The Rip Hamilton Effect: Fact vs Fiction

The Rip Hamilton Effect: Fact vs Fiction
Photo by Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune

When the NBA lockout finally (and suddenly) ended in December, speculation immediately began about where the Bulls would turn for a starting SG.

Not that they lost their starter from last season- Keith Bogans started every game for the Bulls, and they had the best record in the NBA and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. He was still on the roster when the lockout ended, but on a completely non-guaranteed contract.

But that playoff loss to the Heat showed the Bulls (and everyone else who was watching) that they needed an upgrade. They needed someone whose offense isn't limited to spot-up 3-pointers.

As good as Bogans is on defense, the Bulls needed more offense from their SG. They had several choices in the off-season, and most of the speculation centered on former Bull Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler, and Jason Richardson. They had the full Mid-Level Exception to spend.

The Bulls talked with all three of those guys, but Butler and Richardson both signed for more than the MLE, and I don't think Jamal Crawford was ever a serious consideration, since he is allergic to defense.

Thankfully, Joe Dumars has gone from "genius GM" to "running the Pistons into the ground" GM. Thanks to all the turmoil with the franchise and all the money Dumars wasted on other players (hello, Ben Gordon), Rip Hamilton became a casualty of the amnesty clause that allows teams a one-time chance to cut a player and not have his salary count against the team's cap figure. (EDIT- Thanks to reader azjeffv for pointing out that the Pistons didn't use the amnesty clause on Rip, he agreed to a buyout that was less than what he was owed.)

Joe's incompetence over the last few years became the Bulls good fortune, as they were able to sign Rip for the MLE. The only question was how much better would Rip make the Bulls offense?

Some people pointed to his low TS% and proclaimed that he wouldn't make the Bulls offense more efficient. Of course, they must have ignored the horrible teams Detroit fielded the last few seasons and how that effects a player's efficiency.

Fast forward one month into the season, and the Bulls are ranked #1 in the NBA in Offensive Efficiency. Not even the most optimistic of Bulls fans could have imagined that the Bulls would have the most efficient offense in the league almost 1/3 of the way through the season.

Rip has only played in nine of the Bulls' 19 games so far, and the difference is stunning- in the 10 games Rip has missed, the Bulls Offensive Efficiency Rating (points per 100 possessions) is 102.0. In the nine games Rip has played, their OER is an unheard of 115.5.

To put that in perspective, the Bulls overall OER of 108.5 currently leads the NBA. Over the last three seasons, no team has had an OER of over 114.9 for the year.

Obviously Rip has made the Bulls offense better- but how much better, really?

The problem in evaluating Rip's effect is that in the nine games Rip has played so far, the Bulls have played against some horrible defensive teams. Granted, not 115.5 bad- the Nets have the worst defense in the league, and their DER is 112- so the Bulls are doing against bad teams than even their average.

But the Bulls have played one team in those nine games that has a defense ranked better than 19th (through Monday's games). The Clippers were 8th, and the Magic were 19th. The other 7 teams they have played are ranked: 23rd, 24th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th.

In the ten games without Rip, the Bulls faced a top-7 defense five times, so of course their ranking in those games is going to be lower. The average ranking of those defenses is 13- the average ranking of the defenses Rip has faced is 23.8.

All one has to do is watch the games to see what a big difference Rip makes in the Bulls' offense. But let's see how the Bulls offense fares against their next five opponents: Indiana (4th in DER), Milwaukee (17th), Miami (9th), Washington (25th) and Philadelphia (1st).

If the Bulls can even maintain their league-leading 108.5 OER through these five games, I'll feel a lot more confident that their offense really is championship-caliber.


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  • great post, however just for the record Hamilton was not a casualty of the amnesty clause. He was bought out and released. just saying

  • Thanks for that azjeffv- I had just assumed that the Pistons used the amnesty clause on Rip, but since he wanted out of Detroit bad enough to take less money than he was owed, it was straight buy-out.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    Righto Don - He was bought out for $10mm less than contract value - the Bulls deal covered the money.

    Good stats ! Tonight will be a much stiffer test - both offensively and defensively. Glad I'm going - plus, the replay will be on CSN tomorrow at 3.

    For all you nuts out there - the "flu game" is being shown at 12:30 today on CSN.

