The Importance of Efficiency

 by Jon Nichols

As I have mentioned before and as you noticed in its description, Composite Score is heavily influenced by how efficient a player is.  This is much more noticeable for the offensive aspect of the ratings.  Offensive Rating and Player Efficiency Rating are especially influenced by it. 

Most people who use advanced basketball statistics would be able to tell you why it’s often more useful to look at measures of efficiency instead of number totals.  For example, when looking at how good a team is at offense, it’s better to look at offensive efficiency (how many points a team scores per 100 possessions) than points per game.  That’s because offensive efficiency is adjusted for pace, and since teams trade possessions back and forth, it doesn’t really matter how quickly you score.  What matters is making the most out of every possession and forcing the opposing team to waste their possessions.  The Golden State Warriors finished with the most points per game last year, but they were not the best offense in the league (they ranked just 4th).  The true best offensive team was the Utah Jazz, who scored nearly 5 less points per game than the Warriors but were much more efficient in doing so.  This, of course, gave the Jazz’s opponents less possessions to score.  This isn’t to say that playing fast is bad -- the bottom line is that the best strategy is to make the most out of every possession, whether you’re playing fast or slow.

The same general logic holds true when examining individual players.  Any time a player takes or shot (or commits a turnover, gets to the foul line, etc.), he is taking away a potential shot from a teammate.  Therefore, the best players are the ones that make the most out of the shots they take.  It’s a hard concept to grasp for many people, but it’s proven.  The best teams have efficient players who don’t take bad shots but force their opponents into bad shots.  That is why looking at just points per game can be very deceiving.  Scoring 20 points per game but requiring a ton of shots and commiting a lot of turnovers in the process can often hurt a team more than help it.

Back in his prime, Antoine Walker was a dynamite scorer, considered by many to be a great offensive player.  Despite a couple of poor seasons recently, his career points per game average stands at a very respectable 17.5.  In 2000-2001, he peaked at 23.4 ppg.  Unfortunately, he’s been terribly inefficient his entire career.  His best years efficiency-wise were still well below the league average.  Unless the rest of his teammates were severely offensively challenged (and considering he’s played most of his career with Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, or Dirk Nowitzki, this is probably not the case), scoring at such an inefficient pace is detrimental to the team. 

However, something must be said for being able to carry a heavy workload.  Antoine certainly did that, using a ton of possessions in every year since he’s been in the league.  Simply put, if he’s in the game, he’s getting his shots.  There is some value to this, because most players become less efficient the more they’re asked to do on offense.  Steve Kerr certainly wouldn’t have been as efficient if he started taking all of Michael Jordan’s shots.  Players that can create their own shot, allowing their teammates to pick their spots and only take the shots they know can make, are valuable.  This can’t be measured when simply looking at a player’s efficiency.  But Player Efficiency Rating takes this into account, and this ability would almost certainly be reflected in a player’s plus-minus statistics. 

With that being said, the best players have the right balance between carrying the workload and being efficient.  True offensive superstars can run offenses yet still make a high percentage of their shots.  The overrated players tend to be the ones that do all those things except for being efficient. 

This stuff may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how many people don’t take efficiency and smart decision-making into account when they’re looking at players.  Efficiency is the name of the game in basketball, and that will never change.





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