Historically, teams that are elite on offense or defense, the latter of which isn’t more important than the former, are considered to be title contenders. More specifically, teams that fulfill the +6 requirements — in other words, their offense and defensive efficiency, measured against the league average, add up to more than six — are legitimate title contenders. [Editor’s note: Rohan of At The Hive, whose methodology is the basis for this entire piece, explicitly explained this analysis here.]
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat both fit the bill last season. San Antonio, namely on offensive strength, and Chicago, namely on defense, bested both teams. The Philadelphia 76ers also belonged in the aforementioned tier. That’s it — five teams. An elite tier, certainly, and measuring title contention by this metric is likely more reliable than most methodologies.
But on a micro level, can we also use this average to decipher the productivity of individual players? Absolutely. By subtracting the league average offensive rating (104.6) from the individual’s offense rating, Basketball Reference’s metric that measures offensive production, and multiplying by usage rate, you can get a number that accurately reflects the contribution of every player. As it adjusts for usage rate, it gives higher usage players like Tony Parker a slight boost. Efficiency and usage rate tend to have a negative correlation so this is a necessary adjustment.
One quick takeaway: Widely considered as the Spurs’ most important offensive player — and this table is not intended to dispute this — Parker contributed less to the No. 1 ranked offense than Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner and Kawhi Leonard.
*Offensive rating per Basketball Reference.** Positive numbers indicate productive contribution while negative indicate below-average production.
— Manu Ginobili was an insanely productive offensive player. (Not that we didn’t already know this.) But this metric, which isn’t perfect, says that Ginobili was more productive offensively than LeBron James. In reality, this is probably not the case if you believe your eyes but it is interestingly nonetheless. Just keep in mind that Ginobili missed 32 games in an already truncated season. His 125 offensive rating is well above-average and, more often than not, due for a regression this season. Even if he regresses to his career average (117), he will still be an above-average performer.
— By this metric, Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul is the only player in the league who was more productive than Ginobili last season. Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden, the heir to Ginobili’s left-handed quirky scorer throne, was slightly less efficient.
— Seven players contributed to the Spurs offense more than Tim Duncan. (Discounting Patty Mills’ minute 16-game sample size.) Nearly half of the roster, that is. This doesn’t mean that Duncan isn’t a worthwhile offensive player — he still is the most reliable interior threat and mid-range weapon, after all. It merely reinforces the notion that the Spurs’ offense isn’t as dependent on his scoring.
— Though the metric adjusts for usage rate, it still favors players with roles that are inherently efficient. Splitter, Green, Bonner and Leonard are prominently featured in roles that don’t require as much creativity or shot creating as Duncan, Ginobili and Parker. As such, their offensive ratings trend upward — despite not being “better” offensively. This also credits the Spurs organization, who deployed these players in roles that are beneficial to the team.
— Richard Jefferson’s presence benefited the Spurs offense. Stephen Jackson’s did not. And yet I bet that most fans are still happy with the trade, myself included.