We have 28 different spreadsheets and 3 apps in our $5 Data and Tools package. Today, I’m going to use just 6 of them and 1 app to share some interesting information about the Los Angeles Lakers so far this season.
But before that, let’s briefly cover a couple key concepts that’ll be called back on throughout this piece:
(If you’re familiar with our talent grades, PIPM and luck-adjusted data, Gravity data, and offensive roles, skip this section)
Introduction to Talent Grades
If you’re new to BBall Index, we’ve worked hard to develop talent metrics that attempt to assess player performance in ways that adjust for contextual factors that will play a role in normal production and impact stats.
We have data now on areas like who is taking on tough assignments defensively and who is being hidden on defense, the spacing of lineups, how open shots being taken are, and other factors that we’d often want to insert into discussions around player performance. At BBall Index we try to account for those variables to determine true levels of talent in key skill areas.
It is by no means perfect, and public data limits our ability to measure these concepts that NBA teams themselves are looking at and can better measure with their proprietary tracking data, but we’ve worked long and hard to develop what we believe does an excellent job in assessing talent.
For more info on:
And since our grading scale is a bit different from what many of you have experienced in the US schooling system, here’s how we break things down from percentile to grade:
A 90-99th percentile
F Under 20
Introduction to Luck-Adjusted Data and Player Impact Plus-Minus (PIPM)
You’ll see both of these concepts a lot in what’s to come in this article, so here’s your refresher on both concepts.
The idea behind luck-adjusted data is that there are things in a player’s plus-minus data they can’t control, so why count it against them.
Here’s an excerpt from Jacob’s piece explaining Luck-Adjusted data:
“A prime example was Kawhi Leonard’s defensive on-off data from the 2016-17 season. As a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, no one questions Leonard’s defensive prowess. However, the Spurs defense was 8.6 points per 100 possessions better in 2016-17 when Kawhi was on the bench. Was the team really that much better without him or was there something weird going on in the data? It turned out upon closer inspection that opponents were shooting miles better from 3 when he was on the court. Opponents shot 37.6 percent from 3 when he was on-court compared to 29.2 percent when he was off.”
If we know players have very little control over opponent FT% and 3PT%, why don’t we keep that from making their +/- data look better or worse than it should? Luck-Adjusted data aims to do that.
PIPM builds onto that to combine a box score component with play by play plus-minus data that attempts to clean up the noise in the numbers to help us gauge process rather than just results, which can be much more useful when looking forward.
For more on PIPM, check out our article on it. Or for a more in-depth and nerdy breakdown, another article from Jacob at Nylon Calculus on PIPM might be more your cup of tea. And follow Jacob and the site on Twitter for lots of content around both PIPM and Luck-Adjusted data.
Introduction to Gravity
The idea behind gravity is that the more effective a player is from an area on the court and the more they punish the defense with that effectiveness, the more “gravity” they can have on opposing defenders and draw extra help to them, which opens up more for teammates.
Here’s an excellent YouTube video by Ben Taylor that discusses Curry’s gravity, and has a number of videos to accompany it that make it obvious what we’re talking about.
If you don’t have 7 minutes, here’s a GIF that explains this concept well.
Our Gravity metric was put together by Andrew Patton and uses spatial tracking data to be calculated, but that data is around where and how often and how well players shoot from around the court to estimate that gravitational pull, and is not any measure of defenders themselves.
To give an example, here’s what Kyle Kuzma’s 3D Gravity chart looks like heading into today.
If you want to view our trial app (which switches to only 1 team starting at 10PM EST tonight), go here and have some fun.
In our Data & Tools package, you’re able to see the NBA, WNBA, and NCAA gravity data from the rim, mid range, and 3PT range and also 3D Gravity charts for players, as well as lineup data for NBA teams. We also have a Gravity+ metric (read about + metrics here) which contextualizes the gravity value by telling you how much above or below the median a player is with their gravity.
