(Un)scientifically plotting Marquette’s “13 positions”

Does Marquette really have 13 positions instead of five? (USA Today)

Does Marquette really have 13 positions instead of five? (USA Today)

For the last two seasons Paint Touches has brought you advanced statistics, breakdown of numbers and Synergy analysis. But upon reading the report Wired.com released in late April of last year–NBC’s College Basketball Talk posted it Saturday morning–on “the 13 new basketball positions,” it seems there is a whole new kind of analytics that needs studying. Do yourself a favor and read senior Muthu Alagappan’s study (linked above). It’s worth your time and is put into laymen’s terms for us who didn’t graduate from Stanford like he did. One of the cooler studies I’ve ever read, and it’s broken down by Jeff Beckham (of Wired.com).

If you choose not to read it first, Alagappan essentially crunched “a data set of last season’s stats for 452 [NBA] players” and “discovered new ways to group players based on performance.” What he found was 13 “new” positions in which to group players, rather than the standard point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center.

Because the numbers were based on last year’s season, Alagappan proved that the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks “had a solid diversity of ‘ball handlers’ and ‘paint protectors,’ giving them the ability to put a balanced lineup on the floor with few weak spots.” The Timberwolves, who struggled mightily two seasons ago, had too many of the same players, “leaving them vulnerable along the front line.”

Where Marquette fits in

The study used NBA numbers, but we wanted to see how Marquette fits in. There are obvious differences between the two games, so there may not be complete correlations here. Still, it’s worth a look. Is Marquette’s 2013-14 team balanced, per Alagappan’s positions, or are they clumped together? Here’s a look. **NOTE** It will be difficult to put freshmen into a certain position, but we’ll do our best based on projections of each players’ first year.

1. Offensive ball-handler: It’s tough to gauge where freshman Duane Wilson fits in, but he seems like a scoring combo guard who will play point guard out of necessity, but will also fit in as an off-the-ball scorer. 

2. Defensive ball-handler: Derrick Wilson is the epitome of this position. He’s going to rack up steals and assists next season, but there isn’t going to be an epiphany in the scoring department.

3. Combo ball-handler: Todd Mayo is a solid option here. His defense has always been underrated and he’s as streaky a shooter as there is, but odds are he won’t break out on either end as a junior. Jake Thomas, too, was better than advertised defensively and really only fits here.

4. Shooting ball-handler: Top-ranked freshman Jajuan Johnson has a knack for scoring from all different areas on the court, and with Vander Blue gone this is his role to take on.

5. Role-playing ball-handler: Since Deonte Burton doesn’t have a set role–as far as we know–he fits in here. His statistics may not prove his total worth in his freshman season, but he’ll compete hard. John Dawson is also included, since he’s a third-string player whose passing skills may be used situationally.

6. 3-point rebounder: This is as close to a “switchable” as there is, but Marquette doesn’t truly have a player who fits here–Jamil Wilson is slotted elsewhere. Had Wilson not be put in the “2nd-Team” position, surely he’d be here.

7. Scoring rebounder: Jameel McKay’s outside shooting is still a question mark, pitting him here instead of the “3-point rebounder” position. The LaMarcus Aldridge comparison (-lite, of course) is quite accurate. Steve Taylor also fits in, with the same disclaimer that an uptick in 3-pointers would push him to position No. 6.

8. Paint protector: Every great team has one, and Chris Otule fits the bill. As long as he stays healthy, the sixth-year senior is going to be one of the best interior defenders in the Big East.

9. Scoring paint protector: Marquette doesn’t have a good enough rebounder at this point to warrant a player at this position. Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner have a chance to get there, but as Alagappan notes, this is a player who “blocks shots at a very high rate” in addition to his points and rebounds.

10. NBA 1st-Team: Jae Crowder, and even Jerel McNeal and Jimmy Butler, fit the bill here, where their statistics really don’t do their position justice. They were simply great players who filled up the box score and it doesn’t necessarily reflect their normal position (PG, SG, etc.). As it stands for this year’s team, no player is worthy of such spot. Perhaps Jamil Wilson can get there, but there’s no All-Star yet.

11. NBA 2nd-Team: Jamil Wilson is just a short step down from the great players in the Big East. That may seem aggressive, but we’ve seen spurts of it in his two Marquette seasons and if the consistency is there he’s going to really wow the nation. It’s a best-case scenario, but it’s the fifth-year senior’s turn to shine.

12. Role player: Conservatively we’ll put Juan Anderson here. Alagappan’s definition says these players are “slightly less skilled than the 2nd-team guys,” and that’s generous for the Oakland native. Still, he’s a role player in every sense of the word: he will rebound, defend multiple positions and hit the occasional jumper.

13. One-of-a-kind: Davante Gardner may be the most unique player in college basketball, and for that reason we give him this positioning. Based on Alagappan’s definition, Gardner’s free-throw percentage wouldn’t match up with any other 6-foot-8, 290-pound center in the country. For that reason, he’s off the grid in this breakdown.

Ultra, ultra, ultra, ultra, ultra, ultra conservatively, here’s what we came up with for Marquette’s grid:

NP13

(Original visual is courtesy of Ayasdi and Muthu Alagappan’s study; the white dots are ours)

Not for a nanosecond would I pass our plotting off as scientific–I’m happy with my journalism degree from Marquette and, in the words of Buzz Williams, “stand at attention” for what Alagappan did here. Our white-dot plots are placed in the general area where each player ranks. Again, no science here.

At first glance it seems Marquette is more guard-oriented than anything. That, of course, is not the case. Its “NBA 2nd-Team” player and “One of a Kind” player are both forwards, so if we took Gardner and Jamil Wilson off the outlier plots this would look more balanced. Also, the the 3-pointer is much more valued in the NBA than it is in college, and collegiate teams can succeed without multiple switchables who shoot from beyond the arc. In five seasons, Williams’ “switchables” haven’t proven to be great deep threats–the label is more defensive-oriented than anything.

For that reason it’s safe to call Marquette incredibly well-balanced. In Alagappan’s study he proved the Mavericks’ plethora of “role players” in 2010-11 made them successful, and as the season progresses players such as Mayo, Jajuan Johnson and even Duane Wilson may reach that status. If Alagappan’s study (and our not-so-scientific research) prove anything, it’s that Williams has built a team that is versatile inside while still keeping interior mass (Gardner and Otule) and has sufficient ball-handlers.

The switchables Williams loves to use are highlighted in this study, and according to Alagappan that’s what it takes for a basketball team to succeed. Take this study for what you will since it’s founded on NBA statistics, but this Marquette group appears to have a little bit of everything sprinkled into its roster.

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One Comment on “(Un)scientifically plotting Marquette’s “13 positions””

  1. Willy
    June 5, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    Awesome article!! I like Deonte as the better role playing ball handler than Dawson. Just letting you know the title has a spelling mistake in it. It should be (Un)scientifically, not (Un)scientifcally.

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