48MoH Statistical Sleuthing: On Tony in the Paint

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The opening subject for this feature — one where I try to pop my head in to answer questions, examine observations, and fact-check our staff when we say crazy things every once in a while — comes from commenter Andres in the last 48MoH TV postgame show, from the January 8th game at OKC. Andres asks, in short, where Tony ranks among players in the paint this season. As he recalls:

Two or three seasons ago, Tony Parker was always in the top 5 in points in the paint among all players. I think he even lead the league once. … Tony, for a couple of years now, isn’t getting to the paint nearly as well as he used to. Can you find out where Tony ranks among current players in scoring in the paint? … The last couple of years. Tony’s supposedly been the Spurs’ all-star caliber player. He’s supposed to be in his prime. But I think his game has been declining the last couple of seasons and guys like Conley, Gordon, Westbrook, Lawson, Rondo, etc all seem to outplay him. I’m not sure Tony has been a top 7 point guard for the last couple of seasons. Is it possible that he peaked at age 27?

All good questions, and all rather insightful, as well. Andres put words to something anyone who’s watched the Spurs this year can attest to be true; Tony’s finishing has been atrocious this year. While it’s early in the season, at nine games in, Tony’s at-rim field goal percentage (usually in the mid to high 60s) was sitting at 42.9% when Andres asked his question. That sounds bad, but it’s even worse when you look at him relative to his peers. Among players with 25+ minutes per game, Tony’s numbers have him in an astonishingly low rank. There are 144 players that play 25 or more minutes per game. Of those players, Tony’s at rim percentage was 138th. Really. You can look yourself. Here’s how that number — at 9 games in — compared to Tony’s recent performances:

FGM FGA FG% %As Rank Eligible
2007 3.6 5.5 0.650 0.270 50 175
2008 3.6 5.6 0.640 0.181 60 174
2009 4.6 7.1 0.650 0.233 50 187
2010 3.1 5.0 0.627 0.269 75 186
2011 3.9 5.2 0.654 0.243 82 185
2012 1.7 4.0 0.429 0.333 137 143

Not good at all. You may look at this and wonder why Tony’s ranked so low — while 50-80 is pretty high (and above average among these 25+ mpg players), it’s a far cry from top 5. That’s because this includes big men, and is only a measure of field goal percentage. If you want a more unbiased estimator of his value in the paint, look no further than this excellent metric courtesy of Evan from The City. Part of Parker’s value isn’t just that he shoots an incredibly high percentage at the rim, it’s also that he shoots a ton of shots there. In 2011, Tony’s combination of high volume inside scoring and high percentage conversion had him ranked 6th in the league under Evan’s metric. We don’t have numbers for the last few years, but assuming similar distributions, it’s safe to say Parker would’ve been top 10 for most of those years and likely top 3 for several under that metric. So, it isn’t really a stretch to say he was a top-5 paint scorer these last few years. This year, though? He’s taking a league-average number of shots and making an astonishingly low percentage of them.

The fact is, Tony Parker has been playing atrocious, especially at the rim, and it’s tough to say whether this should make Spurs fans excited or terrified. Why excited? It’s easy to simply chalk this up to small sample size and assume he gets better as the year goes on, which would be an instant improvement to San Antonio’s already gelling offense. Terrified is more obvious — if this represents a permanent change in his game, the Spurs are essentially down to no all-star caliber offensive players. Tim Duncan’s offense has fallen off a cliff (an underrated stat — while Parker’s at-rim FG% is 138th, Duncan’s at-rim FG% is 137th among 25 mpg players), Manu is out for two months (and will be balky for a time after his return), and Parker is the Spurs’ last real star offensive player on the roster. If he can’t produce, we’re essentially hoping that teams keep respecting Tim and Tony’s game despite their falloff and relying on Pop’s offensive schemes to tide us over until Manu comes back. Personally, I have to assume the truth lies closer to the “small sample size” conclusion than the “Tony Parker is over the hill” one. There was no real sign last year that Parker’s game had fallen off this much, and even if he’s fallen off a bit, if he simply boomerangs back to a bit above league average his presence will improve our already potent offensive game.

