Monday, October 19, 2009

Season Preview: Chris Wright

Chris Wright plays like a traditional point guard. He can penetrate and distribute the ball. Sure, he’s more inclined to shoot than what a pure point guard would be, by some people's definition. But his handle, quickness and passing ability place him as a point.

Chris Wright also plays for a team that previously didn’t need a traditional point guard. Jon Wallace led the team on and off the court for four years, and his game was much more suited to that of a pure long distance shooter. Georgetown won letting other players - actually, the whole team - create.

Has the offense adjusted to Chris Wright’s strengths, or is he being pigeon-holed into Jon Wallace’s role? Is the offense restricting what he can do? Is he restricting what the offense can do?

How can we measure the adaptability of the offense? And whether that role is holding back Wright or vice versa? Several key statistics might give us an indication:
  1. How does Wright’s split between 2pt and 3pt attempts differ from Wallace’s? Wallace was a shooter and Wright is a penetrator, so they ideally would have significantly different splits unless the system was forcing one of them to be something they weren’t. This can help us measure the adaptability of the offense.
  2. How does that same split compare with other Big East point guards? By focusing on those players who shoot similarly to Wright (strong 2pt, weaker 3pt %), it may become apparent as to whether other systems tailor themselves better than the Hoyas'.
  3. How much does Wright control the ball in comparison to Wallace? Again, this should help measure whether the system adapts. By all accounts, Wright should dominate the ball more.
  4. How much does Wright control the ball in comparison to other Big East points? Again, this should give a measure of how important the point guard is relative to other offenses in the Big East.
  5. How does Wright’s 2pt FG %, attempts, FT Rate and assist rate compare to other points in systems that play in a faster paced?
  6. Does Georgetown's offense generate more turnovers? Is that a bad thing for Chris Wright?

1. How does Wright’s split between 2pt and 3pt attempts differ from Wallace’s? Is the offense keeping Wright from driving?
Wright’s best attribute from a statistical standpoint is his ability to hit shots inside the arc. In conference, he hit 54% of his 2-pt FGAs and got to the line consistently. His biggest weakness was three point shooting, as he made just 31% of his attempts.

Wallace is a sharp contrast to that, making 40% of his threes in conference play and 49% of his twos. The latter is not a poor number, but given his number of attempts and his three point accuracy, it should have been his second option.

Over his career, Jon Wallace attempted 55% of his shots (including free throws in the equation – the % of FGs is higher) from three in Big East play. Last year, Chris Wright attempted only 29%. One may argue that that is still too many threes, but clearly the offense is not dictating that Wright take the same shots as the previous point guard. Even Jessie Sapp, a guard with a little more drive than shoot to his game, attempted 47% of his shots from three as a senior.

2. How does that same split compare with other BE points?
Looking across the starting point guards from every Big East team (and a few backups) last season, six players stand out as comparable to Wright in terms of his 2pt and 3pt shooting percentages. They are Edgar Sosa, Kemba Walker, Dominic James, Deonta Vaughn, Anthony Farmer and Eugene Harvey.

Of the seven point guards listed above (here including Wright), three of them have a shot selection problem of sorts: Deonta Vaughn, Edgar Sosa and to a lesser extent Dominic James. Despite not shooting particularly well from deep, Sosa and Vaughn shot around 50% percent of their shots from three and James nearly 40%.

In contrast, Eugene Harvey and Kemba Walker seemed to understand their weakness, shooting around 15% of their shots from three and going to the rack much more often. Anthony Farmer shot just under 20% of his attempts from behind the arc.

Wright falls in the middle with his 29%. You could argue he could shoot from three even less, but Wright did shoot well over 40% as a freshman (albeit in limited time). It simply doesn’t seem as if the system is forcing him to take the wrong kind of shot. If it is, then other systems (Cincy, Louisville and Marquette) seem to have a bigger problem.

3. How much does Wright control the ball in comparison to Wallace?
I came up with a junk stat for this, adding possession usage (which is dominated by shot attempts and turnovers) and assist rate. For example, a player with a 20% possession usage who also assisted on 22% of his teammates' FGs would post a 42 in this stat.

Wallace doesn’t break a 36 in conference play in any year that he played. Wright clocked in at 44 last year. While I did not check every player’s past Big East stats, Wright’s 44 is the highest of the Thompson era for a guard, with only Jessie Sapp’s junior (and best) year more or less matching it.

So, yes, Wright does control the ball more. But not to an overwhelming amount, and Greg Monroe actually led the team last year in this stat.

4. How much does Wright control the ball in comparison to other Big East points?
Using the same method as above, there are five Big East point guards who clearly dominated the ball more than Wright did.

Levance Fields and Johnny Flynn controlled the ball for their teams more than any other players, and for good reason. They were far and away the most dominant PGs in the conference.

