnRs about 10% of the time. 2011-12 saw some regression on defense, Jefferson falling back to 199th overall, giving up 0.84 PPP. His Post-up D remained solid giving up 0.77 PPP, and while he was targeted on PnRs less, 9.3% of the time, he gave up a not-so-hot 0.91 PPP. Clearly there’s work to be done here on Al’s part. It may worth noting here that Al Jefferson is one the top three clutch-time shot-blockers, so we know he’s capable of a better effort when the chips are down. Utah was in a lot of late-game situations last year.

2009-10 Carmelo saw him ranked a lowly 398th overall on defense, giving up 1.03 PPP in Iso situations, 0.98 in Post-Up, and 1.01 on Spot-ups, his three most common defensive stances. Remember, there’s only about 400-450 active NBA players at a given time, so that’s really bad. 2010-11 saw a moderate improvement to 331st overall, but he was still giving up nearly 1.00 PPP in most defensive situations. As noted by both Knicks fans and Clark, Melo improved — for him — fairly dramatically on defense last season for New York, giving up 0.84 PPP overall, good for a 240 ranking. His Post-up defense was an incredible 0.52 PPP, good for 2nd in the NBA, although he is quite a bit bigger than much of his competition at the 3-spot. He showed little interest for chasing his man, however, posting a dismal 1.13 PPP on D in Spot-up situations, ranked 344th. It’s pretty clear Melo still only plays D when it suits him, and I’d bet without looking that he leaks out in transition often on said Spot-ups.


With his third team in just over a year’s time, and before we bounce to PDX, it should be noted that Felton wasn’t even close to the same player in NY as in Denver, where he was a cog in the Carmelo force-out trade. Obviously, he is primarily a P&R Ball Handler, an average of 42% of the time for an average 0.81 PPP, but his role changed dramatically in Iso and Spot-up between the two locales.

In New York he rarely went Iso, only 7.8% of the time, good for 0.80 PPP. Once traded to Denver Iso became more prevalent, 10.9% of the time, but good for only a measly 0.59 PPP on 28% FGs. This negative effect was counteracted, though, by the most stark contrast to be found, in the Spot-up game. With the Knicks, Felton took Spot-ups only 8% of the time, whereas once in the Mile High City it skyrocketed to 19.8% of the time, 1.25 PPP on almost 48% FG shooting. Where Felton scores best seems to be in Hand Off situations. There were far more of these in New York where it was 9.4% of his offensive game, good for 0.95 PPP. In Denver he only did so 2.7% of the time, but hit on 1.44 PPG, on 66.7% shooting.

On defense he was again two different players between the Knicks and Nugs. As the PnR Ball Handler on D he went from giving up 0.88 PPP in NY to 0.71 in Denver. In Spot-ups he went from giving up 1.24 PPP to 1.04 PPP. But these gains were negated Off Screens where in NY he gave up only 0.64, to Denver where he failed to fight over or through screens properly giving up 1.26 PPP.

Once in Portland Felton played Ball Handler less often, 39.6% of the time where he scored poorly at 0.70 PPP, only ranked 116 on 40% FG shooting. The Spot-up trend obtained with the Nuggets continued where he did well 17.8% of the time for 0.99 PPP, but shot only 37.8%. Isolation, never a strength, was seen nealry 10% of the time, but he scored only 0.74 PPP and 33.8% FGs. The Trailblazers were a bad fit. But that’s not news to you.

Felton wasn’t awful defensively for Portland, defending the PnR Handler 45.9% of the time and holding him to 0.79 PPP, but that’s where the D highlights end. In Iso, Spot-up, and Off Screens he gave up at least 0.90 PPP, and was particularly susceptible to opposing Post-ups, giving back 0.97 PPP.

It will be interesting to see what Mike Woodson does with Felton now back in New York once again, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Hey, at least he’s reportedly less fluffy.

In case you haven’t yet been apprised of how Enes Kanter spent his summer, he spent it in a way that would make Vince McMahon proud.

Kanter posted up 112 times, 30.2% of the time he was on the floor on offense, but scored only 0.79 PPP on his man. Yes, he had trouble getting above the rim. Billed as a rebound beast coming in, he certainly lived up to that end of the deal where he’s extremely fundamentally sound, going glass 25.6% of the time, scoring 0.97 PPP on Offensive Rebounds, a massive proportion of percentage on O. He was most successful on Cuts, 17.5% of the time for 1.14 PPP. A pretty clear pattern emerges here for the Jazz, that being ball and player movement, where their big men can get easy looks.

On defense Kanter still has some work to do where he gave up 1.05 PPP in Post-ups. He showed some promise on PnR defense, but didn’t defend it enough to qualify for a ranking, and often lost his man in the screen switch.

