Peering into the Future: Hayward and Favors

I'm not Amar.

So even though this post involves looking at stats, don't expect the kind of professionalism you see in Amar's spreadsheets. I'm not calculating standard deviations, and my analysis doesn't derive from enough data to consider it foolproof.

I'm looking at the rookie stats of Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors and trying to get some handle on what they can be in the future. After all, this issue is crucial to the Jazz going forward—and it matters to us Jazz fans. After all, if Hayward's future is dim, who cares if he's playing 10 min/game behind Raja's 38. We have nothing to whine about in the game threads.

On the other hand, if Favors and Hayward are going to be kick-butt awesome, then we'll all be justified in storming ESA with flaming pitchforks if these guys aren't getting playing time.

Of course predicting the future is a notoriously risky endeavor. Way back in High School, I was told that getting 25% correct on an AP Chemistry test was considered decent. That's probably a higher bar than predicting the future.

But I'm going for it anyway.

Note: the numbers posted by both ESPN and Basketball Reference are different. Considering PER is Hollinger's baby, and usage is a prominent part of Hollinger's PER formula, I decided to use the numbers at ESPN.

The basic idea of what I'm looking at is simple:

What if Hayward and Favors were given the same leading role as Al, Millsap, CJ, or Devin? What should we expect? Will their efficiencies go down, or up? And if they are just as efficient, what would that mean for them and for the team?

The key stat I'm looking at here is usage. Usage is an advanced stat that attempts to measure how often a player is used in possessions. The main components are: shots, free throws, assists, and turnovers per 40 minutes. That is then adjusted according to team pace.

The idea is if a player jacks up a lot of shots, puts up a lot of assists, takes a lot of free throws, and turns the ball over a lot — that player is being used more on offense that a guy that puts up very few shots, etc. It's a simple idea.

It's imperfect, because there's a lot of offense not measured by those stats. But the truth is those stats are the best we have to work with.

Basic Trends

Before we look at Hayward and Favors, I want to go over a couple trends with players as I was investigating this.

As you compare players' rookie seasons with later seasons, most players a) usage goes up, b) shooting efficiency also goes up, c) assist rate goes up, and d) turnover rates go down.

Basically, players become more effective scorers, better passers, better ball handlers after their rookie seasons, and their teams end up using them more. Kind of a "no duh" statement, but it's important to remember. After all, we all know that just because a player scores effectively in a secondary role doesn't mean he'll be just as effective in a primary role. All categories don't improve for every player, but it is a general overall trend. At the very least it is rare for any of the categories to get worse.

I looked at a variety of players for this. And the trend of either maintaining or improving effectiveness is fairly universal.

This is true for Deron Williams, CJ Miles, Ronnie Brewer, Raja Bell, Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap, Carlos Boozer, Al Jefferson, Memo, and Devin Harris. It's also generally true for some not-so-awesome players: Kirk Snyder, Carlos Arroyo, Gordan Giricek, and Morris Almond. I wanted to look at great, good, decent, meh, and not-so great players, so I did look at all these guys.

A couple of interesting notes:

Al's scoring efficiency has never improved from his rookie year. Only once has his true shooting percentage been better than during his second season. This is rare. Even for players whose true shooting percentage drops occasionally, they are more like Ronnie Brewer—whose TS% rose for a year, then went back to his rookie year level for a while before ultimately dropping below.

Morris Almond's assist rate dropped to almost 0% his second year. That's why he's not in the NBA today.

But these are the exceptions. For most players I looked at the TS%, assist rates, and turnover rates were at least as good as during their rookie years, and usually better.

Specific Examples

Now we're getting to predictions. The idea is this: a starter who plays a leading role will play about 36 minutes per game and have a usage of 25%. So I've looked at these players' rookie per-36 minute stats and then adjusted them according to usage. For some I did the 25% or more usage. For others—guys who never reached that high—I used their highest usage and compared the prediction to actual results.

1st example: Deron Williams.

Rookie per-36 minute stats: 13.5 ppg, 4.5 ast, 1.8 tov. His usage was 20.1%. Now let's imagine his usage up to 26.2% (his highest usage to date, 2010-11 season—prior to the trade). His rookie stats, tranlated to 26.2% usage, become:

17.6 ppg, 5.9 ast, 2.3 tov — plus 3 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks and a TS% of 50% (rebounds, steals, and blocks are not part of usage, so I just use his per-36 minute stats when making the prediction).

What that means is if his shooting efficiency (TS%), assist rate, and turnover rate never improved but he was given a bigger role—that's what Deron's stat line would look like.

What were Deron's stats prior to the trade?

21.3 points, 9.7 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks, and 3.5 turnovers per game (TS% — 58.7%).

So Deron, at his best, was quite a bit better than the prediction. More points, more assists, more rebounds, more steals, higher TS% (by a ton)—but more turnovers. That was just the one downer of Deron's game—more turnovers than he ought to have.

This makes sense, because Deron was much better last year than he was as a rookie.

