Shoot First...Ask Questions Later

November, 12, 2008

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Basketball's statistical revolution has come a long way in recent years, yet PPG is still stubbornly entrenched as basketball's defining stat.  A lot of clubs are starting to employ more sophisticated metrics in evaluating a player, but points still command a lot of power at the negotiating table.  Players know it.  Their agents know it.  And ownership knows it.  Coaches evangelize about the value of the little things, hustle, and stuff that doesn't show up in the box score, but NBA salaries are more closely correlated with points than any intangible factor.  

David Berri at Wages of Wins Journal has documented this phenomenon as well as anyone.  He uses a recent piece by Rick Bonnell on 22-year-old Bobcat guard Shannon Brown to illustrate the point. It's a familiar story: Brown felt that he was in the doghouse, but didn't understand why.  His assistant coach told him that despite his recent success shooting the ball, the team had plenty of other guys who could score [see Richardson, Jason and Morrison, Adam].  What the Bobcats' coaching staff needed from Brown was "something else."  

These stories highlight a problem that coaches face throughout the Association.  Players have an incentive to shoot.  The more a player scores, the more he will get paid and the more acclaim he will receive. You can see this when you look at the determinants of free agent salaries.  And you can see this when you look at coaches' voting for the All-Rookie team. 

Given the player's incentives, it's not surprising that Shannon Brown would look for his own shot.  What's encouraging is that it appears the Bobcats are getting through to him.  After seven games, Brown is shooting 50% from the floor and his overall production of wins - which was in the negative range during his first two seasons - is now well above average.

Berri builds on this final point.  Despite Brown's efforts to conform to his coaches' demands, he's not seeing much PT.  WoW suggests that despite the lip service paid to having guys play the right way/[insert your favorite sports cliché here], there's still a financial and systemic disincentive for players like Brown to not shoot...

All of this must make the relationship between the player and his coaches quite confusing.  On the one hand Shannon Brown is being told to take good shots and focus on the non-scoring aspects of the game.  On the other hand, Morrison and Richardson - who have not consistently hit shots this year - are not being punished with less playing time (or fewer shots). 

Of course it's still very early in Charlotte's season.  Certainly it's more than possible that the Shannon Brown we saw during his first two seasons will re-emerge.  In fact, given that his effort to play the right way is not being fully rewarded, it seems likely that Shannon Brown might want to go back to taking shot after shot.  After all, the data strongly suggests (although his coaches voice disagreement) player evaluations and decisions in the NBA are still driven by scoring (which happens when you take lots of shots).

Berri also does a nice job highlighting the problematic irony of a team like Charlotte.  The players the staff regards as their scorers are less efficient than the guys who are asked to sublimate their urge to shoot in favor of doing the other stuff. 



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