A.P. Hoops: The Four Factors in the Second Season

All season long, D-League.com will be looking at its top prospects and teams through the lens of advanced stats. Today, we whittle out the strengths, weaknesses and Playoff potential of the eight teams currently slated for the postseason.

Two teams are in. And that’s about all we know.

With just over a week left in the NBA Development League regular season – and the Playoffs set to start on April 10 – six more spots are left to fill, not to mention all eight seeds. But before we make the leap to the postseason, and in the spirit of culmination, let’s take some time to reflect.

It’s been a long year. A year full of new concepts, new numbers and above all, new ways of thinking. So let’s wind back our season-long statistical journey to some of the first concepts we learned – the Four Factors of Basketball Success – to help us unpack the NBA D-League standings.

Let’s start with a quick refresher course. The Four Factors of Basketball Success, as defined by statistical guru Dean Oliver, are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover ratio (TORatio), rebound rate (REB%), and free throw rate (FTMR). They’re defined as the following:

Field Goal Percentage: eFG%
Adjusted FG% accounting for fact that 3-pointers are a lower percentage, but worth an extra point.
Turnover Ratio: TORatio
Turnovers per 100 possessions designed to control for pace.
Rebounding Percentage: REB%
Percentage of available rebounds collected.
Free Throws Made Ratio: FTMR
A measure of made free throws per 100 field goal attempts, to gauge which teams shoot and make free throws most effectively.

We’ve previously discussed each of the statistics in great detail but only in isolation. What happens when we put them all together? And, just as importantly, how do we do it?

To answer this question, let’s take a look at how the 16 NBA D-League teams rank against one another in the Four Factors, both offensively and defensively. A “rank average” is also included to give you a sense of the average rank teams have across the four categories, keeping in mind that this value can be inflated or deflated by one particularly strong or weak area.

TeamOffRtgeFG%TORatioREB%FTM RateRank Avg
Austin Toros110.452464.25
Los Angeles D-Fenders109.0110133.75
Reno Bighorns108.3312926.5
Rio Grande Valley Vipers107.62812138.75
Dakota Wizards105.84138129.25
Bakersfield Jam105.896715.75
Canton Charge105.1811356.75
Texas Legends104.9144647
Springfield Armor104.11512158.25
Erie BayHawks103.911311119
Iowa Energy103.0615588.5
Idaho Stampede102.577131410.25
Maine Red Claws101.9109161011.25
Sioux Falls Skyforce100.3121615712.5
Tulsa 66ers98.71314101613.25
Fort Wayne Mad Ants97.616514911

TeamDefRtgeFG%TORatioREB%FTM RateRank Avg
Tulsa 66ers98.71110105.5
Los Angeles D-Fenders100.2531125.25
Dakota Wizards101.945876
Springfield Armor102.7642156.75
Iowa Energy102.9713537
Erie BayHawks104.08111189.5
Canton Charge104.22153117.75v
Sioux Falls Skyforce104.5102151410.25
Austin Toros104.6910416
Bakersfield Jam104.91014759
Fort Wayne Mad Ants105.41561449.75
Texas Legends105.6128668
Maine Red Claws106.43161629.25
Idaho Stampede106.5139131612.75
Rio Grande Valley Vipers107.5147121311.5
Reno Bighorns108.616129911.5

An examination of these statistical ranks gives us a holistic sense of a particular team’s strengths and weaknesses and can help explain why a particular team has itself either Playoff position or on the outside looking in.

Let’s look at the eight teams currently in line for the Playoffs, with an eye toward the numbers above.

1. Los Angeles D-Fenders (34-11)
Strengths: Rebounding, Shooting efficiency
The D-Fenders have been the strongest team in the NBA D-League all season long despite numerous personnel changes from GATORADE Call-Ups and NBA assignments. Perhaps what is most impressive about LA is the team’s tremendous success on both sides of the ball – the D-Fenders rank second in both OffRtg and DefRtg. Offensively, they rank near the top or at the top of the league in eFG%, FTMR and REB% which indicates that they take good shots (and make them), get to the free throw line effectively and give themselves multiple opportunities to score by collecting offensive rebounds. Defensively, they force turnovers and secure defensive rebounds, which prevents their opponents from getting multiple scoring opportunities after missed shots.
Weaknesses: Ball control, opponent free throws (defensive)
The D-Fenders seem to struggle holding onto the basketball at times on the offensive end, as indicated by their elevated TORatio. Furthermore, they also have a tendency to be a bit overzealous defensively, which allows their opponents to get to the free throw line often. If they can work on these two areas and stay strong in the others, they should be the clear favorite to hoist the championship trophy next month.

