UIC's big men, their roles and their numbers

Robbins and Brad Birton at tip.

There has been some controversy lately about who should be starting and playing significant minutes at the primary front court positions at UIC lately. There seem to be four bodies for two spots on a regular basis, though that could be dropping down to one shortly. Which players give the Flames the best chance on offense and defense? Who should be on the court?

Well, I'll start with saying that numbers don't tell the whole story here. Obviously I'm not in practice every day with Howard Moore and seeing the effort players put in and their respective successes or failures, but I have seen a number of Horizon League games, and I have the numbers from all of them and that's what this post is based upon.
For this study I took the Horizon League statistics of Brad Birton, K.C. Robbins, Paris Carter and Darrin Williams and converted them to tempo-free statistics. Why only Horizon League games? Because I think that's what UIC's goal is now, to win those games. This means that a couple of players are missing a game or two, but this is what the sample size works out to:
  • Birton: 9 games, 250 minutes, 64 possessions
  • Williams: 8 games, 132 minutes, 47 possessions
  • Robbins: 10 games, 156 minutes, 57 possessions
  • Carter: 9 games, 186 minutes, 40 possessions
Those aren't the most robust sample sizes, but I think they're the most accurate for what we want to do. Lots of analysis is after the break.

Point 1: Some players need the ball more - You can tell from looking at those numbers that certain players need the ball more than others on offense. There are players that are content being complementary pieces and ones that have to be the focal point. This is probably best demonstrated in possessions per 40 minutes. Both Robbins and Williams act as a focal point of the offense when they're in the game. Robbins (14.7 poss/40) uses slightly more than Williams (14.2 poss/40) but the difference is almost negligible. On the other hand, Birton (10.2 poss/40) and especially Carter (8.5 poss/40) are much more complementary players.

In this case match ups should probably dictate which players on the floor. There are Horizon League teams against which you definitely want to pound the ball into the paint against. There are others, Detroit comes to mind, whose interior defense are extremely solid. It's the coaches job to identify which situation the Flames are in and substitute accordingly. Which brings me to point two.
Point 2: Players play at different levels of consistency - In terms of offensive efficiency and points per 100 possessions Birton is the head of the class amongst these big men at 132.1 points per 100 possessions. That's an outstanding offensive efficiency. Robbins (116.8) and Carter (116.2) aren't far behind. Williams on the other hand is at 96.3, slightly below average. But lets remember, all of these numbers come in a UIC offense that is average 97.6 points per 100 possessions in Horizon League play. All of these players are at least an average, if not better, option.
That said, some are more consistent than others. Robbins' offensive numbers come with a catch, he's the least consistent player from game to game amongst the Flames' bigs. The standard deviation of his offensive rating is 88.2, by far the largest. You've probably seen this with your eyes on the court. Robbins is inconsistent and there doesn't seem to be much reason to it. There's no correlation with playing time as far as I can tell. Therefore Moore just needs to know when his senior center doesn't have it and that seems like a hard thing for a young head coach to have to do.
Point 3: What about defense? - Here's the rub, both of the first two points talk about offense, which is easily quantifiable. Not so much on the defensive end. The stats we currently have to work with make it hard to determine exactly what's going on there. That said, I made a somewhat bogus statistic that essentially tallies up rebounds, blocks, steals and fouls with appropriate linear weights and Robbins came out the best on a per 40 minute basis by a slim margin over Birton. Williams lagged behind overall, mostly because he fouls way too much (7.3 fouls per 40 minutes in conference play).
Conclusions: Well, presenting a whole bunch of data is nice, but what does it all mean? My bottom line is this: I'd start Birton and Robbins next to each other if UIC intends on putting a traditional lineup on the floor. Birton would be my first choice if you're going with the faster, guard-oriented lineup. 
That said, if I was Moore, I'd be working hard to evaluate early in the game which Robbins I was getting. Things I'd be looking at include: Is he rushing things? (Because that leads to the turnovers which are the biggest drain on his defensive efficiency.) And is he hitting the defensive boards? 
If Robbins struggled, I wouldn't hesitate to spell him with Carter. Carter brings a toughness to the court that the Flames sometimes lack and his offensive rebounding is a big asset that can help extend possessions.
As for Williams? Well, his playing time has been averaging 16.5 minutes per game in conference play and I think that's a little high. He's been shown to be effective in spurts, and maybe in a game where Robbins is struggling or another forward needs a break you'd give him some minutes, but he comes up at the end of this study in almost every respect. That said, Carter and Williams are the future of the front court rotation, so you have to find them some minutes to develop in game situations.
It's a tough job. I don't envy Moore for having to figure it out.


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  • John, I continue to be a fan and this article proves your value as a savvy basketball mind, and, for the most part I am aboard. There are a few areas that any right minded coach may focus.

    Point 1: Pounding the ball into the paint...when you have the horses hitch them to the wagon against ANY HL opponent. Detroit was the game Robbins had his 17 pts and 12 rebounds and UIC should attack in the paint with an eye toward scoring and opening perimeter options later in the game...then have all the bigs on the floor for closing minutes foul shot attempts .

    Point 2: Your HL only stats are very interesting and the difference between winning or not is having proven players who are above 100% whenever possible. On the subject of consistency there is no difference between the bigs. I've seen EVERY game, been to all but 1 home and Robbins is no more inconsistent as Williams or Paris Carter. In the YSU game Paris wasn't ready to receive several passes, Williams couldn't make a layup(a trend) and hung his head. The difference is obvious and that is that Robbins has a short chain for whatever reason, and as an observer it's both sad to watch and makes you wonder about agendas. Look at the 20+% increase in NBA Efficiency Stats after 22 games from last year(.334) to this(.416) for Robbins, he is now leading the whole team to completely measure CONSISTENCY.

    Point 3: Defense is tough to measure but almost always results in multi-point offensive runs and eventual wins.

    Conclusion: Coaching isn't easy...especially for a first year coach and a first year coaching staff learning to get in sync. However, when coaching with agendas takes precedent in determining player combinations & minutes played(Paris 413/20gms, Williams 348/20 gms, Robbins 276/22 gms), instead of rewarding competitive performance, every player sees it(as well as the fans) who then begin to question the ethical lessons being taught.

    I went to a coaching seminar many, many years ago when a retired AD said..."Some coaches succeed in such a way that to a man, ALL his players will run through walls to achieve the impossible. While the others coach "favorites" or with agendas...and the majority of his players won't cross the street! The difference is a matter of integrity, respect and morality EVERY year...1st to last!"

    John, the "future" you refer should be right here, right now with the PERFORMING players...that is, if UIC has any chance of achieving the impossible. Let's see what happens.

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