New Stats to Watch
Ever wonder how many miles a player runs during a game?
Or who leads the NBA in so-called hockey assists? Or which players drive to the basket most often in the half court? Or who secures the highest percentage of rebounds available to them?
Up in the catwalks of every NBA arena this season, six strategically-placed cameras now track every player on the court and the ball 25 times per second.
That means all of those questions above now have answers – along with 7,013 other questions that you never considered.
Bucks: Embracing Advanced Stats
For the first time ever, all 30 teams have access. But recall that the Bucks were early adopters of the cutting-edge SportVU technology, as one of just 10 teams in the NBA with the cameras last season. And the front office has been progressive in regard to advanced stats for some years now.
A few summers ago, recently departed assistant general manager Jeff Weltman spoke at length to me about advanced stats, saying the team viewed analytics “as an important part of the process.”
Weltman is now in Toronto, but Milwaukee’s staff remains open-minded and fond of new ways to find important information. Before the season, Larry Drew told me that he embraced advanced stats:
“It gives you an opportunity to hone in on the numbers with, say, certain matchups, certain people on the floor, certain combinations. The league has really gone more to analytics. I support it. Anything that will give me information that allows me to possibly gain an edge somewhere. We used it in Atlanta last year. Everybody is starting to go in that direction. And I support it.”
At home games this season, a row of Bucks analytics staff sit behind me. I am about to write some words on the subject, but they are the real experts, not me, and you will hear their story soon.
10 New Stats to Watch
For now, here are a few new stats that I will be keeping an eye on via the new player tracking stats section on NBA.com.
*Note: The sample sizes right now are just preposterous (and unfortunately, the Bucks numbers are only through 4 of the team’s 5 games), so the point is to track these moving forward, not consider the results to date meaningful.
What does this mean? These are the so-called hockey assists. Of note: “Assister must make a pass within 2 seconds and 1 dribble for passer to earn secondary assist."
Why is this important? So, when you pass the ball are you moving it in a useful way, or just getting rid of the ball?
Who to watch? Nate Wolters leads the NBA with 3.0 secondary assists per game (again, not officially, as these are not completely updated). He leads the team in minutes and has the ball in his hands quite a bit, so this makes some sense. But it feels like only a positive sign. A point guard being able to see two or more passes ahead is ideal.
What does this mean? Just how it sounds. It means you get credited with an assist if you make a pass and the receiving player is fouled on a missed shot and makes at least one free throw.
Why is this important? Because really, why shouldn’t you get credit for this?
Who to watch? John Henson is a somewhat surprising team leader with 0.8 per game for now. Should be interesting to see this progress.
What does this mean? This measures the numbers of miles that a player runs per game. Like many of these numbers, this can (and sometimes, should) also be sorted by per 48 minutes.
Why is this important? If you know angles and you know where to be, you don’t necessarily need to cover as much ground. But if you are running the court on offense and getting back on defense and running around screens to get open a lot, you are probably high up on here.
Who to watch? The Bucks rank 27th in pace right now, which means they aren’t averaging many possessions, which means players inevitably don’t go back and forth to each end of the court as often as other teams, which means no one on the team is among the leaders. Coach Drew keeps vowing to push the pace, and team should be well-suited to do so.
What does this mean? The total amount of time, in minutes, that a player possesses the ball.
Why is this important? It’s not so much about wanting players be among the leaders here as much as wanting a really good player on your team to be among the leaders here. The best example is Chris Paul, who is second in the NBA with 7.5 minutes of possession per game, leading the Clippers to the best offensive efficiency in the league.
Who to watch? Wolters is top 15 for now. When healthy, I would guess the Bucks go pretty deep at point guard and most positions, meaning probably no one will have the ball all that much. That is probably just fine.
What does this mean? Tells you the field goal percentage of an opposing player at the rim while being defended.
Why is this important? Last season, the Bucks allowed opponents to shoot by far the most shots within five feet of the hoop of any team. Yet those same opponents shot the fifth worst percentage (56.1 %). This stat is somewhat similar, except now we can look at individual players, rather than teams overall.
Who to watch? Larry Sanders was chiefly responsible for saving the Bucks last season. Will be interesting to see his stats here throughout the season. Also worth tracking Ekpe Udoh, who might just find some numbers in his favor, at long last.
What does this mean? The number of rebounds gathered where an opponent is within 3.5 feet.
Why is this important? Remember when Ricky Davis intentionally missed a shot on the opposing team’s basket up by 25 with 6 seconds to go in the game because because he was Ricky Davis? That was not contested.
Who to watch? A little bit of everything and everyone. Also, uncontested rebounds aren’t bad or necessarily less valuable. There is something to be said for knowing where to be. But this could be interesting. Also: Contested Rebound Percentage could be even more educational.
What does this mean? The number of times that a player drives to the basket, starting at least 20 feet from the hoop and dribbling within 10 feet of the hoop.
Why is this important? Players who do this and do this well, like Tony Parker and James Harden, are very essential to offensive success, because pure jump-shooting only goes so far.
Who to watch? As a team, the Bucks don’t have players among the league leaders, which is no surprise. Wolters tops the team with 4.2 drives per game, but he is only converting on 18.2 %. That will go up. Giannis Antetokounmpo appears to have some potential here, in time.
What does this mean? Points that are scored by a player on any touch that starts within 12 feet of the basket, excluding drives.
Why is this important? The Bucks have a lot of shooters, but to create spacing for those shooters, you need balance and some post scoring threats, as well as dribble-drive threats.
Who to watch? John Henson is up in the top ten, with 5.8 close shot points per game. Hopefully, Larry Sanders moves up this list as well.
What does this mean? Tracks catch and shoot opportunities, as the name suggests.
Why is this important? Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, and J.J. Redick are 1-2-3 right now in catch-and-shoot total points this season. It’s very helpful to have players such as them.
Who to watch? Gary Neal has historically not been a pure catch-and-shoot type, often creating his own shot. But he is shooting a pleasant 70.0 % on catch-and-shoot opportunities so far, to lead the NBA. Will be interesting to compare data of the many three-point shooters on the team.
What does this mean? Tracks jump shots outside 10 feet where a player takes 1 or more dribbles before shooting.
Why is this important? These are relatively low percentage shots for everyone, but they are also very common shots, and thus, important shots.
Who to watch? Back to Neal. Neal ranks among the league leaders with 8.8 pull up shot attempts per game. His accuracy (37.1 %) is likely to improve.
Writing and the Bucks. Two of my passions. So it is good to be here. I have reported on media row for just about every Bucks home game since 2009. I started writing for the Bucks in 2012. Before that, I co-founded and wrote for BrewHoop. I have written for the Milwaukee Brewers, SB Nation, ESPN Milwaukee, Slam Online, and so on. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @alexboeder or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.