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Advanced Statistics: Why you should care about Usage

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Kassius Robertson led Missouri on a lot of possessions, but what will Jontay Porter do this upcoming season?

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Sports tend to be simple things when broken down to their most basic of concepts. Our statistics have gotten ever more complex and often they are misunderstood and misused. It doesn’t, however, mean that we can’t do our part to create a better understanding of how to apply these stats in order to deepen our appreciation for the sport.

This is the second post in what I guess could be considered a series. The first talked about True Shooting Percentage, as well as Effective Field Goal percentage and Offensive Rating. Today we’re going to talk about usage.

Usage rate is basically how many possessions a player uses while he’s on the floor. Usage is going to be a very important statistic this season as we measure what sort of impact Jontay Porter has on the team. If you listened to the podcast some of this might sound familiar, we’ll just call that an intro or a primer.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

So real quick, let’s understand usage and then apply it.

To first understand usage, we have to talk about possessions

Whenever the offensive team has the ball, they’re in possession right? Right.

That’s basically it? Well, not really.

If only it was easy to just count the number of times a team has the ball? So you kind of do that:

Possessions = Field Goal Attempts - Offensive Rebounds + Turnovers + (0.44 x Free throw attempts)

Free throw attempts are always tricky because not every free throw attempt is the same. Sometimes you’re fouled on a made field goal, sometimes you might get fouled on a missed three point attempt. So Dean Oliver, basically the father of the modern analytics movement and author of Basketball on Paper, figured out to multiply free throw attempts by 0.44 to provide an estimate of team possession.

So for a game you can do this for both teams to get the total possessions, divide in half and you have the number you need. The number of overall possessions is also called tempo or pace.

Taken over the course of this season and you can get Mizzou’s tempo for the season. In 2017-18 here are the numbers:

1,765 - 286 + 455 + 0.44*688 = 2,236.72

Missouri played 33 games last season, divided into 2,236.72 leaves an average of 67.7 possessions per game.

So how do you calculate usage?

You start with the basic formula above and it basically turns into a chart like below:

Mizzou Possessions

Kassius Robertson 374 77 146 9 506.24
Jordan Barnett 316 50 82 50 352.08
Michael Porter Jr. 30 3 9 4 32.96
Jontay Porter 238 63 104 50 296.76
Kevin Puryear 211 48 102 51 252.88
Jeremiah Tilmon 204 70 76 64 243.44
Jordan Geist 167 57 90 19 244.60
Blake Harris 54 24 13 6 77.72
Terrence Phillips 33 22 16 7 55.04
Cullen VanLeer 74 21 7 2 96.08
Reed Nikko 51 16 40 22 62.60
Adam Wolf 4 0 0 0 4.00
Brett Rau 9 4 3 2 12.32
Total 1765 455 688 286 2,236.72

This chart tells us who ran the most possessions. No surprise that Kassius Robertson is the leader in the club house here. Robertson took the most shots on the team, but also served as the primary ball handler for a fair percentage of the season meaning his turnovers were the highest on the team as well. And because he handled the ball so much, his Free Throw attempts were the most on the team as well.

Raw possessions into usage would have Kash at around 22% of the total team possessions. But Kash didn’t play 100% of the minutes, and usage assigns for when the player is on the floor. Robertson played 17.85% of the overall minutes for Missouri or 89.23% of the potential minutes available to him.

89% of the 2,236 possessions equates to 1,995.82. So now Kassius has 506.24 of those possessions puts Robertson’s usage at 25.36%. So roughly one in ever four possessions for the Tigers when he was on the court. How about the rest of the team?

Mizzou Usage

Kassius Robertson 506.24 22.63% 17.85% 89.23% 25.36%
Jordan Barnett 352.08 15.74% 16.40% 82.02% 19.19%
Michael Porter Jr. 32.96 1.47% 0.80% 3.98% 37.02%
Jontay Porter 296.76 13.27% 12.15% 60.74% 21.84%
Kevin Puryear 252.88 11.31% 12.55% 62.77% 18.01%
Jeremiah Tilmon 243.44 10.88% 9.61% 48.04% 22.66%
Jordan Geist 244.60 10.94% 12.93% 64.65% 16.92%
Blake Harris 77.72 3.47% 2.93% 14.66% 23.70%
Terrence Phillips 55.04 2.46% 3.19% 15.94% 15.44%
Cullen VanLeer 96.08 4.30% 6.65% 33.23% 12.93%
Reed Nikko 62.60 2.80% 4.03% 20.15% 13.89%
Adam Wolf 4.00 0.18% 0.17% 0.83% 21.55%
Brett Rau 12.32 0.55% 0.75% 3.76% 14.65%
Total 2,236.72 100.00% 100.01% 500.00%

Now we can see usage. Who was responsible for end of possessions while they were on the court.

So why should we care about these numbers? Why care about usage?

Usage is how we figure out how important Jontay Porter will be this season, by listening to Cuonzo Martin’s offseason talk.

From a June 22nd notebook in the KC Star:

Porter’s skillset is so diverse that Martin even said the rising sophomore could at times act as MU’s point guard next season. Regardless of the position he plays, though, Martin does not anticipate the 18-year-old will ever play selfishly, even though he is entering his presumptive final season at Mizzou with a chance to boost his draft stock.

“If Jontay played like that, he’d stick out like a sore thumb,” Martin said. “That’s really not his nature. … With that being said, I want him to get up 15-20 shots a game, if he can.”

Launching 15 to 20 shots a night winds up being quite a lot of possessions.

Last season Missouri played an average of 67.7 possessions per game, 20 shots out of 67 on it’s own is nearly 30% usage. That’s playing 100% of the possessions and no Free Throws or turnovers. Undoubtedly the Tigers are going to look to increase Porters minutes along with his shots. If Missouri matches is possessions from a year ago, plays the same number of games, 20 shots a game soars to 660 shots on the season. Which is nearly double what Kassius took this past season.

Take 660 shots in what is hopefully more than just 60% of the minutes, improve your turnover rate, keep your free throw rate about the same and suddenly Porter’s usage rate is likely to soar past Trae Young’s record setting pace of 38.7% last season.

Here is basically where Jontay would be with a stat line relative to last year’s pace of around 54 FGA, 21 FTA, 14 TOs per contest:

Jontay Porter’s Usage Rate

20 5 2 39.16%
18 5 2 35.92%
15 5 2 31.07%
13 5 2 27.83%

Notice how once we get Porter to 20 overall possessions instead of shots do we actually see a more reasonable number for a big man. Last season Ethan Happ was around 35% usage on a relatively fledgling Wisconsin team. Happ’s usage went up from 28.4% in 2017 and he saw he Offensive Rating dip from 113.1 to 105.1.

This is why you don’t necessarily want guys getting into the mid-30% range for usage. Their production and efficiency tends to dip.

Here’s a slashline I’d like to see from Porter next season:

  • 12 FGA, 7 FTA, >2 TOs

I’d like to see Missouri’s offensive possessions go over 70, and if they do that puts Jontay right at 26.4% usage at around 33 minutes per game.

So we’re going to be keeping a close eye on Jontay’s usage this upcoming season. His older brother Michael Porter Jr. had a ridiculous 37.02% usage rate in limited minutes last season and with Martin’s words interpreted literally could we really see Jontay get close to that?