By RICHARD CHEEKS
Some say the team is “not playing hard” and others “the players are not committed to the program, only to their NBA futures” and yet others “that they are playing better ball” but all of those kind of statements lack any objective measure to support the assertion. How does one measure “how hard” a player is playing? How can one know what a player is or is not committed to? These subjective assertions can’t be objectified, if that is a word.
However, the quality of performance can be measured. Here are a couple of ways of thinking about it.
This shows the adjusted offensive, defensive and Net Game Efficiencies of the 5 Calipari teams at UK. For 2013, I have two measures, a snapshot after 22 games, prior to Nerlen’s injury, and the season ending conditions. For 2014, all we can show is what has occurred, through 24 games.
People want to justify this team because it has such a strong offense, and it has, but its defense has been very bad. Last year’s team, through 22 games, was playing outstanding defense, but struggled offensively, thus the general perception of how bad it was again was driven by the offensive side of the equation. However, the Net Game Efficiency of both teams were the same. NGE is the most reliable measurement of quality of play I have found. Nerlens’ going down did impact the offense on the margin (1.106 to 1.088) but his loss was devastating to the team defensively. I think most observers have commented on his importance to that team defensively, but here is the measure of that importance. This of the defensive efficiency from game 22 to game 33 that is needed to raise the average from 0.890 to 0.991.
These two teams are weaker than the 2011 team, 2010 team, and the 2012 championship team of course.
This graph shows the Pomeroy Ranking of three UK teams after each game in the season for 2011, 2013 and 2014. Again, the similarities between 2013 and 2014 through this point of the season are so similar, and both are weaker than the 2011 team through this point, and of course the way the 2011 team finished their season. Fans were up in arms last year over the team, before Nerlens went down. The same fans want to somehow argue to protect this team from criticism. I believe the difference is found in the offensive side of things because fans can see the better offense, but they can’t discern the quality of defensive play nearly as easily.
One last point about the graph for all years. Pomeroy, and others, start a season with guesses. So the first 5 to 10 games of this graph are influenced by those pre-season guesses, but after about 8 games, in my experience, these graphs reflect the current team’s quality of play, free from the influence of the pre-season guesses. Since game 8, this team has moved from a #6 ranking to a #14 ranking. That shows a decline in the quality of play, not an improvement.