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(Not Really) The Four Factors

 

Basketball writers give much thrift to Dean Oliver’s pioneering 2002 book Basketball On Paper. And rightfully so. It sorts through reams of data, provides quantitative analysis of basketball and includes many appealingly-formatted tables, some of which I understand. The book still exerts great influence on the way we evaluate teams and players.

One of the most frequently quoted parts of Oliver’s book is the section detailing the four factors: his summary of what most accurately determines wins and losses in basketball.

For the uninitiated, these four factors are: Effective Field Goal Percentage, Offensive Rebounding Rate, Turnover Rate and Free Throw Rate.

The Celtics rank as following based on these four factors: really good, awful, awful and mediocre. Based on this alone, you could make a compelling case Boston is in trouble this season. If you used stats instead of adjectives, you could make an even stronger case.

But for our purposes, what interests me is not what leads to success in basketball, broadly speaking, but what leads to success for this particular Celtics team. They may not be the same thing. That seems possible given this team’s serial aversion to offensive rebounds and esoteric point guard play.

So, I’m going to cast aside intellectual rigor and suggest four revised factors to assess this Celtics team. These ideas are 1) a work in progress 2) based on a single month of games and 3) corrupted by the fact that Paul Pierce has been a shell of himself for much of it. Thusly, I welcome your refinements and mockery in the comments section.

Here’s my mongrel version of the Four Factors Of Basketball Success for the 2011-12 Celtics:

Pierce Lecturing On Advanced Statistics

1. Rondo’s free throw attempts >6

Rajon Rondo is currently averaging 5.4 free throw attempts per game, which is a career high and well above the 3.5 he managed in 2009-10. His usage rate (23.03) and PER (20.62) are also at career high levels so far this season. With Doc Rivers turning over more of the offensive load to him, it’s crucial Rondo’s efficiency remains high and that only happens if he attacks the basket.

We all know that if Rondo is consistently breaking down the defense, the offense opens up for his teammates. If he’s not doing that, we often get games like the loss to Phoenix last Friday night. But as a predictive measure, his free throw attempts seem more telling for this team than his steals, rebounds, point totals and maybe even his assists. If he’s getting to the line, good things are happening for the Boston offense. One way or another.

Six free throw attempts per game or more, then. That’s factor #1.

2. Ray Allen’s made three pointers – 4 or more

Of course, if Rondo’s doing too much scoring it can mean that Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are either being checked or aren’t assertive enough. It seems like the perfect outcome of the Boston halfcourt offense (and often the transition attack as well) is Allen splashing down a three-ball. Of course, Allen rarely gets open without certain things happening. These usually include a series of screens to free him up off a baseline curl, Rondo or Pierce penetrating and forcing the defense to shift out of position, snappy ball movement or him eluding a defender in transition. It takes a village, more often than not.

Allen is currently averaging 2.6 three-pointers made per game. His long-range shooting remains one of Boston’s deadliest weapons and teams do everything they can to shut it down. If they can’t, the Celtics are probably in good shape. I want four threes per game out of Ray. That’s factor #2.

3. Non-Bass Bench Player Scoring > 10 points

It’s somewhat unthinking to use raw PPG scoring numbers but it’s also in the spirit of this exercise.

By now, we know what Bass is going to bring, and we have no complaints about it. We celebrate his ball-hogging ways with the same vigor we damned Glen Davis’ last season. But even with Bass’ production, there’s still a gap on this bench, one Danny Ainge tried to fill with Jeff Green and David West.

Somebody needs to fill that gap with 10+ points each night.

It can be Marquis Daniels or Mickael Pietrus. It can be a different guy every game. But the C’s have already seen too many nights worth of single-digit scoring from guys with sub-10 PERs. That ain’t, as Mark Jackson might say, gonna get it done.

10+ points a game. One guy not named Bass. That’s factor #3.

4. Pierce/Wilcox > 20 DRR

Here, I completely cede the floor to the original four factors (as though that needs stating). The Celtics’ defensive rebounding mediocrity (16th in the league) messes up their defense and their offense.

Garnett has slipped as a rebounder this year. He’s down to a 22.6 DRR after a Boston-high 28.7 last year. Bass (20.3) and Jermaine O’Neal (21.5) are both competent but with no other big on the court, the Celtics are at a bit of a loss. They seem to need a fourth guy who can put up a 20+ DRR.

Chris Wilcox has one of those lingering injuries guys get in Boston where you start wondering if he’s going to lose most of the year to a minor ailment. Otherwise, he’d be a good candidate (he’s topped a 20 DRR the last three years). Pierce has hit 20 two of the last four games, and that may be the only immediate solution, failing a roster shakeup. He’s averaging a 16 DRR so far this year. Can he get to 20 most nights? That’s unlikely perhaps, but it’s what the Celtics need. Pierce or Wilcox – that’s factor #4.

***

So, that’s the end of this thought exercise. It’s meant more to be representative than comprehensive, so there are other things you could sub in for the above. But if I told you before a game that Rondo was going to get to the line 8 times, Allen would hit 5 three-pointers, Daniels would score a dozen points and Pierce would rebound like a center, you’d probably feel pretty good about the C’s prospects on that night.

