Looking at P3's Influence on NBA Players - The Downbeat - #831

Derrick Favors can jump higher due to P3's training facilities. But do they make him a better basketball player?

The upcoming season is getting closer and closer, and one thing Jazz fans are getting excited about is the seeming improvement of our players in workouts and training over the course of the summer. The big hangout for Jazz players is the P3 facility in Santa Barbara, California.

P3 stands for the "Peak Performance Project", and is a facility that tries to live up to their name, getting the best out of the athletes that train there. Twitter friend @Clintonite33 found this article from Ross Siler in 2008 in the Tribune's archives, explaining the Jazz' involvement with P3:

The Jazz became connected to the training center through Rafael Araujo, then sent Ronnie Brewer and Paul Millsap there in the summer of 2007. This summer [the summer of 2008] , 10 of the 15 players on the Jazz roster made the trip to P3.

Indeed, of this list of all 45 NBA players P3 has worked with, 24 have Utah ties. Everyone involved raves about the place: according to the article, the Jazz wanted a formal relationship with P3, because "Jazz coach Jerry Sloan declared that he'd never had a team report to training camp in better shape than his current one". Amar wrote this article on P3 and the good they're doing for the team. Jazz player testimonials litter their website. From Al Jefferson:

"I have never been tested the way P3 tests you… have never trained as hard as I have at P3…I feel like I got a big advantage of our most big men in the league. I don’t think anyone has taken the time out to understand the science and workouts and how everything runs together like when you work with P3…I wanted be stronger in the post, hold my position, wanted to be more explosive, be more quick and after testing today and seeing my numbers go up the way they did it makes me real proud."

In short, P3 has had a remarkable role in training the past and present Utah Jazz to be better basketball players.

That being said, this is a website for smart analysis. We don't always take things at face value. Let's take a look at that list of NBA players who've been to P3 again. They seem to fall into two categories: guys who've played with Deron Williams or the Utah Jazz, and bad NBA players.

Looking at the bad NBA player group, we have 4 late-drafted rookies (2 with Shan Foster comparables), 4 horrific/barely hanging on NBA centers (Collins, Biedrins, Thabeet, and Alabi), and Thompson, Duhon, Thornton, and Budinger, who range from awful to below backup PG standards to mediocre to average. It's just not a very impressive roster for P3. In particular, none of them have shown any improvement in their NBA performance over the course of their careers.

Now, I don't know when these players became involved with P3, it's possible that they all just joined this summer. For the rookies, it may have helped them get drafted (though Jones was in the top 5 of most mocks last year), But it's not an impressive group. Without the organizational tie, P3 doesn't seem to attract the elite athletes.

Of course, it's drastically unfair to take out all of the Jazz and Nets players like that when looking at P3's record. But Siler's article reveals some of the problems with looking at P3 as an important influence in a player's career: workouts often don't transfer over to NBA production. Consider the players named in Siler's article from 4 years ago:

  • Rafael Araujo: "By the time he returned for training camp, Araujo was a changed player. "Athletically, everything was different," Elliott said, "and so I guess that caught the eye of the coaches and we established a contact from there." Of course, Rafa played remarkably poorly that season and never made an NBA roster again, just 3 years removed from being drafted 8th.
  • Ronnie Brewer: "Based on force-plate testing, Brewer now has the lateral quickness and power of an outside linebacker or defensive end. "When I see him being able to competitively defend Kobe [Bryant], it warms my heart," Elliott said." Brewer's defense did improve, and he became an important part of Chicago's "Bench Mob" defensive unit. However, he was never more valuable than he was in his 2nd season in the NBA due to his offensive contributions that year. It's hard to say that Brewer has become a worse player, per se, he's just in a different setting and is scouted differently now. He hasn't, though, performed at his peak.
  • Kyle Korver: "Korver made three trips to P3 this summer, including once on his own, and already is planning to return next summer. He always prided himself on working hard, but Korver realized that he wasn't always working smart until he visited the center." Because he's such a unique player, it's hard to identify Korver's best seasons, but his story is actually quite similar to Brewer's: it appears P3 has improved his defensive ability without a matching increase in his offensive contributions. He only gave up a 11.9 PER to opposing players last year. That's remarkable for a player with a bad-defense rep.
  • Kosta Koufos: "Elliott isn't afraid about predicting greatness for Koufos, saying he could become an "absolute beast. If he's committed to working and we do our jobs right, I think he should be the most athletic 7-footer that they've seen in the NBA in a long time," Elliott said. "He's got a ton of upside and he's got all the right raw ingredients to build a phenomenal athlete." This is one of the most ridiculous predictions in Jazz history. More on this later. "The most athletic 7-footer they've seen in the NBA in a long time?" I mean, is Elliott aware of the existence of Dwight Howard? More on this later.

