Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Villanova Efficiency Usage -- Thoughts on 2008-09

Looking at the Villanova roster for next season and reading through Pomeroy's "Effective Usage" article naturally brought me to the queston of which players will assume what roles next season. The roster and circumstances offer a rare opportunity, because while the slate of opponents will change (a good deal less than one might imagine, given the 18 game Big East schedule on top of the 4 game round robin format for the City Series...that's 22 games out of 29 that don't change from seaon to season), the team (Malcolm Grant excepted and Acts of God, unknown at this point) will return except where noted, intact. Maurice Sutton will most likely not (exigent circumstances excepted) have much (if any) opportunity to demonstrate he is indeed the Nova Nation's much pined for "man in the middle". The Wildcats will most likely play the hand they were dealt -- from last season.

I have reproduced the rotation (players who logged 10% or more of the available minutes at their position) from last season, along with each player's playing time as a percentage of the available minutes at their position (Min%), the percentage of possessions they had (Poss%) and Offensive Rating (ORtg). The last set of columns ("Avg.", "25-75", "5-95", "Diff?" all ordered under the heading "2008-09 Projected") is drawn from the charts Pomeroy reproduced for his article, "Effective Usage" over at The Basketball Prospectus last October:

2007-08|----2008-09 Projected----|
Dante Cunningham75.019.0104.119.517-2115-24No
Shane Clark50.916.8111.117.515-1813.5-22No
Reggie Redding51.614.299.715.013-1611-19Yes (+)
Casiem Drummond19.921.4104.421.519-2416-26.5Yes (+)
Dwayne Anderson45.115.3114.916.015-1813-22Yes (-)
Scottie Reynolds81.425.1105.624.523-26.519.5-30Yes (-)
Corey Fisher53.125.594.124.523-26.519.5-30NA
Malcolm Grant26.221.6113.2NANANANA
Antonio Pena48.421.595.421.519-2416-26.5NA
Corey Stokes45.917.6101.618.514.5-20.514-24NA

Pomeroy correlated the percentage of possessions a player used in year N by the percentage of possessions he used in year N-1. Determining an "average" percentage of possessions, he was then able to develop the range of possessions (to 50% certainty 25-75, and 90% certainty 5-95) for the same class of players. Assuming his calculations hold for this next season (they seemed to hold for last season, exceptions noted below), then we can anticipate the approximate percentage of possessions for the rotation next season. For Dante Cunningham, who used 19% of the possessions (earning him a "regular/starter" role on last season's Wildcat squad...), we find by looking under the heading "2008-09 Projected" that players using a similar percentage of possessions on average used 19.5% of the possessions the next season. To a 50% certainty they consumed in the range of 17% to 21% of the team's possessions (a marginal starter to solid starter role) and to a 90% certainty they used in the range of 15% to 24% (role player role to borderline go-to guy role) of their team's possessions (when they were in the game...). Pomeroy also detmined possessions for year N+1, based on year N as well. My last column indicates whether the 1 and 2 year charts agree with respect to the particular player (juniors and seniors only), and if not, I indicate whether the average from 3 year chart showed an average higher or lower than the 2 year chart.

Growth in the percentage of possessions (and Shot%, hence the enlarged role within the offense...) is largely due to minutes that become available when players leave (graduate, exhaust eligibility, become injured and move on to the NBA). Few opportunities spontaneously open because someone suddenly got very good in practice. As Pomeroy put it:

...Players do jump from being decoys to go-to guys in one season, and some even regress...Those are the exceptions. By and large, a player's role on his team in one season is a good indicator of his role the following season. It's largely on that principle that the team previews are based...
- Ken Pomeroy, Effective Usage, 10/10/07

The only block of "unclaimed" possessions (and minutes) come from Malcolm Grant's transfer. And while his transfer is disappointing to this Villanova fan, the actual loss quantified is something on the order of about 157 (credited) points scored (out of a total of 2,547 team points) on 137 possessions (out of 2,428 total possessions). Not a lot of opportunities to prove yourself, especially if you are trying to impress the coaching staff and earn more playing time. If the team is to improve on the 2007-08 results, the players who make the rotation will have to use their possessions more efficiently than last season. They will have to score more consistently on the possessions they get.

