Somebody's reading John Hollinger

February, 9, 2011
2/09/11
10:50
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
John Hollinger is too decent to brag about it, but I will.

Back on December 10, Hollinger wrote a strong piece pointing out that Derrick Rose's game was being held back (Insider) by one really noticeable thing: Rose didn't get to the free throw line much.

A lot of people in sports -- players, GMs, fans, owners -- still don't know exactly what to make of that kind of analysis. How important is it? How right is it?

Mostly, people know it's a way of looking at things that is not traditional. And the traditional way feels safer.

However, there are a couple of underlying truths:
  • With an ever-expanding set of tools to study the game, we were never going to get to keep doing things the same way forever.
  • If you're going to do something new, work like Hollinger's (loaded with verifiable evidence -- Rose did get to the line less, getting to the line does make a player much more effective) hardly seems like the craziest thing to follow. Or, to put it another way ... talk to the people who understand this stuff the best, and none of them think Hollinger is missing the boat.

In any case, it has sure appeared like Derrick Rose has been getting to the line more since the article came out. Several people have suggested that.

Could it be so? Might Hollinger's message have gotten through to the Bulls, or to Rose, or to somebody?

It would have been impertinent to suggest it without some evidence.

But Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus has just provided some evidence. At the moment Hollinger's piece was published, Pelton tells us, Rose was shooting .264 free throws for every shot he took -- well below the league average of .305. From the day of Hollinger's article, Rose is up to .332 free throws per field goal attempted, a number that is well above the league average.

That's a big leap.

Basketball-Reference tells us that Rose is now in the NBA's top 10 in free throws attempted, ahead of people like Manu Ginobili and Chris Paul.

A month after Hollinger's article came out, Rose told ESPNChicago's Nick Friedell that he had been lifting more weights (especially pre-game) and watching more tape in an effort to get to the line more:
Rose said watching more tape was the key to his success, but Thibodeau believes the turnaround started because Rose doesn't shy away from contact as much anymore.

"He's been attacking," Thibodeau said. "And I think he's getting hit, and by trying to get away from the contact [earlier], he wasn't getting the call. And I think going up through the contact now, he's getting the call so it's better for him."

Pelton looked at some video to see what Rose might be doing differently, and says he didn't see many instances of what Thibodeau is talking about. (Rose is not attacking the rim more. Hoopdata's shot location data shows his attempts at the rim are actually down slightly.)

Pelton has his own suggestions: Referees. As in, maybe they're getting Rose to the line more now than they used to. Chicago fans will tell you Rose has long gotten shortchanged by officials. Maybe Hollinger simply gave Tom Thibodeau new material for his sideline rants, or let us consider what many referees told me in Jersey City at the start of the season: That with love for the game, and free time on the road, a lot of referees inhale all the NBA media they can get.

Whatever the mechanism, mental approach, physical approach, referee approach, or all of the above, the timing is too precise for me to believe it was random. It's not the biggest deal in the world, to be sure. I'm sure that in private, several stat geeks like Sam Hinkie, Dean Oliver and Dan Rosenbaum have had far bigger impacts than this instance. But this is one more, very public, Moneyball moment for basketball, when some pretty geeky stuff is evidently changing the game on the court.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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