Nba nerd

Plumlee Beats Out Cousins

Brian Windhorst reported that Mason Plumlee is more likely than DeMarcus Cousins to make the Team USA roster:

And twitter exploded. How could this be? Coach K favoring the Duke alumnus? Actually, the decision makes perfect sense to me, because Plumlee had a surprisingly great rookie season, and DeMarcus Cousins' game, while improved, is flawed, and those flaws are particularly bad for the international game.

  POS Min WP48 PoP48 Wins PTS DRB ORB REB AST TO BLK STL PF
Cousins C 2298 .157 1.8 7.5 33.7 12.8 4.6 17.4 4.3 5.2 1.9 2.3 5.6
Plumlee C 1275 .233 4.2 6.2 19.6 7.9 3.7 11.6 2.3 2.9 2.1 1.8 6.4
Average C C 1421 .099 0.0 2.9 19.1 9.5 4.4 13.8 2.5 2.7 2.0 1.2 5.1
  FG% 2FG% 3FG% FT% eFG% TS% FGA 3FGA PPS FTA
Cousins 49.6% 49.9% 0.0% 72.6% 49.6% 55.5% 24.9 0.1 1.36 12.4
Plumlee 65.9% 66.6% 0.0% 62.6% 65.9% 67.0% 11.4 0.1 1.72 7.3
Average C 51.0% 52.0% 31.8% 67.5% 51.8% 55.1% 15.0 0.7 1.27 5.1

When we compare the two players, we see that Cousins is a much better rebounder, but several important things strike out:

  • Plumlee doesn't shoot very much, which means his 7.3 free throws per 48 is amazing. He clearly has a knack for getting to the line.
  • Plumlee shoots an amazing percentage because he's always shooting in the paint. He had 259 shots in the restricted area; most of the players above him played starters' minutes.
  • Cousins turns the ball over a truckload! This leads me to question whether his higher assist rate really means he is a better passer.
  • Cousins's shooting efficiency, despite his very high number of shots, is only about average. This is mostly because he takes a huge amount of 15-19 footers, and lots of 20-24 footers (but no threes). Last year, he took 358 mid-range shots, converting only 40% of them. Even worse, he took 282 shots in the paint but outside the restricted area (i.e. not layups and dunks), and converted only 36%. Among centers, only Al Jefferson took more, but Big Al converted 51% on those shots.

In essense, Cousins is a very gifted rebounder and an able defender, but has the kind of shot selection that would make Nick Young proud. He loves to shoot (he was 6th in the NBA in shots per 48 minutes), but he is not a good shooter.

This type of game is a horrible fit in international ball. There are two primary reasons this is the case:

  • The 3-point line is about 18 inches closer in the NBA. This makes the 3-pointer a better shot than in the NBA, because those 18 inches add a few percentage points. When the shot is worth three points, the impact of those added percentage points on a shot's expected value is large. This means that if a midrange shot is the worst option in the NBA (teams prefer threes and layups), this is magnified in FIBA ball. Every shot a team takes has an opportunity cost. That opportunity cost is expressed as "Could someone else have gotten a better shot?" And the better those alternative shots are, the higher that opportunity cost.
  • FIBA teams play a lot of zone. In fact, it is not uncommon for Team USA to play an entire game without ever seeing a man defense. And FIBA zones are not like NBA zones -- The NBA has rules a defensive 3-second rule that prevents packing the paint, and FIBA has no such limitation. It's much more important to threaten the defense from beyond the 3-point line to get defenders out of the paint and create space. A player like Boogie shooting 15-20 footers against a zone mucks up this spacing (and it is generally precisely the shot that the zone wants the other team to take). Coach K likes to field lineups where nearly everyone is a threat beyond the arc. Tyson Chandler was a notable exception, but again, he was a player that, on offense, wasn't standing around that 15-20 foot area clogging up space. When attacking zones, Coach K likes big men who "hide" behind the low post defenders and run back and forth near the baseline; when a player attacks the paint, then the big man can step up from behind the basket to the spot vacated by the defender and either look for a pass/layup, or to grab the offensive board. Chandler did this exceptionally well, and guys like Anthony Davis and Plumlee also fill that void well. Boogie does not do this job well, because he's too often hanging around the perimeter (but not far enough out to be a 3-point threat).

