2016 NBA Draft – How do you put together a winning team?

The 2015-2016 NBA playoffs have just begun meaning 16 fortunate teams are still playing ball while 14 others are preparing for the 2016 Draft and beginning to set up the structure of their team for next season (“There’s always next season”).

The concept of drafting players is an interesting one. So much goes into it – athleticism, physical stature, game smarts, college performance, and the player’s mentality (IE, will they be able to handle the pressure, will they fit in with the guys and have good team chemistry, etc). Recently, Motomura and colleagues (2016) discussed the role the draft can playing in building an NBA franchise. More importantly, they set out to understand whether having more or higher draft picks actually made an NBA team better. They concluded,

“We find that the draft is not necessarily the best road to success. An excellent organization and General Manager better enable teams to succeed even without high draft picks.”

This got me thinking – could we potentially try and understand which teams are “excellent” organizations in terms of selecting players that enjoy success at in the NBA? Additionally, I am really interested in the Philadelphia 76ers. Year after year they always seem to be in the conversation of tanking at the end of the season, in order to increase their chances of obtaining higher round draft picks in the NBA Draft Lottery. In fact, they have been so good at this over the past few seasons that the 2016 season is supposed to the final season of the tanking era in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, their efforts to tank and stock pile great players has not payed off. They seem to have a hard time either:

  1. Selecting good players. If you are going to tank you better not miss on your draft picks!
  2. Developing players or bringing in veteran players who can surround the young stars so that they don’t have to play a high number of minutes their rookie season and carry the team (something also addressed in the Motomura above).

The Data

2011 – 2015 NBA Draft data was obtained from basketball-reference.com.

Aims

  • With 60 picks in the NBA Draft (300 total over the 5 year period) how many players, on average, do teams pick up?
  • What is the average value of players selected in each of the draft number spots?
  • Which teams have been most successful at picking players that added a high amount of value to their team?
  • What is going on in Philly?

Number of Draft Picks

Over the 2011 – 2015 NBA Draft 300 total players have been chosen, with teams averaging 9 players drafted during that period. The 76ers certainly are leading the way, selecting 21 players over this 5 year stretch. (NOTE: You will notice there are 34 teams in the table below. This is because I left in expansion teams and teams that moved from one city to another during this 5 year period. I did this to just represent what took place in the draft between 2011 – 2015).

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What is the value of a draft pick?

Value or Success metrics are often one of the more difficult things to pin down when studying team sport athletes. Lots of things players do can add value to a team without ever making it into the box score (which primarily consists of count metrics). The writers at basketball-references.com display two metrics which I used to quantify a player’s value – Win Shares and Value Over Replacement Player. Both of these metrics are the type of metrics that were born out of Baseball’s Sabermetrics as a way of trying to provide more context to the box score metrics presented to fans everyday on websites or in newspapers. Win Shares is a metric that takes the teams success and divides up credit for that success among the participating players. Value Over a Replacement Player is a metric which projects the player’s value versus a fictitious replacement player. Both of these metrics have limitations and people argue frequently over which is more useful or whether we should use a different metric to represent value (E.g., Player Efficiency Rating or something like +/- or Adjusted +/-. Both of which have their own limitations). I simply chose these metrics because they were readily available and they would provide me with a quick way to represent player value. Any metric one deems important would suffice, though.

To reflect value per pick I summarized the data in a few ways:

  • I binned the picks into groups of ten (Picks 1-10, 11-20, 21-30, 31-40, 41-50, and 51-60). Because I was dealing with a five year period it meant that there would only be 5 picks for each selection (1-60), which wouldn’t provide enough data. Thus, binning it this way helped me group more players together.
  • Since I am using 5 years of data it isn’t really fair to look at something like Win Shares for all of the players, since players who were drafted in 2011 have a much longer time to contribute to their win share compared to a player drafted in 2015 (a rookie). Thus, I reflected Win Shares over Games Played, to attempt to look at each player’s contribution to their teams success relative to the amount of games they participated in.
  • Finally, I added in Minutes Per Game, simply because I wanted to see what the participation differences were between the bins of draft picks.

The data in the below table is the average of each metric for the six different draft pick bins.

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As we would expect (or should expect) there is a monotonic decrease in each of the three metrics as we move from Pick 1-10 to Pick 51-60. This is to be expected and tells us that the quality of player begins to decrease as we move down the draft board (better players are being selected higher up). The only place this doesn’t seem to happen is in Pick 41-50 for the Average Value Over Replacement Player. I’m not really certain why this is. It could be that during this five year stretch there were a lot of players selected from those picks that had minimal to no contribution to their team.

