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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

In Defense of Marbury: Usage Rate and the Ball-Hog

This article was written by KnickerBlogger reader Michael Zannettis, who originally sent this to me in a different form. I’ve taken the liberty to edit the work to make it more befitting this space. Any grammatical or spelling mistakes are therefore mine. Additionally I sat on this article for well over a week, so I’ve attempted to update the stats where applicable. At the time the Knicks were doing much worse on offense and much better on defense, so it may suffer from it’s late publication. While it may not be best presented after Marbury’s 35 point outburst against Detroit, I feel that the piece should be heard, and believe that it still stands on its own.

Again any issues that arise from these changes are the fault of the editor, so save Michael from the voodoo doll pins that many of you are currently using to punish yours truly.


It is with great concern for the current competitiveness and future viability of our beloved Knickerbocker franchise that I have become distressed with the treatment of the Knicks? best player, Stephon Marbury. I was certainly a supporter of one of the great coaches of all-time, Larry Brown, being hired to lead this franchise back to the NBA playoffs, but his initial returns on player development are frustrating.

Most obviously, Mr. Brown?s poor treatment of his only star performer, Stephon Marbury, has collapsed a once-decent New York offense. I will not forget that the defense has made a turn around from 27th to 16th without the addition of even one frontline defensive player. Due credit will be meted out in time, but even Mr. Brown?s championship Detroit Pistons had an average offense to complement their superior defense.

Let the numbers decide the offense?s stature. Last year’s team was an average offense, ranking 17th (105.9pts/100 poss). This year, the team’s production has plummeted to 24th (100.7pts/100 poss), a decrease of 5.2pts/100 poss. Last year, the entire scoring load of the Knicks’ offense fell to its guards, Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford, both of whom were the only Knicks to average 15 points or more per game.

In the more advanced metrics, Marbury fared well while Crawford looked worse. The former led the team with a .690 player win percentage and a 21.9 PER, while the latter was an inefficient, if volumous, scorer with poor defense, whose win share was a replacement-level .344 with an average 15.4 PER. It was Crawford’s low shooting percentage, often forcing ill-advised shots, which killed his contributions to the offense. He didn’t help his cause by being a spectator on the defensive end either.

Marbury was criticized for his high Usage Rate (24.7%) but considering the teammates he was expected to pass to, it’s a wonder that he didn’t shoot the ball even more often. The only other Knick regular with Offensive Efficiency ratings at the league average or better were Jerome Williams and Mike Sweetney. Williams was a rebounding specialist whose 13.2% Usage Rate belied the fact that the only time he scored was off a tip-in or offensive rebound. Meanwhile the underrated and underutilized Mike Sweetney was a low-post scorer with a prodigious free throw rate, who neither was a pick & roll partner nor a particularly explosive finisher around the basket that would complement Mr. Marbury?s talents.

No other teammate, besides the underused Sweetney, approached offensive competence.

If the criticism of Marbury was that Sweetney should have received more touches in the low block, then I would certainly be in agreement. This was not the case. Rather, it was the Knicks’ coaching staff themselves who limited Big Mike’s production by playing him only 19.6 minutes per game, and all that behind inferior talent.

Sweetney even played less when Malik Rose joined the team through a mid-season trade with San Antonio. Rose was clearly finished as an offensive player, and shared Sweetney’s biggest weakness: being short. If Mike Sweetney was losing playing time for being an undersized 6?8? power forward with limited open court athleticism, then what exactly was Malik Rose, an undersized 6?7? power forward who could no longer hit a jump shot doing playing over 20 minutes a game?

Who then was Marbury expected to share the ball with? Because of his incompetent teammates, on any given possession the best option for the Knicks was Stephon taking the shot.

Examining the Usage Rate comparables of the 2004-05 season makes the ball-hog criticism even more inane. Marbury ranked 30th in the league in Usage Rate. For those of us keeping score at home, there are only 32 teams in the league, and since Usage Rate cannot exceed 100% by a team, the more one player’s ratio increases the more another’s must decrease (although if they are playing as substitutes one might not affect another’s directly). An obvious example would be Chris Webber?s high usage rate falling precipitously when he was traded to the Philadelphia 76er?s midseason. Allen Iverson led the league in Usage Rate, and promptly cut Webber?s dramatically, before it stabilized to a 17% decrease from his Sacramento rate.