Introduction to Offensive Roles
Todd Whitehead has done several iterations of analyzing how NBA players are deployed into different offensive roles through the use of clustering analyses. Last May, he released work outlining 11 offensive roles. We at BBI like to use these designations, as they help us understand at a deeper level than PG/SG/SF/PF/C or Guard/Wing/Big how players are being used as offensive weapons.
These groupings depend on Synergy play type usage (not efficiency) to tell us how players are deployed. Here are the cutoffs that help determine who is in what category:
On a BBall Index Pod episode this past summer, we broke down what I’m calling the offensive role ladder, which organizes those roles such that we can see the flow of players as they progress throughout their careers.
Looking to the Lakers, we can see that the roles match well with how I’d hope players would be used. Huge props to Vogel here, because over the past several seasons I was very displeased with LA in this area.
Tall Creators: LeBron James
- This is a Wing role that’s part dominant Guard with iso and the pick and roll and part big man that’ll do damage cutting and posting up.
- Others in this role: Blake Griffin, Pascal Siakam, Jimmy Butler, Devin Booker, Giannis Antetokounmpo
Primary Creators: Rajon Rondo, Quinn Cook
- This is where we find our pick and roll happy Guards who don’t isolate enough to be Mega Creators.
- Others in this role: DeMar DeRozan, Donovan Mitchell, and CJ McCollum fit here.
- I like this for Rondo, but Cook doesn’t have the scoring prowess or vision to be an above average pick and roll player. I’d rather have him as a Secondary Creator, with less PnR and more off-ball scoring from his spacing.
Secondary Creators: Alex Caruso
- This is perfect for Caruso, who spots up and cuts effectively off-ball and isn’t strong on handoffs or with his pick and roll game.
- Others in this role: Khris Middleton, Gordon Hayward, Brandon Ingram, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Josh Richardson, and Paul George
Spot-Up Wings: Danny Green
- This is right for Green, who is far better as a shooter catching and shooting not off of a screen than he is coming off a pin down.
- Others in this role: Jaylen Brown, Trevor Ariza, Rodney Hood, Robert Covington, Josh Hart
Movement Wings: Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Troy Daniels
- Here’s where we find the players who run off of screens off-ball to get their looks. Pin downs, flare screens, elevators, etc.
- These guys aren’t the best at this, but it draws more attention than standing still does and may help LeBron and AD operate if used smartly.
- Others in this role: Bojan Bogdanovic, Davis Bertans, Joe Harris, Kyle Korver
Glue Guys: JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard, Kyle Kuzma
- This is the hodge podge role offensively for bigs and wings who do a bit of everything. Sometimes players here just aren’t talented (this was originally called “Reluctant Shooters”), other times they’re just raw offensive talents that do a little of everything because they’re not great at anything, and other times it’s because players are just versatile (Kuz)
- McGee and Howard being in this group speaks to how extremely little they’ve posted up this season, which is a new way to get into this role I hadn’t seen much of before.
- Others in this role: Eric Paschall, Rui Hachimura, Aaron Gordon, Tobias Harris
Versatile Bigs: Anthony Davis
- This is right for AD, who is a do-it-all Big that doesn’t bother with Pick and Roll enough to be a Tall Creator and posts up a ton more than you can as a Glue Guy
- Others in this role: Joel Embiid, Marvin Williams, Karl-Anthony Towns, Myles Turner
Other roles LA doesn’t have represented are Mega Creators, Tall Spot-Up Wings, Roll & Cut Bigs, and Pick & Pop Bigs.
You can find all of that info in this next document. Let’s get into some insights from our Data & Tools package…
Grades & Tools Document
This document is the go-to place to use our tools and generate insights around our player talent grades. You can look at a single player, compare players, run a query to find players matching a talent profile, look at a player’s grades over their career, use our similarity tool to find the most comparable skill sets, look at aggregated team talent profiles and dashboards, and even see how the offensive roles described above rate out on average for each of our 11 talent categories.
