An Offense Runs through him.
Is it better to be efficient or to be productive?
It is a simple question, that doesn’t have a simple answer. With the rise of advanced stats and saber-metrics efficiency has become code for good. In a lot of minds now an efficient scorer is a good scorer. The flip side is also true to a lot of people. A non-efficient player, even if he is very productive, is not a good player. Guys like Danny Granger, Monta Ellis, Joe Johnson, and even our own Al Jefferson have been considered by some in this new stats world as not good offensive players because they aren’t “efficient.”
But contrary to that thinking is the fact that the guys can score the basketball a lot and the teams those guys are on score more easily with them on the floor. Some stat people suggest that if you have a volume scorer who uses 20 possessions a night, that you could get rid of the player and just give an extra 4 possessions to the other five guys and you would come out better than giving the ball to the high usage scorer. It is a debate that a lot of Jazz fans that aren’t thrilled with Al Jefferson believe in whole heartedly. There is actually a Jazz fan on twitter with an avatar that suggests he loves Big Al, who told me that Al is a worse offensive player than Kwame Brown. Even David Locke continues to believe in this theory even though his buddy Kevin Pelton puts him in place every time he brings it up.
I played basketball in high school (go Wolves) and always felt the value of having a guy that could use that many possessions and be very productive, a guy that you could run the offense through. Obviously it would be better if the productive players were also very efficient, but there is no way I bought into the all of the efficiency talk. I also came to understand that there is a lot of value in both. But where is the happy middle and what are the best ways to look at efficiency and compare it to productivity. If I work in a factory and my job is to produce widgets. I produce 8 widgets and it took me 8 hours, is that better than the guy that worked 12 hours and produced 11 widgets? If quality is the same it would tell you that I was more efficient but the other guy brought us closer to the ultimate goal. Productivity isn’t worthless and productive players would be better if they improved their efficiency. Really efficient players need to be productive in the role they are playing and at times might need to sacrifice efficiency to help the team be more productive.
I really believe ever since Moneyball was published every stat geek sports fan in the country thought that they might have a chance to find some inefficiencies in the sports world to take advantage of. We have John Hollinger, Kevin Pelton, and even David Locke, who have all found things and ways to look at how well players perform. Locke’s offensive ratings base huge value to hitting 3s and getting to the foul line, yet don’t include turnovers when calculating an offensive players efficiency and base things on an average player rather than a replacement level. Hollinger’s PER has been widely considered the model for efficiency, even though a lot of Jazz fans don’t like it because it shows the value of Al.
A lot of Jazz fans that I have talked to don’t like this metric because it shows values production in calculating efficiency. Hollinger has been so good with his use of stats that the Memphis Grizzlies finally decided to take him on and see if he can play the role of Jonah Hill. But even with Hollinger’s success a lot of people still insist on using different methods to test efficiency and Some Jazz fans feel like Al Jefferson is a below average offensive player and that those possessions would be better used split among guys who are “more efficient” than Big Al.
Those critics have been somewhat silenced, or would be if they are paying attention, because of events happening in both Indiana and Golden State. Indiana fans have a relationship with Danny Granger that is similar to what a lot of Jazz have with Big Al. However without Granger the Pacers offense has really struggled. It seems that there is value in having a high usage guy.
Legends That Should Fall
What is an efficient offensive player?
There seems to be a lot of different views on what an efficient player even is, there seems to be many “legends” out there to what it takes to be an efficient offensive player. When looking at how efficient an offensive player is Jazz fans often site True Shooting percentage, which is defined by Hollinger as total points / [(FGA + (0.44 x FTA)]. I feel like this is a good stat for how efficient of a shooter a player is but Hollinger uses this stat yet still felt the need to incorporate other factors into his player efficiency rating.
Some Jazz fans even use points per shot, total points / FGA, to show how efficient an offensive player is. This is a legend that should fall. Let me say that this is not an advanced stat nor an accurate way of measuring a players efficiency. It is often used by people who just glance at the box score and make a quick assessment. But this stat doesn’t give any value to turnovers and gives extra value to free throws, even to the expense of points. Simply put this stat doesn’t tell you what happened at all.
To point out just how inefficient PPS is, let’s discuss a couple of things. If Karl Malone rolled to the basket and got the feed from Stockton and as he was going up for the basket was fouled, according to points per shot he would be better off to miss the shot, because that attempted shot doesn’t count as a FGA and to just go to the foul line and put in two points with no field goal attempt than he would be if he just made the basket and got fouled and hit the free throw. three points is more than two, but if you believe in PPS as a metric two points on no shots is better than three points on one shot.
