Statistics are, depending on who you ask, the damnedest lies of them all. With the vast amount of data that the NBA collects, whether by traditional box score statistics or by the player tracking cameras which have revolutionized the way fans, media, and teams look at how the game is played, there are more numbers out there to lead or mislead everyone.
The beauty and danger of a statistic is that it can be, for the lack of a better framing, made up from the truth. A stat can be a lot of substance or a lot of noise. Determining whether a stat is useful is about understanding the context: the how and why it happened, and what (if anything it means).
And I've always been fascinated by the context more than the stat, because every stat has a story. Inspired in large part by John Schuhmann's One Stat, One Team season preview series, here's yet another new irregular Liberty Ballers series.
Statistics are representative at a point in time given events in the past and are bound to change. A look at a statistic is only valid for the period leading up to that point, because it will change. The number might be predictive; it may also call for and cause change. It's fleeting, like a picture bound to disappear after just a few seconds, as the numbers are bound to change in the future. This is Sixers SnapStat.
The Date: 1/11/16
The Number: 52.7%
NBA teams have always known that good NBA offense matches good shot-making and shot selection. Figuring out what qualified as good shot selection - not just open shots, but shot locations and the root causes for those - is what is a more recent discovery. The three point shot is still arguably underutilized and has been since its inception (in the ABA). Teams are getting closer and closer to an ideal split as more teams embrace new-era basketball.
Part of this new era has been moving from box score shot distribution to play-type shot distribution. With the SportVU player tracking, teams can find out not only whether they're generating a good shot analytically but how. We know that assisted shots are hit at a higher percentage than unassisted shots, that catch-and-shoot points are scored more often than shots off the dribble, and that these shots are more effectively created out of pick-and-rolls than post-ups and isolations.
The SnapStat: Percentage of Jahlil Okafor's possessions that are either post-ups (34.6%) or isolations (18.1%)
Or in other words, more than half of plays funneled through Okafor involve him attempting to convert difficult chances into points. Only Al Jefferson has a higher combined percentage of post and iso plays, among players with at least 100 post touches on the season.
Jahlil Okafor ranks 74th out of 75 centers in ESPN's Offensive Real Plus/Minus (RPM), a stat which attempts to gauge a player's overall individual effect on team performance, which for a rookie offensive savant with limited defensive potential appears troubling.
The 76ers have placed Okafor into positions where he needs to create offense for an untalented team. In a better situation, Okafor could use his footwork in the post on a more limited, more effective basis. Instead, he has had the second most possessions ended via a post-up in the league, only behind Marc Gasol. It's a load for someone so new to the league.
Okafor averages .8 PPP in isolation and .86 PPP on post plays, factoring in free throws and turnovers. Okafor's percentages on these types of plays - again as a 20-year-old rookie - are highly impressive. His results have been slightly better than league-average as a post player, and slightly worse than league-average in isolation, despite having the worst supporting cast in the league and questionable fits with Nerlens Noel and usually one other non-shooter.
But as mentioned above, and as you would guess, those points per possession numbers pale in comparison to points scored via more efficient methods of scoring.
Going forward, the Sixers and Okafor should attempt to strike a balance where Okafor scores more off other actions than either in the post or isolation, even if he's preternaturally gifted as a one-on-one scorer for his age. Per SportVU (via Jake Pavorsky), Okafor is shooting 52% on possessions as the roll man in a pick-and-roll, a role that overall has a much higher efficiency for bigs.
The Sixers have already moved more and more away from post possessions for Okafor - the post-up percentage exceeded 40% for most of the early part of the year. Thank you based Ish Smith. But striking that balance and finding the best way to utilize Okafor and Noel together will take a lot of work-shopping. Increasing his usage in pick-and-roll action would be a nice change to up his efficiency.