The real question is whether San Antonio’s currently awful defense can sort itself out behind the Tiago-Kawhi core — and that, really, is the foremost key to whether the Spurs are a real contender this year or a team that’ll overperform in the regular season only to exit early when the playoffs come. I’ve been rather happy with what I’ve seen from Kawhi-Tiago units on defense, especially when they put Matt Bonner on the floor instead of DeJuan Blair. But that’s a subject for another day. In terms of Andres’ question, the facts are there to support the idea that Tony has fallen off significantly. Is it a temporary blip or the reality going forward? That’s your call.

  • http://twitter.com/tyler_remmert Tyler Remmert

    well, this was sobering.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IYOK27SYODWR5EOM2SJLHWK4G4 WAMBO

    I hate Stats, lets just win.
    Stats makes me nervous.

  • Tyler

    Since Manu’s injury, I feel like Tony’s been pressing. I think knowing the Spurs’ offense lacks it’s best creator has made Tony take a more aggressive, I-need-to-score-to-make-up-for-Manu mentality. I’d like to see him let the game come to him a little more.

    Also, it’s hard for me to believe TP has fallen off for good, simply because the shots he takes, most notably floaters, age well. And sure, once his quickness leaves him, those shots will be tougher, but I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest TP has lost any speed/quickness. 

    He’s just missing shots. I think he’ll be fine.

  • Bushka

    Im in the too small sample size boat in terms of Tony’s performance.  

    I wish i was on that boat with regards to our defence.  

  • Tyler

    Clarification – we want to TP to be aggressive, we just don’t want him to force, which I think he has been.

  • Anonymous

    So the secret to getting a question asked with it’s own article is to constantly barrage each and every blog with the same question?

    Just wondering.  ;)

    By the way…thanks for the stats and follow up to them.  Kinda puts the question to bed if Tony has been on the decline.  But I’ll submit a quote from your article which I think answers a lot of questions:

    “The killer is all the little things that get harder when the star loses his respect.
    The few inches less Tony has to drive in. The few less seconds Duncan
    has to complete the pass. The one three point shooter who won’t be open
    because his man will stay home.”

    Read more: http://www.48minutesofhell.com/tim-duncan-and-the-case-of-the-disappearing-bank-shot#ixzz1jO751agE

  • Hobson13

    I believe one of the reasons for Parkers slow start is that he has other young weapons who are actually looking to score.  Gone are the days of Bruce Bowen and Fab Oberto who were just one way players taking only a few shots per game.  We have other guys like Anderson, Leonard, Green, Blair, and even Splitter who are actually developing some offensive skills and are looking to score.  Yes, Parker’s field goal % is unusually low, however, he is also attempting far fewer FGs than in years past.  From last year to present, his FGA have dropped 30% (from 5.2/game to 4/game).  With regards to his low FG%, also keep in mind that he had a 6 month layoff since he last played ball.

    P.S. Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on my last point, but I don’t remember Parker playing in France over the summer, hence the 6 month layoff and virtually no training camp/preseason.

  • Hobson13

    One last point.  In Parker’s last 5 games, he is averaging almost 19/8 per game and shooting a much better 48.8% from the field which is much closer to his career average of 49.2%.  These numbers also take into account his injury game against OKC where he only scored 4pts.  I think this supports my hypothesis that he just needs to knock the rust off of his game and he’ll be fine.

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  • Bry

    Tony will be fine. This isn’t tennis. Players (even point guards) don’t suddenly lose their skills over a six-month period, unless they suffer a significant injury. And finishing at the rim is also a measure of precision, rather than just physical ability. If you look at aged point guards that are still playing in the NBA like Kidd, Nash and Miller, none of them suddenly dropped off a cliff, but rather have slowly declined and adjusted their games. The first place you see them fade is on the defensive end. I think Tony’s got a few good years left of being very quick, hitting floaters and knocking down short-range jumpers. There has definitely been too much knee-jerk panic and doom and gloom about the Spurs as of late. I mean, you would have thought we won 30 games last year and then lost a bunch of players in free agency the way people keep trying to stick a fork in San Antonio.