2nd example: Devin Harris

Rookie per-36 minute stats: 13.4 pts, 5.2 ast, 2.5 tov and TS% of 53%. His usage was 18.4%. His highest usage was also in 2009 (27.4 percent).

So, what do rookie Devin's stats predict he would get given a starting spot and that usage?

19.9 points, 7.7 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 2.4 steals, 0.6 blocks, and 3.7 turnovers per game.

His actual line in 2008-09

21.3 points, 6.9 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, and 3.1 turnovers per game (TS% — 56.3%).

3rd example: Ronnie Brewer

Rookie per-36 minute stats: 13.9 points, 1.3 assists, 1.3 turnovers with 56.6% TS%. Usage was 15.6%.

Ronnie's an interesting case, because he never got 36 minutes per game, and his usage only got slightly higher than that of his rookie year (all this was, of course, primarily because he couldn't shoot or really handle the ball exceptionally well). But still, let's see what happens with the prediction. His highest usage was in 2009 again, 17.4%.

So his predicted line:

15.5 points, 1.5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 0.3 blocks, 1.4 turnovers per game.

His actual line (I'm using per-36 minute stats here, since that's what I'm dealing with above):

15.4 points, 2.5 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 0.4 blocks, 1.5 turnovers and a TS% still at 56.5%.

4th example: Kyle Korver

Rookie per-36 minute stats: 13.5 points, 1.6 assists, 1.7 turnovers — TS% of 48.9%, usage of 20.2%.

His usage never really got a lot higher, but his minutes did. His highest usage was 21.3% in 2007. That also happened to be his second highest minutes (31 per game). So let's see what we should have expected in 2007:

Predicted line:

14.3 points, 1.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1 steal, 0.3 blocks, and 1.8 turnovers per 36 minutes.

Actual line (again, per-36 minute stats):

16.8 points, 1.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks, and 1.6 turnovers, TS% all the way up to 56.9%.

5th example: Al Jefferson

Rookie per-36 minute stats: 16.3 points, 0.8 assists, 2.3 turnovers. TS% of 55.4% and usage of 18.7%.

His highest usage was in 2009 (26.2%), so let's se what the prediction is:

22.8 points, 1.1 assists, 10.7 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.9 blocks, and 3.2 turnovers.

Actual line:

23.1 points, 1.8 assists, 11.0 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.7 blocks, and 1.8 turnovers per game (TS% down to 53.2%).

6th example: Paul Millsap

Rookie per-36 minute stats: 13.7 points, 1.5 assists, 2.3 turnovers. TS% of 57.1% and usage of 16.4%.

His highest usage was last year: 20.8%.

Predicted line:

17.4 points, 1.9 assists, 10.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.8 blocks, and 2.9 turnovers.

Actual line (Paul only played 34 min/game, and the predicted line was based on 36. I decided to just use his per game stats because it's still close to 36 minutes, and I think it's worth remembering all starters don't get 36 minutes per game. But still, keep in mind the predition was for 36 min/game, the actual line is about 34/min per game):

17.3 points, 2.6 assists, 7.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.0 blocks, 2 turnovers per game. TS% at 57.8%.

And by the way, if anyone can figure out what the hell happened to Millsap's rebounds, I'd love to know. His rebounding rate just dropped in a huge way the past two seasons.

Before we get to Favors and Hayward

A couple of points. Of these examples, only Deron played 20-something minutes per game his rookie year (Deron was almost 30 per game). Yet these predictions all turned out reasonably good. Some players got a lot better (like Deron). Some stayed about as effective (like Ronnie B. and Paul), but the predictions still gave a decent indication of what the player would do.

There is also the question as to whether a player can handle a bigger role. Although everybody's usage did go up—not everyone went as high as Deron, Al, and Devin. And everyone did not end up with a 36-minute per game starting role.

But with the players whose usage DIDN'T go as high, there are specific reasons. Ronnie B. couldn't shoot and wasn't a great ball-handler. His role was, out of necessity, then specialized. When the team had a different need, they brought in a different player. Usually Kyle Korver.

And Kyle Korver also had specialized skills: spot-up jumpers and jumpers off screens. This kept his usage and minutes lower. Like Ronnie B., if the team needed something else (like defense) they had to put someone else in.

Millsap's usage and minutes were kept lower for a long time because of Boozer. When Millsap finally became the starter, his usage wasn't as high as it could have been because most post plays were run through Al. Some (including me) find that a bit ridiculous—given how much more efficient Millsap was. Others find it reasonable, given Millsap's lack of height and length. But still, it was specific issues that kept him from minutes and usage.

There's a lot to discover about Hayward and Favors, but preliminary judgements about whether they can have a big role are good.

As Amar pointed out, Hayward is good at both spot-up shooting and slashing scoring—a rare wing who thrives in both roles the Jazz allot for the wing spots. Hayward also handles the ball well, plays tenaciously on defense. He passes well, he rebounds well. He does the off-the-ball stuff. You will be hard-pressed to find anything that requires him being yanked out besides inexperience and/or unassertiveness. But the final few games of the season gave us hope that even these may be more in the past than in the future.