It’s exciting to see a player work so hard to buff up in the offseason. I just hope he worked on his basketball skills just as hard.

If I didn’t get to your Synergy Session question this time keep ‘em coming, I’ll be sure to fit you in in future posts.

Send mySynergySports questions to @Clintonite33 on Twitter, hastag #SynergySession

The Raymond Felton/D.J. Augustin Saga: A Timeline

Photo by donaldmacleod on Flickr


June 26, 2008: The Charlotte Bobcats pick D.J. Augustin with the ninth pick in the draft. This is surprising, as they already have Raymond Felton on the roster. Everyone assumes that they’re planning to trade one of them as soon as possible. They don’t, though — when the season begins, Augustin backs up the former number-five pick and shares the floor with him, too.

April 15, 2009: On the last night of the regular season, Charlotte loses by 25 to the eventual Eastern-Conference Champion Orlando Magic. It finishes 35-47, a new franchise-best in its first year under coach Larry Brown. Felton and Augustin start together for the third straight game and combine for a total of three assists whilst shooting 4-16 from the field. This is the same day that Bill Simmons publishes his MVP column, angering the blogosphere by calling Felton “the guy I’d pursue this summer if I ran an NBA team” and comparing him to Chauncey Billups.  He credits Felton for dealing with “ten weeks of trade rumors” and, at season’s end, many assume Felton is done with Charlotte as he approaches restricted free agency. Augustin’s promising rookie year means that Felton seems expendable, especially when looking at the rookie’s excellent efficiency in games in which he started, that Magic game notwithstanding.

September 22, 2009: Felton signs a one-year, $5.5 million qualifying offer to stay with the Bobcats. David A. Arnott writes, “here’s hoping that Felton backs up Augustin by default going into the season.” Tom Ziller writes that Felton has “proved if nothing else over four seasons that he is just not very good.”

December 5, 2009: After losing confidence and shooting less frequently and accurately than he did as a rookie, Augustin registers his second straight DNP-CD with Philadelphia in town. Felton hits the game-winning layup, playing through bruised ribs. Larry Brown says of Augustin’s benching a month into his sophomore season, “He hasn’t defended like he needs to defend. He hasn’t made shots. He hasn’t distributed the ball.” Ten days later, Frank Isola writes that Augustin is a “player of interest” for the New York Knicks.

April 26, 2010: The Bobcats are swept by the Magic in their first playoff series in franchise history. Augustin averages 18 minutes and shoots 5-17 from the floor in those four games. Felton averages 32 minutes a game and, like everyone else going up against that Orlando defense, failed to score efficiently. With unrestricted free agency looming, his future is once again uncertain.

July 9, 2010: Felton signs a two-year, $15 million contract with the New York Knicks, three days after Amar’e Stoudemire signs there. This is the Knicks’ big free agent splash, after spending years creating cap room. I’d say this means Augustin is no longer a “player of interest” for the organization.

October 27, 2010: In his first game as a full-time starting point guard, Augustin scores 8 points on 2-10 shooting and adds 5 assists in 40 minutes against the eventual-champion Mavericks. Charlotte loses by 15.

December 4, 2010: The Bobcats lose by 18 in Philadelphia and Gerald Wallace says that they look like an AAU team and miss Felton. He continues,  “D.J. doesn’t have the fight. Not to compare them as far as abilities, but D.J.’s personality is not as high as Ray’s was as far as aggression and attitude on the court. D.J. is more laid-back.” Larry Brown familiarly says, “We don’t play together, we don’t play hard enough. We don’t move the ball, we don’t defend as a team.” Stephen Jackson adds, “We had such professionals last year… And Raymond led this team.” Meanwhile in Chicago, Raymond Felton records his first 20-point game and his first 10-assist game as a Knick. He shares the floor with another small guard, Toney Douglas, who scores a career-high 30 points. The two combine to shoot 9-15 on threes against the team that would finish with the best record and best defense in the league.

December 21, 2010: The Bobcats take a 1-point lead into the fourth quarter at home against Oklahoma City, then allow a 25-3 run. They register their first field goal with 2:52 left in the game and go on to lose by 18. Due to first-half foul trouble, Augustin only plays 18 minutes. Backup PG and personal favorite Shaun Livingston plays 18 and Sherron Collins, called up from the D-League that day, plays 13. The next day, the Thunder lose to Felton and co. in New York. Also, Larry Brown is fired in Charlotte.