Draft Pick Value Per Team

First, we look at the sum of Win Shares Per Game for each draft pick bin. I added up the win shares per game for each player the team selected in each of the draft pick bins and then summed those up to obtain a 5 year “Value Add”. I then standardized the scores in order to see how each team did relative to the average Value Add during this 5 year stretch.

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NOTE:
There is a limitation with this analysis in that I didn’t have a way of going through each player to see if they played for their draft team over the entire 5 year period. It is entirely possible that some players moved on or maybe got drafted and immediately traded and never had a chance to play with their draft team (as we will see when we discuss Philadelphia). That being said, what quickly jumps out is that 6 teams appear to be very good at identifying those who will be valuable NBA players, whether they still play on their draft team or not – Houston, Cleveland, Detroit, Denver, Minnesota, and Utah. It is important to keep in mind, however, that some of these scores might be coming from one or two players during this five year period. For example, guys like Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota) and Kyrie Irving (Cleveland) make significant contributions to their teams in terms of Value Add. Both players were also #1 draft picks.

Another interesting observation is the value Houston, Cleveland, and Detroit were able to find in Picks 31-40. Those three teams stand alone in that draft pick bin as all of the other teams seem to lack the ability to find valuable players. Houston looks to be pretty incredible at identifying talented players as they are green in several of the draft bins and have had the most success in drafting (using Wins Shares as the metric of success) compared to other teams over this period. Houston also happens to be a team that is praised for their analytic savviness and perhaps this helps contribute to their ability to scout talent.

In looking at this chart, Philadelphia doesn’t appear to be doing too bad (7th ranked team). However, it is important to keep in mind the limitation of this chart in that some players might be adding value for teams other than the team which drafted them. I do give Philly credit for identifying some of the players as potentially successful players but trading them away doesn’t help. This will be discussed later in the article.

 Next, we turn our attention to the Value Over Replacement Metric. For this analysis I took the average Value Over Replacement for each of the draft pick bins for each team. I then took the average of every draft pick bin for each team and created a 5 Year Average Value Over Replacement Player. This metric was then standardized for all teams to investigate how they did relative to the rest of the league.

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Now we get a little bit of a different look at the league and how successful teams draft players. As in the above analysis, there is a similar limitation in that players may have moved on from the team that drafted them; however, the main goal is to understand who is good at identifying talent.

We still see Houston in the top 6. Not only are they selecting players that are adding win value but these players are also contributing more than the replacement player would. Golden State, who was in the top 10 on the previous chart, looks to steal the show here with players above the replacement level player. Philadelphia takes a bit of a hit in this chart.

So What is Going on in Philly?

This is a tough one to sort out. As I alluded to above, sometimes teams draft players and then move those players on to other teams. Philly has been accused of tanking in order to get better draft picks and if you are going to try and go out of your way to get better draft picks then you need to ensure those draft picks actually turn into great players. Otherwise, you just end up being in the same position next year. Philly drafted 21 players over the past 5 years – well above the norm for an NBA team during this time.

  • Of the 21 players drafted only 7 of those players actually ended up playing for the team in some capacity.
  • Of those 7 players, only 4 of them remain with the team.
  • Of those 4 players, one is Joel Embiid, who has not played a game in his first 2 seasons with the team due to injury. Embiid was the 3rd round pick in the 2014 draft and has proven, thus far, to be a very costly selection for the franchise.

Here is an overview of the 21 players Philly has selected in the past 5 years:

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 5.26.42 PMPlayers in red are players that are no longer in the NBA or never even made it into an NBA game. That is 10 out of Philadelphia’s 21 picks (48%) who either don’t play in the NBA anymore or never made it in the first place. Stockpiling picks in the hope that a few of them turn into something valuable might not be a horrible idea, but when almost 50% of the players have washed out of the league it may be hard to justify this strategy. Moreover, 33% of the players drafted no longer play on the team. This is including the former Rookie of the year, Michael Carter-Williams and Maurice Harkless (8.5 win shares and a value above replacement player of 1.9) who was traded for Andrew Bynum (who turned out to be an NBA bust). With only 19% (4 out of 21) of the drafted players still on the team (counting Embiid who has made no contribution at all due to injury) it appears to have been a pretty unsuccessful 5 years of drafting. The team was 10-72 this season and didn’t show much improvement over years past. Perhaps the tanking era isn’t over yet in Philly?

