Statsketball: Sports VU and a Mid-Season Check Up

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we're halfway through the NBA schedule, it's a good time to reflect on some early stats and predictions, as well as take a look at some of the most choice stats from the league's Sports VU cameras.

The integration of SportsVU player tracking data into every team's stadium is the biggest leap in basketball analysis since pace-adjusted stats and Hollinger's development of PER. Depending on how it gets used from here on out, it might be even bigger. The SportsVU cameras have the potential to completely change the way we understand the game of basketball.

In case you missed it, I had an explanation of what the SportsVU cameras actually are in my primer explaining various types of advanced stats:

There's a lot of potential in the SportsVU player tracking data to tell us new things we haven't even dreamt of seeing before, thanks to a set of motion tracking cameras that track each player's position on the court 25 times per second. Thanks to those cameras, NBA.com has available new data ranging from how far and fast each player travels each game, and how many potential rebounds a player grabs. The data available to us at the moment pales in comparison to what could potentially become available, and the probability is high that teams already have access to some of this pandora's box. If you'd like to know more about the cameras themselves you can look here, or if you'd like to read on the potential statistical landscape that the SportsVU cameras might promise, you can look here.

Like I said then, the data that's available to everyone right now from those cameras is only a taste of what could eventually be widely accessible. Nonetheless, there's a lot of really fascinating information to be gleaned from the SportsVU data at the moment, and I'll be using this week's Statsketball to go over a lot of that.

As well, we've officially hit the mid-point of the season - last night's loss to Portland marked the 42nd game of the season. I'd like to take this mid-way point opportunity to look back at some probabilities and predictions I made at the beginning of the season in this column, to see both how they've stacked up so far and how they might look going forward.

SportsVU Player Tracking Data

Monta Have All the Speed and Passing and Driving. Or Whatever.

  • Monta Ellis is 2nd in the NBA in total miles traveled on the season, behind only Klay Thompson. So far, Monta has run for a total of 107.2 miles. Of all players who have run for 100 miles or more, Monta is tied for 4th in average speed, at 4.2 mph, behind Gerald Henderson, Nic Batum, and Chandler Parsons.

It's not much of a surprise that Monta has run so far over the course of the season. First, he plays 36.8 minutes per game and has played in every game so far this season in a high paced system, which is a natural way to accumulate plenty of miles.

This is telling in a number of other ways, though. For one, it does take a little more than just minutes and a system to accumulate the second highest milage in the league. Monta is incredibly active: he runs from basket to basket, more often than not. He still drives more than any other player in the league, and he runs the transition offense more often than not. Between the two, Monta spends much more time than your average player running the entire length of the court.

Lastly, Monta is pretty clearly faster than Batum and Parsons, at least, but what that tells you is that Monta is running full out far less often than the other players. Defense, maybe?

  • Monta is 11th in the league in total assists, but is only 29th in assist opportunities per game and 48th in passes per game, and 58th in points created off of assists per 48 minutes.
Like miles traveled, Monta's assist numbers are inflated by amount of time played. He's played an average of 3 games more than the other players on the top 25 in total assists, and he logs a tiny bit more more minutes per game on average as well.

But also like miles traveled, there's a little bit more than that in here. Despite the insistence that Monta is the guy really running the show in Dallas, Monta passes far fewer times per game than Jose Calderon and it's not actually close. Jose is currently 10th in the league in passes per game in the NBA, while Monta is 48th. Monta isn't spending nearly as much time as Jose does actually moving the ball around and setting up plays.

Instead, I think that the "assist opportunities" tell the real story here. Assist opportunities per game are the total number of chances a player has to get an assist per game; so the number of shots that a team takes off of a player's passing. Monta is far lower on this list than he is on total assists.

What I think that all this indicates is that Monta is actually a great passer in the sense that he's very good at initiating plays that put other players in perfect position to score. Given how much lower he is on the assist opportunities list than he is on the total assist list, it's clear that the Mavericks convert shots on Monta's passes far more often than they don't. And, given his other totals, it's clear that most of Monta's passes are made with the intent of leading to a bucket.

Monta may not do as much setting up of the offense as people claim, but he is really, really good at hitting his teammates in prime scoring position.

  • Monta has dropped to 3rd in Drives per Game, but he's 1st by a wide margin in Points per Game on Drives. He's 2nd in Team Points per Game on Drives, below only Ty Lawson.
It would appear that Lawson has become more efficient on drives to the hoop than Monta (he drives more per game than Ellis, and even though he scores less often, he gets far more assists on drives than Monta does). Otherwise though, Monta is still more efficient at adding points on drives than Tony Parker and Jeff Teague -- the other two players who drive more than 10 times per game.

Dirk - Still an Elite Shooter

  • Among all players shooting at least 3 pull up jumpers per game, Dirk is 6th in FG%. Among those same players, Dirk is 18th in the league in Points off of Pull Up Jumpers, despite being significantly below every player above him in pull-up attempts per game, at only 4.9 per game.
Dirk doesn't take as many pull-up jumpers off the dribble as he used to, only 4.9 per game now, but he's converting them at an absolutely elite rate (43.1%). Not too much to say, here, other than the fact that the one-foot turnaround just doesn't age much at all. The old man has still got it.
  • Dirk is second in the league in total points off of "Catch-and-Shoot" opportunities (351), behind only Klay Thompson, and he's 4th in the league in FG% among players who've shot a significant number of such shots.
As Dirk gets older, he's taking far more catch-and-shoot jumpshots than he needed to only a few years ago, and frankly, I don't know that there's a better player to have spotting up for your team in the entire league. He's justified that feeling so far this season by taking and hitting an absolutely elite number of catch-and-shoot chances.

Random SportsVU Notes

  • All of the Mavs' point guards are well above average passers so far: among players with similar minute totals, every one of the Mavericks' point guards is top 4 in total passes per game.
  • Among all players who have to protect shots at the rim more than 5 times per game, no Maverick is in the top 25 in FG% allowed at the rim. The best rim protector is actually Dirk, at 50.4% allowed, at 29th in the league, behind such luminaries as David Lee and Andrea Bargnani. Dalembert is 40th on the list.

Checking on Previous Statistics

  • In the first edition of Statsketball, I said that there was a 4.18% chance of Monta maintaining a True Shooting% of 57.5% or higher for the season, despite the fact that Monta had a TS% of above 58% at the time. Now, Monta has seemed to validate those low odds, sporting a TS% of 53.8%. There is now a 0% chance that Monta shoots above 57.5% TS% for the season, and a 29.46% chance that Monta shoots at least the 53.8% that he's been shooting so far.
Early Statsketball: Statsketball 1 Statsketball 2
  • Also in the first edition of Statsketball, I talked about the odds of Jae Crowder shooting above 50% from the season...LOL, my bad. There is a 0% chance that Jae shoots above 50% from the season from here on out, actually.

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