Okay, so let's build a hypothesis: how does going to P3 impact a player's performance? Based on the pattern, I'm venturing the following:

Going to P3 makes a player a better individual defender and athlete, but does not improve a player's overall performance.

We see that explicitly with the Korver and Brewer examples above, and even Koufos started 2 playoff games for Denver because he was a decent defensive center. Jefferson held opponents to a pretty average 16.7 PER against last season, that's an improvement over prior seasons. The same is true of Millsap's 17.4 PER against, and Harris' 16.9 number. Gordon Hayward improved defensively by quite a bit, and against harder competition. Even Kirilenko's PER against improved in his time with P3.

But the Jazz are still a fairly poor defensive team, so it's difficult to say that P3's training has really helped the Jazz' team defense. In particular, Jefferson's help defense is still lacking, especially with the pick and roll, Harris didn't fight through screens very well, and even Hayward's help defense was sometimes a step slow (more on Hayward's D in a later post this month). Kirilenko's help defense has downgraded from "legendary" to "good" in the last few years of his NBA career.

Offensively, the improvements don't seem to come from a summer of training at P3. Hayward shot the ball at a far lower percentage than his rookie year, Millsap's shooting percentage last year was the worst of his career. Favors shot a worse percentage as well, although did make more free throws. Brewer, Koufos, and Araujo all regressed offensively from their early careers, and Korver's been up and down (although his record setting year did come after a summer at P3). Kirilenko, famously, regressed offensively after getting the contract, and Deron Williams has had a couple of poor shooting years with the Nets. Harris had a fairly typical year, but was still way off his all-star highs. And of course, none of the players we profiled without Jazz ties have done any improving at all: staying consistent at best, falling off the table at worst.

I have no doubt that P3 increases a player's athletic stats: the increases in vertical jump, lateral agility, core strength and other factors are shown off in their videos, tweets, and player testimonials. I would also not be surprised if a summer at P3 increases player durability, though I did not look at that for the purposes of this study. However, it also does seem that a player's basketball skills are somewhat overlooked. Shooting percentages stagnate or regress, and the team defenses of the Jazz and Nets have been disappointing. Players going to P3 need to be aware of this, and implement a consistent plan to work on basketball skills during their summers in Santa Barbara.

P3 trainer Marcus Elliott's frankly outrageous prediction that "[Koufos] should be the most athletic 7-footer that they've seen in the NBA in a long time" got me thinking... what are some of the other most over-the-top predictions in Jazz history?

Quick top 3:

1. Deshawn Stevenson's comparison on NBADraft.net was Michael Jordan.

2. Koufos being the most athletic 7-footer "in a long time". This is the same player that brought the world this spectacularly athletic play:

3. ESPN's experts in the 2006-07 playoffs. This is thanks to this post on Amar's blog:

Pwnd_hou_thumb1_medium

Expertsfj3_thumb2_medium

Oops.

I just wanted to give you guys a quick heads-up so that you can start getting excited and anticipation will grow: Clark and I recorded the first SLCDunk.com podcast of the year last night, featuring just over 45 minutes of pure basketball talk. It was fun. I hope that it will also be informative.

That podcast will be posted on SLCDunk later today/tonight, once editing and uploading is complete. We'll also be putting the podcast on iTunes, so you'll be able to access it there if you'd like.

Poll Time!

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