Learning About the Cavs from SportVU Data

Nov 4, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio (center) chases a loose ball between Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) and power forward Tristan Thompson (13) in the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven’t heard by now, the NBA has given the public access to the data coming from the new SportVU cameras that have been installed in all 30 NBA arenas. This data, which Kevin Zimmerman of SBNation.com gives a great explanation of here, should give us a great additional tool that could redefine our understanding of the game. In order to help get a better understanding of these stats, let’s take a look at what Cavaliers excel in each. Granted, through 4 games, this data is nothing concrete, and it’s going to take a few weeks before we can truly draw conclusions on the data. However, it should be interesting to get an idea what these stats could tell us about the Cavs. If you’d like to play around with the information, it can be found here.

Speed and Distance 

The speed and distance stats, right now, appear to be nothing more but fun to look at. These stats measure the amount of distance a player is covering during a particular period of time, as well as the average speed that a player is moving throughout the game. The one name that is somewhat surprising is that Tristan Thompson is currently 7th in the league in distance traveled per game, covering 2.7 miles per game. Kyrie Irving is the second most traveled Cavalier, covering 2.3 miles per game. This is interesting because it demonstrates how active Thompson has been throughout this season when he’s been on the floor. However, the data is deceptive, as Thompson is currently 9th in the league in minutes per game, and the numbers for distance traveled match up pretty well with the amount of minutes played. Play more, and it’s pretty obvious that you’re going to cover more ground.

Surprisingly, Earl Clark leads the Cavs in average speed, at 4.6 mph. This number also appears pretty arbitrary, as the top players, for now, appear to skew in the direction of bench players and guys in fast-paced offenses. However, it is surprising to see that Clark, who has a reputation for standing around too much on offense, may be moving a little more than it appears.

Touches/Possession

Touches might be the most important new statistic that the NBA gets to track with these cameras. The touches tab goes into how much a player has the ball in his hands, where he’s getting the ball, and how often he scores when the ball is in his hands. In terms of total touches per game, Kyrie Irving leads the Cavs at 72 per game. This isn’t a shock, but the number isn’t as high as you would expect. Chris Paul leads the league in touches per game at 107.5, and point guards and high-usage power forwards (Along with Derrick Favors, which, what?) populate the top spots. Kyrie is 28th. This might be linked to his early-season struggles, or perhaps his teaming with Dion Waiters, another high-usage guard.

In terms of where players are touching the ball, the cameras track the number of close touches (12 ft or less from the rim), and elbow touches (From the edge of the lane to the 3-point line) per game. If you’ve watched the Cavs offense this season, it shouldn’t surprise you to find that Anderson Varejao is 4th in the league with an even 10 touches per game at the elbow. Varejao and Thompson are also in the top 25 for close touches. This data can help us get a better understanding of offensive sets, and quantify how often teams are running their offense through a player at a specific spot.

Passing

The passing stats give us a better understanding of overall passing ability, moreso than what we had before with assist numbers and assist percentage. Now, we can track things such as secondary assists, points created per assist, and assist opportunities. This last one is my favorite piece of SportVU data, because we can now better track team use of assists, meaning t passes that could have been assists, but led to missed shots. The Kings are a great example of this. Isaiah Thomas is averaging a paltry 4.7 assists per game, which doesn’t seem great. However, Thomas is averaging 12.7 assist opportunities per game. That means that the Kings convert on a sad 37 percent of potential assists from Isaiah Thomas. That’s gross. For comparison, the Cavs convert on 6.8 of 12 assist opportunities from Kyrie Irving, a 56.7 percent clip. These numbers should be really fun to compare the efficiency of teams in using their point guards’ passes.

Defensive Impact 

Defense somewhat took a backseat once again with these stats. The only useful tab under defensive impact is the opponents’ field goal percentage at the rim for defensive players, and it’s too early to draw concrete decisions, as currently injured Al Jefferson has the most attempted field goals against him. The sample size here is way too small. Andrew Bynum is allowing just 42.9 percent at the rim in 2.3 field goal attempts per game, which is about the most meaningful Cavs-related piece of info from this tab to date.

Rebounding Opportunities

Another major revelation from these stats is the rebounding opportunities page, which tracks rebounds, rebound chances, and whether rebounds are contested or uncontested. Traditional rebounding stats can tell us how many boards a player grabs, but this will give us further insight into how quality of a rebounder a player truly is. Tristan, for example, is grabbing a solid number of boards per game at 8.8. He’s doing this out of 16.8 chances per game, however, and that 52.2 percent rate is the third-lowest of the top 15 in total rebounds. He’s also grabbing 62.9 percent  of his rebounds as uncontested, which isn’t as impressive as say, Omer Asik, who’s grabbing 54.8 percent of his boards while contested. Kyrie, however, has been the best rebounding point guard in the league. Even though just 23 percent of his boards are contested, he’s converting rebound opportunities at a higher rate than Thompson is, which is pretty impressive for a guard, especially one with such a dominant fast break game. That’s been really impressive, and while Thompson has looked good on the boards, this shows he could be doing even better.

 Drives 

This statistically category is the largest indicator to the early struggles of Kyrie Irving. Kyrie is getting to the rim at the 8th highest rate in the league at 8.3 drives per gam and converting on just 38.1 percent of these attempts. 2012-2013 Dion Waiters laughs at that efficiency. A drive, for this purpose, is defined as a player dribbling from outside 20 feet from the hoop to at least inside 10 feet. Kyrie is scoring just under 5 points per game off of 8 drives per game, which is pretty poor, considering Monta Ellis is leading the league in points per game off drives, scoring just under 9 points in just over 11 drives per game. This should be an area where Kyrie excels, and he really hasn’t, which is an issue for Cleveland.

Catch and Shoot 

Unsurprisingly, a category that A. Needs more data to be relevant, and B. Looks like it’ll be dominated by the likes of Kyle Korver, Bradley Beal, and Klay Thompson. C.J. Miles has emerged as the Cavs’ top threat in this situation, scoring 6.3 points per game off the catch-and-shoot. However, he hasn’t really been all that efficient in these scenarios, as his 54.3 effective field goal percentage is the lowest of anyone in the top 25 for catch-and-shoot points per game. Heck, Andrea Bargnani’s even converting at a slightly more efficient rate than Miles. Surprisingly, Waiters had a better time on the catch-and-shoot, converting on 46 percent from the field in limited opportunities for an eFG% of 59.1 percent. Again, it’s early, but if Dion actually did this a little more, it appears he might be more effective.

Pull-Up

The same data as catch-and-shoot, although sadly not with a distinction for pull-ups in transition, so we can’t quite crown Jason Terry the all-time PUJIT king just yet. Kyrie’s been pretty solid so far in this category, scoring about 7 points per game from this type of shot at about a 45 percent clip. That’s not too bad compared to the other leaders (Steph Curry’s baffling 57.5 eFG% despite taking 27 more pull-ups than the next highest total notwithstanding). Jarrett Jack’s also scoring a good amount of points off pull-ups, but he’s only hitting 29 percent of his pull-up threes, which is a bit concerning.

This is just a brief look at some of these stats and some trends among the Cavaliers players that the cameras are pointing out. It’s only 4 games into the season, so this is something to revisit around the New Year. However, it should be something to keep an eye on, and will really help our understanding of the game as the technology accumulates data.

Topics: C.J. Miles, Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving, Omer Askik, Tristan Thompson

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