Random Laker Fun Facts
- Our grades are generally very stable year to year, but Avery Bradley stands out as being vastly different from the player he was last year. His talent profile resembles the player he was from 2015-16 and 2016-17, which may be a product of him finally being healthy for the first time in years.
- Anthony Davis’s grades show a career high year in his Perimeter Shooting, Playmaking, and Post Play talent grades
- Rajon Rondo has a B Perimeter Shooting grade this season despite hitting on 53% of his 3-point attempts so far, after accounting for his volume and frequency of shots and the difficulty of the attempts taken.
- LeBron James has the second best Playmaking grade in the NBA, behind Luka Doncic and ahead of Trae Young and James Harden.
- Anthony Davis is 5th in the NBA in Post Play, a category in which Hassan Whiteside and Joel Embiid lead the way.
Lack of Playmaking
One big storyline entering the season for the Lakers was their lack of playmaking, which our Playmaking talent grade strongly agrees with.
Here is how those LA players grade out vs all players as well as compared to players within their same advanced position (Guards/Wings/Bigs):
|Player||Playmaking Grade (vs all players)||Playmaking Grade (vs same advanced position)|
LA has been able to make it work so far, but any injury to LeBron James or Anthony Davis could be catastrophic for the team’s effectiveness. And as I’ll get into later, LeBron James’ health and performance is imperative for this team.
Guard and Wing Defense
One major asset for the Lakers so far this year has been their perimeter defense. That performance has been led by three players in particular, according to our data:
- 1st ranked SG in Perimeter Defense talent rating
- 4th ranked SG in Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus
- 6th ranked PG in Perimeter Defense talent rating
- 4th ranked PG in Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus
- 7th ranked SG in Perimeter Defense talent rating
- 8th ranked SG in Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus
You’ll notice that KCP isn’t on this list. His B- Perimeter Defense grade is good (C+ among Guards), but his F Interior Defense and D Defensive Rebounding grades absolutely tank his overall defensive impact, which via PIPM has been negative so far this year, as it was last season and two of the past three years.
Solid Rim Protection
The Lakers are also getting contributions defensively from their Bigs when it comes to defending the rim, which is so key in basketball.
Grades in the A range from Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee and an A- grade from Dwight Howard help this top tier Laker defense be as good as it is.
But our Interior Defense metric is a lot more than just blocks (which is why AD is only in the 93rd percentile). Here’s a helpful graphic from Todd Whitehead that breaks down the three areas we assess for off-ball Interior Defense. In addition to those, we also take a look at post defense on-ball.
PIPM Player Finder
If you’ve ever been curious about a player’s past PIPM performance, our PIPM Player Finder tool lets you pick any player since the 1973-74 season and pull up their PIPM history.
Here’s how that looks for LA’s LeBron James:
Career O-PIPM: +5.16
Career D-PIPM: +0.90
Career PIPM: +6.05
Luck-Adjusted Lineup Data & Lineup Gravity
Our L-A lineup data tool lets you pick any combination of players on and off the court in 2/3/4/5-man lineups for any team from any year from 2000-2020. Our Lineup Gravity spreadsheet shows the Rim, Midrange, and 3-Point gravity generated by lineups based on actual performance from those lineups, not simply adding together individual player data.
8 different players have played 100+ possessions alongside both LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Here is how they compared in our luck-adjusted lineup data:
Now looking to 5-man data, we can see that only 4 Laker lineups have played 50+ possessions together:
- The current Laker starting lineup of K. Caldwell-Pope | A. Davis | D. Green | L. James | J. McGee. That group has a +5.58 luck-adjusted net rating on 400 possessions.
- The original Laker starting lineup of A. Bradley | A. Davis | D. Green | L. James | J. McGee. That group including Bradley instead of the current starting 5s KCP had a +4.84 luck-adjusted net rating on 215 possessions.