  • Rip

    rondo could also be a guy in number 4 besides pierce and wilcox if he desides to step up and play like he did in that epic chicago series.

  • Ben

    I agree that we're in better shape when Rondo is getting to the line, but I would also like to see him hit free throws a little more consistently. He seems to be shooting the ball better from outside, but his free throw percentage on the season is sitting at .600. I think the team would be in a much better place if he could bring that number up to >= .700.

  • Fafnir

    Ray Allen would need to be taking 10 3s a game to make 4 if he's hiting 40% of them. That'd be a career high for him, its just not going to happen.

    Dorrel Wright lead the league in three point attempts at 516 3s last year, that's only a little over 6 a game.

    • phreesh

      Great point. Looks like DeGama needs to share the ball a bit more.

      Maybe more threes in general (Bradley? Dooling?Pierce?) and more bench scoring in general. A big night from Bass equals an average night + 10 from somebody else.

      From my perspective, what the Celtics are really missing is athleticism. More athletic (younger) players grab more rebounds and provide more spark (points) off the bench.

      Also, I had no idea that Pierce was so passionate about player efficiency ratings.

  • High Rollers

    I think you will have to settle for >4, >2, and round-robining in the bench pts and defensive rebounding categories. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the ratios and correlates that make the difference. That is, it’s the teamwork that makes the difference. Choking the life out of Superman and the Magic would be Exhibit A. But kudos for offering up something a little Celtics 2012 specific.

  • Rav

    Funny caption on the picture!

  • W2.

    Great Avery Bradley read in a New York rag…the one man press!
    http://offthedribble.blogs.nytimes.com/

    Roll Celts.

  • Jake

    Love what you're doing here, but isn't the most obvious factor simply just the players' health? If they're not available to play, what good is breaking down exactly WHAT a player should/shouldn't be doing.

    Love this though.

  • Trev

    I love this analysis! It would be something short of a miracle if all 4 of these factors would actually happen more than a few games this season. I think that just 3 of the 4 would get us to the playoffs, but we can't expect to get to the finals without these four plus some coming true.

    good article.

  • ripsonics

    Hmm..

    I like all of these, but I have to agree with 'Fafnir' – four threes from ray a game would be madness.. and by madness I mean two things:

    1. Really Cool
    2. A little crazy to expect

    I say this because it does take SO much effort to get him open, and the best screeners on the team are both gone – baby and perk. KG is a good screener, but often gets called for an offensive foul. We were able to find Ray in the beginning of the year, and its not as if he was doing anything new — so I am at a bit of a loss as to why it has been so difficult to find him as of late.

    I agree that we need another rebounder, and I am still in favor of moving wilcox to the starting lineup to let him run with rondo and the first unit. he is a good offensive rebounder as well, and I have always liked his game. Loved him in Seattle.

    I think the bench scoring is getting better. MP has found a way to score – he loves to run, force turn overs and shoot. Having two selfish players off the bench in MP and Bass will help this team down the road. AB is doing well, dooling has shown flashes also.

    I hope this team can pull it together. I do not care if they win every game, I just want to see them competitive and put the doubters to bed like they have in the past four years.

    Go C's

  • Ryan DeGama

    Thanks for the thoughts, guys. Like I say, this is sort of tongue-in-cheek.

    Re: Ray. He's making the third most 3's in the league each game (behind the injured Manu and Ryan Anderson), but he's only getting 4.6 shots. It'd be an efficiency move to get him up to 6 or 7 shots a game from the arc, if a difficult one because so much has to happen to get him open. But they do lose sight of him sometimes. He should never go long stretches without seeing the ball, one way or another.

    • ripsonics

      agreed.. and that i believe has been the problem lately… he just isnt seeing the ball.

      • skeeds

        He also seems to never be open enough or catch it at the right moment. We have to acknowledge the scouting too. Even a great trick gets old… And that baseline double screen with KG sliding out at the last second, well people have caught on to that…
        Doc needs to go back to the drawing board, that merry-go-round play doesn't look that effective. Ray could use some new ways of getting open. Adelman drew an amazing kind of "sliding doors" double screen for Love the other night that got him open for the game winner, fantastic play. Just sayin…

        • Ryan DeGama

          Yeah, the Clippers played that badly. They should have switched.

          • skeeds

            Well yeah, but no one could switch on him, thanks to the way the guards played the triple screen. When Love breaks free, they push as if to get open, when they're actually closing the door on Jordan. There was also a distraction play for Derrick Williams happening at the same time.
            By the time anyone figured out what was happening, Love had 5 ft of space.

  • SteveB

    Good post and I agree with all of it. Only #4 addresses the defensive end, which is where the Celtics really decide whether they win or lose. That isn't really addressed in the original four keys either. Maybe opponent field goal % or something would be the only other key. Much like the last game against Orlando, the Celtics didn't win that on the offensive end. To paraphrase Doc, "our offense starts with our defense."

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