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Yeah Money Boy, now I remember when Rip signed that it was reported that the Bulls were going to pay him enough to cover the money he left on the table in Detroit.

    I guess I should have written this yesterday, instead of this morning on two hours sleep. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it!

    I hope your daughters enjoy the game tonight, I know you will!

  • Very nice post...and now with Deng out, we may not be able to gauge Rip's effect, because if the Bulls do have a lower OER in the next week, it could be due to Deng's, it may be like that for a while with all these dang injuries...gonna be hard to see really what the Bulls offense can do on a consistent basis until they have everyone playing for a couple weeks straight...

  • One correction, the Pistons did not use the amnesty on Hamilton. They bought him out, which made him a free agent unless a team was willing to take on his entire current contract in waivers. If Detroit had used the amnesty on Hamilton, he probably doesn't make it to Chicago.

    I saw criticism that Hamilton could only come off screens. That he couldn't get his own shot or function as a secondary ballhandler. That never made much sense to me. A player doesn't consistently put up the very high usage rates that Hamilton has throughout his career without being able to create shots. And Hamilton very much played a secondary ballhandler role alongside another scoring point guard in Billups, and had the assist rates to prove it.

    What I was concerned about was where Hamilton's shots were going to come from. A career high volume scorer like Hamilton is goign to get shots up, and almost all of his shots are of the relatively inefficient mid-range variety. The few shots Bogans did take were high efficiency threes, which Bogans did get off with frequency and made fairly consistently outside of the early season dreadfulness. So Hamilton wasn't going to be much of an improvement there, and then Hamilton was going to take shots from the other players. If Hamilton displayed a quick trigger finger and was trading a Derrick Rose layup for example for his own mid-range jumper then Hamilton could turn out to be not quite as an effective offensive upgrade as anticpated. That was my only significant conern and only relative to what Hamilton would offer versus a 3-point launch pad like Jason Richardson, not Bogans versus Hamilton. In the end I strongly favored Hamilton because of his off the ball movement, passing ability, and most of all his extensive playoff experience that far outclassed any other candidate. I had far more confidence in Hamilton doing the dirty work on both offense and defense against playoff caliber teams than I did in Richardson, Crawford, or other candidates.

    So far it appears my one concern about Hamilton was unfounded. He's been aggressive taking shots, but his shot selection hasn't been anything to be concerned about. And he has brought everything else that I expected. Now there will come a time against better defenses when Hamilton's ballhandling gets exposed and some of his passes are deflected and end up as turnovers. Then we will see if the honeymoon with Bulls fans lasts, particuarly those that always see impending doom.

  • In reply to scotter:

    Scotter - The lack of an mid-range game is epidemic in basketball today. The blame for it is usually laid at the altar of the 3point line.

    I've always thought Rip was a better-than-average mid-range guy. MJ didn't have a refined one, neither did DRose. But both worked at it and DRose has shown continued and marked improvement.

    One thing that bugs the heck out of this 60 y/o is - lack of understanding in the use of the backboard. Pippen was masterful at using the bank shot. I grew up with the game watching players use it all the time. As I honed my game (albeit in park rec leagues and the like) I did everything I could to use it as often as possible.

    Back to Rip - Stacey King has raved about his defensive prowess and, like Brew and Loul, his ability to guard multiple positions. It's a comfort to know that in a congested, injury riddled year like this, the Bulls have "plug-and-play" guys who can and do whatever is needed.

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Those that lay the demise of the mid-range game at the altar of the 3-point shot do so correctly.

    I find the evolution of its effects in the NBA particuarly interesting because it reached the NBA in the years after the merger before it reached the college and high school level. Through most of the 80's the NBA was a league of players who grew up without the 3-point shot and played without it all the way through college, and then in the early 90's you started to see a generation of players who grew up shooting 3's, and the NBA moving the line in only magnified that generation change.

    In the 80's and even into the early 90's it wasn't uncommon for a few select individual players to attempt more 3's than entire teams. Much like Babe Ruth hitting more home runs than entire teams.