- A lineup I wouldn’t have guessed was near the top in minutes with A. Caruso | T. Daniels | D. Howard | L. James | K. Kuzma. That group has a -8.24 luck-adjusted net rating in 51 possessions.
- And a A. Caruso | D. Howard | L. James | K. Kuzma | R. Rondo lineup that’s gone gangbusters so far, boasting a +21.84 luck-adjusted net rating over 102 possessions.
Our lineup Gravity spreadsheet sheds more light on the lineups. The fourth lineup wasn’t captured in last week’s pull (they hadn’t played much together by that point), but here is the data for the other three lineups:
|Lineup||Rim Gravity/Min||Midrange Gravity/Min||3-Point Gravity/Min|
A few takeaways:
- The Bradley vs KCP starting argument isn’t too directly consequential from a L-A Net Rating standpoint, but each lineup operates slightly different. KCP’s lineup has tended to do more damage from midrange, while the Bradley lineup has had a higher 3-Point gravity.
- The A. Caruso | T. Daniels | D. Howard | L. James | K. Kuzma lineup is one we may want to play a lot less together based on its negative Luck-Adjusted Net Rating, and has had an atrocious Rim Gravity in its time together.
- The A. Caruso | D. Howard | L. James | K. Kuzma | R. Rondo lineup needs to play a lot more (they’re averaging ~5 MPG over the last 5 games) based on their L-A Net Rating
PIPM Career Projection Tool
Our PIPM Career Projection Tool lets you select any player in the NBA and see how their PIPM is expected to improve or drop with age, the wins added impact and $$ value we’d anticipate from the player those years, and the odds that player has an impact that season the level of an All-Star/All-NBA player/MVP caliber/best in the NBA player.
Here are a couple quick Laker tidbits from that tool:
- Kyle Kuzma’s peak career PIPM is expected to be next season, where he’d be expected to have a 5.4% chance to have All-Star caliber impact
- It’ll take until the 2023-24 season and LeBron James being 39 for LeBron to have a <50% chance to have All-Star caliber impact
- A player with Anthony Davis’ current PIPM and anticipated minutes played would be expected to return MVP caliber impact 60% of the time and $48M in value.
Individual Net Impact Tool and Teammates On/Off Impact Tool
These two tools both tell a similar story: LeBron James and Anthony Davis aren’t equally useful for this Lakers team.
Let’s start with the individual net impact. Here is how LeBron’s presence on the court has impacted the luck-adjusted net ratings of his teammates. Everyone’s data improved:
Now if we turn our attention to AD, those results are far more mixed:
When we try to further compare the two, we can use our teammates on/off impact tool to depict just how well the Lakers have played with one, both, or neither of LeBron and AD were on the court:
Another data source showing how dominant LA is when the two play together, but being less enthralled with the impact of Anthony Davis. Without LeBron James, AD’s lineups were only outscored opponents by 1.9 points per 100 possessions.
Adjustable Player Impact Plus-Minus Doc
This document is fun because it lets you see PIPM player data and luck-adjusted team data over specific stretches of a season.
For example, Kuzma had a -1.78 PIPM over the first 19 games, but has a +0.57 PIPM over the last 5 games. He’s really picked it up in impact!
This doc can also tell us the Lakers’ luck-adjusted ratings data:
It can also tell us that while LA is 21-3, they’ve been playing like an 18-6 team based on those luck-adjusted ratings. That’s been a lot worse than the Bucks (20-4 L-A record, which would be 69 win pace quality) but a lot better than the Clippers so far (15-9 L-A record, 51 win season).
They’ve been fortunate so far when it comes to luck/variance, but you want to take that where you can get it! LA has been playing like a 61 win team, but their season-long win projection from their PIPM and luck-adjusted data is in the mid 60s because they’ve already been fortunate enough to win some extra games early in the year.
That wraps up just a few of the insights you can find from our $5 Data & Tools package around the Lakers, but you can spend countless hours inside that ~30 interactive document package and with our 3 Gravity applications learning new insights for players and teams.