clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Villanova Advanced Stats: The Year in JayVaughn Pinkston

New, 28 comments

A look inside JayVaughn's frustratingly (elite) season

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Through the season's first 26 games, there's been perhaps no player quite as frustrating as JayVaughn Pinkston. While the respective campaigns of Dylan Ennis and Ryan Arcidiacono may have seen higher peaks and lower valleys, JVP has gone from a contender for POY honors (he was in the top 10 for KenPom's POY rankings, and several other watches, near the end of last year) to a ‘role player' struggling to break the 10 point per game barrier. His efficiency is down, turnovers are up, and his field goal percentage is the lowest it's been since his (redshirt) freshman year, when he was taking almost 1.5 three pointers a game.

So what's up with him?

This article will be a breakdown of JVP's season - what's gone ‘wrong,' what's gone ‘right,' and the hazards of relying on a limited view when judging a player.

The Danger of Narrow Vision

There is no ‘one size fits all' way to evaluate the game.

One the biggest flaws in basketball's modern ‘advanced analytics' movement is the way it's presented. Too often, stats derived from the explosion of new & available data in the modern era are presented as natural law, and a solution to basketball - or at least aspects of it. ‘No more 2 point jumpers,' ‘only take corner 3s and shots at the rim,' ‘this coach is clueless' or ‘so-and-so player/analyst/commenter is useless because this stat said so' are just part of the typical narrative you'll find in an average article that references ‘advanced' stats - we've figured out basketball, and you're stupid if you disagree with us!

I personally believe that's at least part of the blowback resulting from Charles Barkley's ‘evisceration' of Daryl Morey & basketball statheads everywhere a few weeks ago, and all those who jumped the same bandwagon with him afterwards. Many stat ‘geeks' naturally responded by pointing out all the errors Barkley made in his rant and how much smarter they are than him, rather than looking at why so many people may have such a negative perception of the basketball metrics world (hint: it probably isn't only because everyone else is afraid of math). The irony of the ‘advanced' designation is the simplicity of the math behind most of the publicly available new metrics out there - it's typically just counting up lines from your average box score and dividing. Most of it isn't groundbreaking science & analysis of basketball - often, it's just a more appropriate way of looking at a player or team's ‘per possession/shot/36 minute' efficiency.

The point is, analyzing basketball is about more than slapping an advanced in front of your statistic and calling it a day; everything, from new stats to traditional box scores, the eye test, and missile tracking systems are simply tools to help people make better judgments and decisions when it comes to basketball. There is no ‘one size fits all' way to evaluate the game, and shutting out different perspectives - in the way you talk about or analyze the game- will eventually result in your own view becoming stale.

The same applies to looking at traditional box score stats. Holding up the basics - things like points per game, rebounds, FG%, etc. - as your ultimate measure of success is dangerous. These stats are quite possibly the least informative out there, in terms of context and analytic value provided - using them as the sole judge of a player's value is inappropriate (if you want to be accurate).

Most of this is just a roundabout way of saying - I don't think Pinkston's impact this year is accurately captured by the drop in his box score stats. I don't believe his year is a struggle, or failure, or a lack of leadership; if he went through a mid-season stretch of 10 games without making more than 3 field goals.

I plan on making these points with a mix of behind the scenes stats, your traditional counters, and the good old eye test - as always, you're more than free to disagree. Just make sure you back it up.

Missing: A Soft Touch

JVP O

JVP's ‘drop-off' this year begins and ends with his performance around the rim.  After dominating the areas around the rim for Villanova last year - seriously, he even drove me to compliment him! - he's fallen off a cliff so far this season. He's only hit 53 of his 109 attempts directly around the basket (good for just under 49%), a spot he hit nearly 63% of his shots from last year.

So what gives?

Just watching the game, JVP looks a bit less comfortable attacking the restricted area. Teams seem to have scouted his typical post modus operandi, which doesn't involve a ton more than pump fakes, a spin move, and the mini-bulldozing ability of his rear end. His quickness advantage and brute strength (relative to his size) are worth less when the other team knows what's coming - though he's been more than effective in spurts (especially recently). In short he's doing many of the same things he was last year, but the shots just aren't falling. And his ability to finish through contact has suffered a bit; last year, he converted 18 and-1's in the games sampled. So far this year he's at just 10 converted through 26 games - on pace for 12 or 13. Really, though, a lot of it is likely a bit of bad luck - just a few weeks ago, he had only converted around 42% of his looks for the year at the rim, and it's already jumped to nearly 50%. It could certainly head a bit farther north by the end of the year, but this will probably still end up as his worst year close to the basket since his freshman year.