As Dean Oliver explains in Basketball on Paper, a high usage scorer could be an asset to a team even if he is below average efficiency, because it permits his teammates to take fewer but higher quality shots. This improves the team?s overall efficiency. Ideally, of course, a team would like several high usage/high efficiency scorers. The Chicago Bull dynasty had this with the ultimate example of Michael Jordan and his Top-50 Player of all Time teammate Scottie Pippen. By the time they were done using the ball, the remainder of their teammates had only to use a small high quality percentage, which improved the team?s overall efficiency even more.

Compared to Stephon Marbury?s much maligned 24.7% Usage Rate, Scottie Pippen’s usage during the Bulls? championship seasons is comparable: 1990-91, 23.2%; ?92, 25.8%; ?93, 25.4%; ?96, 24.4%; ?97, 24.1%; ?98, 21.4%. And what about the one year Pippen had to lead the Bulls completely without Jordan? His Usage Rate in ?94 was 27.4%. Obviously, he should have passed the ball more. What a hog!

This additive function of Usage Rates would make it extremely difficult for any two teammates to be near the league leaders in Usage Rate, unless it was a classic pairing like Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles during their championship run, or the aforementioned Jordan-Pippen combination. For the 2004 season, there were only four teams that had a pair of teammates who played with each other all season and both had a higher usage rate than Marbury’s 24.57%, 30th: Indiana Pacers (Jermaine O’Neal 32.32%, 3rd; Jamaal Tinsley 26.12%, 17th; Stephen Jackson, 25.03%, 29th); Miami Heat (Dwyane Wade, 29.03%, 5th; Shaquille O’Neal, 27.45%, 10th); Washington Wizards (Gilbert Arenas, 25.95%, 18th; Larry Hughes, 25.30%, 24th); Minnesota Timberwolves (Kevin Garnett, 25.88%, 19th; Sam Cassell, 25.86%, 20th). In other words, as the best player on the Knicks’ team Marbury only used the ball as much as the 24th most heavily used first-rate player. Including the 76ers and Warriors by projecting full season stats and therefore including Iverson/Webber and Davis/Richardson, only moves Stephon up to 22nd, still a below average rate for a team?s best player.

If Marbury’s reputation labels him a ball-hog, the statistical evidence does not support the hypothesis. Instead, he resembles a talented offensive player who creates his own shots and creates high quality efficiency. Teams need more of this, not less. Considering the Knicks general incompetence at the offensive end, it was a wonder that Stephon Marbury is not asked to increase his Usage Rate.

27 comments on “In Defense of Marbury: Usage Rate and the Ball-Hog

  1. NYKnickLIFEr

    Great read. It’s like I’ve been saying since Marbury got here,
    who is he supposed to pass to?
    On any other team maybe, and I mean Maybe, Marbury should distribute more, but consider this:

    He plays with the starters and the bench, logs 37+ minutes, The knicks never field more than 2 options on offense when marbury is on court, do you really want him passing to M.Rose on the baseline for that suspect jumper he’s been taking?
    Or, how about shuffle foot bros. Curry and James, who can’t seem to even walk up the court with out tripping over someone for a foul…Our 2s arent smart dribble drive shoot players, so catch and shoot assists are rare for crawford or nate, limiting any easy buckets from a simple pass from the pg (like i see every other team do except my beloved knicks). Lastly These silly turnovers are forcing marbury to actually attempt a shot on the other end and not watch the ball roll on the darn floor for the whole 1st qtr, digging our seasonal whole.

    Who’s he supposed to pass to?

    he’s no chucker, tell mike and the mad dog that, tell filip bondy from the daily news that, tell kurt thomas that.

    Marbury doesn’t not ball hog!!!!