Then there is the question of team fit. I think a player like Plumlee, who does not take many shots (and makes them when he does) is a far better fit on team USA than a jump-shooting center who takes lots of shots. This is because Team USA wants every shot it possibly can get from Kevin Durant. Obviously Durant cannot take every shot, but there is a "best shot" (Durant from three, dunk/layup from anybody) and then a long list of "better" or "good" shots, and somewhere way, way, way down that list is Boogie shooting an 18-footer. With Plumlee on the team, you get more of those shots because Plumlee won't shoot unless he gets a layup/dunk. This gets you more threes from shooters like Durant/Parsons/Harden, more penetration from Rose or Westbrook or Wall (with better targets to pass to off penetration than Boogie at 18 feet).

In short, I don't think this is about Duke. Plumlee is just a much better fit on this team than Boogie is, and I don't think that should really be all that controversial.

Mobility and a face-up game are also factors when you account for the trapezoid lane used in international play.
Of course Cousins is more "talented", and his rebounding numbers are great. But the fear of him attempting to dribble the length of the court, or taking a bad shot in a close game, is legit. You don't what you will get. Or, more precisely, you know you'll get good stuffs and bad stuffs.

What you said is true, Patrick, Plumlee should be useful on zones, because he knows how to play without the ball. He's a faster and more intelligent cutter than Cousins.

On the other hand, Cousins rebounding numbers are really great. But I'll go with Plumlee.
I don't know why you fall back on Plumlee being a "better fit" for the team than Cousins. Plumlee is simply a better basketball player than Cousins. I mean, .233 > .157! The difference is not within the margin of error here.

Talent is not relevant to the discussion here. USA Basketball is not a team where you sign a player who produces less but you believe has talent and therefore will develop and eventually produce more several years down the line. You take the players to the tournament who will produce. And Plumlee simply produces more than Cousins.

It isn't very complicated!
This all seems like a pretty spurious argument. The stats support the argument but only because they are not really comparable. Plumlee is the 7th cog on a team where he is asked to do very little and play within himself. Cousins is the focal centerpiece of an entire team where he has always been the best player (that is speaking negatively of Sacramento and not to Cousins talent).

The shots taken and efficiency that results out of those two very disparate situations are not really comparable in reality. As a thought exercise, if you put Plumlee in Cousins place on Sacramento, would Sacramento be better off? Even if you consider Plumlee would still take no more bad shots because more were available to him (which is probably not accurate), they would still go to worse players on Sacramento (Gay, fictional Thomas who is no longer there, etc.), making Sacramento worse unless Plumlees efficiency linearly scales. I am very dubious of that.

So what I think you are really making an argument for is that Coach K cannot coach Cousins. Cousins has been the best player on his team since he was drafted and due to no fault of his own, he has been asked to shoulder a burden he should not. His shot selection is a result (at least partially) of that.

On Team USA Cousins would suddenly become average, and consequently his burden would go down, and his shot selection could/should go up. You can look at his college numbers at Kentucky and find that even as a less developed/skilled player, he does better in the advanced stats than now because he was playing with Wall, Bledsoe, Patterson, etc. taking more shots from him. In that model Coach Cal was able to control him and he was fine limiting his shot selection and outside shots.

So I think really there is no argument that Plumlee is the better player or the better fit. There is only an argument that Coach K cannot get Cousins to play the way he needs to play to be successful. That may be a very fair argument, but should probably be a strike on Coach K more so than for Cousins.
@oon2ooo - so you're saying that if Cousins didn't take all of those terrible midrange shots that he made at a 40% (or 36%!) rate, his Sacramento teammates would have taken worse shots and made them at an even worse rate? I mean, it's *possible* - this is Sacramento we're talking about. But I don't think it's awfully likely. Seems to me that Cousins simply chooses to take worse shots and cost his team better opportunities. Which makes him a less productive player. Plumlee chooses not to take bad shots (because Kidd smartly prohibited him from shooting midrange shots) and consequently was a more productive player.
I note that this this seems to me to be just the old "what's the value of shot creation" argument. Iverson/Melo/Cousins/whoever is actually really good because their team requires them to take all those inefficient, low percentage shots!
1. The 3 point line is shorter in FIBA.

2. A lot of your analysis is based on the assumption that 40% is a bad conversion rate from mid range. It is not. Cousins is absolutely a threat from 16-18 feet, which is very important in the international game.

3. There is no illegal defense rule anymore. Are you talking about defensive 3 in the key, Patrick? That is not exclusive to weakside defense, but certainly makes it harder to get in the lane (something Plumlee needs to do to be effective because he can be ignored outside the paint). This rule benefits Cousins.

