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Dumpy's Statistical Analysis - New Jersey @ Charlotte

Statistical Analysis
New Jersey at Charlotte

Final Score: New Jersey 97, Charlotte 84

In a much-needed victory, the Nets outscored the Bobcats in each of the four quarters on their way to a resounding 13-point victory. In fact, the game wasn’t even as close as the score implies, as the Nets somehow managed to miss half of their 20 foul shots. Just how pathetic was the free throw shooting? How about this: As a team, the Nets shot better from the floor than from the line (41-73, or 56.2%). Moreover, only one Net shot better than 50% from the line. That would be Vince Carter, who hit all of two of his three free throws. And get this: Only two Nets had better free throw percentages than field goal percentages: Cliff Robinson and the aforementioned Carter.

And that was without the services of Jason Collins, who has hit all of 42.9% of his free throws this season. Maybe Coach Frank told the team they had to work together to replace Collins’ contributions in his absence, and they all misunderstood just what he meant. I can hear it now: Clunk. "Twin, that was for YOU, man!"

All this may seem off-point—Hey, the Nets won, dammit!—but it fits right into the theme of this series. My goal is to look at the games from an objective, statistical perspective. At times I may get a bit off-track, like with this free-throw discussion, but it’s all in an attempt to better understand exactly what happened in the game itself. In this case, some are crediting better ball movement and a renewed sense of urgency for the victory. I can’t measure that, statistically, but it may be true. What we can do, though, is try to identify which players and combinations of players performed well, and those that didn’t. The goal is just to further our understanding of what happened, not to replace what our eyes tell us. To provide the tools to think about the game from a different perspective, and to find patterns that offer additional insight into the performance of the team.

This particular game is fascinating for several reasons. First, as mentioned quickly above, Jason Collins missed the game, and is out indefinitely. I’ve pointed out in the past that the Nets’ starting unit has generally performed well, but that the team loses its effectiveness once the reserves start to enter the game. How will the starters play when Cliff Robinson enters the starting lineup?

The second reason this game is fascinating is that, as you all know by now, Coach Frank relied much more on his bench in this game then he had up to this point in the season. For whatever reason—and several have been proposed, which I won’t go into here—the Nets played 11 of their 12 active players. This, in turn, led to fewer minutes for the reserve that received most of my ire in my last entry, Jeff McInnis.

So, what happened? Were the reserves fired up at the chance to contribute, and prove that they deserve to play every night? A quick look at the stats would indicate that this was the case:

Name Minutes Played Points Scored (FG) Rebounds
Scott Padgett 15.2 4 (2-4) 3
Jeff McInnis 13.6 7 (3-5) 0
Jacque Vaughn 12.9 4 (2-3) 2
Marc Jackson 12.1 2 (1-4) 5

As a group, the top four reserves scored 17 points on 8-16 shooting in nearly 54 minutes, with ten rebounds (I’ve left Zoran and Linton Johnson off this chart, because they played fewer than five minutes each). Not too shabby. Obviously, the reserves were the reason the Nets won, right? Well, as you’ve come to expect, not everything is what it seems. Let’s take a closer look.

But first, a quick quiz:

Of the six players named below, five obtained a +/- against Charlotte of at least +14. One was minus-1. Was it:

(a) Vince Carter
(b) Richard Jefferson
(c) Jason Kidd
(d) Nenad Krstic
(e) Jeff McInnis
(f) Clifford Robinson

You probably thought the answer was Jeff McInnis! Ha! Were you wro—well, actually, you were right. It was McInnis. So how many of you got it right? Come on, raise your hands. . . .Excellent! Almost all of you!

What’s your point, Dumpy?

Just this: If McInnis can go minus-one in a game the Nets won by 13 points, and no one is surprised by it, well, I’ll just leave the rest unsaid.

Here are the +/- stats for the game:

Player Minutes Played +/-
Vince Carter 38.8 +22
Richard Jefferson 37.0 +18
Nenad Krstic 34.1 +16
Jason Kidd 34.4 +14
Clifford Robinson 32.8 +14
Scott Padgett 15.2 -1
Jeff McInnis 13.6 -1
Marc Jackson 12.1 -1
Zoran Planinic 4.9 -2
Jacque Vaughn 12.9 -5
Linton Johnson 4.3 -9

As we’ve seen in prior games, there is a clear delineation between the effectiveness of the starters and the reserves. The other number to stick out is Linton Johnson’s -9 in 4.3 minutes. That includes a stretch at the tail end of the third quarter into the fourth, when the Nets were outscored 8-0 in one minute and 22 seconds of play, while Linton had his only shot attempt blocked. McInnis actually did pretty well in comparison to the other reserves, at least at first glance. Generally speaking, if the reserves could each earn a +/- rating between 0 and minus five each game, the Nets will be pretty successful over the long haul. You expect your reserves to have a lower +/- rating than your starters; after all, they ARE reserves, and they may be facing the opponents’ starters for some of their time on court. In a minute we’ll take a look at the circumstances under which they obtained those ratings, and decide whether they played well or not.


