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Off The Dribble Empire

The Geeks Have Won

Los Angeles Times
Some Nerd Coming Up With Some Stupid Stat
Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Welcome to ODE, the offshoot of OTE, that will bridge you between this football season and next football season. If you have followed basketball in the last ten years, you may have noticed a sad trend. Nerds have taken over the game. Completely. You can’t swing a cat without some nerd talking about some made up new stat that no one has ever heard of. Gone of the days of taking the ball to the hoop and breaking off someone’s hand. Instead, it’s efficiency this and effective percentage that.

Well friends, there is probably no rescuing basketball from the nerd paradise it has become. The best we can do is join up. Infiltrate, if you will, work the inside. If we want to rescue basketball from the nerds, we need to understand their game. So, without further ado, let’s get nerdy.

NerdStat of The Day: Usage

Here’s the thing about Nerdstats. No one really understand them. Typically, some nerd comes up with a word like usage and starts throwing it out there with such confidence that no one questions them. That’s how it gets accepted into the lexicon. Then some other nerd needs to come up with an explanation for the stat, which may or may not make any sense. Let this be a lesson - even if you don’t have any clue what a stat means, throw it out there forcefully and with confidence. You won’t be any worse than Dan Dakich.

Today’s lesson is on usage. Invented by Norman Finkelstein in 2013, Usage is a rough calculation of what percentage of a team’s plays are “used” by a player. The wonks arrive to this stat by adding a players shots, a bit less than half their free throws, and their turnovers in comparison to their minutes on the floor. Long story short, guys that shoot a lot have high usage and guys that don’t typically don’t. Turnovers and getting to the line increase usage even when total shots aren’t very high.

Why does this matter? Nerds claim that everyone’s efficiency goes down the more their usage goes up. The truly great players are the ones whose efficiency goes down the least. It also gives you an estimate of where the ball is going when certain players are on the court. A perfectly fair usage rate would be 20%, as each of the five guys on the court would each use the same number of possessions. Life, though, ain’t fair. That’s why the nerds invent stupid terms like usage instead of having sex.

The current B1G leaders in usage are:

  1. E.J. Liddell, OSU (34.7)
  2. Trayvion Williams, Purdue (34.0)
  3. Zach Edey, Purdue (32.8)
  4. Alfonso Verge, Nebraska (32.8)
  5. Johnny Davis, Wisconsin (31.4)

All these guys are using roughly a third of their team’s possessions while they are on the court. Usage says nothing about how good the player is - no one is going to trade Johnny Davis for Alfonso Verge. E.J. Liddell is getting talked about as a Player of the Year candidate because his usage is high and he is he does lots of good things with the ball. There are other, even nerdier statistics which are related to usage, but those will be for another day. For now, when you see high usage, just think ballhog.


Besides individuals stats, nerds have also taken over the rankings of teams. Ken Pomeroy, the Belle of the Nerd Ball, uses some sort of magical formula to rank every team. He’s not the only one. By my count, there will be more basketball rankings than atoms in the universe by 2076. My ranking of choice will be T-Rank, created by Wisconsin fan Bart Torvik. His stupid little formula ranks the teams as follows:

  1. Purdue Boilermakers (6): Highest Usage goes to Trevion Williams, 32.6% (actually it’s Carson Barrett at 36.5, but he’s only played like 8 minutes all season). Lowest usage: Ethan Morton, 8.9%. Someone let poor Ethan shoot.
  2. Michigan State Spartans (13): A.J. Hoggard leads Sparty in usage at 25.9%, but it’s kind of remarkable how even they are. Outside of Hoggard, everyone playing substantial minutes is between 22 and 17 percent. A communist utopia in East Lansing.
  3. Ohio State Buckeyes (18): E.J. Liddell is sucking up the most possessions, which has been a good thing for the Buckeyes. In turn, they have two starters in Jamari Wheeler and Justin Ahrens who are around 13%. The meritocracy at work.
  4. Illinois Fighting Illini (19): Andre Curbelo has been out for injury, but his turnover issues led to an eye-popping usage of 35.4%. Otherwise, as you might expect, Kofi leads the way at 28.6%
  5. Indiana Hoosiers (20): Surprisingly, Trayce Jackson-Davis is not leading the team in usage. That would be Xavier Johnson, largely on both having turnover issues and being good at getting to the line.
  6. Michigan Wolverines (21): No surprise here, as Hunter Dickinson leads the way at 24%. Other than him, it is very even, with everyone huddled around 19%. That tracks with watching their team, as they have been a bit muddled in what everyone’s roles are on the team.
  7. Iowa Hawkeyes (35): Keegan Murray is over 30% and has been the man for the Hawkeyes. Connor McCaffery is at 8%. You’d think being the coach’s kid would get you a few more shots. Patrick is at least at 23%.
  8. Wisconsin Badgers (43): Johnny Davis leads the way, which is good for Wisconsin, because when anyone outside of him and Brad Davison shoot the ball, the results are poor.
  9. Northwestern Wildcats (50): Northwestern somehow has four guys with usages over 25%. This seems unpossible. Also I am bad at math. That reminds me - usage is still relative to a player’s minutes. A player who plays one minute and shoots three shots is going to have a much higher usage than one who shoots 20 shots but plays the whole game.
  10. Minnesota Golden Gophers (55): No surprises here. Peyton Willis and Jamison Battle lead the way, as The Wolverines found out recently.
  11. Maryland Terrapins (69): Nice
  12. Penn State Nittany Lions (98): Sam Sessons and Seth Lundy are eating about a quarter of the possessions. Myles Dread is down under 13%. I was going to have something witty to say but Penn State basketball sucks the life out of me.
  13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (119): Ron Harper Jr. gets about a quarter of the possessions when he’s on the floor. Everyone else is trying to contribute, in the way that your toddler contributes when he tries to help you fix something.
  14. Nebraska Cornhuskers (159): Long live Alfonso Verge.