4. The elbows are literally the most important part of the court for beating a zone. If boogie can threaten from there and pass well, you can pick a zone apart. Plumlee cannot play from the high post. How does a non-shooter muck up spacing worse than an average mid range shooter with an off the dribble game?
Todd2
No more trapezoid. This has been changed for a while now.

oon2ooo
The usage argument isn't valid. Go check some of WOW posts on that. Coaches don't have the power you think they have. Players are who they are.
@AndrewSutton/@AI_S,

That is what I am saying. I think Cousins is not Josh Smith. I think he takes those shots because he thinks he is the best guy on the team and they have the highest likelihood of going in. And the worst part is, he is probably right at least half the time (look up his teammates WP48/POP48 stats).

On many other teams, I think he can be controlled to not take those shots because he has other talented players who can speak to him. Sacramento is a super unique case because of the dearth in talent they have and how they have encouraged his bad habits.

Like I said, I looked up Cousins Advanced Stats for college when he was undoubtedly less skilled (his FT% difference gives that away) and he took way less of those shots and had better EFG/TS%'s while being an overall worse shooter. That was a coaching thing, Coach Cal forbid him from doing that. Told him to pound in the block and he did.
Like, I hate to bring up the term "chemistry," but on the basis of personality factors, you have to wonder if Cousins is a good fit for an international team, especially one with such high expectations.
oon2ooo - Cousins shoots midrange shots at 40%. Literally every Sacramento player that got at least 100 minutes last year had an eFG% over 40%. Hence, there is *no* time that Cousins would be better off shooting a midrange instead of passing to a teammate. (OK, fine, there are some exceptions - e.g., end of shot clock.) But given a choice between Cousins shooting a midrange shot at a 40% rate and even Ben McLemore shooting at an eFG of 44.6% (which is *horrible*), I'll take Ben McLemore every time.
"2. A lot of your analysis is based on the assumption that 40% is a bad conversion rate from mid range. It is not. Cousins is absolutely a threat from 16-18 feet, which is very important in the international game. "

Actually, no. My analysis is based on the fact that midrange shots ARE BAD SHOTS. You don't get points for being "about average" among your peers at converting bad shots.

Cousins likes to take lots of bad shots.

Ironically, I don't think Sacramento would be better off if he didn't take those shots, but that is only because Rudy Gay would take them in his place.

There is, however, no doubt in my mind that this is a terrible shot in FIBA ball, and that Coach K hates them.

"3. There is no illegal defense rule anymore. Are you talking about defensive 3 in the key, Patrick?"

You're right, this is no longer limited to the weak side. I disagree entirely that this benefits cousins, but you probably think it does because you think 18-footers are good shots. They aren't.

"4. The elbows are literally the most important part of the court for beating a zone."

This is not the only way to attack the zone. You need to look at how Coach K prefers to do this. He likes to attack it by penetrating from the wing, "freezing" defenders to pitch out to open shooters, and having his bigs roam the baseline, occasionally flashing into space that opens up under the basket. K has made coaching videotapes on attacking zone defenses, you should check them out.

I'm not sure many of you realize that 90% of K's lineups are going to be 2 guards, 2 SFs, and one C (usually Anthony Davis) There won't be any "David Robinson + Tim Duncan" style lineups with a high and a low post big. The guy in the high post will very often be someone like Paul George.

oon2ooo,

"unless Plumlees efficiency linearly scales. I am very dubious of that."

Why is that dubious? The league's history is full of guys whose production scaled linearly. Almost every single player who ever won most improved is an example of this.

Conversely, there are very few examples of any players who got more minutes, but whose per-minute production went down.

This is not about usage, and "playing within your game". This boils down to the myth that cutting, running at the rim to get dunks, etc, is somehow not a skill. The league is littered with guys who don't shoot very much, but who still suck at hitting shots. I've written about this before:

http://www.boxscoregeeks.com/articles/a-low-usage-myth

But forget that. Let's consider instead your argument that "Plumlee is the 7th cog on a team where he is asked to do very little and play within himself."

Isn't this EXACTLY the point? What roster spot do you think coach K is picking here? The starter? No. That's Anthony Davis, and that's never changing. This is about the backup center spot. Coach K wants a "7th cog" who will "play within himself". This is precisely what makes Plumlee a better choice than Cousins.
I think Patrick is right here, for a few reasons:

1 - Plumlee generates more wins. Regardless of causality, if you are confident of that, you take him over Cousins.

