Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Value of Jerel McNeal

Jerel McNeal is one of those players who fills out a boxscore. No matter what stat I track, when I review Marquette's boxscore, I find McNeal almost always has at least one of it. As a member of Marquette's heralded Three Amigos guard class which entered in 2005-06, McNeal has shouldered a major responsibility for playing time, offense and defense. Marquette's fans rave about his style and intensity of play. Which makes me wonder why his possession-based stats, especially those which on the offensive side of the ball, tend to be unremarkable. I have always been curious about his effect on the Warriors since his offensive rating (as computed by Ken Pomeroy), suggest his individual offensive efficiencies are well below those for the team as a whole...

Marquette 105.350.01.06
Jerel McNeal72.430.729.493.445.81.01

The team vs player comparison is only for games in which McNeal played. The comparative field goal efficiency, Offensive Rating and PPWS show McNeal's numbers were well below the performance for the entire team, suggesting McNeal was something of a drag offensively. But how much of a drag? If he were a role player (Min% <40 perhaps with Poss% & Shot% in the 10 - 15 range...) the difference would have been marginal (< 1pt/game most likely...), but McNeal's PT averaged close to 30 min/game, while he tended to take 3 in 10 of the Warrior's possessions and nearly 3 in 10 of their FGAs when he was on the court. Those are more impact player/"star" type numbers, than role player or "regular starter" type numbers. His Poss% and Shot% (combined with his Min% numbers) suggest that had he shot to the team average for eFG, the Warriors would have average another 2 points per game, the margin of defeat in their second game with Louisville on February 17. But how about those less tangible contributions that McNeal might make to the Warriors offense. His assist rate, turnover rate and offensive rebounding for example. Those numbers may infer positive contributions to the offense that would not show directly using shooting & scoring statistics. The next table compares Assist Rates, Turnover Rates Offensive Rebounding and FTRate for both the Warrior team and McNeal.


Marquette did not have the reputation for being a good rebounding team -- McNeal's OReb% is consistent with a backcourt player, possibly a little better than average for a guard. His turnover rate was above the team's rate, suggesting that his tendency to lose 1 in 4 of his possessions was another efficiency drag on offense (you can't score if you lose the ball...). He did however get to line more than the average Big East guard. And He supplemented his field goals with (relative to his teammates) frequent trips to the line. His free throw efficiency was 0.682 (88-129), better than the team average of 0.669 (524-783). His assist rate was Top 500-level (per Pomeroy, he ranks #128), which when combined with Dominic James' ARate (31.5 #53), provides the Warriors with a dynamic offense capable of exploiting man and zone defenses.

If McNeal's offense is (aside from assists and free throws) more a liability than an asset, why is he playing? According to Marquette fans his defense dazzles. That sets him apart from the average Big East backcourt player, and more than justifies his presence on the court. His Stl% (steals per 100 possessions) is indeed eye catching. Pomeroy ranked him #6 in D1 for steals per 100 possessions. While a few might discuss the relative value of a steal ("Does more steals=better Def Rating?" over at APBRmetrics is an example -- a consensus there is of the opinion that the value and ease diminishes as the level of play raises...) and whether it diminishes or enhances a defense, few can argue that McNeal is not very good at it.

His season-ending injury provides an opportunity to see how the Marquette team functioned in his absence. The results were mixed. The team went 2-2, winning the next two games (against Pittsburgh to end the Big East regular season and St. John's in the quarterfinals of the BET), but losing the last two games (a return engagement against Pitt to close out the BET and against Coach Cean's former mentor, Tom Izzo and Michigan State in the first round of the NCAAs) to close out the season. Plotting the offensive ratings of McNeal and Marquette over the last 10 weeks of the season (see chart below) indicates Marquette's offensive rating did indeed increase in McNeal's absence (about a point). David Cubillan and Wes Matthews' ORtg%s rose as they received (and converted) more scoring opportunities in McNeal's absence, suggesting he was probably a 2+ per game point drag on their offense.


Ben Sturm said...

great statistical breakdown

-Marquette fan

greyCat said...

Thanks Ben. McNeal interests me because he elicits very different opinions and reactions from Marquette fans. He is in some respects, a good example of what I have called the Chaos Factor. Some players, for a variety of reasons, confound their opponents' gameplan. Whether on offense, defense or both, these players tend to present situations for which their opponent was not, apparently, prepared.
This next year should be a big one for Marquette. Best of luck.