Also, if when looking at the box score if Player A was 4-9 from the field and 4-4 at the line and had four turnovers and 12 points and Player B went 6-12 from the floor and had zero turnovers and 12 points. It is clear that player A had a higher PPS, but player B was more efficient in getting to the 12 points. So if you ever find your self just looking at the box score to say this guy scored 12 points on 12 shots and this other guy scored 12 points on 9 shots, look a little deeper before making the assumption on which was truly more efficient. Which brings us to Al Jefferson.
The Curious Case of Al Jefferson
Al Jefferson is the only player in the NBA that plays the game the way he does. He plays in an era where the low post scorer is used about as much as AOL and at times he can be a ball stopper. He doesn’t get to the free throw line and he doesn’t shoot a great percentage for a big man. All that said I still believe Al is a very good offense player because of how productive he is. The Jazz go to Al whenever they need a bucket. Even if it bothers some that we go to him and pound the left block it seems to work. Al is consistently our most real liable scorer and the man gets a pretty good look at the basket every time we go to him. He is one of the best clutch performers and forces the defense to react down the stretch.
Al’s offensive value should be very clear after the Jazz win over Orlando. When Al had it going they had no answer for him in the post. Then when Al went out because of back spasms we couldn’t even run a play to get a solid shot in the closing minutes. The same thing happened to the Jazz last year in the home game against the Toronto Raptors. The Jazz were relying on Paul Millsap to hit off balance threes and Devin Harris to get the foul line to stay in the game. Needless to say we couldn’t close them out and lost to the hapless Raptors in double OT.
In the Jazz’s recent loss to Memphis, Al and the Jazz played a great first half and had a double digit lead, but in the second half Memphis tightened a zone around Al and basically dared the rest of the Jazz to beat them. It is clear that Memphis felt taking Al out of the game was their best chance to win So to me the value of a go to guy should be undeniable.
I also believe this is the problem with the Denver Nuggets this year. Over the past few weeks the Nuggets have lost some very winnable games down the stretch without having a person to go to to seal a win for them. The Jazz don’t have a CP3 or a LeBron James to carry us home, but Al Jefferson does a pretty solid job in those situations. Al has the highest clutch FG% in the entire NBA over the past three years.
The ace in the hole for Al Jefferson is that he never turns the ball over. Over the past couple seasons Al has been the best in the NBA when it comes to not turning it over. Because of that Al is actually efficient and productive. As the old saying goes, “You can’t rebound a turnover.” Every time Al puts up a shot the Jazz have about a 49% chance to score and if he misses about a 29% chance to get an offensive rebound if he misses. Whereas a turnover has a zero percent chance that the Jazz will score on the play. So Al is an anomaly. He is a big man who posts up and scores a lot of points, never goes to the foul line, and never turns it over.
While his overall FG% is nothing for a big man to brag about he is the best shooter on our team right now from 16-23 feet and he shoots above league average from every two point range on the court.
He had the highest pure point rating of any center in the NBA last year and is somehow also considered a guy that doesn’t pass.
He is a 6’10” 280 lbs beast that has a finesse game when putting on moves in the post. He uses his shot fake to make defenders jump more than Kriss Kross.
He is great when we win averaging 19.7 points, 11 rebounds, and shooting 52.5%, and struggles when we lose, 14.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, and shoots 43.5% from the floor.
He also plays the game like he runs on a diesel engine. He starts slow and takes a while to get warmed up, but he finishes strong when everyone else seems to be struggling to keep up with there normal rate of performance. This year he is shot 36% in October, 47% in November, and 49% in December. In games he also starts like a Ford F-350 Super Duty on January 2nd, shooting just 45% in the first half. Then shooting 47.7% in the 3rd and 54% in the 4th quarter.
He is also one of the most productive and efficient scorers down the stretch in a close game that there is in the NBA. Simply put Al Jefferson is a very curious case.
So when it comes down to being efficient or being productive I believe it should be clear that you need to be productive and efficient in your role. But I am reminded of when the question is asked would you rather be rich and stupid or poor and smart, of the deep thought from Jack Handy, “I would rather be rich than stupid.” I would want Al Jefferson.