K.C. Johnson, Deng's Numbers Do Not 'Compare Favorably' to Pierce's

K.C. Johnson, Deng's Numbers Do Not 'Compare Favorably' to Pierce's

The Tribune beat reporter said Luol Deng was snubbed from the All-Star team, despite numbers like that of All-Star Paul Pierce. He was very, very wrong.

deng pierce.JPG

The Tribune News Services had four basketball reporters write who was "the biggest snub" from the 2011 All-Star rosters. One those was K.C. Johnson at the Chicago Tribune, who said, "Luol Deng." And supported it with a piece of absolutely false rationale that Deng's numbers are in the range of Paul Pierce this season:

While his numbers aren't flashy, they compare favorably to Paul Pierce's
and, though he plays a different position, Joe Johnson's. Deng guards
multiple positions. He worked hard in the offseason to stretch his range
and become an effective 3-point shooter. And he has played in every
game, ranking in the top five all season in average minutes played.

He's dependable, consistent and reliable -- and he should have been an All-Star.

First, the argument that a team's W-L record entitles it to multiple All-Stars isn't completely invalid, but weighing it over a player's individual efficiency is usually ridiculous. Efficiency carries some of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- value to creating wins.

Second, Deng has had his best overall season because of his incredible improvement on defense that makes him an asset to play as many minutes as any volume player in the NBA. His shot selection has improved from a stupid 6-to-7 shots per game at 16-23 feet from the basket throughout his career to only 3.5 per game this season without losing volume on total shots per game.

The biggest difference has been the better decision-making to attempt the more efficient three-point shot 4.2 times per game -- as opposed to 1.2 last season, 0.4 in 2008-09, and 0.3 in 2007-08. His three-point rate has gone down from .386 last season to .354, but electing the three-point shot over the long two has made Deng a more efficient shooter overall past 15 feet.

But Deng's numbers do not "compare favorably" to Pierce's.

  • Pierce's efficiency eclipses Deng's. His PER isn't only higher than Deng's 15.2 rating, but it's 20 for 6th in the East, which is the difference between a "borderline All-Star" and a "pretty good player," according the metric's discoverer, John Hollinger. There are PER criticisms by those who do and don't understand the metric. Holliger himself tweaks it from time to time, but the difference between Deng and Pierce's PER reflects Pierce's vast advantages in every aspect of shooting with rebounding, assisting, stealing, and blocking being even or slightly advantaged by Pierce.
  • Pierce is excessively shooting better than Deng. Deng's taken slightly more shots per game than Pierce -- 14.4 per game to 13 -- yet Pierce is outscoring Deng 18.9 to 17.8 per game. This is because Pierce is shooting a .508 FG% to Deng's .454, a .407 3P% to Deng's aforementioned .354, an .848 FT% to Deng's .730 for an eFG% of .563 to Deng's kinda' icky .506 and a great TS% of .623 to Deng's pretty average .545.
  • Pierce's volume is higher than Deng's. The volume over efficiency argument doesn't carry as much water when more than minutes per game is equated. Sure, Deng's 39.7 MPG is remarkable, but Pierce is playing 34.7 MPG at 33-years-old with a Usage Rate of 23.7% -- higher than Deng's 21.3% usage.

    Pierce's UR should be expected to be higher than Deng's because he's a higher option in the Celtics' offense than Deng. But that argument supports that Deng's efficiency should be higher than it is -- even if not higher than Pierce -- to be a legitimate All-Star.

