“Do[es] all the little things with surprising grace and feeling – and an iron will to win.” – characterization of prototypical Lithuanian player in FreeDarko’s The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac
BallinEurope’s latest obsession started with a tweet. Specifically, a message from BiE’s main Lithuanian, Martynas “Air” Pocius. Pocius retweeted a fascinating stat about his Žalgiris Kaunas dug up by In The Game Basket, namely:
Žalgiris turns the ball over every four possessions in the Euroleague. Still they’re 4:3 and one win away from Top16.
Now we can make that 5-3 and still one win or one Baskonia loss away from the Top 16 after another typical 2010 Žalgiris outing against Asseco Prokom last week. In that match, the Lithuanian side eked out a 72-69 away win in Poland, though the home side had slight advantages in shooting (admittedly poor on both ends, as Prokom edged with 32% overall against Kaunas’ 30.5%) and rebounding.
And, of course, there were these statistics for Žalgiris: 59 possessions, 15 turnovers. Or 25.4%.
What gives? Join BiE on a romp through the numbers … and a lesson in that “will to win” principle expressed in real on-court terms.
Statistically speaking, Žalgiris utterly dominates any Euroleague discussion involving turnovers this season. On an individual level, the Kaunas squad has five players *averaging* 2.00 turnovers or more per game through eight: DeJuan Collins (2.75), Paulius Jankunas (2.50), Travis Watson (2.375), Pocius (2.125), and Mantas Kalnietis (2.00).
The effect on team statistics is predictable. The 10 Euroleague teams that turn over the ball most frequently are:
Žalgiris Kaunas, 19.375 turnovers per game
Lietuvos Rytas, 16.0
Cibona Zagreb, 16.0
Power Electronics Valencia, 15.875
Asseco Prokom, 15.625
Efes Pilsen, 15.375
Partizan Belgrade, 15.125
Lottomatica Roma, 15.125
CSKA Moscow, 15.0
A revealing bunch the above is, with just two teams possessing winning records (Žalgiris and Olympiacos) and the remaining eight generally having underwhelming-unto-disappointing seasons in 2009-10 Euroleague play.
As Žalgiris gives up the ball so frequently, BiE’s first assumption was that the Lithuanians must be making the most of every possession and so took a look at points scored per possession (PPP), considering the 10 teams listed above. The results:
Efes Pilsen – 1.223 points per possession (76 points / 62.125 possessions per game)
Olympiacos – 1.218 PPP (79.555 / 65.333)
Lietuvos Rytas – 1.171 PPP (74.625 / 63.75)
Žalgiris – 1.163 PPP (73 / 62.75)
Lottomatica Roma – 1.120 PPP (71.25 / 63.625)
PE Valencia – 1.103 PPP (67 / 60.75)
CSKA Moscow – 1.101 PPP (66.625 / 60.5)
Asseco Prokom – 1.086 PPP (69.75 / 64.25)
Partizan Belgrade – 1.085 PPP (65.75 / 60.625)
Cibona Zagreb – 1.019 PPP (66.875 / 65.625)
So Žalgiris is reasonably, if not stunningly, efficient: They’re scoring at about the same rate as Real Madrid (1.165 PPP) and who’d’ve believed that info bite at the season’s beginning? Incidentally, though the difference of 0.055 PPP between Žalgiris and mighty Olympiacos doesn’t seem like much, the stat says that, were Žalgiris playing with the Reds’ efficiency, the Lithuanians would add over 3.5 points per game to their scoring.
(And if you’ve noticed that serious anomaly in the above table – namely Žalgiris rival L.Rytas’ superior PPP score – the woes of the 2-6 side are explained below. Beware, however, because a whole new can of worms awaits to pile mystery on mystery in a particularly depressing season for L.Rytas…)
Incidentally, other top Euroleague teams have the following marks for PPP.
Fenerbahce Ülker – 1.330 points per possession (79.625 points / 59.875 possessions per game)
Panathinaikos – 1.309 PPP (78.875 / 60.25)
FC Barcelona – 1.270 PPP (75.75 / 59.625)
Maccabi Tel Aviv – 1.245 PPP (79.5 / 63.875)
Montepaschi Siena – 1.222 PPP (77.625 / 63.5)
But the real insight into How Žalgiris Is Doing It In 2010-11 is revealed from within that statistic American observers find bizarre, yet appears designed to define intangibles in certain big men (i.e. Tiago Splitter who dominated the category in ACB and EL play last season) and certain 5-3 Lithuanian teams: Fouls received.
Happily, Euroleague figure-crunchers track the drawn fouls stat, as the Žalgiris picture comes into focus – at least numerically. Of the 24 EL teams, just eight have an advantage balance in the ratio of fouls received to fouls committed; only five have significant favorable numbers:
Real Madrid – 1.187 fouls received per foul given
CSKA Moscow – 1.177
Žalgiris Kaunas – 1.160
FC Barcelona – 1.154
Panathinaikos – 1.095
While already impressive in its evidence of self-control, Žalgiris number is made even more impressive when the frequency of the Lithuanians’ trips to the line is factored in: Žalgiris players are taking a crazy 25.375 free throws on 24.5 fouls drawn per game. Only Panathinaikos is comparable here, with exactly one fewer attempt and one fewer make overall. Additionally, Žalgiris is one of only three teams that’s averaging more than one free throw per foul (Valencia and PAO are the others).
(And here’s the explanation about Lietuvos Rytas: While the team’s PPP rating ranks among the more effective EL teams, L.Rytas’ clearly suffers from a certain aggression. While Žalgiris as a team has taken 203 free throws in eight games, L.Rytas has had just 138 chances from the stripe on 163 fouls received. More specifically, why is this happening? Couldn’t tell ya.)
How important is foul shooting to Žalgiris? A few final stats are quite illuminating. True, Žalgiris is shooting 76.84% from the line, good for only eighth-best in the league, but is putting in 19.5 points per game on free throws: a 26.78% ratio of total points scored. By comparison, PAO is second in the Euroleague at 24.56%, while Partizan’s ratio is 23.38% and no other team is very close thereafter.
Could things for Žalgiris in 2010-11 be as simple as smart play and an “iron will to win”? All things considered, it’s tough to deny the (albeit abstract) contention. How about some love for the Aco Petrovic “Euroleague Coach of the Year” campaign…?