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Tracking Hustle Plays in the Magic’s 126-118 Victory Over the Warriors

A week ago I tracked the hustle plays in a game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies.  Tracking hustle plays is presumably something most, if not every, NBA team does.  After all, box scores are pretty limited.  Even if we use the play-by-play data to do thorough analysis, it still doesn't include things such as diving for loose balls, deflections, missed blockouts, etc.  But teams would like to know these things, so they must track it themselves. 

I decided to track the hustle plays during last Saturday's game between the Magic and the Golden State Warriors.  During the game, I kept track of five things.  First, I tracked players going for loose balls.  In my experience with a college team, we only record plays where a player dove for a loose ball.  But since this is the NBA, and effort is often lacking, I include all plays in which a player ends up with the ball, regardless of whether or not he dove.  A second thing I track is drawn charges.  You can somewhat glean this from the play-by-play data, but it is much easier to just record it yourself.

Thirdly, I kept track of good sprints.  I define these as plays in which a player creates a play for himself or others by sprinting the floor and forcing the defense to adjust.  For this game featuring the fast-paced Warriors, I had to be more selective in my criteria or else we'd have a lot of good sprints.  A fourth thing I tracked for this game was deflections.  This is relatively easy to define and track.  Basically it includes any deflection that is not recorded as a steal, rebound, etc.  Finally, I kept track of missed blockouts.  These were most noticeable when they led to an easy offensive rebound, and they were much more rare in this game than in my first one.

Of course, these aren't all the hustle plays that players can make.  Traditional box score stats such as offensive rebounds and steals often reflect hustle plays.  Defense is also largely a product of effort, but that is something I will track another time.

Below is a link to a spreadsheet that contains the hustle stats for the Magic-Warriors game.  On the left side of each tab is the raw numbers.  On the right side are the per-minute numbers.  Instead of presenting them as "statistic per minute," they are presented as "minute per statistic."  I did this because the numbers are so low.  As it turns out, this method is not too difficult to grasp conceptually.  For positive statistics such as deflections, a lower number is better (a blank number means the player did not record any deflection at all, which obviously is bad).  For negative statistics such as missed blockouts, blank numbers are the best and low numbers are the worst.

I have a few observations about the data:

  • Marcin Gortat, Brandon Bass, and Matt Barnes showed great effort off the bench. All three were active on the boards and had active hands. Per minute, they were all special in terms of the number of deflections they had.
  • The Magic did not draw a charge all game, and they certainly had some opportunities. Vince Carter in particular had three opportunities in which he failed to draw a charge. In the first, he was just late and recorded a foul. In the second, he turned his shoulders and avoided contact (Monta Ellis was coming like a speeding bullet). In the third, he watched Ellis blow by him. A charge on any of the three would have been an excellent play, but they certainly were possible.
  • Overall, though, Carter was not lazy. He recorded a few deflections and went for loose balls.
  • Dwight Howard created a few opportunities by running the floor. Barnes had an easy dunk after he sprinted down the floor after a dead ball and caught the Warriors sleeping.
  • Anthony Randolph had a great game and killed the Magic with his effort. He crashed the boards, ran the floor hard, got to loose balls, and even drew a charge. My only complaint was the amount in which he flopped. He was forced to guard Howard for extended periods of time, though, which is something he shouldn't be asked to do. Perhaps he figured flopping was his only option.
  • Vladimir Radmanovic showed more hustle than I thought he would, but his defense certainly wasn't spectacular at all times.
  • Except for a mistake by Stephen Curry, both teams did a good job of putting a body on each man when going for the defensive rebound.

The Magic did not win this game because they outhustled the Warriors.  In terms of effort, both teams were solid and about even.  The Magic won, obviously, because of a huge run late in the fourth quarter in which they hit their shots and the Warriors made silly plays. 

Up next I'd like to track the defense of the Magic.  With a few games in the data set, we may be able to rate the defense of Magic players in other ways besides Defensive Rating, plus-minus, etc.