  2. Angelo Karl

    Marbury is not playing like he used to. He is to soft now and can’t even finish like he used to. Everytime he messes up on transition he blames the officials for not calling the foul. I think he is getting sellfish and only look out for his stats and doesn’t care about getting the win. He should be a leader and set a good example for these rookies and rotate the ball, instead he play’s one on one basketball. He gets stuck on one side with the basketball and limits to two touches of the basketball before finding the shot. The knicks should learn to swing the ball to the other side when there are too many people on one wing and stop playing one wing offenses. Jamal Crawford is not that far from following Marbury’s footsteps. Marbury should be more of a point gaurd captain like Billups to carry the Knicks right now.

    p.s. Don’t waste Richardson’s tallent, because he knows how to play, he should touch the ball more off the dribble to penatrate.

  3. Angelo Karl

    It would suck if we don’t make the playoffs this year because we spent so much money on trades and a new coach. Marbury get your mind and your team straight.

  4. Ian

    Knicks need to find a 3rd option on offense and soon before the season gets flushed. Marbury is not the problem. The problem is that the other knicks suck so bad they can’t offer him any help. Crawford has talent but he’s streaky and prone to disapearing or turning the ball over a ton. Q hasn’t been able to hit anything all year, and until his back is healthy he won’t be able to. Frye’s the only one who’s looked capable out there, he doesn’t really have any consistent low post moves, but because he’s now the knicks best jump-shooter Marbury’s trusting him more and the kid is automatic for 20 a game at this point because of it. Don’t be so quick to blame Marbury for all the knicks woes. Could he play better? sure, but until the Knicks find another player who can take a shot without everyone in the garden cringing, there’s not much else this team can do, and some guys need the ball to be take away from them, I’m talking to you Mr. Robinson.

  5. Young T

    Good piece indeed. Marbury is a pretty convenient scapegoat for most hacks. He did take the Suns to the playoffs in his last full season there – only to lose in 6 to the eventual champs, the Spurs. That was Amare’s first season too, no way he was the force he was last year, when everyone was on Nash’s tip.

    Angelo, Billups had/has Sheed and Rip both good offensive players, not to mention Prince who aint too bad. You can’t really make the comparison, plus Marbury is actually a far more talented player than Billups, good as he is.

    Another point: Larry Brown is vastly overrated. Detroit was a top team (50 wins) before he came – then they acquired Sheed mid-season and went on to beat a dysunctional Lakers in the finals. Peter Vecsey’s (I know, most of the time he is just a shit-stirrer) article in the Post the other day was pretty insightful regarding this. Iverson was on fire when the 76ers made the finals (they got hammered anyway) and the East was pitiful. What else has he done? The Pacers got sick of him, he didn’t take them anywhere really. Look at the Pistons now: I think I could guide them to the finals! They have the most-balanced roster, basically I’m sick of this grumpy old man yelling and being two-faced. Look at the Lakers, Kobe may be more talented than Steph, but his supporting cast is way worse, but look who’s won more games.

    Screw “the right way”! We were looking better this time last year!

  6. Jesse

    Excellent article. Marbury is an easy target because he’s the best player. Goes with the territory. You don’t think fans and writers in Philly are saying AI shoots too much after 3 40+ point games where they lost?

    As to Young T, I was listening to Reggie Miller on broadcast a Pacer’s game and he was asked about Brown. His comment is that yes he’s strict and very structured, and yes teams can improve he leaves. However, according to Miller who played for him, the teams improve somewhat because they are given more free reign, and mostly because of Brown’s coaching.

    If that is the case, it means worst case scenario would be a mediocre year under Brown, followed by some decent years, followed by some great years.

    As a fan, I’m okay with that because it gives us a future. There is no way this team looked better last year if you looked past 10 games, or 40 games, or even a season. The team has acquired Frye, Curry, Richardson, Robinson, Butler, Lee, and now Woods. There is 1,000 times the youth we had last year.

  7. Kareem

    I’d be more interested in seeing the amount of time Marbury controls the ball per 24 sec. possesion to get his numbers.