Rising Juniors
I believe the trendline will hold for Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark. Their Poss% may grow modestly (see the Avg. column above) and they should, as seniors, outperform their ORtgs from this past season.
While Dante Cunningham's growth in possessions from his freshman to sophomore years was just outside (high side) of the 5-95 confidence interval, his growth slowed measurably last sesson, staying in the predicted range. The loss in ORtg was modest, and frankly common when the growth in any player's Poss% is factored in. There is no reason, based on his performance last season, to believe Dante has yet one more "growth spurt" in him.
Shane Clark has garnered about 16% of the possessions in each of the past 2 seasons. As with Cunningham, the trend appears to be pretty much set. The fans have seen the same player start relatively strong in the beginning and fade as the season moves into conference play. Unlike his sophomore season, we did see a resurgence at the end of the 2007-08 season, but the mid-season malaise set the tone for the entire team's slump. A borderline breakout, 95th percentile growth in role would put Shane at 22% for Poss%, about at Pena's level of involvement, and nowhere near the "go-to guy" role of Scottie or Corey Fisher. If he could maintain his scoring efficiency (with a Poss% of 22), that would constitute a very good season. But given the potential of the other members of the squad, I don't expect it. Last season, with the loss of Sumpter and competition from a freshman and historical bench players, Shane had an opening to make the job (and role) his, but he didn't. He may, like Mike Nardi who had similar durability problems, finish out his career with the numbers of a solid contributor, but his most valuable contribution may be the intangibles, leadership and scrappy play, that don't translate easily into numbers.
Predicting the function Dwayne Anderson will have on next season's team is, given the dramatic change in his function this season, difficult to say the least. Injuries to Clark and Drummond in the days before the start of Big East play took the edge off the team's performance. Early Big East losses added to the (then) growing uncertainty about the team's prospects for the regular and post seasons. The staff turned to the leader of the scout team to inject some energy (and optimism?) into the starting line up and shore up the team's confidence. And Anderson stepped up with a series of steady performances that featured not only timely buckets, but (much needed) rebounding on both ends of the floor and a body-on-the-floor example for the freshmen to rally to. Paradoxically, while his playing time increased (nearly doubled actually) over 2006-07, his Poss% rate declined by just over 5%, even as his efficiency (ORtg) increased. The paradox is resolved by understanding that as a player becomes more selective in his scoring opportunities (and less conspicuous in the consumption of possessions) he greater success at scoring (and thereby more efficient)..The increase in playing time may have arisen frome exigent circumstances, but the staff must have liked what they saw. As for next season, the charts are contradictory. The one year chart indicates that on average, players who had Anderson's Poss% will decline very slightly, dipping to just under 15 (14.5 possibly?), while the two year chart indicates that players who had Anderson's sophomore possession rate (20.1), will, on average, have a Poss% of about 22. The "overlap" in the 2 charts falls in the 18-22 range, or borderline "regular" type possessions. Anderson provided solid rebounding support and a terrific on court example, I would not be surprisd to see him continue gathering 15 or so percent of the possessions ("role player" function) while playing in the 35%-40% range for that quality alone. He will remain a 4th/5th scoring option when he is teamed with some combination of the go-to guys (Reynolds & Fisher) and the obvious regulars (Cunningham, Stokes, Pena & Drummond).

Rising Sophomores
The prognosis for The Two Rs (Reggie Redding and Scottie Reynolds) ought to be "more of the same". When Pomeroy wrote about continuity of roles (function) he could have cited Reggie and Scottie as examples. From freshman to sophomore years both progressed almost exactly as averages of the cohort.
Scottie Reynold's Poss% declined slightly just as predicted. His minutes increased even as his possessions declined. The decline in Scottie's ORtg was unexpected and brought a down note to his season. For most players a decline in Poss% usually brings an increase (however slight) in the player's ORtg (see Dwayne Anderson below). The 2007-08 team lacked a second, very efficient "go-to guy" like Curt Sumpter, someone who could draw enough defensive attention to give Reynolds more room to operate.
Reggie Redding took 14.2% of the possessions when he played, in both his freshman and sophomore years. Projections (see the "Avg." column) suggest he will get a few more possessions next year, but I would not be at all surprised to see his Poss% stay very close to 14. When Redding is teamed with Reynolds and Fisher, the 'Cats need someone to set the screen, box out on the shot, or grab the ball...and pass it out to the open man. Reggie did improve his ORtg this season, coming very close to crossing that "one point per possession" threshold that brings credibility to a college player. Experience alone accounts for some of his progress (learning to deal with the nerves; when to shoot, when to pass...), but Reggie's ORtg climbed by 13%, suggesting the improvement may be more than just a year of experience. Another 13% increase next season and Redding will be an efficient role player. While his ORtg though improved, was still below the team ORtg, given the modest number of possessions, any impulse to assign blame for underperformance on Reggie is probably misplaced.
Casiem Drummond, like Dwayne, is an enigma. How he works into the team next season will depend not only on successful rehabilitation (and continued good health) of his foot, but also whether he comes back with the conditioning necessary to play Villanova basketball and if the staff maintains a commitment to utilize post passing and an inside offensive presence. Arriving out of shape his freshman year Cas was able to play only 10% of the available minutes while functioning as a role player within the offense. This past season, properly conditioned from an off season program, he posted break-out type numbers before injuring his foot in early December (late November?). And while he appeared in 13 games after leaving the Temple game (and started three of them), his effectiveness was clearly diminished. If healthy and effective Drum may not take a higher percentage of the possessions than he did this season (see table above), but he will get minutes because he can score consistently near the basket (or get to the line...) and also put up some very nice rebounding numbers, an area of weakness for the Wildcats last season.

