[Editor's note: defintions for these metrics can be found here.]

Kleiza’s goin’ tease ya

So what do we do with a problem like Kleiza? His PER rating is a team low 10.4. His true shooting percentage? Essentially a team low as well (besides Evans, who rarely shoots). The team’s overall offensive rating when he’s on the floor? Guess what, a team low.

When I’ve pitched for more Julian Wright playing time instead of Kleiza, a few journalists and other bloggers (all of whom opinions I respect) note “but Julian Wright is limited offensively”. And Kleiza is putting up big numbers with reasonable efficiency?! Not by any stretch. A commenter yesterday said “Wright cannot score (3.4 ppg)”. Well, Kleiza does score because he jacks up a lot of shots. Wright could absolutely score the whopping 11.6 ppg that Kleiza does if he chose to force many of 10.6 attempts per game (at 49.0% eFG vs Wright at 52.7%) that Kleiza does. (Guess what? If you only attempt 3.0 per game as you’re nailed to the bench – and pass a lot when you’re out there, you may not score a lot).

Consider the following:

  • Kleiza has only recorded more than 2 assists in 4 games so far this year.
  • He has the lowest Assist % on the team (besides Davis) despite a high usage percentage.
  • His Assist % is ranked 55th out of 58 small forwards. Julian Wright is ranked second.
  • His True Shooting percentage is ranked 45th out of 58 small forwards.

But here’s the deal. We owe Kleiza $18.8 million over 4 years. We only owe Julian Wright $2.8 million this year. Hey, if you want to win more games, play more Wright. But realistically we have to find a way to utilize Kleiza, whether its to help this team now, 2 years from now or improve his trade value.

So, how could we do this? Currently, and you don’t need numbers to conclude this, Kleiza takes/forces way too many 3s and long 2s – often early in the shot clock. And he’s not very efficient at them:

Over 51% of his shots are long 2s or 3s. And his eFG% is poor for both those distances.
But wait. Kleiza is a SF who’s 6’8″ and apparently 245 lbs. Solid, very solid for a SF. He’s can be a scappy rebounder (top 5 for SF in defensive rebounding). And he is very efficient in close (66.3% – among the best on the team) and mid range twos (58.1%).

Also consider Andrea Bargnani takes almost two-thirds (66.3% to be exact) of his shots beyond 10 feet. And our PFs are generally high pick and roll players and offensive rebounders. But not strong low post players. Where am I going? It seems to me that Kleiza would ideally be best on the low post against (often) smaller small forwards. Double teamed? Kick it out to Calderon or Bargnani – or baseline to a cutting and dunking Johnson. No double team? Back him down and take that short hook in the middle. Johnson will be ready in case you miss.

I’m not your ideal “X and Os” guy, so I welcome your input. But setting up plays for Kleiza down low seems like it would improve the offense overall. He would likely get better shots against smaller SFs, pass more and generally provide more flow to the offense. His current “I have no issues shooting with 19 seconds on the shot clock with a hand in my face and no rebounders” does not help the team. With Bargnani’s unique skill set (which does not often see him post up down low), this seems like a good solution.

[Addendum (1/16 9:20pm): Unfortunately Synergy Sports (a site which monitors possession data) was down earlier. Fortunately, its now up and (thankfully!) provides support for our idea. Kleiza is ranked 242nd in points per possession (PPP). On Isolation plays he shoots 31.0%, Spot-Up he shoots 34.1% and Post-Up? You guessed it: a very healthy 54.5%. His Post-Up PPP is ranked 36th. (Transistion plays, as you may expect, is his highest FG% at 62.5%) Source: mysynergysports.com]

Sound off below!

Lineup of the Week

Best lineup? This kills me. Against DET, I said “finally we see Wright and Johnson on the floor together!”. You all know my Adjusted +/- biases and how Amir and Julian top that list.
So surprise!! THEY WERE +13 WHEN ON THE FLOOR TOGETHER in limited minutes. Yes, we should never take a single game and make conclusions, but we see from the two year numbers that it just may make sense to play them more.

Any wonder why I’ve pitched for more PT for both Wright (this year) and Johnson (last year)? They make a positive impact while on the floor that’s rarely measured by their PPG.

“Another hard working effort from him tonight.” // “Other thing that hit me: he has become a lot less vocal and a lot more workmanlike. Love it.” – Altraps on Amir Johnson from the last two Roll Calls.

“(He) had his stamp on the game with some hard nosed defence,..” // “he did one thing tonight that always wins my appreciation: he tried to motivate his troops. More than once he could be heard trying to wake his guys up defensively and two times specifically it seemed to translate into some good things happening. Worth its weight in gold.” – Altraps on Julian Wright from the last two Roll Calls.

This is what I believe happens. You see your leaders (Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan) not giving their full effort on defense and rebounding and its hard to get inspired yourself. Your own teammates aren’t helping and its frustrating. Its more difficult to return the “favour”. Enter Johnson and Wright. There is not a rebound that they don’t go after. They are looking to pass to their teammates. They are helping at every opportunity (no stat records this). They set the best picks (yet another stat that’s not recorded, but key). They take charges. This is infectious.

This is why they lead their team in adjusted +/-. They make a difference. This is why they should both play as much as possible if we want to win more.

The bad news… and the good.

First, it may come as no surprise that recent losses and an upcoming tough road trip means the playoffs are a long shot. How long? Justin Kubatko from Basketball-Reference.com (winner of TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown in both 2007 and 2008 – better than an Oscar in my mind) calculates we have a 0.3% chance of making the playoffs. I hope that helps convince everyone that this is a year to focus on a high pick – not make the “big” trade (Peja, TPE, etc) for slightly above average players with longer term and expensive deals.
The good news? At current pace, we have a 7.2% chance of the #1 draft pick.

The Numbers

Scoring efficiency and offensive production

Rebounding, defense and two year Adjusted +/-

Questions? Email me: [email protected] or find me on Twitter.

Sources: basketball-reference.com, hoopdata.com, espn.com