  8. Matthew

    Whatever the stats say, one play last night showed it all. Jamal Crawford was on fire, Channing Frye was having an incredibly efficient game, but Marbury had had a rough game, and it was, in his mind, time for him to take over. So he took a three instead of giving it to Crawford, or running a pick and roll with Frye. The fact that he made the shot will make people forget about it, but it was typical of Starbury, good as he is.

  9. KnickerBlogger Post author

    For those that think Marbury is a ballhog, last night’s final minutes was a perfect example of what is wrong with Stephon. With Crawford red hot in his hometown, on the last two trips down the court Marbury kept the ball and missed an ill-advised 20 footer. On the next play, Crawford was open on the right side, but Crawford passed it to Penny Hardaway(!) on the left. Hardaway gave it back to Marbury, and he hit that two (was suppose to be a 3 but his foot was on the line).

    Kevin Pelton, (joke for those that read CTN) the future TNT analyst, was at the game and was in shock that Crawford didn’t get the ball in that series. I’m not saying that Marbury is greedy, but that was bad decision making down the stretch.

  10. John

    Matthew and KB,
    How can you take issue with Steph hitting a clutch FG from the top of the key that put the Knicks up 4 with 26 seconds left to play? Yes, he was cold from the field and Crawford was hot, but he gave the Knicks a two possession lead with 26 seconds left. Crawford got the in-bounds passes after that and hit his FT’s and the Knicks won. It’s not bad descision-making if it works.

  11. Ted Nelson

    All season Marbury’s been criticized for not taking over games and instead deferring to Crawford and Robinson down the stretch, now he’s being criticized for taking over the game and hitting big shots?

  12. dave

    KB said: …On the next play, Crawford was open on the right side, but Crawford passed it to Penny Hardaway(!) on the left… I?m not saying that Marbury is greedy, but that was bad decision making down the stretch.

    Actually KB, from my vantage point at home I saw something different on the play in question. It appeared to me that a defender was shooting the gap with a chance to pick off the necessarily long pass to Crawford. I thought Marbury saw this and went away, eventually getting it back from Penny and hitting the shot.

    Personally, I’ve never had big issues with Marbury’s offense. He’s either the best or 2nd best (behind Nash) screen roll guard in the game. My issues with him have always been on D. I know he’s playing harder on D this year; better I’m not sure about because I haven’t looked at the numbers.

  13. KnickerBlogger Post author

    John – the criticism is from the play before when Marbury took a long jumper and missed.

    Ted – As for being critical of Marbury, mind you I like his offensive game. I would rather have the ball in his hands at the end of the game than any other Knick. However yesterday was an odd bit of circumstances. Everyone watching the game thought that Crawford was going to get the ball, including myself. No matter what you think of Stephon, the play before was bad decision making. It looked like a broken play, and Marbury just decided to chuck it up. Usually I expect that from Crawford.

    Dave – good call. At the time it appeared that the play was run for Penny, as he ran around a few screeens to get open, which is why I assumed that’s why Crawford was ignored. I thought the defender was a little close, but wasn’t sure that he would have gambled on the pass.

  14. Michael Zannettis

    Dean Oliver has a great chapter in “Basketball on Paper” suggesting that the hot hand is probably a myth — in other words, no statistical evidence to prove it. Our subjective impression says otherwise, but we know better than to trust that.

    That being said, the correct play would have been to give it to an open Crawford instead of Penny because Crawford is the far superior offensive player. If the play was actually being run for Penny, than someone needs to inform Larry Brown that this is not 1997.

    In fact, what in the world was Penny Hardaway doing in the game for 26 minutes? He is clearly finished. His only asset is his expiring contract — no team that trades for him is actually going to play him — so there’s no need to showcase him. Most of those minutes should have gone to the developing Ariza.

    Don’t get me started on Malik Rose’s playing time…

  15. John

    No,
    Matthew took issue with Marbury’s made FG with 26 tics left, and KB said that Marbury’s “last TWO trips down the court” (emphasis added) in the final minutes was “bad decision making down the stretch.” My point is that while you can say what you want about Marbury’s overall game, taking him to task for missing a 20 footer and then converting a clutch bucket that helped his team win is unreasonable.

