Can Steve Blake Save Shannon Brown From Himself? A statistical exercise

"So, when we get in, I'm going to start chucking." "Oh yeah? Not if I chuck first!"

In figuring out how to go about getting Silver Screen and Roll ready for the upcoming season, I had this great idea for an analysis piece looking into whether Shannon Brown's offensive foibles (too many contested shots, not enough ball movement) were because of his own personality/playing style, or because of his playing partner.  Put more simply, was Brown a gunner last year because that's just who he is, or was he a gunner last year because he played as part of a me-first bench backcourt with gunning partner Jordan Farmar?  Could Shannon's gunner tendencies be curtailed by pairing him with a lead guard who is much more team oriented, like, say, Steve Blake?

I thought it was a pretty insightful question, and was excited about looking into it.  But, the timing wasn't right, as we were knee deep looking at each player on the roster, so I figured I'd hold off, and write about it later.  There was just one little problem ... you pesky (brilliant) members beat me to the punch.  From the Shannon Brown preview:

There is no more Farmar, who would dribble till the clock was running out and pass the ball to Shanwow as a bailout. He would drive in either direction and take his 20 foot WAKI’s. Blake will have the offense flowing alot more smoothly, as will Barnes. I only think he can get better. Im actually expecting him to put up pretty decent numbers this year. Something along the lines of 20 mpg, 12 ppg at a 48% avg, while being around 35% from behind the arc.  - LakersFoEva

 

I agree that the improved bench will benefit him more than anything

Farmar and Brown were an awful pairing in that neither one had any notion of how the offense was supposed to be run, and couldn’t even figure out that a pick-and-roll was the only thing the bench was good at. With Blake managing the show, that gives Brown a lot more leeway to cut to the basket, spot up on the wings, and generally not have to deal with the ball-handling responsibilities. - Ben R.

Great stuff, but they stole my idea! Even worse, they stole it before I actually put it out there, which means that it's actually their idea, and if I were to write about it now, I'd be stealing their idea, which is no good either.  What do I do now?  I thought to myself, and then the answer came to me.  Instead of answering subjective questions with subjective answers, instead of arguing that Steve Blake is the solution to a problem that I only believe to exist, what if I just prove it?  What if I prove that Jordan Farmar made Shannon Brown play more selfishly?

That's exactly what I set out to do, and believe me, it's not a simple task.  In order to statistically prove that Farmar's presence on the court affected Shannon Brown's playing patterns, I needed to separate out Brown's stats while playing with Farmar from his stats while playing without Farmar.   As nobody seems to have that information readily available, I had to create it myself.  I finally got there, through a combination of databases, computer programming, and voodoo.  I may also have killed a guy with a trident, I'm not sure.

Let's start with the basics, establishing that Farmar and Brown were both gunners.  Farmar was definitely a gunner last season, and would have been under almost any circumstances.  He was playing for a contract, playing in a system that doesn't fully utilize his talents, and playing for a team he did not have any interest in continuing to play for once his contract was up.  He wasn't the anti-Christ or anything like that, and he played enough within the team concept to ensure he was the best option as a backup point guard, but it was clear to all of Laker Nation that Farmar's 1st goal was to "get his."  

A simple look at his Usage % (% of possessions used by a player while he's on the court) confirms Farmar used possessions at a high volume.  His 19% usage was 4th on the team, behind only Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum, which could be OK, except that the difference between Farmar's usage (19%) and Gasol's(21.4%) and Bynum's (20.8%) isn't nearly high enough. Shannon Brown's usage is virtually identical to Farmar's, at 18.8%. 

It seems clear that Farmar and Brown both took an inordinate amount of shots while on the court, but did playing together make Brown more likely to play selfishly?  The answer is yes ... slightly.  The numbers, shown below, do show an uptick in factors we would consider to be signs of selfish basketball behavior.  However, those upticks are not significant enough to be able to draw strong conclusions from.