December 27, 2010: Augustin plays his first game under new coach Paul Silas. He scores 27 points on 15 shots in 36 minutes in a 5-point win over the Pistons. Gerald Wallace says, “He was free. He looked like a little kid at the park, just out there playing ball.” Silas adds, “Raymond wasn’t nearly the shooter this kid is, but he was stronger and more vocal. At the end of the day, you’ve got to (accept) they’re two different people.” Two days later, Augustin scores 28 on 14 shots against the Cavaliers and Tim Povtak publishes a feature where Felton says, “I think now, I’ve found my home. I’ve found it. I’d love to spend the rest of my career in New York. When this contract ends, hopefully we’ll work out another one.” A day after that, Felton has his worst shooting night as a Knick, finishing with 14 points on 6-22 shooting, including 1-7 on threes. New York loses to Orlando by 9. This is the beginning of a regression to the mean — at this point an All-Star candidate, Felton shoots 29% in January, struggling to convert floaters and layups. His team loses six straight games against Western Conference opponents starting on January 12, as we are bombarded with stories about Carmelo Anthony coming to NYC.

February 21, 2011: A day after the All-Star Weekend, Felton, along with just about every asset New York has, is traded to the Denver Nuggets as part of a package for Carmelo Anthony. His replacement? Chauncey Billups. Once again, he finds himself teamed with a younger point guard: his successor at UNC, Ty Lawson. There is much speculation over whether or not Denver will trade him somewhere else in the next three days. Meanwhile, Augustin is hoping the break will be the end of a slump that saw him shoot 14-49 over six games.

February 24, 2011: On trade deadline day, the Bobcats trade Gerald Wallace to the Blazers for a pair of first-round picks. This solidifies that the team is in rebuilding mode, a process that began with letting Felton walk and trading Tyson Chandler to Dallas the previous summer. Felton remains a Nugget, despite his agent saying the previous day, “Raymond is not going to be a backup.” He makes his debut that night on TNT, coming off the bench to score four points in a strange 14-point victory over a depleted Celtics squad. Marv Albert quotes Scott Schroeder during the broadcast. Felton continues to come off the bench for the rest of the year, but gets about the same amount of playing time as Lawson on an incredibly fun team that has similar depth at every position.

April 13, 2011: Charlotte ends its regular season with a win over an Atlanta team resting its starters. Augustin finishes the season on a high note, averaging 16.7 points and 10.7 assists with 65% shooting in his last three games, though it should be added that none of them had playoff implications on either side. In an exit interview the next day, Stephen Jackson tells Silas and General Manager Rod Higgins that he wants to stay in Charlotte. Jackson also has a revealing end-of-season presser, saying that he lost respect for Larry Brown before the season when Brown told him that they weren’t going to be a playoff team. Augustin adds, “We have a good coach now.” Felton sits out of Denver’s final game of the regular season against the Jazz, so he can rest for the highly-anticipated THUNDERNUGGETS matchup.

April 25, 2011: The Nuggets avoid a sweep and Felton gets his first playoff victory of his career. It was mostly thanks to starting point guard Ty Lawson’s 27 points, though. Two nights later, their season ends in OKC. The next day, General Manager Manager Masai Ujiri says, “We are going to try and keep the core together and build from here.” With a team characterized by interchangeable high-quality parts and no true stars, however, one has to wonder who makes up the “core.”

June 23, 2011: On draft day, new Charlotte GM Rich Cho pulls off a three-team deal with the Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings. Going out are Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston, coming in are Corey Maggette and the #7 pick in the draft. The Bobs already owned the #9 pick, but added another with their sights set on a defensive big. They unsurprisingly take Bismack Biyombo at #7, then at #9 they choose Kemba Walker, an undersized point guard. Immediately, there are questions about Augustin’s future with the team. Also that night, Felton is traded to the Blazers for Andre Miller. This is his third new team in less than a year, after spending his first five years with the Bobcats. Thankfully, he’s reunited with Gerald Wallace, the original Bobcat.


It’s been three years since they were questionably aligned in Charlotte and I’m not sure either of these point guards has found his place yet. Felton, the superior player based on his defensive ability and relative consistency, has found himself in a superior situation — he has talented teammates and he does not have a highly-touted rookie competing with him for minutes. However, he’s let himself go this summer to the point where Jonathan Abrams said, “he looks like a roly-poly.” So there’s that.

Augustin’s in a tricky spot, even if he knows it well. He can play with the younger Walker for stretches on a rebuilding team, but we all know they can’t both be part of the long-term plan. On the court, these players are extremely similar right now, but Kemba’s bringing Charlotte the personality, the smile, and the NCAA Champion pedigree, while Augustin is weighed down by years of up-and-down play and a continually shifting role. It feels like the best thing for Augustin is to get a fresh start somewhere else. Mind you, if there’s one thing that we’ve learned through this saga, one’s place within the context of a team and in the landscape of the NBA can change instantaneously.