Rising Freshmen
Attrition through transfer has already taken two of the five members of the class which started using it's eligibility in 2007. The three remaining were very well regarded coming in, and last season provided opportunities to see each at his best. Recognition and consistency are the key, but this is the group which can have the greatest positive impact on Villanova's ORtg...mostly because their individual ORtgs were low.
Many predicted Corey Fisher would start at #1 from the first game. Ironically Fisher missed the first game (versus Stony Brook), but he was the first in the group to start (versus Penn in early December). He went on to start 21 of the next 25 games before being brought off the bench for the 2 games in the BET and the 3 NCAA games. While Corey F. had some very good games (Penn -- 13 points on 4-9 shooting, DePaul - 23 points on 8-15 shooting; second Syracuse game -- 21 points on 7-15 shooting, etc.), he also had some stinkers (Georgetown -- 4 points on 1-16 shooting, though he did have 4 assists; Connecticut -- 5 points on 1-6 shooting with 4 assists, etc.). And he (along with Scottie Reynolds) showed a lack of maturity by being late to the team bus in Louisville. Coach Wright started neither, and kept Fisher on the bench for all but garbage time, as the 'Cats lost by 14. Fisher, a natural leader and creative passer took too many shots last season and hit far too few of them. Despite some decent assist numbers Fisher logged a 94.1 ORtg while consuming just about 1 in 4 possessions while he played. Scoring about 3.75 points for every 4 possessions while the team as a whole scored 4.16 points every 4 possessions suggests Fisher was a drag offensively on the unit. That he was able to log only 53% of the minutes available in a situation that was tailor-made for his talent and skills, suggests there was a good deal that was not working for Fisher last season. Assuming Corey F. will again be paired with Reynolds next season, look for him to repeat this past season's pattern and function as one of the (2) go-to guys when the team is on offense. Whether his Poss% declines slightly (anticipated outcome -- see Avg above) or grows to 30% (within the 95% certainty range) Fisher must convert his opportunities at a more efficient rate.
Antonio Pena was drafted into the starting rotation because of injuries to Casiem Drummond. Pena performed well, but unevenly as he managed to work himself into the offense as a regular type player, a 2nd/3rd option on offense. Whether he starts over Drummond or comes off the bench, Antonio will (if Drum is healthy) have to split the minutes at #5 with Cas and any minutes at #4 with Cunningham (and Anderson?). Like Fisher Pena took too many possessions to score that inefficiently (ORtg was 95.4). Unlike Anderson, Cunningham and Drummond, Pena has not exhibited especially strong rebounding skills for a big man either. Unlike the Villanova teams of 2004-06, last season's version of Wildcats did not feature a strong rebounding backcourt. Don't look for it to suddenly develop next season either. That makes this an essential skill for anyone playing in Villanova's frontcourt.
Corey Stokes looked dazed and confused for a good part of the season. The staff plugged him in and let him play through some pretty terrible games (1-6 versus George Mason, 1-8 versus Penn, 3-9 versus Louisville, 2-9 versus South Florida...), Stokes logged minutes in the mid and upper 30s (percent of the available playing time at his position), rising to about 45 by season's end with Poss% numbers which indicated he was functioning as a borderline regular in the offense. His shooting efficiency and ORtg also rose through the end of the season, both positive signs for this season. If Corey S. can start strong next season (ORtg >120) he may be able to push hard on the 95% confidence limit of 24% possessions. The average growth for a player with Corey's Poss% (17.6) is 18.5. Stokes has the fundamental skills to do better.

With no impact players due on the Mainline in the fall, the burden for growing the offense falls squarely on the shoulders of the returning rotation. Reallocating the playing time will most likely happen as the season progresses, but redistribution of possessions tends to occur only when one (or more) players becomes a lot better, ie the player scores more efficiently than his teammates. Candidates for biggest improvement (most improved ORtg) include Cas Drummond, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes. One or all of them will have to improve if the Wildcats are to finish higher in the Big East and move deeper in the NCAA tournament.

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