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The Warriors Boogie

DeMarcus Cousins has progressed through his rehab with little to no setbacks and is expected to take the court for the first time as a Golden State Warrior shortly after Christmas. Prior to the season, the Warriors’ signing of Cousins had the NBA community in an uproar. Warriors fans were thrilled and others were giving up on their favorite team before the season even started. It’s safe to say that the other teams still have hope as the Warriors have fought through injuries and drama, landing them in the second spot in the West with a 15 and 7 overall record.

With a starting lineup boasting four current NBA stars, there have been lots of questions about what DeMarcus Cousins’ role will be in the lineup. To try and understand Cousins’ role and effectiveness with his new team, I decided to take a look at other players who have gone through serious ACL injuries. For this analysis, I decided to compare player stats from the year of their injury to their first and second seasons back playing after recovering (seasons only counted if the players played 20 games or more). The stats I chose to look at for this analysis were field goal percentage, assists, rebounds, and turnovers. Some of the main stats we see such as steals and blocks were not included because they typically have a small year to year variance and it would be hard to attribute minor changes to the injury.

DeMarcus Cousins Golden State Warmups
DeMarcus Cousins in Golden State Warmups: Photo Credit Sportingnews.com

With the use of Kaggle.com, I was able to acquire a dataset of all NBA injuries between 2010 and 2018. From there I sorted through the data to leave only the players with torn Achilles/ACL injuries. With these filters applied only 38 players remained. Of those 38 players, 9 stopped playing directly after the injury or only attempted one more season (these players were removed from the dataset for lack of relevance). 5 players are currently recovering or haven’t played at least two seasons of 20 games or more since their ACL injury so they were removed from the dataset as well. This left me with 24 players with recent Achilles tears to examine.

In most cases, players returning from serious injuries are eased back into action. For that reason, I chose to take player stats per 36 minutes of playing time so decreased minutes per game wouldn’t skew player efficiency. A common mistake sports analysts seem to make is looking at totals without thinking about why they are the way they are.

When the dataset was finally put together, it lead me to some surprising findings. Regardless of player age we see that players do seem to take a step backwards in their first season back from a serious ACL injury. In the second year, there are still less productive stat lines, but many players start getting back to their output prior to injury. The most surprising observation had to be how close the post injury hustle stats were to their pre-injury output. In most cases, assists and rebounds dropped less than one per game in the averages.

Field goal percentage is a different story. All but four of the 24 players in the study dropped in overall field goal percentage their first year back and for the most part the drops were significant. Even in the second year back we see almost half of the players shooting worse than they were prior to injury.

Achillies Injury Stats
Red areas show stats that are under players production levels prior to ACL injury. 

Shooting appears to the area most significantly affected by ACL injuries and for that reason I think DeMarcus Cousins will actually do well in the Golden State. In fact, this may have been the ideal place for him to land this season. The Warriors certainly have enough scoring and outside shooting. If Cousins comes back and starts shooting like Andre Drummond from the three-point line, he can still be a beneficial part of the Warriors starting lineup. No offense to Jordan Bell, Damian Jones and Jonas Jerebko, but DeMarcus Cousins brings something to the team that the Warriors haven’t had in the splash brother’s era. He is a dominant NBA center and a powerful offensive presence under the basket. Even if Cousins isn’t playing at the level he was prior to injury, he will still be a more effective scorer in the paint than the Warriors’ current options and he will likely be a better defender, rebounder, and passer.

Cousins may have found the best place to get back up to speed. He won’t be forced into a lead offensive role he isn’t ready to take on and he will be a valuable addition to a team that just might bring home a third straight NBA Championship.

The Wild West

For quite a while now, there has seemed to be a discrepancy between the competitiveness of the Eastern and Western Conferences in the NBA. And, for as long as I can remember, the discrepancy has always seemed to favor the West.

In recent years and this season especially, we continue to see this difference in the NBA’s competition level.  This year, eight out of 15 teams in the East that have a 50 percent winning percentage or greater. In the West, there are 11 teams at or above the 50 percent mark in winning percentage. If any of the top 12 teams in the West were to move to the Eastern conference today, they would be a playoff-qualifying team. This seems to happen every year. There are always a few teams in the East who make the playoffs that wouldn’t even get a sniff of them if they were competing for a sport with teams in the West.

