Monday, November 7, 2011

Point Forward: Season 74's Best Point Guard is...

The difference between Steve Nash and Russell Westbrook is a subtle one, when talking about point guards. The former will look to pass first, and if all passing lanes are closed, will then try to take the best shot possible. The latter on the other hand, will try to take the best shot possible, and if he's held in check by the defense, will then look to get the ball into the hands of an open teammate.

In the UAAP, you get more Russell Westbrook's than Steve Nash's, most of the time, out of necessity, not design.

It's easy to be Steve Nash when you have a ton of weapons around you, an Amare Stoudemire to dunk the ball, Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson on the wings, a do-it-all player like Shawn Marion to fill in the gaps. Russell Westbrook has to be Russell Westbrook because aside from him and Kevin Durant, who's a reliable option? Thabo Sefalosha? Kendrick Perkins? Serge Ibaka? Those are good defensive options, but on offense, you're basically playing 2 vs 5.

The same thing applies to the UAAP. The reason why there are a ton of scoring point guards ("points" guards in local slang) is because it's hard to assemble a five-man unit where everyone is a threat to score, be it through the design of a coach (needs defense on the floor) or because recruitment has gotten so much better (the "great" players have been scattered across the league).

This is a long-winded way for me to say that the numbers have Emman Monfort as the best overall point guard from Season 74 of the UAAP. The keyword there is "overall."

A look at the basic stats makes it easy to see why some fans have guys like Jeric Fortuna or RR Garcia (aside: you do know that he's played shooting guard for the majority of this season right?) at the top of their point guard rankings. The thing that immediately jumps out is the disparity in points, with most of them averaging at least 10 per game. They're also better pure three-point shooters and come up with about the same number of rebounds and steals, though at the expense of more turnovers. Monfort's advantages however are first, he dishes out more assists, and by a wide margin over the next closest player (LA Revilla). He's also far better at shooting free throws than the rest of the guys on that list. Finally, he's tied for most steals along with two other point guards.

On the surface, the Nash-Westbrook comparisons ring true. Monfort doesn't need to shoot a whole lot, not when he has so many excellent finishers on his squad (Greg Slaughter, Kiefer Ravena, Nico Salva). When he does shoot, he's not very good at it (this is deceiving however, and we'll get to that later on), though he can kill you from the line. On the other hand, guys like Fortuna and Lester Alvarez shoulder a lot more of their team's offense, and thus, put more points on the board at the expense of passing off (or not passing off, as it is) to players who aren't great finishers (think: Fortuna jumper or pass to Paolo Pe? Alvarez jumper or pass to Jan Colina?). At this level, it's like comparing apples to oranges.

How pass-first is Monfort? A whole lot, according to advance statistics.

  • The first number, AST% or Assist Percentage, is a close estimate of "the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on on the floor" and can be solved for with the formula: 100 * AST  / (((MIN / (Team MIN / 5)) * Team FG) - FG). 
  • The second number, A:FG or Assist to Field Goal Ratio, is pretty self-explanatory
  • The third number,  USG% or Usage Percentage, "is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor" or in other words, the percentage of times a player is the one attempting a shot or turning the ball over. It can be solved for with the formula: 100 * ((FGA + 0.44 * FTA + TO) * (Team MIN / 5)) / (MIN * (Team FGA + 0.44 * Team FTA + Team TO)) 
  • The fourth number, A:T or Assist to Turnover Ratio, is pretty self-explanatory as well
What those numbers mean is Monfort is much more likely to assist than shoot (31.81 AST%, 0.76 AST:FG ratio, 15.28 USG%), and he does so at the most efficient rate (2.87 AST:TO ratio). That supports our earlier belief that Monfort is an excellent pass-first point guard. But what about when it comes to scoring?

More interesting is the latter two stats.
  • EFG% or effective field goal percentage "adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal" with the formula (FG + 0.5 * 3PM) / FGA.
  • TS% or true shooting percentage does EFG% one better by incorporating free throw percentage, with the formula PTS / (2 * (FGA + 0.44 * FTA))
With these two in play, we see that only Jelo Montecastro (who doesn't take three-pointers) and LA Revilla have higher EFG% than Monfort (His teammate, Kirk Long, has a higher EFG% as well). And when you factor in free throw shooting in TS%, Monfort jumps way ahead of the pack, three percentage points better than Revilla, the next-best on another team.

What that means is that Monfort truly looks to set up his teammates first and foremost before anything else. However, in the 15.28% of possessions in which he looks to score or make a play, he does so at a better percentage than just about any other comparable point guard. While his individual components (2P% and 3P%) are nothing to get excited about, it is the combination of the two stats, plus FT% for TS%, that make him a better overall shooter, be it from the field or at the line. It is for that reason that I have to conclude that he is the best "overall" point guard this past season.

The journey of Monfort is an interesting one, going from instant offense off the bench to floor general in his final playing year. We often talk about how Ateneo head coach Norman Black is perhaps the best big man coach currently in the UAAP, but he's certainly making a case for transforming score-first players into pass-first guys as well, as seen in the improvement of the likes of Jai Reyes, Eric Salamat, and now Emman Monfort.

With Monfort's graduation, the trend may continue, with shoot-first guard Juami Tiongson presumably assuming the starting point guard position in Season 75. If Black works his magic on him as well, then it's safe to say that this is no fluke and the player development out of Katipunan is simply astounding, whether you're a guard or a big man.

All of this is not to say that guys like Fortuna, Alvarez and Garcia are bad players. However, if we are to go by the strictest definition of what a point guard is, the numbers have Monfort as being the cream of the crop.

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