NBA Analysis: Low Efficiency Scorers on Bad Offensive Teams

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Neil over at the BBR blog has run some interesting studies this week about the effects of a team losing its leading scorer. Looking at his latest batch of data, the Allen Iverson Question of the Day is how much of the player’s inefficiency is caused by his role on the team?

If there are no other viable scoring options or creators, the leading scorer is saddled into taking lower-efficiency attempts throughout a game. Yet, despite sometimes below average efficiency, we still see them helping the team quite a bit, lifting them from absolute garbage to offensive respectability.

I’ve written about related ideas before, noting that bigger performances seem to help weaker offensive teams more. Let’s take Neil’s data and divide offensive teams into above average and below average, using 107 points per possession as a crude barometer over the last 25 years. When we remove the inefficient leading scorer, it turns out there are way more inefficient scorers playing on below average teams than above average ones:

  • 56 teams had an Offensive Rating over 107 without its leading inefficient scorer
  • 150 teams had an Offensive Rating under 107 without its leading inefficient scorer

(For posterity, 33 of the 42 players who didn’t miss any time were also on below average offenses with them in the lineup.)

Of the 56 teams with an above average ORtg without the leader scorer, they were 3.7 points better, on average, in ORtg when the inefficient scorer was removed from the lineup. We’d expect that; If they were on good offensive teams and shooting at high-volume with poor results, they are probably hurting an otherwise good offense.

What we might not intuitively expect is what happens to the bad offensive teams. Of the below average teams, removing the leading scorer from the lineup hurt the offense by 2.8 points per 100. For instance, in 2004, the Raptors were 8.1 points worse per 100 possessions without Vince Carter in the lineup…even though Carter was 1.5% below average in True Shooting percentage.

Iverson himself — a lightning rod because of his low efficiency — exemplifies this more than any other high profile player. In his six seasons of missed time in Philadelphia in Neil’s table, Philadelphia’s offense was worse without him every season. In 2002, he missed 22 games and the offense was 4.1 points worse.

Yes, this method is not without flaws: It doesn’t account for the quality of the player’s backup, and sample size isn’t accounted for. Still, it seems more likely that inefficient players play on bad teams. And that when they are on bad teams, they are helping them with their “inefficient” scoring.

We might want to rethink who we refer to as “Chuckers” — a pejorative lable for inefficient scorers who shoot too much — and look at their teammates and role when evaluating their scoring contributions.

Score one for the Allen Iverson‘s of the world.

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