The discrepancy between conferences seems to grow almost every year when the free agency rolls around. In recent years, some of the biggest names to flip from the Eastern Conference over to the West are Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, and LeBron James. There doesn’t seem to be one clear answer as to why the West tends to attract and retain better talent. We have seen players move from team to team to follow friends, All-Stars, and coaches while other players seem more interested in large sums of money and the local nightlife. Perhaps some of the movement is based on the competitive nature of players. To some players, it may have felt less rewarding to be one of the best in the East so they moved over to take on a new challenge. Whatever the players’ reasoning for choosing their teams it seems like the majority of big names in basketball end up in the West.

It is certainly much harder for players to make the NBA All-Star team in the West due to the saturation of star players. In the interest of basing these claims on statistics, a friend and I took a minute to look at each player and make a list of this seasons star caliber players based on their performance thus far. Labeling of these players was discretionary based on this year’s performance only compared to the rest of the players in the league (scoring, assists, rebounds, steals, shooting percentages, and blocks were considered in the decision making). After sifting through the data, we found that there were only 18 star players in the East Compared to the 28 star players in the West (full list in table below). Every team in the West has at least one star player while in the east we see five teams (Brooklyn, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland) with no star caliber players at all. Many of these teams do have up and coming talent such as Trae Young, but they just aren’t performing at a level that puts them above and beyond their competition yet.

NBA Star Players as of 11-21-18

If the skill level discrepancy was a once and a while issue, it wouldn’t be a problem. But, year after year we see deserving teams miss the playoffs just because they happen to be surrounded by stronger competition. I believe that the best teams should be represented in the playoffs regardless of their geographic location and under the current system they aren’t. The NBA should make playoff qualifying decisions based on overall record and not solely on conference placement.

All the Empty Stadiums

Empty Seat Data
Attendance counts from basketballreference.com

The average NBA stadium has a maximum capacity of approximately 19,000 seats. On average this season, there are 1,500 empty seats per game. As a result, we can tell that selling out games has become increasingly difficult for professional sports teams. Some teams are able to sell tickets just because their fan base is so strong, but for the majority of teams, the stadiums aren’t filling if the team isn’t competitive.

Teams like the Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, and Phoenix Suns are examples of teams who have a hard time filling the seats with their current roster. On average this season, the Suns have 17 percent of their seats vacant, Atlanta has 19 percent, and Brooklyn has a league high of 30 percent of stadium seats empty every game. It’s hard to imagine that teams with such large fan bases would have trouble filling their stadiums, but when you look at the price of admission it’s hard to blame people for choosing alternatives like watching from home.

Being a Detroit area native, I’m going to use the Detroit Pistons and the Little Caesars Arena for example. If you want to go see the Pistons play (a team that has only had one winning record in the last ten seasons) it will cost you $15.00 per person to sit in the top corner of the upper deck where part of the court view is blocked by the TV displays hanging from the ceiling. To get a seat in the upper deck anywhere near the midcourt line, you’re looking at $25.00 to $40.00 each. If you are looking for a seat in the lower bowl it will cost you no less than $55.00 per person.

For a family of four to go see a Pistons game sitting in decent upper bowl seats it would cost them between $100.00 to $160.00. The game excursion gets even more expensive when you add in ticket processing fees, parking and food. A simple family trip to see the Pistons play can quickly cascade to over $200.00 for average seats at best.

Empty LCA
Photo Credit: Mike A @mikea71

This year the Pistons are averaging the fifth most empty seats per game (3,908) in the NBA. Professional sports teams used to be able to get away with their high prices because there were very few options when it came to watching games. If it wasn’t featured on ESPN, TNT, or the local sports channel you were out of luck. Now however, there are plenty of alternatives to choose from when watching the NBA live.

Take the NBA’s streaming program for example. For $250.00 a year, you can stream any NBA game live with no commercials or go back and watch full game replays. Why bother spending over $200.00 to go see one game when you could have commercial free access to them all without leaving the comfort of your own home?

Another popular option is to go to a venue that pays for and displays the games. Instead of spending $30.00 to park, $40.00 per ticket, and $10.00 on a soft pretzel, you can go to a sports bar like Buffalo Wild Wings. At bars like this you have access to multiple live games for a fraction of the cost of stadium tickets, and you get great food on top of it.

NBA game tickets are too expensive and are becoming a once or twice a season outing for many. Teams like the Pistons need to start thinking about how they can lower the cost of game tickets instead of spending their time and money on changing the color of the seats so that the stadium doesn’t look empty. Regardless of the color of the seats the stadium is still boasting thousands of vacant seats and that is a shame. Lower the prices to fill your stadiums and show the fans they are important to your organization. Who knows, maybe you will sell a few more overpriced hot dogs while your fans enjoy the experience for less than a small fortune.