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Enough Balls? Exploring Usage Percentages.


Is there going to be enough touches to keep the smile on Zach's face?

One of the motifs of the mainstream media's coverage of the Memphis Grizzlies this season is claiming that the Grizzlies have added too many offensive players, and, since basketball is only played with one ball at a time, all five of them won't be able to shoot enough to be happy.

Exploration occurs across the jump. Also please everyone feel free to comment, I'd love to see some fresh faces.

The root of the argument is that the Grizzlies didn't need offense with young wing scorers Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo. The root of that argument is wrong. While it is true that you would prefer to have a team that's a happy medium between offense and defense, the Grizzlies really, really struggled to score last season. According to Hollinger's statistics, which aren't my favorite but are easy to read, the Grizzlies were 27th in the league in offensive efficiency. That is very bad. More, better offense was absolutely needed.

So we know that the Grizzlies added offense with Randolph's acquisition, but the big question  that this post is actually meant to address, is whether the Grizzlies will be able to get the ball in the hands of their high usage players often enough to keep them happy and keep the offense running smoothly. Without further ado, usage statistics from last year:

Conley Mayo Gay Z-Bo M. Gasol
Usage 17.9% 24.5% 25.6% 28.1% 18.3%

With the help of a calculator you'll be pleased to note that the usage percentages come out to 114.4%. Try to test me at home, I dare you.

Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to show you the same table from a few playoff teams: the Magic, Lakers, Nuggets, Trailblazers, and the Cavaliers. (Note: Not necessarily starters. Went by most minutes at each position.)

Nelson Lee Turko Lewis Howard Total
Usage 23.2% 15.5% 23.0% 22.0% 26.1% 109.8

Fisher Bryant Ariza Odom P. Gasol Total
Usage 14.7% 32.2% 16.7% 18.1% 20.4% 102.1

Billups Smith Anthony Martin Nene Total
Usage 21.8% 24.2% 31.5% 17.7% 18.1% 113.3

Blake B. Roy Outlaw Aldridge Pryzbilla Total
Usage 16.9% 27.5% 22.0% 23.7% 10.2% 100.3

Williams West LeBron Varajeo Big Z Total
Usage 23.4% 16.7% 33.8% 14.2% 23.8% 111.9

So what's the point? Well let me tell you what I cull from these charts in bullet form:

  • The Grizzlies' projected total of 114.4% seems high compared to these top-tier teams, but not absurdly high.
  • Even though Zach Randolph gets a ton of flak for his shot selection, his usage percentage is not so different from a player either LaMarcus Aldridge or even, gasp, fossilized Big Z. Still it is quite high, even being above Brandon Roy's.
  • Rudy Gay's usage is the highest of the Grizzlies last season, and is almost certainly too high given his production, being right around Brandon Roy's. I would look for it to shrink a small amount this season.
  • Given his production and skill-set, Marc Gasol is probably using a few too many possessions. Look for Gasol to focus more on defense next season with Randolph around to score in the post. While Pryzbilla's usage is too low, Anderson Varajeo is an acceptable model.
  • Neither Rudy Gay nor O.J. Mayo was particularly efficient last season. Look at Nene's or Pau Gasol's usage, who were both among the league leaders in efficiency last season. I would argue sometimes less shots can equal the same production. Look for Rudy and O.J. to follow that trend this season.

Looks to me like there isn't really much of a problem with shot distribution here, especially when you consider that the Grizzlies ran a relatively slow tempo offense last season, about 3 possessions per game below league average. This season I expect Coach Hollins, based on some of his comments, to drive up the pace, which should get the Grizzlies another 5 possessions per game or so. While that might not sound like much, given the distribution of usage percentages, those extra possessions probably means that most of the Grizzlies will have about the same number of shots to go around this year as last.

That is, unless Allen Iverson signs.

UPDATE: As far as possession redistribution in percentages goes, there are two options to get down to a similar number as other teams (about 109%). Each of the high usage players could reduce a decent bit, especially Rudy and Zach Randolph, probably accounting for about two shots each if the Grizzlies play at the same pace. Or Marc Gasol could follow the Varajeo/Pryzibilla path, in which case Rudy and Zach would only need to give up about one shot a game. I consider the second of these paths, with Marc as a designated hustle player and enforcer, the more desirable outcome.