With Favors, it's a similar thing. He's not perfect yet, but his post play is effective, his footwork is good, his rebounding is good, and his defense is magnificent. His mid-range jumper has good form and he uses good mechanics. Which also gives hope for his free throw shooting. And he actually uses footwork and speed to get a shot closer to the basket instead of one further away (Big Al could use a lesson on this, methinks).

We'll address some concerns later, but there are a lot of indications that Favors has what it takes to have a primary scoring role.

Hayward and Favors for the Future

Let's look at the baseline:

Three guys had usage of 23% or better: CJ, Devin, and Al. CJ was 23%. Al was 24.2% Devin was 24.7%. Here are what they contributed per-36 minutes:

CJ: 18.3 points, 2.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks, 1.7 turnovers. This is why a lot of us wanted CJ to start and play 36 minutes per game instead of Raja.

Al: 18.7 points, 1.8 assists, 9.7 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 1.9 blocks, 1.3 turnovers.

Devin: 18.2 points, 6.2 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 0.1 blocks, 3.3 turnovers.

Now, what would happen in Hayward and Favors got a) 36 min/game starting roles and b) maintain effectiveness given bigger role of about 24% usage—basically the same usage CJ, Al, and Devin had.

Hayward's per-36 minute stats: 11.5 points, 2.4 assists, 2.1 turnovers. TS% of 57.7%. Usage of 14.3%.

Predicted stats based on 24% usage:

Starting Gordon Hayward: 19.3 points, 4.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 0.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 3.5 turnovers.

Favors per-36 minute stats: 12.5 points, 0.9 assists, 1.8 turnovers. TS% of 54.2%. 14.6% usage.

Predicted stats based on 24% usage:

Starting Derrick Favors: 20.5 points, 1.5 assists, 9.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.6 blocks, 2.9 turnovers.

And that, everyone, is if they DON'T improve.

The concerns

I went over their strengths earlier. I gave all the reasons we can expect them to be successful filling bigger roles and playing more minutes. There are some concerns, however.

Turnovers

Hayward's 3.5 projected turnovers would lead all SG's, and only LeBron James gave up more among SF's. The 2.9 turnovers projected for Favors would also be the second most of all PF's and C's (only Dwight Howard gave up more). From a purely statistical standpoint, this is a huge thing. Their turnovers are the biggest statistical issue that will keep them from getting 36 minutes and high usage.

Fouls

Favors has one more statistical issue: personal fouls. He got 5.8 fouls per 36 minutes. That means if he played 36 minutes per game, he would foul out more often than he would stay in. His fouling did drop slightly after the trade (down to 5.1 per 36 minutes), but it's still WAY too high. He has to cut them down by a lot.

Assertiveness

This is mostly Hayward. He runs the same routes that Raja runs, that CJ runs, that Kyle Korver ran, that Wesley Matthews ran, that Gordan Giricek ran, that freaking Derek Fisher ran. If all of those guys could get off shots and make plays, so can Hayward. He just has to be a lot more assertive than he was for the majority of his rookie season. He will never reach his potential if he is too passive.

The final words

There's a lot to be excited for Favors and Hayward. Looking at their rookie stats and projecting them like this really makes me optimistic about the team's future. What makes me even more excited is that the projections appear fairly valid when looking at how they turn out for former players. They really did show a reasonable correlation to their actual stats.

Words of caution

We really don't know how Hayward and Favors—or anyone for that matter—will do in the future. I think there's a lot of reason to believe they can thrive with starting minutes and prominent roles. But you never really know. And there are definitely things they will have to improve—things that WILL keep them out of prominent roles unless they are taken care of.

And it's important to remember that most players didn't reach their peak minutes, usage, and effectiveness in their second seasons. For most players there was continual improvement, and continually expanding roles and minutes into their third and fourth seasons.

And Deron's season that was so brilliant—that was his sixth season.

Patience matters.

Words of optimism

I haven't analyzed nearly enough. I don't have enough data to say anything for sure. But there is one thing that made me excited.

Of all the players I looked at, Deron's peak has been farthest above the projections. He scored 21% more points, dished out 64% more assists, got 30% more rebounds, and 33% more steals than projected. And the unique thing about him, compared to the others, he had a huge surge after the all-star break of his rookie year.

It was a surge we all saw, and hopefully all remember. It was a surge in confidence that hinted to the huge leap he was going to make in his second season.

Well, Hayward and Favors had the same kind of post-all star surge during their rookie years. Something seemed to click with both of them, and their play was much better. I'd say their rookie year progressions were more similar to Deron's than anyone else I saw.

Now I haven't analyzed nearly enough to say "Rookies that have a sudden increase in effectiveness after the all-star break have a 75% chance of exceeding their projections"—or anything remotely authoritative like that.

But it's a similarity between Hayward, Favors, and Deron that I hope bodes well.

At the very least, I'm quite excited to see what the kids will become over the next couple of years.

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