"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Could Lazar Have a Better Senior Season than Novak?

Fresh off of yesterday's Open Gym Report from Rosiak, he has an interview with Lazar. In the interview, they touch on a number of different topics, including a lot of discussion about the World University Games.

The (few) highlights from this offseason have mostly involved Lazar, and with good reason. After all, despite the standard coaching comments about everyone having to earn a spot, Hayward is probably the only player that is guaranteed a starting spot. Given his relatively good performance in the WUG, and some minor consideration for the NBA draft, much is expected of the team leader.

There are some obvious parallels to the 2006 season, as Tim highlighted by looking at the Wayback Machine. After all, both seasons involve a senior leader and then a talented set of incoming players. However, it wasn't until the following thread on MUScoop that really got me thinking. Is it just a crazy notion to think that Lazar could have a similar impact that Novak did?

There's no disputing that Novak is one of the all-time great shooters at Marquette (and maybe ever). After all, he was the #3 most efficient offensive player in 2005 and the #1 most efficient offensive player in 2006. In the country. Plus, Novak was already good enough to be drafted and play in the NBA. Furthermore, Steve had numerous games where he delivered amazing performances, like dropping eight three pointers at #4 Louisville in 2004, going perfect in OT against Missouri in 2003, or even being otherworldly against UConn with 41 points and 16 rebounds. Holy crap... I almost forgot the ND game winning shot! (btw - a bunch of those game links have video recaps if you want to relive the fun). Finally, one can make the argument that because of his singular skill, Steve Novak made everyone else's position on the team easier.

Novak's exploits are legendary, so case closed, right? There is no way that Lazar even measures up. (This is the part where I say not so fast).

First, although he was often overlooked by the Three Amigos last year, Lazar was a pretty good player in his own right. For example, did you know that he finished ranked among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (10th, 16.3 ppg), rebounding (7th, 8.6 rpg) and free throw percentage (4th, 82.0%)? Or that he had ten double-doubles (TEN!) last year? How about that in one game he had eighteen rebounds? Finally, lost in the disappointment of the NCAA tournament was that Lazar had a game-high 26 points and 8 rebounds vs USU and 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds against Missouri. Too bad the Missouri performance was overshadowed by one step on the line...

Second, I've become convinced that there's a problem with basketball. The game overvalues scorers... but there is a LOT more involved to winning a basketball game than just scoring. A player that is a great shooter (like say Novak) may not be as valuable as conventional wisdom suggests. I've largely been convinced of this logic based on the writings in "The Wages of Wins", and from The Wages of Wins Blog.

(skip if you have no interest in wonkish stuff)

Because I largely started off working with basketball stats based off Pomeroy's website, which itself was largely based on the work of Dean Oliver's "Basketball on Paper", I'd largely shunned the idea of a rating that could effectively handle the value of a single player. Oliver, in particular, was effective in arguing against the notion. However, after having read The Wages of Wins on my own, I feel better with the concept, mostly because I understand how Wins Produced is derived. The basic notion is that one can use regression analysis to figure out what actions on the basketball court lead to wins. Adjust for position, and those are wins produced.

Now, if one doesn't feel like going through the effort in
figuring out Wins Produced vs Win Score, there is a simpler value that can be used to assess a player's productivity or value on the court. It's also based on regression analysis, but it's been simplified because there's not a huge difference between a coefficient of 0.497 and 0.5. That is Berri's Win Score.

Points + Rebounds + Steals + ½Assists + ½Blocked Shots – Field Goal Attempts – Turnovers – ½Free Throw Attempts – ½Personal Fouls

So how do things look when we compare Lazar and Novak using this formula?

What this comparison tells us is that for productivity, Novak was a more productive player than Lazar for Freshman year. However, in Lazar's sophomore and junior years, he was actually a more productive overall player than Novak (despite Novak's scoring ability). In fact, on a per-game basis, Lazar was almost as productive last year as Novak's senior year, and Lazar was just slightly more productive on a per-minute basis than Steve.

Why is this the case? Because Hayward is more than just a scorer. He gets double-doubles, blocks, and steals.

Of course, this does not mean that next year's team will have similar results as the 2005-2006 team that finished 4th in conference with a 10-6 record. It also doesn't mean that Lazar will make the NBA because his overall game is better than Novak's special skill. In conclusion, if we use our crystal ball, it means that it's reasonable to believe that Lazar will have a better senior season than Novak if we look at more than just scoring. If nothing else, that's not a bad place to look for some optimism for 2009-2010.


Oliver said...

The comparison next year between Novak and Hayward should also be viewed in terms of their calming presence on a young team.

It was important that Novak seldom took a bad shot and was mature enough by his senior year to balance the crazy three freshmen (especially McNeal back then). I think Lazar has it in him, but he has to play like a wise veteren, not just a skilled player.

Oh, and I rank Novak's shot against ND as my best moment at a MU game and I've been going to games since the early 80's. Not the most important moment, just the most fun.

John said...

Would it be possible to do this WS analysis per possession? Does the fact that MU played uncharacteristically slow during the '04-'05 season (62.5 per 40 according to Kenpom) hurt Novak's numbers?

JohnPudner said...

Great analysis. Some are hung up on Lazar lacking some strengths, such as not putting the ball on floor and getting to the hoop. But for me, to have your best pure shooter also be by far your best rebounder is an incredible combination. The thing I love about Lazar for next year is that he has proven he can be dominant on the boards, but he if he is not sacraficing his body with that inside pounding he can also be dominant from behind the arc. Not know which of the incoming players will be ready to produce on day 1, he can go inside or out to fill the void and let the new guys who are excelling get on the court.