Three others were significantly higher than Wright: Deonta Vaughn, Eugene Harvey and A.J. Price. Vaughn was a gunner on a team with no scoring help and Price is a sixth year senior whose talent level is near to Fields. That said, Eugene Harvey is not as talented an offensive player as Wright (in my opinion) yet he played a more central role in Seton Hall’s offense.

After that comes Wright and whole slew of point guards who were similarly involved in their offenses. Bringing up the rear was a motley crew of freshmen (Kemba Walker, Truck Bryant), pseudo-point guards (Wil Walker) and players that just aren’t very good (Malik Boothe, Anthony Farmer).

Wright did not dominate the offense like Fields or Flynn. He was used as much as a typical Big East point guard, and it may be argued that he is more talented than some of them. Then again, if he was underused by the system, so was Sharaud Curry or Corey Fisher or Truck Bryant. None of those guys are in the same offense, so while I wouldn’t rule it out, there’s certainly no specific evidence here supporting the base contention that Georgetown's offense is holding back Wright.

5. How does Wright’s 2pt FG %, attempts, FT Rate and assist rate compare to other points in systems that play in a faster paced?
The four top-paced teams in the Big East last year were Providence, Syracuse, Villanova and Seton Hall. While Flynn is a bit of an outlier, Harvey and Curry were somewhat similar to Wright, and Corey Fisher is not only statistically similar, but he’s also a sophomore McDonald’s All-American-level talent who came into his own last year.

Did getting up and down help these point guards, Fisher included?

Looking at these players, there is a common thread. They tended to outperform Wright at the free throw line – either by shooting accuracy or attempts or both; by garnering a higher assist percentage; and by turning the ball over less. It wasn’t universal, but it was true of three of the four.

I quickly ran correlations between pace and the above stats plus 2 pt FG % and my junk stat for point guard usage. Nothing came back as overly significant (and the sample size certainly was nothing to get excited about), but the two that came back with any useful correlation at all were FT Rate at 0.36 and TO Rate at -0.30. Assist Rate and PG usage came back as noise – at least in this sample, the teams that ran didn’t necessarily have their PGs more involved.

It’s not surprising that FT Rate came back most significantly correlated with pace: there’s a large number of fouls called on fast breaks. I would expect that for a guard, it is much more common to draw a foul on a fast break than on drive against an opponent already established. It seems Wright – who is already fairly adept at drawing fouls in an offense that is not designed to do so – would likely benefit from fast-breaking in that matter.

Of course, he would likely benefit as much from making more of his fouls shots – Fisher’s 76% from the line is the lowest of the foursome, while Wright shot 72% in conference.

6. Does the offense generate more turnovers? Does this mean it is a bad fit for Chris Wright?
It is a central tenet of Mike D’Antoni’s Seven Seconds or Less (SSOL) offense that shooting quicker means fewer turnovers. It makes sense – less ball handling means less time to make mistakes. Of course, it makes even more sense when you have Steve Nash doing the handling for five of those seven seconds.

By the same theory, Georgetown’s offense, which tends to take a bit longer in generating a good shot, should have higher turnovers on average. The offense trades more opportunities for turnovers for higher percentage shots.

The facts seem to support this notion, as the Hoyas’ offense has ranked 247th, 192nd, 213th, 35th, and 203rd in unadjusted turnover %. The 35th was Ashanti Cook and D.J. Owens’ senior year and proves that it is not impossible for the team to function at a high level of ball handling. However, turning the ball over has been a bigger and more consistent fault than everyone’s favorite whipping boy, rebounding.

This should actually mean that Wright is a better fit, based on his ball handling. Wright had a 22% turnover rate in conference play, which is not strong. But that’s still a number that Wallace only beats in his senior year, and not by much. In other words, Wright should help the Hoyas more than he would be hurt. In fact the only way he would be hurt by this is if for some reason his decision-making and handle are better in the open court than half-court.

Going Forward

There’s no doubt the offense has adjusted to some extent for Chris Wright. He’s using possessions and garnering assists at a faster rate than any JTIII-era Hoya guard before him, and he’s played just one and a half seasons.

There’s also no doubt that Wright is getting his opportunities more or less at the same pace as the rest of the league’s point guards. Should he be getting more? He certainly seems to have more natural talent than some of the point guards he is bunched with. On the other hand, the Big East guards who played a more central role in their teams’ offenses were either clearly superior performers or on teams that had less talent and needed their scoring and playmaking more.

The answer seems to be in tweaks rather than wholesale readjustments. DaJuan Summers used 25% of possessions and shots while he was on the floor last year, and posted an Offensive Rating below Wright’s while creating for others less than half as much. In other words, Wright, along with Freeman and Monroe, should be grabbing those shots and possessions. And yes, Wright should probably take it to the hoop a bit more.

But the biggest difference for Wright this year should be in skill development, not a change in role within the system or even a change to the system itself. Simply by improving his stroke from outside and at the line and reducing his turnovers, Wright can realize his potential to become All-Big East.

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