Shannon Brown

MP

FGA

FG

FG%

3pt

3pt made

3pt FG%

eFG

Shots/36min

Assisted FGs

% Assisted

W/ Jordan Farmar

1005

368

155

42.12%

120

36

30.00%

47.01%

13.18

89

57.42%

W/O Jordan Farmar

635

218

94

43.12%

74

26

35.14%

49.08%

12.36

56

59.57%

Total

1640

586

249

42.49%

194

62

31.96%

47.78%

 

 

 

Let's take a closer look at some of these numbers.  First off, you can see that we do have enough of a sample size of both situations that we don't need to worry about too much statistical noise.   From there, what we see are little differences, across the board, that indicate that Brown played a little better, and less selfishly, when Farmar was not on the court with him.  His FG% increased 1% from 42% to 43%.  3 pt FG% increased pretty dramatically, from 30% to 35%, causing his eFG% increase to be 2%.  The number of shots per 36 minutes decreases by almost a full shot, and the percentage of his made shots which were assisted increased about 2% as well.

Those numbers are hardly screaming "CORRELATION" from the rooftops, much less causation.  More like a quiet mumble.  How about a look at how the team as a whole plays when Brown is on the court with and without Farmar?

Shannon Brown

MP

Team FGA

Team FG

Team 3 pt

FG%

eFG

Brown Assists

Team Assists

Brown Assist %

Team Assist %

Team Shots/48min

Brown FG/Team FG

W/ Jordan Farmar

1005

1832

801

143

43.72%

47.63%

79

428

9.86%

53.43%

87.50

20.09%

W/O Jordan Farmar

635

1138

494

77

43.41%

46.79%

32

265

6.48%

53.64%

86.02

19.16%

Still nothing that jumps up off the page, though there are some interesting tidbits of info.  Surprisingly, team FG% and eFG% are slightly higher with both Brown and Farmar on the court than when just Brown was on the court, which goes against what we saw in Brown's individual numbers.  Brown assisted quite a bit more of his teammate's FGs when Farmar was on the court, though that can be explained away by noting that, if Brown was playing and Farmar was not, Brown was most likely playing with more starters, and therefore had the ball in his hands a lot less (less ball handling = less assist).  Brown took a higher percentage of the team's total shots when playing with Farmar, but like everything else we've looked at, the difference is pretty small.  Ditto with the team's assist percentage, slightly higher with a Brown/ no Farmar lineup than with a Brown/Farmar lineup.

There is one factor from these team numbers that is both interesting and tells us something compelling ... team shots per 48 minutes.  One of the most frustrating aspects of watching the failures of the bench last season was that they would play at a fast pace when they weren't playing very successfully, thus allowing other teams to quickly reduce deficits that the Lakers starters had created.  Here, we see clear evidence that Farmar was the driving force behind the increased pace.  While shots/48 is not the exact same thing as pace, they are comparable, and an increase of 1.5 possessions/48 minutes is the difference between the 6th fastest pace team in the league last year (the Kings, at 94 possessions/game) and the 17th fastest (the Mavericks at 92.5).  Again, this can easily be explained away by thinking about who replaces Farmar (Derek Fisher) and how that affects the way the offense is run, but it does show that a Brown/Farmar combo played the way they wanted to play, instead of how the coaches wanted them to play.

So is Farmar "to blame" for Brown's over-aggressive offense last season?  Tough to say.  It bears mentioning that even if Brown was more selfish last season as a result of playing with a selfish Farmar, it does not justify or vindicate his actions.  He is still responsible for chucking too many shots under bad circumstances.  "But coach, Jordan was doing it, too" will never be a valid excuse.

This year, however, Brown has nothing but positive circumstances surrounding him.  Steve Blake should organize the 2nd unit in a much more team-oriented, coach-friendly type of way.  In the small and irrelevant sample size that is the preseason, you can tell that the Lakers have made a conscientious effort to improve team ball movement.  If anything, the team seems to be over-passing so far this year, instead of under-passing  Brown now has every opportunity to be more successful, through off ball cuts and spot up shooting, than he was last season.  However, with positive circumstance and increased opportunity comes a lack of excuses.  If Brown continues to make the same decisions regarding shot selection that he has in the past, there will no longer be any mitigating evidence on his behalf.  The numbers shown don't really indicate whether Shannon Brown was a gunner last season because he is a gunner, or whether it was because he was trying to keep up with his gunning partner.

This season's numbers will.

[Author's note: Stats were taken from Basketball-reference.com, or created via the online databases available at basketballvalue.com.  It should be noted that my created stats differed very slightly in comparable categories (FGs, minutes, etc.) from the totals found at basketball-reference.com, but I reviewed my methodology extensively and could not rectify the numbers.  In all cases, the differences are very small.]

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