2 - The "usage" argument is actually relevant at times with regard to players (though less often than some think, and mostly when someone's teammates are genuinely terrible), but in this case, it's not; we don't know how Cousins will function as a fourth banana or worse, we do know how Plumlee will function, and he functions well.

3 - If the argument is in favor of spacing the floor with midrange shooting, to which there is a value (having the ability to turn what is traditionally a "bad" shot into a shot that is at least credibly dangerous and valuable is one of the main strengths of a player like Dirk, along with the reliability of being able to get that shot), then that's not an argument for Boogie. It's an argument against both him AND Plumlee, and in favor of a player more like Ibaka or Bosh. Boogie isn't very good from the midrange. You'd want a player who could approach/exceed hitting 50% of those shots.

4 - So what does Boogie bring? Rebounding. A ton of it. He's very good at that, and he is better than the average center (I also expect he could improve with better coaching over a sustained period, by a coach who had actual authority and a willingness to bury him on the bench if he won't play the right way - SA, perhaps?)... but does Team USA really need excess rebounding from this position?

If you think so, the argument for Boogie as a rebounding specialist is stronger, essentially, but overall I agree with Patrick that Plumlee was the right pick. It's also not a coincidence that Brooklyn was playing their best ball last year when Plumlee was getting minutes while Garnett was out.

A more interesting question, this year, is managing the Lopez / Plumlee situation for the Nets, but that's off-topic here.
@Patrick

Another advantage of linups with four 3pt shooters/court runners + 1 center for team USA is that it allows them to maximize their massive depth advantage.

The Spurs used this strategy to great advantage this season. Kawhi is constantly on the break, and the ball is constantly moving when they do get into a half court set. The first team wears out the opponent's first team, then Pop subs in an entirely new lineup of fresh legs that play the same way. The rotations get slower as the game wears on, and everyone gets fantastic looks.
In related news, how the hell does Drummond not make the top two of that threesome? Are rebounds not allowed in international play?
^because clearly Kentucky is like playing in the NBA or in FIBA...college is glorified high school basketball.
I just had to delete a Paul George "joke" comment.

The article was obviously written before the injury. Given the gruesome nature of the injury, I don't think it's necessary to make light of the irony.

Let's give Mr. George a couple months and see if he's going to get healthy again before we start making jokes about it, k?
i did not see the joke comment but what is the damage in leaving a tasteless joke up?
Shilelea, give it your best guess. You're a smart person, I'm sure you can figure it out.
the occasional tasteless Joke serves only to make the writer look like an idiot. removing spam posts is one thing but for the sake of conversation and continuity, having a placeholder for any removed post and a reason would most likely be the best policy.

Question for the commentors:
With what has happened with George, should players be paid for offseason activity with the team? This is for every sport. Training Camps, OTAs, voluntary and involuntary workouts, Preseason, and Summer Leagues. If its league affiliated, it begs the question since they are league workers. Also, players should be paid for the playoffs.

http://mmqb.si.com/2013/08/27/richard-sherman-stevie-brown-injuries/
Players can't get paid from their teams for the offseason for playing for their country, it'd break the CBA in more ways than I can count. Only a select few get go do that, after all. Players who don't play for their country are getting paid vacation if they're under contract, between jobs if they're not so I don't really see an issue there.

However, players should be getting insured from the various basketball governing bodies and not from their own teams. Playing for one's national team is highly competitive and thus (probably?) more risk prone than playing pickup ball, not to mention the revenue generated in such events. Why shouldn't this very revenue finance the needed insurance schemes instead of the teams themselves?
For all the crap that Cousins gets, we forget- he's TWENTY-THREE!!!!! He's actually 5 months younger than "rookie" Plumlee. Given his inconsistent coaching history, garbage teammates, and his otherworldly court vision and ball skills for his size, he is clearly a better "potential" pick. Plumlee does things that help you win a lot of basketball games. Chris Andersen does those same things better, and nobody is thinking of putting him on Team USA. Cousins is able to do things that help you win multiple titles- I'm a Spurs fan for life, and I absolutely love Kawhi Leonard, but I'd trade him in a nanosecond for the chance to see what Cousins could do with real coaching, real teammates, and real system play.
Whoa, Pete. Slow down with the Leonard statement. Just Breath. Cousins isn't Drummond.

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