  16. Kareem

    Regardless of his numbers, he is a total ballhog and overall negative for his team. Although he is more talented and a better player, he gets his points and asst. the same way Earl Boykins, Dan Dickau and a number of second rate point gaurds do. He dominates the ball until something opens up, be it a shot or pass and uses a number of screens to do so. The game becomes completely about him when he’s running the point. This completely disrupts the offensive flow. This is ok if you’re a reserve trying to create offense while on the court with guys who can’t score for a brief period of time, or if your team is struggling and needs some instant offense, but it’s no way to live a life or build a team.

    Also, the guy didn’t want to play with Kevin Garnett b/c he didn’t get enough touches late in games. Something is clearly wrong with him from a team perspective.

  17. Seth

    In my opinion, two points is two points. Steph’s always been one of the league leaders in assists, so it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t pass the ball. He does, indeed, command the rock for most of the shot clock, but frankly, I wouldn’t trust anyone else on the team with the ball in their hands. As far as shooting goes, I like nyknicklifer’s question. Who’s he gonna pass to? The only guys who can be relied on to hit their open shots are Frye, Crawford, and Richardson (?). I’d take a contested Marbury layup over a Rose baseline jumper every time down.

  18. paul

    ahhh…it’s a sad sad day when the three guys on the knicks who are reliable shooters are career 40 percent shooters and a rookie center…and now that quentin richardson doesn’t rebound anymore and is no longer being fed by nash…does he even have a skill? Has anyone noticed he hasnt hit more than 40 percent of his shots since his second season. I mean, granted, for the past two seasons more than half of his shot attempts have been three’s, but doesn’t that again attribute to his inability to create his own shot?

    However, we are all obviously wasting out breathes. The big story this year is the infallible front court of jerome james and malik rose. I will never understand the trades of kurt thomas and nazr mohammed.

  19. Kareem

    I went to the Clippers game tonight, and although I know this may not be news to any of you, but Marbury looks completely lost in his new offensive role. However, that being said, the team actually looks much better than last year to me. It actually looks like Brown is taking steps to make improvements as they looked like a team. Granted, not a very good team, but a team. A couple of other notes that may be obvious to those of you that see this team play all of the time:

    – Nate Robinson is a total zero. That’s not to say he won’t get better, or that he is not talented, but right now he just sucks. He isn’t a reliable shooter, can’t finish at the hoop, and gets KILLED on defense. And I mean killed. Any time he was matched against Cassell or Mobley it was a slaughter, either by taking him down to the blocks or just shooting right over him. Still, if the goal is to get the young guys minutes then they can put him on the court when he has a mathcup he can handle (like when Eisly or Ewing were in the game for the Clips) and hope he improves enough offensivly to justify it.

    – The offense is not generating shots and guys (Marbury and Crawford) looked lost running it. The only “play” the Knicks ran effectivly was that swing one where Marbury comes down and cross picks for Curry to let him get position in the post. Other than that, they wern’t even getting into their sets until the clock was down to 10 most times. This could improve with Brown’s guidance however.

    – On a related note, although the interior D looked good — a really big front line when Antonio Davis and Taylor play next to Curry… Davis is really tough down there in particular — the O really suffers with these guys in. Either Frye needs to play or they need to figure out ways to get Crawford and Marbury shots within the offense.

    – Why do they post Mo Taylor up so much? They went to him like 5 times in the post.

    Overall, I think they’ll improve, but without a major talent infusion, this team is going nowhere. And with the payroll they have, that’s unaceptable.

  20. KnickerBlogger Post author

    “KB said that Marbury?s ?last TWO trips down the court? (emphasis added) in the final minutes was ?bad decision making down the stretch.? My point is that while you can say what you want about Marbury?s overall game, taking him to task for missing a 20 footer and then converting a clutch bucket that helped his team win is unreasonable.”

    Did you see the second to last shot? IIRC Marbury didn’t get a good look, and took the shot way too early in the shot clock when he had other options.

