Monday, March 11, 2013


When performance changes, or someone exceeds or fails to meet expectations, there's always a narrative. It doesn't matter if it is sports, or politics, personnel evaluation or rationalizing why you were late to dinner. The narrative is easier to come up with, always provides an answer, and is simple to communicate. Unlike the truth, which is often hard to get at, not definitive and almost always complicated.

The simple narrative behind Georgetown's improvement has been the rise of Otto Porter in the wake of Greg Whittington's suspension. There's several variations on the narrative here, from innocent to not so innocent:
  1. Greg's absence made Otto Porter realize he needed to step up
  2. Greg's suspension made JTIII realize the big lineup was a mistake
  3. Greg demanded the ball too much for a mediocre offensive player and the Hoyas would be not as good with him.
Is this narrative even right? I doubt that we can prove any of the above completely right or wrong either way. But we can examine why the team is doing better and see if that lines up with the 'absence of Greg' theories.

In all three cases, we'd expect the major cause of improvement of the team to be offensive. In all three cases, we'd expect the shift of possessions away from Greg Whittington to be the key driver of increased offensive ability.

Is it the Offense?
Stat                 Non-Conf.           Last Ten  
Off Eff. (Adj)      102.2 (102.5)     106.3 (110.5)
Def Eff. (Adj)       83.9  (84.1)      91.4  (85.1)

eFG%                   51.3               53.3
TO%                    18.4               20.6
OR%                    28.4               33.5
FTA/FGA                34.9               36.5
I'm using the last ten even though it's more the last 14 because it's easier (the only other easily available split was con/non-con and that doesn't suit because the first few conference games need to be in the "before" set). I'm using non-conference, because, even though it doesn't include the Pitt debacle, it's directionally right in terms of how the offense was performing.

It's the offense.

Given the competition level, the defense may actually have been better, but you'd never expect an offense to improve in raw efficiency in conference play versus a full set that includes seven or eight cupcakes unless it actually, you know, improved. This isn't a quirk of schedule -- the offense did get better (Ed note: I've added the adjusted efficiencies for the two time periods).

Most notably, the team has shot better (#1 in conference play in eFG%) and hit the offensive boards better. (Again, given the competition, they also improved in TOs and FTA, but those are smaller improvements).

Is it the shift of possessions away from Whittington?

One way to find causality in these situations is a Volume, Rate and Assortment calculation. Since we're dealing with per possession efficiency and possessions are our "volume", I've ignored that and focused on a rate and assortment calculation.

An increase in rate means that the player got better between the non-conference and the last ten games. The trade-offs in assortment will show the benefit of moving playing time around.

The results:
             Non-conf         Last 10
Player    Usage   ORate    Usage   ORrate  Assort  Rate
Starks     14%    108.4     20%     98.2     7     (2)
Lubick     12%    108.8     14%    100.5     2     (1)
Porter     17%    117.0     21%    135.2     5      4 
Hopkins    16%     83.7     10%     86.9    (4)     0 
Trawick     8%    101.4     11%     99.9     3     (0)
DSR         8%    104.6     15%    114.5     8      2 
Ayegba      3%     78.7      3%     91.4     0      0 
Bowen       1%     73.6      2%     88.0     1      0 
Whit       18%     98.4      0%       -    (18)     -  
Total      96%              97%              3      3 
What the heck does that say?

The first two columns are non-conference possession usage (including PT and games played) and Offensive Rating. The second two columns are the same, but for the Last Ten Games. The last two columns are the assortment and rate effects on overall efficiency.

Taking a look at the total column, the first takeaway is that the offensive improvement is partially due to a shift in who takes the shots, but equally (if not more) due to improvements in efficiency. Despite the increase in opponents' ability, Porter and Smith-Rivera are playing better than they were in the non-conference on a per possession basis. 

There's been a net improvement in who uses the possessions as well. But it's important to note that the grouping of Whittington, Trawick, DSR and Starks nets out at about flat in total affect. Not all of Whittington's possessions went to that group (they are up 16% and Whit is down 18%), so there was some improvement there, but not much.

A more substantial shift was away from Mikael Hopkins as the hub of the offense and towards Otto Porter, and to a lesser extent, Nate Lubick. Porter's non-conference possession numbers are artificially low (he missed 1.5 games), but the shift is unmistakable.

You can still build narratives around this data. Perhaps Otto doesn't take his efficiency to the next level until he realizes he needs to without Greg. Perhaps Thompson never shifts offense from Mikael to Otto (though he was already shifting Mikael's PT and role downward). Perhaps DSR doesn't blossom without the extra playing time. Perhaps Greg's style of playing slowed down the flow of the offense.

Perhaps. Then again, perhaps in the wake of the Pitt loss, Thompson shifts the offense to Otto anyway, Greg plays incredible defense and starts hitting his threes (41% in conference play last year), DSR gets his minutes from Hopkins, not Whittington, and the team goes 16-2 in conference.

Either way, what we do know for certain is that shift of possessions from Greg to DSR, Markel and Trawick had less impact than the shift away from Hopkins or the general improvement of Porter and DSR. The suspension of Whittington still could have been a trigger for either of the two latter causes, but there's little doubt that simply taking the ball away from Whittington was not the cause.

See, I told you the narrative was simpler.


  1. Thanks for taking the time to deconstruct the argument and pull together assertions to illustrate the different points of view.

    I have been in the camp that subscribes to the narrative Greg's suspension was the major source of changes that led to the dramatic improvement. You mention DSR's emergence offensively.

    Can you isolate Trawick defensively?

  2. The Tennessee and Towson games really dragged down the non-conference offensive numbers. Otherwise, except for Duquesne when Otto was injured, the offensive numbers were good. We had a great first half against Texas and one or two other games and then dropped in efficiency during the extended garbage time in the second half of noncompetitive games.

    Against Tennessee and Towson, the problem was horrible shooting. The offense did not commit many turnovers and got open shots but no one could make them. Those two games: 3/23 on 3pt attempts; 11/36 on 2pt jumpers; 16/33 on dunks, layups & tips. It wasn't Whittington or even Hopkins. It was the whole team. Without Whittington's defense, we probably would have lost to Tennessee.

    Can anyone point to a win in conference that might not have happened if Whittington were still on the team? The offense was not that great in several good wins - Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati, @Syracuse except for Otto - but the defense held.

  3. JWP -

    The best thing we've got (or anyone who isn't breaking down film has) is probably the defensive portion of net points. It starts with defensive efficiency while the player is one the floor, then adjusts for defensive stats, giving player credit for defensive rebounds, blocks and steals.

    It's on the net points tab above. Otto and Greg come out as the best defenders, and Moses measures out very well in conference. Trawick does well, but I think since he's not a huge steals guy or rebounding guy, he probably doesn't come along in the stats as well as he actually plays defense.

  4. Brian -

    I think it the place to look to where Whit would have negatively affected the Hoyas would be games where DSR played very well.

    That's the most likely PT victim.

    Then again, we beat USF with Whit, I think.