Conclusion

Drafting players is really difficult. There are a lot of things that go into it and some may say it is a lot of luck. That being said, there are some teams that seem to come out on top or near the top, year-after-year. You can have those big luck years where you snag a lot of great talent and hit a home run but I think more importantly you just need to be consistent. The big luck years are good but the years where you are consistently bad end up setting you back. As discussed in the Motomura paper, having a well run organization that understands how to not only develop talent but also bring in veteran players to surround the younger players and take some of the pressure off might be the most important thing. Too often I think teams try and tank with the idea that their first round pick is going to save the franchise next season. Instead, they should consider the things they need to do to help that first round pick develop into the player they need him to be, down the road, in order to save the franchise.

References

Motomura A, Roberts KV, Leeds DM, Leeds MA. Does it Pay to Build Through the Draft in the National Basketball Association? J Sports Economics 2016. 1-16.

 

Daily Undulating Periodization & Performance Improvements in Powerlifters

Dr. Mike Zourdos and colleagues just published a new paper on Daily Undulating Periodization (Zourdos MC, et al. Modified Daily Undulating Periodization Model Produces Greater Performance Than a Traditional Configuration in Powerlifters. J Strength Cond Res 2015. Published Ahead of Print). Being a fan of the Daily Undulating Periodization approach to training structure I thought I would summarize the paper and share some of my thoughts.

Subjects

  • 18 Male, college-aged powerlifters
  • Subjects were assigned to one of two groups: Hypertrophy, Strength, & Power (HSP) or Hypertrophy, Power, & Strength (HPS)
  • The groups were balanced to ensure that relative and absolute strength were similar

Training Programs

  • Hypertrophy, Strength, & Power: This group performed three sessions per week, on non-consecutive days. Day 1 had a primary emphasis of hypertrophy, day 2 had an emphasis of strength, and day 3 had an emphasis of power.
  • Hypertrophy, Power, & Strength: This group performed three sessions per week, on non-consecutive days. Day 1 had a primary emphasis of hypertrophy, day 2 had an emphasis of power, and day 3 had an emphasis of strength.
  • The rationale for testing the outcome between these two weekly training schemes is that in the former, which is a common weekly set up for Daily Undulating Periodization in research, the strength session takes place ~48 hours following the hypertrophy session, which is the higher volume training session of the three. This may create an issue with the subject’s ability to perform their strength session due to the lack of recovery from the high volume hypertrophy session.
  • The variables for each of the training days are described in the chart below:

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Summary of Strength Results

The strength change results from both of the 6-week training programs are summarized as follows:

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  • No statistical difference in the squat and deadlift were found between groups; however a statistical improvement was seen in the bench press for the HPS group compared to the HSP group.
  • No statistical difference was found between groups for powerlifting total.
  • Effect sizes greater than 0.5 were noted for the squat, bench press, and powerlifting total in favor of HPS, which may suggest a practically significant improvement in HPS versus HSP when developing training programs for powerlifters.

Comments & Thought

This was an interesting study and I like the approach of trying to find an optimal scheme within the training week. Perhaps someday we may find that the optimal scheme for the Daily Undulating Periodization Model (or any training model!) is one where the emphasis of training on a given day is dictated based on how the athlete reports and what they are able to tolerate? This very fluid approach to programming – where we are attempting to strike a balance between training variety, to prevent monotony, and a concentrated dose of training, to increase fitness in a certain capacity – has been suggested by John Kiely’s work on periodization. In the paper by Zourdos and colleagues, they used an autoregulation approach on the hypertrophy day to dictate the training load/intensity for that session (an approach discussed by Mel Siff in Supertraining and researched by Bryan Mann, as referenced above). Perhaps, in a practical setting, we could extend this a bit further and utilize a linear position transducer or some other form of velocity based approach (the folks at PUSH have come up with an affordable and easy to use solution) to dictate the load/intensity on the power and strength training days. If the athlete is sluggish and moving the bar slowly, then lower the load to stay within a desired range of bar velocity. Additionally, because training takes place on non-consecutive days in this type of frame work (E.g., 3 sessions over 7 days) it may be possible to utilize monitoring strategies (bar velocity, daily wellness, RPE training loads, HRV, etc) to make the suggestion that the athlete take a rest day, instead of performing the scheduled training session, and see how their body is the following day and if it is prepared to tolerate the load.

The use of effect sizes in this paper allows us to get a better understanding of whether or not the average difference between groups is of practical significance. One of the things that I find  critical when looking at research on training interventions is the understanding of inter-individual differences. It is very possible that some athletes in this study responded favorably to either of the training approaches while others had no result or a poor result.  The paper also look at things like changes in total volume and some hormonal measures. When it comes to understanding responders and non-responders in training, it isn’t good enough to just say, “Some people get better and others don’t”. At some point, we need to figure out who doesn’t respond and why they don’t respond. Perhaps there is something to additionally look at in this paper with the hormonal changes and the individual’s ability to increase training volume or get stagnant during certain periods of the training program.