And, unfortunately, it's not even something that can be blamed on his pairing in lineups with Villanova's other interior threat - Daniel Ochefu. As noted in this previous article, the two sometimes struggle with more limited space when they're both on the floor - as neither is a real threat from any sort of jumper range, the other's man is free to help in the lane whenever needed on post-ups or drives. And while this overall effect has been deleterious for the team: check out the team's offensive stats when they both share the floor this year (turnover prone, 10 points/100 possessions below average, and a work in progress at the rim - comparatively, of course)

Player 1

Player 2

MIN

eFG%

TO%

OR%

FTR

O Rtg

% Shots S 2P

FG% S 2P

% Shots L 2P

FG% L 2P

% Shots 3P

FG% 3P

A/T

D Reb%

JayVaughn Pinkston

Daniel Ochefu

317.58

51.26%

20.95%

32.14%

41.81%

1.02

36.02%

55.24%

27.46%

41.28%

36.52%

36.55%

1.07

77.59%

It really hasn't had much effect on JayVaughn's offensive game in a positive way - he struggles at the rim without Ochefu (only hitting 49% of his close attempts) and with him (just a shade under the aforementioned 49%).  The biggest difference in his shot profile with Ochefu off the floor is simply that he's able to take more of them - in the 318 minutes he's shared the floor with Ochefu (in our sampled games), he's only taken a total of 58 shots; in the 302 minutes without, he's taken 81.

However, the team's offense has performed miles better when JVP plays sans Ochefu at the nominal 5, to the tune of 113 points per 100 possessions, with 41.52% shooting from 3. To be fair to Ochefu (this article's just not about him), the offense has scored at an ungodly rate of 123 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor without JVP (244 minutes in our sampled games), with a 45.53% mark from 3. The offense functions better (significantly) when Jay Wright spreads the floor around the post game of JVP or Ochefu with 4 able three point shooters and able-ish ball handlers - it's just a formula for good offensive basketball.

Obviously, with Chief's developing inside game (and lack of away-from-the-basket threats, like an instinct for cuts or a jump shot - not that it's his fault, he's a 6'11" center), JVP's favorite areas and shot opportunities are being occupied by a bigger man. Literally. It's tough for these two to roam free when together on offense, and it shows in the lack of opportunities for JVP. Again, though, JVP really hasn't done much with the opportunities - at least as far as his field goal percentage goes - even when Chief is on the bench.

Pinkston is, again, the biggest catalyst for generating foul trouble.

But it's all right! Because he's gotten back to something else he did best as a younger man - own the free throw line.

In JVP's sophomore year, when he was coming off the bench to act as the offensive focal point of the second unit, he drew fouls and free throws at a superstar rate: 7.7 fouls drawn per 40 minutes (4th in the country) and a free throw rate of 82.3% (8th in the country). JVP-as-a-sophomore was the main catalyst for a team that finished the year with more than half as many free throws as field goal attempts (50.6% FTR, best in the country by a lot) - and needed it, as the rest of the offense was pretty awful that year. After falling a bit off last year -though still managing top ~100 rates in both categories - he's back to the heights this year, sporting an 83.9% free throw rate, which is good for 17th in the country, while drawing 6.1 fouls per 40 minutes (low for him, but he seems to be getting better at drawing contact during field goal attempts).

Essentially, it means he's pretty close to taking as many free throw attempts as he does field goals - which is absolutely nuts.  While his inability to finish around the rim this year has helped inflate this total a bit - missed shots (when you're fouled) aren't counted as FGAs - JVP returning to his super-elite foul drawing ways has helped the offense in ways that can't be measured by his box score stats.

As you can read in this linked article - though it is the NBA - being near (and in) the bonus is incrementally advantageous for the offensive team.  Just being in the bonus (the corollary for the NCAA would be the double bonus) is good for over 6 points per 100 possessions for the average NBA offense - a huge jump.

I did run the numbers for Villanova's offense - non-bonus, the single bonus, and the double bonus - but found no significant difference in the team's offensive performance in any state. For the curious, the team scores ~110 per 100 in the non-bonus, 111 in the single, and 112 in the double. While I expect, when I run the numbers NCAA-wide, the difference will show up a bit more - it just makes sense - these numbers aren't particularly surprising for the average dedicated ‘Nova basketball fan. The team has a maddening tendency to avoid taking the ball inside after reaching the bonus, too often content to run the team's typical offensive sets rather than adjusting for the strategic bind on the other team. While it's typically fine - the offense is scoring at excellent rates, after all - it's a change in philosophy that would be a welcome one. Points at the free throw line are always the easiest.