Players Minutes Played +/-
Kidd, Carter, Jefferson, Robinson, Krstic 29.5 +18

Now the reason the Nets won by 13 points comes to light. The starting unit played together nearly 30 minutes—a remarkable figure for a team whose starters have typically played together for half that. Not surprisingly, the Nets dominated during those 30 minutes of play, outscoring Charlotte by 18 points. No foul trouble—and no minor injury to Carter—allowed the starters to stay together for so long.

I just received an e-mail from one of my loyal readers. Let me read it to you:


I really love your work. You really have increased my understanding of the game! But now you’ve lost me. You’ve been harping on how the reserves are not being successfully integrated into the game alongside the starters, but here is Cliff Robinson playing with the starters, and they dominate the Bobcats. Not only that, but you are now calling him a member of the "starting five," when in the past you would have described that unit as "Starting Four Plus Robinson." What gives? As much as I hate kicking someone when they’re down, I’ve got to call it as I see it—you’re nothing but a fraud.

Peter V.

Thanks, Peter. That’s a very good point. Let me take this opportunity to explain that Robinson has stepped into the starting lineup for Collins very successfully over the course of the season. Check out these numbers:

Unit Minutes Played +/- Rating W-L eFG% eFGA%
Starters + Collins 199 +47 8-4 .520 .459
Starters + Robinson 75 +31 5-3 .469 .430

At the outset, let me point out that these figures include the game against Charlotte. Let me explain these numbers a bit. +/- you know. W-L represents the number of games that the Nets outscored their opponents when that unit was in the game. In other words, the nets used the Four Starters + Robinson combination in eight different games, and the unit scored more than the opposition in five of those games. It’s a way to measure consistency underlying the +/- ratings. eFG% is the effective field goal percentage of the unit, which is calculated just like the normal filed goal percentage, except that successful three-point attempts are given more weight. eFGA% is simply the effective field goal percentage of the opposition when the unit is on the floor together.

What this shows is that, while the Nets are not as effective offensively when Robinson is on the court, they are better defensively by about the same margin. The point is that Robinson serves as a reasonable facsimile for Collins when he plays with the other starters. But thanks, Peter, for reminding me of that point.

So if the starters played together for about 30 minutes, that left little time for the reserves. In fact, there are only a couple of other combinations that played together long enough to look at:

Players Minutes Played +/-
Vaughn, Kidd, Carter, Robinson, and Krstic 0.9 -2

There is no statistical significance to this combination. I only mention it because it was the only "Starting Four Plus One" lineup used during the game.

Players Minutes Played +/-
McInnis, Carter, Jefferson, Padgett, and Jackson 1.6 -1

This unit played together towards the end of the first quarter, after a short stint by Linton Johnson.

Players Minutes Played +/-
McInnis, Zoran, Jefferson, Padgett, and Jackson 3.1 +0

As an aside, I have no idea why I call Zoran by his first name. This unit played together to finish the first quarter and start the second, with Zoran replacing Carter. Like the combination including Carter (above), they exclusively faced a lineup of Charlotte reserves Ely, Felton, Robinson, May, and Carroll.

Players Minutes Played +/-
Vaughn, McInnis, Carter, Padgett, and Jackson 2.3 +6

Vaughn and Carter then came into the game, replacing Zoran and Jefferson, and the team took off, outscoring the Bobcats 6-0 over the next 2+ minutes. Again, the Nets faced a lineup of Charlotte reserves.

Players Minutes Played +/-
Vaughn, McInnis, Johnson, Padgett, and Jackson 1.2 -5

This unit started the fourth quarter for the Nets, and was outscored 5-0.

Players Minutes Played +/-
Vaughn, McInnis, Jefferson, Padgett, and Jackson 1.2 +2

Linton leaves, Jefferson enters, and the ship is righted.

Players Minutes Played +/-
Vaughn, McInnis, Zoran, Johnson, and Padgett 2.0 -2

This unit finished the game out.

None of these units involving one or more reserves played long enough together to get a good read on their performance. As I wrote earlier, if the Nets’ reserves can all hover between +0 and -5 each game, the Nets will be generally successful. In this case, though, the Nets reserves played almost exclusively against Charlotte’s reserves, and (with the exception of the combination that included Vaughn and Carter), were consistently outplayed. So who are these Charlotte reserves, who could outplay the Nets’ revered bench? A bench that consists of seven future Hall-of Famers and Zoran Planinic? A bench that costs the Nets (OK, no exaggeration this time) over $12 million (for the six reserves that entered the game, again, not counting Robinson)? It is a group that includes two rookies (May and Felton), a second-year player that played in just 31 games last year (Robinson), a third-year player that had played in 41 games total entering this season (Carroll), and a guy that has played for four different teams over the past four years (Jones).

And the Nets’ bench couldn’t outplay them.

To look at this another way, HAD the Nets’ starters played only about 15 minutes together, as they typically do, and HAD the Nets’ bench continued to play at their usual level of ineptitude when in the game, THEN, doing some basic math, the game would have ended in a virtual tie.

That’s right: Without the starting unit playing 30 minutes together, we couldn’t be confident of beating the Charlotte Bobcats.

The conclusion, once again, is that as the Nets’ starters go, the Nets go. I can’t wait until the Nets play a team with a stronger bench. Watch those fouls, guys!