  • Pierce has played multiple positions, too, though not more than Deng. The Celtics-Bulls help scheme requires every defender effectively defend multiple positions. The versatility argument goes to Deng because of his very strong work guarding anyone 5-23 feet from the basket and playing the four quite often; whereas Pierce is a relatively lesser defender, more strictly defending the wings, always with two bigger teammates on the floor.
  • But their rebounding is the same. Deng plays more inside than Pierce, but their rate of rebounding is very similar -- though Deng's grabbing 6.2 RPG to Pierce's 5.0. Deng has a much higher Offensive Rebounding Rate -- 4.8% to 1.5% -- because the Celtics rush to reset their defense instead of crashing the offensive boards. Pierce has a slightly higher Defensive Rebounding Rate of 15.6% to Deng's 13.2, so their Total Rebounding Rate are virtually equal -- Pierce's 9% to Deng's 9.1%.
  • Pierce's short stint of point forward. Rajon Rondo missed a seven-game stretch with a sprained ankle and without Delonte West, the Celtics were forced to start Nate Robinson at the point. The end result was Pierce playing point forward and averaged 6.7 APG over that stretch, including a double-double with his assists and a triple-double.
  • Pierce's per game assists and rate of assists are higher than Deng's. Pierce is only averaging 3.3 APG to Deng's .2.5, but his Assist Rate is 15.8% to Deng's 10.6%; yet, Deng's Turnover Rate is only slightly lower -- 10.7% to 11.2 %
  • Despite the Bulls being more efficient on defense, Pierce has a slightly higher defensive rating than Deng. Pierce's DRtg is around 101 and Deng's around 102. This could reasonably be attributed to their teams because defense is an extremely difficult aspect to gauge, individually. But the Bulls have a better team DRtg than the Celtics -- 99.2 to 100.6.

    That said, Deng plays more minutes with lesser defenders than Pierce and Deng definitely wins the eye test here, but that's it.

Conclusion: With all due respect, Mr. Johnson, you are very wrong. Deng's numbers do not "compare favorably" to Pierce's on just about every angle. Even a more subjective argument that Deng is more valuable to the Bulls than Pierce to the C's is a bit ridiculous when you're talking about the C's go-to guy in crunch time. That go-to guy because he's one of the best player in the franchise's rich history of talent.

If you want to make the more subjective, intangible argument for Deng as an All-Star, OK, but the numbers take in more that the eyes miss than vice versa. The human brain is a relatively terrible information gatherer.

I wrongly predicted Raymond Felton would be the 12th All-Star, but in choosing my reserves for the East, the most difficult final question for me was between Carlos Boozer or Joe Johnson. I understand the selection of Johnson over Boozer. Though I disagree with it, I'm not sure I'd call it a snub.

Again, I'll repeat that I respect the hell out K.C. I depend on him for Bulls information over just about everyone else. He's great as his job and interacting with fans on Twitter. But my opinion of him is irrelevant to whether his statement on Deng and Pierce's numbers was true or not.

It's a curse. I read way too much Ayn Rand between the ages of 16 and 23.

Advanced Stats via Basketball-Reference. Shot selection stats are through Deng's first 48 games via Hoopdata.

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  • Ya.... i couldnt agree more. Even though Deng is having his best season yet...i think alot of his success has to do with Derrick Rose. Rose has so much attention on him at all times that Luol finds himself open all the time. If it wasnt for Rose...i dont think Luol would be having the season that he's having. I do give Deng credit though for putting in the time to work on that 3 ball. Thats been huge for us this year. Now if he could only stop traveling lol and find a way to create for himself.

  • In reply to Csharp:

    Besides Bosh, I'm pretty sure Deng is the leading scorer among those 3rd in scoring on their team. Though he's not an All-Star, I'm not stooping to a level of disparaging him based on what I'd guess he'd like play like without Rose.

    He's spotting up in more efficient places and using his strength to pound the ball inside more than I've ever seen him. He's clearly put in a ton of work since last season to improve creating his own offense and effectively covering a ton of ground on defense.

    My points weren't really what Deng isn't as much as they were meant to focus on how good -- if not great -- Pierce still is.

  • In reply to Csharp:

    Ya....i also think alot has to do with Coach Thibs. For one, he was the guy who was stopping practices telling Luol to stop taking the dumbest shot in basketball (a step in from the 3 pt line) but im sure he also told Luol where he should be working on his 3's at....Corners and on the wings. And also, defensively, i think Thibs has a lot to do with Luol's success.

  • In reply to Csharp:

    A-MFK'N-men, brother

    http://mindlessdistractions.wordpress.com/2010/09/28/thank-the-unicorn-sky-fairy-for-tom-thibodeau/

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