Introducing Statistics on Early Bird Rights

Rotations tighten in the playoffs. Fewer players play, the best players play more minutes, and coaches rely on their best guys a lot more often than in the regular season. These are the core tenets of the statistics you can find on Early Bird Rights.

Lineup filtering is not a new concept, but it’s usually limited to garbage time and end-of-quarter heaves, as Ben Falk does on his indispensable site Cleaning the Glass. Eliminating garbage time and heaves paints a more accurate picture of a team’s true strength during the regular season. Our stats take this concept another step, in an attempt to best simulate how a team might perform in a playoff setting. Rather than only filtering to eliminate garbage time lineups, the stats you find here will filter for Core Lineups, in order to better predict which players will impact a team’s chances in the playoffs.

Because of the filter, the numbers will look very different from anything you can find on another site. These lineups account for an average of 72 percent of a team’s total possessions, so there are a significant number of possessions not counted for each team and each season. However, these 72 percent of possessions better reflect a team’s strength come playoff time, when those same Core Lineups are used on more than 81 percent of possessions. For teams with at least 500 possessions played in the postseason (to weed out the teams who lost quickly in the first round), they used Core Lineups in 84 percent of those possessions. The numbers are filtered for both teams’ core lineups in each game and then aggregated across the season.

Core Lineups are groups that include a minimum number of Core Players. That minimum number changes based on how many Core Players a team has available for a specific game, but the definition for a Core Player doesn’t change: if a player has played at least 35 clutch possessions in the regular season and has been on the floor for at least 75% of his team’s clutch possessions in games in which he was available that season, then he’s designated as a Core Player. On each player’s profile, you’ll see a “(c)” next to the team he played on that year (or part of year, in some cases), which designates that he was a Core Player for that season. Most Core Players are exactly who you think they’d be, but there are some surprises out there!

On each player’s page, you’ll also see an Offensive Role and Defensive Position next to each year of that player’s career (dating back to 2013-14).

Offensive Role is determined by taking a player’s usage stats across 18 different Synergy play types and defining eight roles using those play types – Primary Playmaker, Secondary Playmaker, Scorer, Shooter, Rolling Big, Scoring Big, Shooting Big, and Versatile Big. The efficiency of a player doesn’t matter in defining these roles, only how the player was used in that particular season. A player’s role can change from season to season, as each season’s role is defined only by that individual season; previous years have no bearing on the player’s role for a particular year.

Defensive Positions use Krishna Narsu’s matchup data, pulled from stats.nba.com, and gives us a percentage of possessions each player spent guarding each of the eight Offensive Roles. Using this data, matchup data against the five traditional positions (PG, SG, SF, PF, and C), rim protection usage, and Narsu’s versatility ratings, a Position is determined for each player: Point of Attack, Off Guard, Off-Ball Wing, Stretch Big, or Anchor Big. Just like roles, a player’s Defensive Position can change from year to year based on how he’s used defensively in that particular season.

Each player’s statistical profile includes a pair of percentiles to the left of each statistic. The first number is his percentile rank in that stat among players who share his Offensive Role in a particular season and the second is his percentile rank among players who share his Defensive Position. Each team is also ranked in the various available statistics.

LeBron James’ Core Statistical Summary

For example, above is LeBron James’ Summary page through games played on March 9, 2020. This year, he grades out as a Scorer offensively and an Off-Ball Wing defensively, based on his Synergy usage profile and the types of players he spends the most time defending. From this table, we can see that his 2019-20 Core usage rate is 31.85 percent, which ranks in the 92nd percentile among all Scorers and the 97th percentile among all Off-Ball Wings.

Using the search box, button, and menus along the top of each page, you can quickly navigate to another player, look at his Regular Season or Playoffs stats, switch between Core and Overall (which doesn’t filter lineups at all) to see how much better or worse he plays in Core Lineups, or move to another part of his profile.

The back-end data portion of the site was created and is maintained by Ryan Davis, creator of nbashotcharts.com, and the front-end portion of the site was created and is maintained by David Balderston, creator of Early Bird Rights’ Rotations tool. We hope that you’ll find the statistics on the site useful. If you have any feedback, feel free to email us here.