Hopefully this group continues to do more research on the topic of Daily Undulating Periodization because I find it to be a practical method of programming training and they have done some good work thus far that they can certainly follow up on. While Mike Zourdos tends to aim his approach at Powerlifters (I believe because he is competitive lifter himself) there are concepts within this framework that can easily be extended to training team sport athletes as well as concepts that could be used for sport coaches when establishing the weekly practice structure.

Three things a high performance team can learn from The Profit

One of my favorite shows at the moment is CNBC’s, The Profit. The basic premise of the show is that millionaire investor, Marcus Lemonis, finds failing businesses, evaluates them, and then  provided he feels the business has potential, invests in the company for a certain percentage of ownership. He then establishes a road map to success by helping them understand what aspects of their business are broken.

In the show, Marcus preaches three main constructs which he feels are necessary for a successful business:

  1. People
  2. Process
  3. Product

In reality, a high performance team working with a sports franchise is no different and these three constructs are actually incredibly valuable for determining what areas your high performance team needs to improve upon or where you may need to make some changes in order to have better success and be more efficient.

People

“Do we have the right people in the right positions?” When thinking about this question it is important to not only think about skill set and ability but also whether or not they work well as part of a team. A lot of times, teams or universities are afraid to let someone go because they have “been there for a long time” or they are “a nice guy”. I understand this can be a tough thing but at the end of the day, keeping people around that are unable to contribute to the level and expectation that is needed is going to create more problems and frustration in the long run. It makes sense to part ways and ensure that the people you are putting together on the staff have a very high level of skill set and interest in continuing to learn and push things to new levels. Additionally, it is important to move along from those who are insecure and create turf wars between departments. These individuals can tear a team apart in a second and create problems within the high performance team. A high performance team is one that is collaborative across the main player support departments – Sports Science, Athletic Training/Medical, and Strength & Conditioning. If the people within the staff are not interested in collaboration and working together then the high performance team will never work. In the Profit, Marcus evaluates people within the businesses he invests in and, at times, is forced to make the decision (with the other owners he has partnered with) to let people go who are not willing or able to satisfy the need of working collaboratively in a successful business.

Process

Marcus is a stickler for process. His famous quote in the show, after handing over a check for his investment and becoming a part owner is, “I may be a part owner but I am 100% in charge”. Oftentimes, where businesses fail is not in the people or the product, but in the process. They can’t seem to put the appropriate processes in place to ensure that product gets manufactured at the right cost, without wasting money, or the product gets ordered at the right amount, without having a back log of inventory. Being a successful entrepreneur, Marcus sets up some very specific processes for these companies to ensure that business is performed in an efficient and timely manner. Within the high performance team environment this process is essential. What is the flow of data – how is it collected, processed, analyzed, and then distributed and discussed amongst all support staff and key stakeholders in the building? Things can be very busy in a professional or university team environment, making these processes even more critical. Oftentimes, information falls through the cracks because there is not a process in place for ensuring that people on the staff get together and meet on a daily basis to discuss the data and develop a plan about what to do with the data – turning data into action.

Product

Finally, product. Obviously a high performance team isn’t making any product; however, a high performance team is serving the athlete to ensure that athlete’s health and wellness is cared for during their time with the team. This “product” is really the outcome of having great people, with a high skill set and standard for excellence, who can work together and having great processes in place, ensuring that the information flow between departments is fluid and efficient.

Collectively, these three constructs will ultimately determine the success that your high performance team has and their ability to adequately effect the athlete’s within the training environment ultimately decreasing injury and improving performance.

Book Review: Special Strength Development For All Sports by Louie Simmons

I just finished reading Louie Simmons’ new book, Special Strength Development For All Sports. I don’t know if there is a person that has influenced strength training in the United States more than Louie Simmons. He has created some of the strongest powerlifters of all time at his Westside Barbell gym, in Columbus, OH, and has worked with athletes in a variety of different sports along the way. His training system, which he refers to as Conjugate training, and methods have been heavily influenced by many of the Russian sports scientists and the work he did with the late Mel Siff. While Louie is quick to give these people credit for their concepts and ideas, which have shaped his methodology, his approach to training is truly unique and there probably isn’t a strength coach in the USA who, at one point in time, hasn’t tried “Westside Training”.