2. Canton Charge (26-19)
Strengths: Shooting efficiency, rebounding, opponent shooting efficiency (defensive)
The Canton Charge are a steady team whose advanced metrics are solid without blowing you away. Offensively, they take and make good shots and force their opponents into difficult shots on defense. They are a tremendous rebounding team, which allows them to get second chance opportunities as well as “finish” strong defensive stands.
Weaknesses: Ball control (offensive), forcing turnovers (defensive)
Turnovers seem to be the Charge’s Achilles heel. Not only do they struggle in holding onto the ball offensively, but they rank near the bottom of the NBA D-League in forcing turnovers. The net result of this weakness is fewer possessions for them in a game, and consequently, more for their opponents. They will need to fix this problem if they want to be successful in the playoffs.

3. Austin Toros (29-16)
Strengths: Offense
The Toros are an interesting team. They have been very successful this season despite a seemingly unbalanced style of play between the offensive and defensive ends. Offensively, the Toros excel in nearly every significant category placing in the top 6 in all Four Factors as well as having the highest OffRtg in the league. They take and make good shots, hold onto the ball, get to the free throw line, and create second chance opportunities for themselves.
Weakness: Forcing turnovers (defensive), opponent shooting efficiency
Despite their offensive success, the Toros are far from the NBA D-League’s most staunch defensive unit. While they rank in the middle-of-the-pack in terms of DefRtg, they struggle with forcing turnovers and forcing opponents to take difficult shots. The good news for Austin is that its ability to secure defensive rebounds and keep opponents off the free throw line (in addition to the Toros’ explosive offense) has compensated for their defensive shortcomings and secured a Playoff berth already.

4. Bakersfield Jam (26-18)
Strengths: Free throw rate (offensive), ball control, opponent free throw rate (defensive)
The Bakersfield Jam are a solid offensive team with an OffRtg nearing 106. They do a great job getting to the free throw line on offense and keeping their opponents off the free throw line on the defensive end. Furthermore, they have exhibited strong ball control and do not turn it over often offensively.
Weaknesses: opponent shooting efficiency (defensive), forcing turnovers (defensive)
Despite ranking in the middle of the NBA D-League in DefRtg (104.9), the Jam struggle mightily at forcing their opponents to take difficult shots. Furthermore, they have shown an inability to force turnovers. These aspects of their defense will have to improve as the playoffs approach.

5. Springfield Armor (25-19)
Strengths: Ball control, forcing turnovers (defensive), rebounding
The Springfield Armor are a defensive-minded team whose greatest offensive strengths reside in their ability to rebound and hold onto the basketball. Defensively, they collect rebounds, force turnovers and force their opponents to take difficult shots, resulting in a strong DefRtg of 102.7.
Weaknesses: Shooting efficiency, free throw rate, opponent free throw rate (defensive)
The Armor are a very interesting team offensively. While they rank near the top of the league at rebounding and holding onto the basketball, they rank near the bottom of the league in shooting efficiency and free throw rate. This means that they not only have trouble taking and making good shots, but they also struggle to get to the free throw line. If the Armor can get hot from the floor, coupled with their already strong defense, the Armor could be dangerous moving forward.

6. Dakota Wizards (25-20)
Strengths: Defense
The Dakota Wizards are strong across the board on defense and rank in the top half of the NBA D-League in each of the Four Factors. Their specialty is forcing opponents to take tough shots and generating turnovers. As a result, their DefRtg of 101.9 is third best in the league.
Weaknesses: Ball control, free throw rate
While the Wizards rank in the top third of the NBA D-League in OffRtg (105.8), they have two glaring weaknesses. They have a tendency to turn the ball over too often which reduces the number of offensive possessions they have per game. Furthermore, they struggle to get to the free throw line which statistics show is the most efficient place to score points offensively. Much like the Springfield Armor, if they can get their offense up to par with their defense, they could be a force heading into the playoffs.

7. Texas Legends (24-21)
Strengths: Ball control, free throw rate
Despite being inefficient shooting the basketball, the Legends have managed a respectable OffRtg (104.9) through superior ball control, offensive rebounding and getting to the free throw line.
Weaknesses: shooting efficiency, opponent shooting efficiency (defensive)
The Legends rank in the bottom third of DefRtg (105.6) despite having respectable ranks in thee of the Four Factors. However, their inability to force opponents to take difficult shots gives away too many easy points per game ultimately drags down their DefRtg. Offensively, the struggle in the same area and are generally inefficient shooting the basketball.

8. Erie BayHawks (24-21)
Strengths: Ball control
The Erie BayHawks are a testament to the importance of ball control. They rank 11th in eFG%, REB%, and FTMR yet have an OffRtg of nearly 104 because they do not give away possessions via turnovers.
Weaknesses: Defense
The BayHawks are somewhat of an enigma statistically. Their DefRtg of 104 places them 6th in the NBA D-League yet they rank no better than 8th in any of the Four Factors. One would have to conclude that their DefRtg, therefore, may be (partially) a product of good fortune. If their defensive efforts do not improve, they may into issues with some of the league’s more potent offenses in the playoffs.