Wednesday, March 10, 2010

State of the Team, Or, A Four Factors Graph Dump With Commentary

The Hawks have been treading water for 30 games, though, I guess, in terms of this metaphor, it should be made clear they're not treading in dangerous water, winning a little more than 63% of their games and almost certainly assuring themselves a top-four seed in the East. As this graph of the team's game-by-game winning percentage demonstrates, even while the level of accomplishment is clear, the lack of progress is not simply a trick of the mind.

click on graph to enlarge

The flattening out of the team's offensive and defensive efficiency is something of a result of the method employed (The variance in the team's season average will diminish as each individual game has less impact on the total.) but it's, again, useful to have some demonstrative proof that, outside even the organization's willingness to avoid change of roles and personnel whenever reasonably possible, this season's team both is what it is and has been that for more than half of the season-to-date.

click on graph to enlarge

For a different look at (essentially) the same information, here's the graph of the team's point differential per 100 possessions.

click on graph to enlarge

Since the big dip between games 27 (the blowout win in Minnesota) and 36 (the first loss in Orlando), the differential has stayed between 4.5 and 6.2 points per 100 possessions. Over the last 17 games, the differential has stayed between 4.5 and 5.3 points per 100 possessions as the Hawks have gone 10-8.

Is there anything to be learned from the shape of the Hawks' performance in different areas of the game? Let's look at the four factors.

First, the most important factor: eFG%.

click on graph to enlarge

The hot shooting of the opening night game (Atlanta shot 56.9%; Indiana shot 60.3%) extends the graph a touch higher than would be ideal to see the smaller, but real, changes in performance later in the season but the fact remains the Hawks' season eFG% has stayed between 49.8% (reached twice) and 52% (reached once) since the second game of the season. Their opponents have been slightly more variable but one can restrict the range to between 49.4% and 52.2% since the fourth game of the season.

The difference, though, between Atlanta's eFG% and that of their opponents is currently 0* which is the single greatest reason for the constancy of the team's winning percentage and the narrowing of their scoring differential. After Atlanta's 11-2 start, their eFG% was two percentage points higher than their opponents. At their subsequent peak for the season (19-6, 76 Win%) the difference was a percentage point and-a-half.

*Actual difference: 0.00065 in favor the Hawks. Fist pump?

Both Atlanta's offensive rebounding and offensive rebounding prevention (aka "defensive rebounding") have improved since the last time I graphed them.

click on graph to enlarge

That the recent hot rebounding streak has coincided with the Hawks winning no more than five of eight games (62.5%, essentially (or less than depending on your preferred degree of exactitude) the treading water rate referenced above) does little to make me re-think the mea culpa I posted a couple days after 2.7.10 rebounding graph was first seen in this space.

A low turnover rate has been this team's defining characteristic for much of the year. Not turning the ball over isn't especially sexy but the team's remarkable ability to maintain such a low turnover rate is, I contend, mildly titillating.

click on graph to enlarge

That's a turnover rate of 14% or below since game 7, a turnover rate of 13.6% or below since game 19, and a turnover rate of 13.3% or below since game 46.

Here's where a free throw rate graph would go had I column in my game-by-game spreadsheet for the free throw rate of Atlanta's opponents ((oppFTM*100)/oppFGA) rather than or addition to the column which exists to track Atlanta's opponents' FT Rate ((oppFTA*100)/oppFGA) which is there in the interests of comparing foul rates between teams more than comparing opponents' free throw percentage--a vestige of the spreadsheet's beginnings as a tool to compare college basketball teams and their far more diverse ability to shoot free throws.

Let it be said that, as bad as they are at getting to the line, the Hawks are better at keeping their opponents off the line. The difference (on the season) in (like-for-like) FT Rate between the Hawks and their opponents is 1.7 made free throws per 100 field goal attempts. At the rate the Hawks and their opponents attempt field goals, that comes out (on average) to a 1.4 point advantage to the Hawks per game.

Some of that difference is down to free throw shooting. The Hawks make 76.6% of their free throws. Their opponents make 74.7%. The league average is 75.8%.

Above, I declared the diminishing of the difference between the Hawks' eFG% and their opponents' eFG% to be "the single greatest reason for the constancy of the team's winning percentage and the narrowing of their scoring differential." The next greatest reason (and it's next greatest because it only applies strongly to the issue of scoring differential) is the decline in the number of possessions in games as the season has progressed.

click on graph to enlarge

When the Hawks were 11-2 (84.6 Win%), they averaged 92.2 possessions per game*. When they were 19-6 (76 Win%), they averaged 90.9 possessions per game. At 40-23 (63.5 Win%), they average 89.5 possessions per game.

*Both here and in the graph, "per game" means "per 48 minutes" so as to eliminate the impact of overtime games.

Most of the time, the Hawks are better than their opponents. The fewer possessions in a game, the fewer opportunities the better team has to exert its authority. That's generally true. Specifically for the Hawks, higher possession games are also indicative of better defensive rebounding, a commitment to transition offense, and a half-court offense more reliant on the (relatively) quicker-strike virtues of player and ball movement rather than dribbling in place isolated from teammates. Basically all the things that warm us when present and inflame us when absent.

No comments: