Respect, or the value of gravity in the NBA

Tom Haberstroh lists his top floor-spacers of the year in the NBA (ESPN Insider paywalled article). He came up with a composite of SportVU's proprietary gravity and distraction scores, two pieces of data which, as far as I can tell, are only provided by Stats Inc. to ESPN Insider and other professional paying customers (if any of you NBA Hoops fans know where I can find the data myself online, let me know!).

Haberstroh explains these two scores and his methodology for generating a composite:

To recap, gravity score measures how closely a player's defender sticks to him off the ball. Higher gravity scores generally belong to bigs because their primary defender must stay close and also protect the basket. On the other hand, guards typically have lower gravity scores simply because defenders have more liberty to shade off their guy on the perimeter. But elite shooters typically generate more attention off the ball.

Then there's distraction score, which quantifies how much a player's defender is willing to help off the ball to stop the ball handler. The worse he is as a shooter, the more likely his defender will be distracted by the ball handler. To identify the most effective floor-spacers in the NBA, I created a composite score that combines the two metrics. The result is what I've called "respect rating," which has now been translated to a 1-to-100 scale with 100 being the most magnetic (think sharpshooters) and 1 being least magnetic (think non-scoring bigs).

No surprise, Steph Curry tops the list with a respect rating of 97.9. He was #1 in Haberstroh's composite ranking last year as well. Klay Thompson is third with a rating of 94.4, and you can understand much of the Warriors success this year in those two rankings.

What's interesting to me as a Bulls fan is that Derrick Rose ranks 14th. Much analysis of his value to the Bulls is built off his raw individual stats, but the interaction effects of basketball mean he's undervalued in terms of his value to the team as someone who keeps defenders away from his teammates.

In the modern game, where zone defense is allowed and where the trend is for heavy help defense to swarm the ball, having players who have high gravity and distraction scores, who you can't help off of, is critical to maintaining the type of floor spacing that opens driving lines or provide open jump shots. There's a reason that the most trendy NBA offense now is "pace and space"; both pace and space are ways of trying to neutralize the trendiest style of defense, the Thibodeau-style defense that punishes isolation plays and post-ups.

I still wish Rose would decrease his number of three point shot attempts, at least until he finds consistent form in practice. His form on threes has been so erratic this season, and he squanders his value as one of the top floor-spacers in the NBA when he chucks one of those up. When he drives, he not only increases his chance of drawing a foul, but his gravity increases the odds one of his teammates will come open for a higher percentage shot.

I'm still super bullish (pun sort of intended) on the Bulls this season. Cleveland is a mess, the Bulls are deeper than they've been in years, and the East is much weaker than the West as a conference. Noah is still coming back into fitness and health after offseason knee surgery, Butler has blossomed into a true two-way star, Mirotic adds a legitimate floor spacer as a true stretch four, Brooks is an effective source of offense for the second string team, and declarations of Rose as Grant Hill Part 2 were premature. 

One of the kinks they still have to work out, however, is how for Rose to best maximize his gravitational pull. Three-pointers and layups/dunks are the two most efficient forms of offense, but only if you can get them. The mid-range jump shot may be inefficient and a dying art, but Rose is one of the rare players for whom that seems to be an exception.