Finding time for young players: the Fallacy of the John Stockton Example

In Utah young players are a hot topic. We've never, ever, had such a group of young, expensive, high draft picks with talent on our team before -- and all at the same time. It's hard to deny them their fair share of playing time, especially since they seem to be winning games and even the local media has completely flip-flopped on them. Head Coach Tyrone Corbin has the unenviable position of having to try to massage the egos of the incumbent veterans while dealing with increasingly effective and hungry younger players.

Often the front office, and sycophantic media, turn to the John Stockton example. "John Stockton didn't start until his 4th season in the league," we're often lectured about in a condescending tone.

Yes, this is true. But John Stockton was behind Rickey Green -- a former All-Star who was still a 13 and 8 guy in Stock's rookie year. For those keeping score at home our former All-Stars on the team are Devin Harris (10 and 5, but thankfully we don't have any better young PGs), and Josh Howard (9 and 4). Both start, and both aren't going to be on the team in 2 years. Same with Raja Bell (7 and 2 this year), but he was never an All-Star.

But let's get back to John Stockton. The fact that he was behind an All-Star is usually thrown out. People point to the end result (Hall of Fame) and somehow try to use some cognitive kung-fu to link coming off the bench for four years to making him a better player.

Thankfully today we have something called the internet. It takes the guesswork out of a lot of arguments, because you can use it to search for facts. And facts can be used to disprove ignorance.

Do you know what Stockton's PER 36 minutes stats were over the first 6 years of his career? You probably don't, but if you are a deciple of the Jazz mouth pieces you could probably expect his younger years to be really bad, as he was a rookie and didn't deserve to start right off the bat. Let me remove the guess work, because I did the research.

Points FGA FG% Assists Rebounds Steals
Rookie 11.1 8.0 47.1% 10.0 2.5 2.6
Soph 11.7 8.7 48.9% 11.3 3.3 2.9
3rd year 12.6 9.0 49.9% 13.0 2.9 3.4
4th year 15.3 10.0 57.4% 14.3 3.0 3.1
5th year 15.9 10.5 53.8% 12.7 2.8 3.0
6th year 16.6 11.3 51.4% 14.0 2.5 2.6
Average 13.9 9.6 51.4% 12.6 2.8 2.9
STDEV 2.4 1.2 3.7% 1.6 0.3 0.3

Yeah, that's a double double as a rookie while shooting a better % from the field than all of our current PGs today. Rebounds and Steals were kind of stable for each of his 6 years in the league, each season being pretty close to being within one standard deviation from the average. There were some outliers (steals per 36 mins in his 3rd year, rebounds per 36 mins in his 2n year), but a) they were not over +2 STDEV or below -2 STDEV so are not significant, and b) both happened BEFORE HE WAS A STARTER. But I'm not going to use those points to support my "He could have started as a rookie and not hurt his HOF career" theory.

The big things we like to focus on are his Points and Assists.

First, points. In his successive seasons he both shot more per game, and shot a way better percentage. (Over +10.0 fg% from his rookie season in his 4rd year in the league) I think part of the reason why his Points per 36 went up was because he got to the foul line more, developed a three point shot (both not included on this chart), and also shot more times a game and shot at a better percentage. This accounts for his increase in points per 36 mins. This is just the natural progression of a player who a) has been in the league for half a decade, b) worked hard on his game, and c) became a starter and bigger part of the offense. This wasn't influence at all (except negatively in his early years) by coming off the bench. Staying on the bench for nearly four years didn't make him a great shooter. He made himself a great shooter.

Last, we come to assists. Stockton's assist rate bloomed as a starter. Was this because he came off the bench for more than three years? Nope. He was a double double guy as a rookie. In his 5th year in the league he only averaged +2.7 more assists per 36 minutes than his rookie year. And over the course of John's entire career -- his TOTAL CAREER ACTUAL APG value was 10.5 apg. Which is only +0.5 more than his per 36 min rate as a rookie, coming off the bench, behind a former All-Star.

Check your email. Talk to a co-worker. Text your wife / husband / boyfriend / girlfriend. Then come back and re-read that last paragraph. Stockton was damn good. And he was damn good as a rookie. Staying on the bench didn't help him. He could have easily been the full-time starter after half a year into his rookie season. He could have been the starter sooner. It wouldn't have hurt his Hall of Fame career. Not at all. He was that good that early.

But he'll still remain the "poster child" for defending keeping our youth shackled to the bench. "Durrr, John Stockton didn't start until his 4th year in the league." Yes. But he could have started earlier . . . and honestly, probably should have.

As for Karl Malone, whom people seem to forget about (poor guy has to get tickets from scalpers despite being a guy with a Statue in front of the arena) how his first 5 years in the league he played: 30.6 mpg, 34.8 mpg, 39.0 mpg, 39.1 mpg, and 38.1 mpg. It did not hurt his development.

But the flip-flop by some of the Jazz State Sponsored media seems to be on the "oh yah, we ALWAYS loved the young guys, don'tchaknow" band wagon now. (Read that in a Fargo accent if you want) It's pathetic. Just like the idea that Stockton couldn't have kicked butt as a starter from his rookie year.

Or that nearly 30 years later some people want to defend making the same type of mistake over again. (Btw, for the "it's not who starts, it's who finishes" crowd -- fine. Change the argument that our young guys need to play now, instead of sitting for more than half the game and Stockton and Malone's mpg and stats still prove my point.)

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