NBA observers are always talking about how some player makes everyone around him better. This sports cliche is almost always used in basketball to talk about point guards or a combo/wing player with good court vision in the mold of Kobe or LeBron. The ‘makes his teammates better’ meme is actually particularly apt for describing basketball. Sure, a quarterback and a receiver need each other, and a quarterback needs his offensive line. And yeah, one bad fielder can ruin a good double play. But teammates in these sports are not as reliant on each other as the five players on a basketball court are.
Basketball fans know this intuitively, but we don’t really account for it in our numerical estimations of a player. All it takes is for one defender to not rotate appropriately on defense, and the whole team is being exploited for an easy corner three. If one guy is just standing around on every offensive possession when he doesn’t have the ball, the offensive spacing stinks, and everyone has to work a little harder. We know that Josh Smith, Andre Drummond, and Greg Monroe can’t make an effective offensive front court even though every one of them is an excellent individual player. The actions of every player are constantly affecting every other player. 1
The same can be said for players on the defensive end, and that brings us to Roy Hibbert. Proven rim protectors are a valuable commodity in the NBA. A great rim protector makes it hard to drive, allowing wing players to play a little closer to their man. If they’re playing too close and someone slips past well, that’s what Roy Hibbert is for. So rim protection isn’t just about rim protection! A good rim protector should also help you stop shots on the perimeter just by virtue of being there.
The two graphs in this post show the shot distribution and FG% of opposing teams when Hibbert is on the court and when Hibbert is off the court (the same caveats apply as with a +/- score: this is Hibbert compared to his usual sub, Ian Mahinmi). Each of the squares represents shots in a 1×1 foot area, and is colored according to the FG% of opponents in one of 17 regions (more on all this in a future post explaining the graphs).
Opposing FG%, Hibbert on court
Opposing FG%, Hibbert off court
Opposing FG%, Hibbert off court
And now you can see the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. Yes, Hibbert’s presence greatly reduces opposing FG% near the rim, but it also reduces opposing FG% way out in 3-point territory. There is a lot of refinement that needs to be made to these graphs, but the basic story pops out.
I am going to follow this with a post that provides more details about the data visualization, but please comment if you have requests, suggestions, insights or etc. I am very interested in ways to improve on what I have so far.
- With point guards, we feel really sure of this effect, because we can see that Kenyon Martin is so much better with Jason Kidd. The point guard is not, however, the only offensive player who can make his teammates better. Chandler Parsons makes his teammates better because when he’s roaming around the 3-pt line, the defense is afraid to send someone to double-team Harden or Howard. Dirk Nowitzki makes his teammates better because he forces defenses to scrap all their plans and use weird mismatches. ↑