JVP is, again, the biggest catalyst for generating foul trouble. Running the numbers on his generated free throws - and the ‘point' at which they occur in the game (relative to the number of fouls committed by the other team in a half) - reveals an interesting trend. While the other team is outside any sort of bonus - single or double - he generates a monstrous 30% of the team's overall fouls and free throws. Once we're in it, his percentage of generated fouls/free throws drops to just 20%.  While this may (again) point to Villanova's lack of assertion inside while in the bonus, I like to look at it a different way: JVP's most important function (beyond provide some inside scoring punch) is getting the team to the bonus, and letting a team filled with crafty contact creators on the perimeter fill it up from the charity stripe.

While JVP's offensive struggles - mostly from the field - are absolutely real, he's still getting it done for the team's offense in an underratedly important way, one that shouldn't be forgotten when looking at his contributions this season.

The Chameleon

Where JVP's presence has really told, though, is on the other end of the floor. While, through his first few seasons, he often struggled with his attentiveness and effort level on the defensive end, I would argue he's been the most important defensive player on the team through this point in the season.

Pinkston's ability to defend just about anyone on the other team, from bulky centers to accomplished off-the-dribble guards, has been invaluable for a team that's committed to playing the one major rotation guy over 6'11" for only about half the game. This small ball approach would have hardly seemed viable just two short years ago: JVP has truly committed himself to improvement - mentally and physically - on the defensive end, and it shows up on tape as well as the stats.

Let's go with the easiest way to describe his impact - visualization!

Defense with JVP

D JVP


Defense without JVP

D No JVP


Defense with JVP (No Ochefu)

D JVP No C

JVP's switchability has been a huge part of Villanova's massive improvement in three point defense. As I'm sure most of us remember, Villanova's perimeter defense has rated pretty poorly over the last few years: 231st last year, 310th in 2013, and 154th in 2012 - it was a problem Jay's teams seemingly couldn't shake. This year, however, it's flipped heavily in the other direction - Villanova's been among the top teams in the country in opposing 3P% for essentially the whole year, bucking a potential regression trend some idiot was worried might bite them in the ass by the end.

His ability to transform his game has helped turned the team's small ball lineups into a juggernaut, and a big part of their success so far this season.

At this point, it's probably safe to say Villanova's three point defense is actually that good - or, at least, safer. They're currently allowing opponents to hit 30.4% of their 3s - 27th best in the country - and are even reasonably good at preventing them from taking them, allowing a 3PA/FGA rate that's 93rd lowest in the NCAA. It's nice to finally be able to breath easy (-ier) whenever an opponent launches from 3.

And JVP has been one of the biggest parts of that. Villanova's switch heavy man scheme has been excellent at cutting off open driving lanes to the hoop and harassing opposing guards on the perimeter - when you have 5 guys on the floor who can defend the perimeter and switch every pick and roll, it's really hard to work open shots. And it's shown so far in the numbers!

Teams are currently hitting just 28.31% of their 3s when JVP is on the floor, while shooting a much-more-respectable-but-still-below -average-just-to-be-fair-to-everyone-else 34.36% when he's off.  And the rim protection does not fall off! In the sampled shots, teams are only hitting 47.10% at the rim when he's on the floor without Ochefu. While this is obviously a testament to the quality of defense beyond just JVP, it also points to the more than adequate job he's done protecting the rim when the team's lone ‘big man' is sitting out. He's been blocking shots this year at a rate almost double that of any he's posted in his career, and teams are obviously not having much success driving at him as the lone big. His ability to transform his game has helped turned the team's small ball lineups into a juggernaut, and a big part of their success so far this season.

In fact, our second ‘starting lineup' - when Ochefu is pulled in favor of Hart, and JVP slides to the 5 - is absolutely destroying opponents, posting a 117 offensive rating with a 75 defensive rating - outscoring opponents by a net of close to half a point per possession over the nearly 60 minutes they've posted together in the sampled games. That's absolutely nuts.

The only real downside to playing JVP in heavy minutes at the 5 appears to be a loss of offensive rebounding - the team pulls down only 26.81% of its misses when he's on the floor without Ochefu, compared to an average of around 32%. However, he hasn't hurt them on the defensive end - the team rebounds an above-average 27.70% of the other team's misses over the same time - so it's possible the offensive rebounding numbers are just a bit of noise.

But, as the defensive rebounding numbers show, the team has more than held its own on the boards - relative to its usual performance, which is a bit down this year - with JVP as the only nominal big guy. His rebounding this year is comparable to the same numbers he put up last - which happen to be head and shoulders above his rates for the first two years.

In the end...

JayVaughn Pinkston has sacrificed a lot in terms of typical counting stats, offensive role, and the spotlight during his senior year for the team. What he's brought is a winning-above-everything mentality, toughness on the boards, elite-ness on defense, and the same foul drawing prowess he's had throughout his entire career. In these last few weeks (months! months!) of his career, we should appreciate the changes he's been willing to make for the team, and what we've gained while he's lost (numbers, not games).