Certainly, this methodology of training is something that has influenced me when I first started reading about it back around 2002. If I had to describe the three methodologies that have influenced my training approach the most over the years I would say:

  1. Undulating Periodization – The work by Kraemer & Fleck as well as a lot of the research that has been published
  2. Charlie Francis – The concepts of High-Low and Vertical Integration
  3. Westside Barbell/Louie Simmons

These three approaches have been instrumental in how I think about training and how I set up a training program based on what things we look to focus on in each block/phase of training, which  then determines how we distribute the volume of work. These three approaches were the backbone of the training programs that Keith and I wrote when working with the athletes during my time at Nike.

Louie’s new book is a deviation from the books and DVDs he has previously put out, which are more focused on improving strength for the sport of powerlifting. While Louie has provided a vast amount of information on the web (for free, mind you) and has discussed using his methods for other sports, I think this may be the first time he has ever collected his thoughts on the topic in one single manual.

The manual begins by covering the concepts that shape the Westside Barbell approach to training. It goes over the methods of strength training, which Louie learned from Zatsiorsky’s work, and some of the approaches to strength development that most people have heard Louie talk about over the years.

The book then goes into a broad range of topics, discussing everything from the role of strength in sport to training methods for improving fitness qualities for different sports (Endurance sports, Olympic weightlifting, Team Sports, Combat sports, etc) to recovery and regeneration techniques.

One of the nice things about the book is that, while Louie is a powerlifting coach, he takes the time to discuss how these methods can be translated to other sports. I think a misconception that people have is that you have to train exactly as he advocates powerlifters to train. Louie discusses different methods of training and, particularly, incorporating plyometric activities into training, which could be thought of as a component of the “Dynamic Effort” method. Louie also explains strength-speed and speed-strength and makes recommendations of bar speed and intensities to appropriately develop these qualities. Additionally, Louie spends considerable amounts of time discussing the role and importance of General Physical Preparedness and provides a variety of training approaches to improve this quality.

Some key things Louie discussed were:

  • The importance of general fitness and how to develop it for athletes in different sports.
  • An approach to programming and periodization that encompasses training multiple qualities but having a key focus/emphasis in specific blocks. Team sport athletes need to have multiple qualities trained at a high level to have success and it can be difficult for some people to understand how to set up training phases without just trying to improve everything all at one time. Louie does a great job addressing this and talking about the various programming approaches using a three week wave.
  • The idea that you don’t need to max out each week. I am glad Louie touched on this, as I think it is something that people believe when they think about Westside Barbell training. The max effort day(s) within the Westside system are very important for increasing strength and motor unit recruitment; however, this doesn’t need to be forced each week. I believe this is important for team sport athletes, especially, as the rigors and intensity of training can be incredibly taxing on the body and trying to force a max effort lift each week could be detrimental to performance.
  • The volume of strength training. Strength coaches tend to prioritize the work they do in the gym to the detriment, oftentimes, of other things, such as fitness training, jumping/plyometrics, sprinting, etc. It was interesting to see Louie discuss the volume of strength training and share some of the volumes of strength training for athletes in different sport in countries like Russia. Louie is big on matching the appropriate training volume with the training intensity and draws heavily on A.S. Prilipen’s table for this. Louie mentions that, during a max effort session, you really only need to try and take 3 lifts above 90%. That is a very small amount of volume than what most strength coaches prescribe. As mentioned above, I think strength coaches tend to over prescribe a lot of their resistance training work and not pay attention to the actual volume that is being accrued over the training block. The idea that we want to do enough to force that adaptation we seek without going overboard is something to keep in mind. Finding the optimal amount of training is critical to allowing the athlete to continually train at a high level.
  • Supplemental and Accessory Exercises. Louie is big on using your accessory exercises and supplemental work to develop any weaknesses you may have. I think sometimes people think of this type of work as “optional”, as they put all their emphasis on the main/core lifts, but it serves a key purposes and Louie really drives this point home. Additionally, this type of work may be in a non-traditional form, for example, following your box squat, your main lift for the day, you may go and perform sled dragging in different directions as your accessory activity. This is very non-traditional compared to what most people would do, which would be just do a bunch of different exercises, but is highly useful for an athlete that has to run, cut, and change direction in their sport. A lot of your exercise selection here may also come down to the time of the season (offseason, pre-season, inseason) in terms of what exercises you select.

Over the years, Louie has been incredibly generous sharing his ideas and concepts with the strength and conditioning community. The blog on his current website even contains videos of training sessions that take place each week at Westside Barbell, posted to his youtube channel. Louie’s commitment to give back to the strength and conditioning profession has been second to none and his new book Special Strength Development For All Sports, is a wonderful resource for strength coaches looking to understand how his approach to training the strongest powerlifters in the world can be applied to developing athletes in other sports.