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A.P. Hoops: Calculating a Call-Up

All season long, will be looking at its top prospects and teams through the lens of advanced stats. Today, we examine Walker Russell's impact on the court, and how that got him a call-up to the Pistons.

Detroit-bound point guard Walker Russell, Jr. is the best distributor in the NBA D-League -- and he gets even better when you break him down.
David Calvert/NBAE via Getty Images

Congratulations are in order.

Now that we’ve wrapped up our discussion on the Four Factors for Basketball Success, you’ve got the basics down. You know that pace of play can totally skew scoring and defensive numbers. You know that field goal percentage only tells part (and only a small one, at that) of a shooter’s story. You getting to the line matters – and making the foul shots really matters. So, consider this a graduation of sorts: you’re officially on the road to seeing the world of basketball through a whole new lens.

But this is just the beginning, and there’s far more to learn in our statistical journey together. And today, it's time to put some numbers to work.

Since we just concluded the 2011-12 NBA D-League Showcase last Thursday and prospects are increasingly finding their way onto NBA rosters (four just in the past 10 days!), we will focus today’s session on a long-time NBA D-League point guard who is finally getting his shot to play in the NBA: Walker Russell Jr., who signed with the Detroit Pistons Friday. (If you think his name sounds familiar, you are correct – his father played for six NBA seasons in the 1980s and is now a scout for the New York Knicks.)

To give you a little background before get started, Walker Russell Jr. played this season with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants – with a Pistons training camp stint mixed in – and has been on a total of five different professional teams in five different countries. But what we’re interested in is what the Detroit Pistons saw in him that caused them to put pen to paper and make the financial commitment to sign Russell – especially in an NBA D-League rich with point guards.

So let’s dive into the stat sheets. Russell’s per-game statistics tell us some of the story and give us a clue as to how we can tell a deeper story with advanced metrics.

Russell,Walker 37.6 40.9% .5 87.8% 16.0 .6 3.2 3.8 9.9 3.7 1.9 .1

Out of his basic stats, the one that stands out most is his 9.9 assists per game average -- best in the entire NBA D-League.

However, does this mean he’s the league’s best facilitator? After all, he does play 37.6 minutes per game, which ranks eighth in the league and could inflate his numbers. Furthermore, the Mad Ants have the fourth highest pace in the league (possessions per 48 minutes), which gives him more opportunities to get assists. Clearly, we’re going to have to dig deeper to make an accurate evaluation. Let’s take a look at the Mad Ants’ team statistics:

Team FG% FGM Pace OffRtg eFG%
Fort Wayne Mad Ants 43.1% 36.4 98.62 99.7 46.1%

You’ll notice that despite their elevated pace, the Mad Ants’ FG%, eFG% OffRtg (points per 100 possessions) and FGM/game are on the low end. In fact, the Mad Ants rank 15th, 15th, 13th and 13th in those four statistics, respectively. From this data, we can conclude that his assist numbers are not artificially inflated by being a part of a potent offense. In fact, we could guess that Russell may have had even gaudier assist numbers if he were on a team that was stronger offensively.

Perhaps the most telling statistic for Walker Russell Jr. is one called assist percentage (AST%) which estimates the percentage of his teammates’ made baskets that he assists. Russell’s AST% is a staggering 39.7% -- by far the best in the NBA D-League.

Let that number sink in for moment…when Russell is on the floor, he assists TWO out of every FIVE made baskets by the Mad Ants – simply phenomenal.

Finally, if we examine the Mad Ant’s team offensive statistic with Walker on and off the floor, we find the following:

FGM (%AST)OffRtg eFG%
Fort Wayne Mad Ants 50.5% 99.7 46.1%
Off 46.6% 97.2 43.9%
On 52.7% 101.4 47.6%

Thus, when Russell is on the floor for the Mad Ants, they score more points per 100 possessions, shoot at a higher percentage and have better movement (indicated by percentage of made baskets that are assisted). These statistics coupled with Russell’s speed, veteran savvy and astute court vision should make him a valuable contributor for the Detroit Pistons.