  21. Ted Nelson

    There’s no one to pass to? The Knicks have this one center who went 9-13 last night, scoring 24 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. He’s shooting .535 on the year. And another bigman who went 3-4 putting up 6 points and 6 boards in only 17 minutes. He’s shooting .527 on the year.
    Passing the ball to those two guys doesn’t sound like that bad an option to me:
    The story is the frontcourt of Frye and Curry.
    Then there are those three guys shooting above 35% from 3 point range: Craw (.412), Q (.364), and Nate (.357).

    My biggest question:
    Why last night, against the Clippers, did Robinson, Marbury, Crawford, and Hardaway combine to take almost 60% of the Knicks FGs with an AFG% of .250, while Frye and Curry took only 23% of the shots (the same % as Davis, Rose, and Hardaway) while posting an AFG% of .618.
    In the 4th Frye and Curry went 2 for 3 and the 4 guards went 2 for 14. In this quarter the Clipps outscored the Knicks 29-16.

    Has anyone noticed that Richardson’s 3p% hasn’t been below .350 since 2003 despite the fact that he’s averaged over 7 3pt FGAs a game. The Knicks need Richardson to be a jump shooter. Between Marbury, Crawford, and Robinson they have enough guys who try (maybe too hard) to create their own shots. He still rebounds: his rebound rate (10.9) is only slightly lower than Davis, Rose, and Taylor’s.

  22. Ted Nelson

    My point there was that the Knicks might be better off working inside-out instead of outside-in. At the moment they’re using the pass to set up the run even though they have two 1,500 yard rushers, a QB who has a gun but often runs it himself before going through all his reads and 6-5 WRs who run 4.1 40s but run terrible routes. They need to use their horses to open up the air attack and stop letting the offensive line (Davis and Rose) pass the ball.

  23. John

    KB,
    I agree that he prematurely chucked up a contested second to last shot; it was a bad decision. The subsequent and last shot looked exactly the same but for the fact that it went in. I would call this a bad decision too, but I find it hard to criticize a made FG in a clutch situation. I don’t mean to sound like I’m nit-picking, and last night’s performance from Steph really makes this moot point. He was 3-16 from the field and was probably the difference between a win and a loss for the Knicks (and maybe also LB’s decision to play Penny for 20+ minutes, DNP Ariza, and match up Robinson with Sam Cassel).

    Nelson, you’re post reminds me of that FedEx commercial where Joe Montana tells the office staff not to use football analogies. Good point though.

  24. SM

    Hey KB, I don’t know if this is affecting all of the stats pages, but the Standings pages definitely aren’t updating. They still list the Knicks as 5-11 instead of 6-12, for example.

  25. Liz

    I think that this is one of the best articles that I have read on this website in a long time. I completely agree with Zannettis! Keep up the good work KnickerBlogger! I hope to see more of Zannettis’s articles in the future!

  26. Josh Atwood

    Your a solution to this articles problem exist in one sentence. Tell me what you think b/c it could happen. Ron Artest and Jamal Tinsley for Marbury and Q. This trade would benefit both franchises b/c the Knicks need the “D” and a small forward and Pacers need to upgrade on the point guard position. Am I crazy or could this be a legit trade?

  27. NGLI

    I actually think that the roster is decent. Isiah has done a nice job of bringing in some young talent, and he’ll probably dump 30 mil in expiring contracts by the trade deadline. Marbury isn’t even close to the problem, and he never has been.

    Here’s a trade that hasn’t been proposed…

    Lets trade LB for Flip.

    With cash considerations.

    And Jerome James for Darko.

    And the next four years of 1st + 2nd round picks.

    A one time league exception. Start making some calls to the league office, Zeke.

    Yeah, way to go LB. Use every single player in the roster out of position. Tell Steph not to shoot…or drive. Tell Q not to shoot 3′s on the break. Let Malik Rose shoot 10 bricks a night, and play Jackie Butler more than Eddy Curry…start Trevor Ariza over Q…and what was with starging Barnes??? It’s like pure counterintuition on every level, from the rotations to the plays to the style of play.

    The list of stupid coaching decisions is too long to list. We should start a thread just on LB’s mistakes. It’s just maddening…what more can I say?

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