    The NBA statistical revolution is well over a decade behind baseball. And the statistical analysis of the 3-point shot so far was much like baseball's analysis of the HR. The equilvalents of the mid-range game (bunting, stealing bases, base running, fielding) were devalued initially in favor of taking walks and the 3-run homer. As time went by on base% and home runs were still valued more than they had been, but they realized some of the other aspects of the game were undervalued. And there came a recognition that 2 walks and a homer was great for beating average to worse pitching, but not so great against playoff caliber pitching. Against better competition the little things than have mroe marginal value matter more.

    When it comes to basketball statistical analysis we are still in the walk, walk, HR phase, but I suspect over time we will have a better understanding of the true value of a mid-range game in the 3-point shot era. Particuarly against high caliber competition.

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Great point about the bank shot, MoneyBoy- outside of Dwight Howard, I don't see any young players using the glass any more. I guess it's just not taught any more, and I really don't know why.

  • In reply to scotter:

    Come on scotter, I corrected the amnesty thing, leave me alone!!! just kidding

    I'm big on some advanced statistics, but not all of them. In fact, one of the "old-time" stats that I don't pay a whole lot of attention to is FG%- which leads to me not worrying too much about TS% or eFG%, either.

    If you take two players who both average 20 shots a night, and one shoots 40% and the other shoots 45%, that's one more made shot a night. Two points. Not a big difference.

    To me, it's more important WHEN you make your shots- nobody doubts that LeBron is the most talented player in the league today, but he is (rightfully) ripped for disappearing in the 4th quarter of big games (last year's ECF excluded, of course).

    Also, Bogans had a very good eFG% last year, because he shot a lot of 3's- but that means nothing if you only shoot when you are wide open. A guy who takes a lot of forced shots late in the shot clock is going to shoot a lower percentage just because he is taking tougher shots.

    And I was right there with you in wanting Rip over Jamal or JRich- because as you pointed out, there is never any doubt that Rip is going to play balls-to-the-wall defense when he's out there. And he's a winner- you can't say enough about championship experience. The lack of it cost the Bulls vs Miami last year, and to quote Steven Tyler- "you got to lose to know, how to win".

  • The lack of a mid-range game, to me, really shows up in the playoffs. Teams turn up the defensive pressure, and they really guard the 3-point line and the lane- but there aren't a lot of guys who are efficient at the mid-range shot.

    The mid-range shot is now almost the exclusive domain of big men- you see a lot of PF who take 1/2 of their shots from 18-20 feet out. The "Europeanization" of the game has led to big men who are mostly face-up players, there are very few true post players left.

    With the NBA now basically allowing zone defenses, it's harder to dump the ball into the low post and watch a guy take his defender. And the elimination of the hand-check on perimeter players has made it much easier for a quick guard to get into the lane, the defender basically has no chance of stopping him one-on-one.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    Last night's game was the perfect example of a mid-range game gone south - Rip.

    "Europeanization" yup. Sarbonis was a rarity - and we only saw him late and injured. Marchiliunis was a wonder ... but to your point - Mirotic is more of a "true" European - a 7-1, face up PF.

    Personally, it makes me ill. I'm 6-3 and played center. I had to learn some tricks - setting picks, passing to the weak side from the elbow, using my left hand, and boxing out - oh, and the bank shot.

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    Don Ellis started covering sports professionally when he was 15. The same year (1980), as a student assistant at Seeger Memorial High School in West Lebanon, IN, he was one of the first in the world to use, study and implement analytics in basketball. He attended Daytona State College and Ball State University, and some of his past credits include InsideHoops (NBA Runaround: The NBA According to Ellis) and ESPN Florida (The Florida Sports Reporters), where he was fortunate enough to work with many rising stars, including NFL Network's Dan Hellie, Redskins coach Jay Gruden, Magic radio and TV personality Dante Marchitelli, and WSB-TV (Atlanta) Sports Director Zach Klein. In addition to running the Bullsville blog and officiating basketball, baseball and football for the KHSAA, he is also a bass player and vocalist who writes and produces music in his spare time (you may remember his internet hit "I Hate Eddy Curry"). He's a 3rd-generation Cubs fan, a Bulls fan since the days of Van Lier and Sloan, and a life-long New England Patriots fan. He's seen Primus 9 times and thinks Les Claypool walks on water. By far his greatest accomplishment is being a father of three and grandfather of one.

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