  • NYC

    Parker did play in France. He played for the national team over the summer, and then for ASVEL during the lockout, a team he partially owns. He seems to have played 7 games for ASVEL and as recently as November. I seem to remember him tearing it up with the national team, playing like an All-Europe MVP but the stats say he only played one game. Faulty memory on my part?? He sustained a shoulder injury playing for ASVEL in, I think, November shortly before the lockout ended. All in all, his play during the NBA offseason saw him returning to top form. If anything, the lack of rest might be what’s effecting him as of late. Maybe he’s readjusting from his role and style of play in Europe?
    http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Tony-Parker-3870/stats/http://projectspurs.com/2011-articles/november/parker-says-he-played-his-last-game-for-asvel-wants-to-avoid-injury.html

  • NYC

    I could not agree more: too much knee-jerk panicking. People are ready to throw in the towel just because Manu went down with an injury. Talkin’ about tanking the season for a high draft pick. Absolutely disgraceful. 

  • NYC

    OK, 48MoH writers, here’s what I want to know: you’ve looked at his field-goal percentage, what about his assist stat? Has he been putting up his usual numbers or has he increased his assists line? Could this be indicative of a change in his approach to the game, which may be in turn responsible for a shift in his numbers? In other words, maybe he’s facilitating more rather than looking to score. Isn’t that what some people have always wanted?

  • Anonymous

    The point I was trying to make in the “El Conclusion Portland Game” thread.  It’s why his t/o’s have been on the increase being he’s looking to facilitate more.  But his assists are up by almost 2 per game.  What I’ve been noticing is Parker looking to distribute more during the course of games and saving himself to command the scoring ( if needed) at the end of games.

  • Peter

    Is there any way to separate transition baskets from his field goal percentage? My hunch is that his half-court scoring has had a bigger drop this year.

  • Hobson13

    Many people, including myself, saw the team win 61 games only see us fade in the last 10 games of the regular season and get blown up in the first round.  There is no real fundamental difference in this years team and last.  Sure, we have some good young pieces, but rookies and 2nd year guys don’t usually win playoff games.

    I agree that Tony should be fine, but stars win games in the playoffs and at this point we MAY have 2 stars considering Manu is consistently injured and Duncan looks old.  I just don’t like our chances in the playoffs this year.   

  • Hobson13

    Thanks for the info, NYC.  I wasn’t 100% sure he DIDN’T play overseas this summer, but I couldn’t find any info after briefly researching the issue.  I still maintain that Parker has lost very little since his peak 2-3 years ago.  He’ll be fine.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Oyer/100002629861574 John Oyer

    I think opposing coaches have been more attentive to closing off the driving lanes this year. They have been sagging in to stop tony from driving and it has opened up a lot of three pointers for his teammates. Duncan has not been attracting double teams as in the past. Tony is fine, Don’t ask him to do more or he really will start “pressing”.

  • Andres

    Aaron, thanks for the research. I think the stats do reflect that Tony’s game has plateau, and maybe even beginning to decline. Even if it’s true that Tony has become a better passer ( although still quite average for point guards), the fact of the matter is that he is no longer consider an elite point guard and for two seasons hasn’t been mentioned in all star conversation. Even if he tries to facilitate more, his only strength has always been getting to the rim, and as his percentages drop so will his efficiency. I know a lot of fans seem to think that is an over reaction, but I disagree. 
    As a Spurs fan, I do hope I am wrong and Tony proves me wrong. The fact of the matter is that when the Spurs were championship contenders, both Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were in the top 5 in points in the paint. If you combine that with a top 3 defense, now that’s a championship team ( easy points and stops). Nowadays, the spurs are quite the opposite, they rely on perimeter scoring and fail to be a top 15 defensive team. They can get away with that in the regular season, mainly because they have great coaching, but in the playoffs that just won’t work. 

  • Andres

    Aaron, thanks for the research. I think the stats do reflect that Tony’s game has plateau, and maybe even beginning to decline. Even if it’s true that Tony has become a better passer ( although still quite average for point guards), the fact of the matter is that he is no longer consider an elite point guard and for two seasons hasn’t been mentioned in all star conversation. Even if he tries to facilitate more, his only strength has always been getting to the rim, and as his percentages drop so will his efficiency. I know a lot of fans seem to think that is an over reaction, but I disagree. 
    As a Spurs fan, I do hope I am wrong and Tony proves me wrong. The fact of the matter is that when the Spurs were championship contenders, both Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were in the top 5 in points in the paint. If you combine that with a top 3 defense, now that’s a championship team ( easy points and stops). Nowadays, the spurs are quite the opposite, they rely on perimeter scoring and fail to be a top 15 defensive team. They can get away with that in the regular season, mainly because they have great coaching, but in the playoffs that just won’t work. 

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