Numbers Never Lie: Terrapins Hoops Edition


Feb 2, 2013; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins guard Nick Faust (5) questions the referee about a foul call not made during the game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Comcast Center. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a lot of speculation on the Maryland Terrapins starting lineups, and who is their most effective group to have on the court at all times. Thus far, the Terrapins have had 11 different starting rotations this season, and it’s clear that that Turgeon has to be running out of options.  While it appears in recent quotes that head coach Mark Turgeon may have finally honed in on a set five players to begin the game, I have my doubts.

Say the Terrapins lose to Virginia Tech, or come out flat and cause the game to be close as per usual on the road, will Turgeon start the same players next game? The likelihood is slim, given his propensity to tinker with the lineups so often. Quite frankly, I am okay with doing it until he finds a starting five that works right out of the gate. My question is: is it really that difficult to find a starting rotation?

To answer that, I simply look at the stats to get a feel of which players might be the best options going forward. When the numbers are broken down, it actually turns out to be a relatively simple answer.

1Conner Lipinski71133.7.9091.5000.
2Alex Len2257525.4.571.54714.418.816.
3Dezmine Wells2258020.7.591.5644.712.
4Charles Mitchell2235520.0.563.56616.023.520.
5James Padgett2238918.6.628.6089.514.312.
6Logan Aronhalt2227618.4.620.6193.
7Shaquille Cleare2231014.8.603.59710.314.812.
8Nick Faust2253514.6.470.4285.311.
9Jake Layman2238113.1.546.5275.510.88.510.70.92.618.516.3107107.694.
10Seth Allen2246712.7.524.4960.59.95.820.
11John Auslander41610.1.633.6677.
12Pe’Shon Howard214808.8.411.3261.810.06.430.
13Spencer Barks8140.5.385.0008.
14Jacob Susskind711-

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2013.

From an efficiency standpoint:

Going forward, we’ll use this table of advanced statistics going forward for absolute clarity on the issue. If the Maryland Terrapins were trying to field their most efficient lineup from a statistical standpoint, the top five most effective players (excluding Lipinski because of a small sample size) are Len, Wells, Mitchell, Padgett, and Aronhalt. In fact, there is actually a relatively steep drop-off from these five through the next five.

Say what you will about him, Len is clearly the head honcho. His effect on the game can be measured by any advanced statistic, or just an eyeball test. His 25.4 PER ranks only a few points behind uber-effective Cody Zeller of Indiana, and about five below Erick Green in terms of effectiveness. This statistic is skewed slightly towards offensive production, and yet still he shines. Scoring more would allow him to be even more effective, and that’s part of the reason why NBA scouts are so excited about him.

Dez Wells is a bit off the mark, but he is still an above-average starting player coming in at 20.4 in PER speak. He is dead even with Charles Mitchell, whose rebounding ability more than makes up for his so-so offensive game. The two have impacts on the game in their own ways, but they do it in a manner that most teams don’t have an answer for unless they field five starters who are very above average.

What’s most funny about this starting rotation is James Padgett, who is often-maligned for his performance in-games because it is neither aesthetically pleasing nor showy. But a simple look at some statistics shows you that Padgett is, unsurprisingly, one of the most efficient players a team can put in the game. No matter the opponent, Padgett’s numbers rarely dip from what his per-minute averages suggest. He is as consistent as they come, and rarely makes too many mistakes on the basketball court. That’s a testament to his veteran-style of play that rarely gets caught up in the moment (save for, maybe, Florida State on the road…)

Unsurprisingly, Logan Aronhalt makes the top five, mainly because of how much of an asset his three point shooting is on a streaky three point shooting team. Aronhalt isn’t perfect, but he hits enough of them and has such a high usage rate in the offense that it makes sense he would crack the statistical starting rotation. Unfortunately, this factors in defensive play as well, which is why, as I’ll say later, he has a zero percent chance of starting for the Terrapins.

From a defensive standpoint:

What’s great about statistics is not that they are a perfect science, but that they help paint an overall picture when they’re included with what you actually see on the court. Alone, they are just numbers, but along with the game of basketball, they clear things up drastically. This season’s five most effective defensive players? Charles Mitchell, Alex Len, Dez Wells, James Padgett, and Nick Faust.

Charles Mitchell and Alex Len have a very, very powerful effect when they are on the court, and it’s clear why Mark Turgeon is so high on Mitchell. The freshman is tops on the team in points allowed per 100 possessions at 87.6. That’s ahead of Alex Len (89.3) by two points. Most of this is because of his frame and his rebounding ability. Teams can’t score extra points if they can’t get the ball back, and they can’t back down a brick wall too often. He is also a very underrated help defender.

Len is obviously pretty darn good on defense, and Dez Wells comes in at third on the team. Faust and Padgett aren’t quite as good, but they certainly slouches on the court, still under 95 points per 100 possessions. What’s funny is that it’s largely the exact same lineup as the five most efficient players on the court, except interchanged are Aronhalt and Faust.

Why is that the case? Well, Faust isn’t terribly efficient on offense, but he is actually a capable defender. Aronhalt, on the other hand, is efficient on offense but unfortunately is an absolutely horrible defender. His 97.4 points allowed per 100 possessions is the worst on the team (outside of Spencer Barks and Connor Lipinski). Aronhalt has pretty average lateral movement, and he’s really not long enough to be a true shut down defender. He is more of a poor man’s Jimmer Fredette than some kind of defensive strap. His deficiencies on defense are the main reason it’s not feasible that he start for the Terrapins, as ACC backcourts would feast on him for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

From an offensive standpoint:

Now, here’s where the statistics really paint a clearer picture. The offensive rating statistic is an estimate of points produced (by a player) per 100 possessions, and it’s actually a pretty accurate measure of how the Terrapins are scoring when certain players are on the court. The starting rotation actually makes some different turns when utilizing this, with Padgett (122), Aronhalt (121), Len (116), Cleare (115), and Layman (107) being the top five players. The last two out, and by a small margin, are Dez Wells (106) and Charles Mitchell (104).

It may be surprising that James Padgett sits atop this list, but when you think about it a little more it makes sense. Padgett is the skinniest of the bigs, and he clearly has the most stamina of all the forwards. When he’s out there, the Terrapins get out and run without sacrificing much length on the court, allowing for a dynamic, speedy offense. He is often paired with Aronhalt, who has been known to hit consecutive three pointers and boost that number up higher.

It comes as no shock that Cleare and Len are around the same spot, as they are both bigger individuals that take longer to head up the court and get initiated in the offense. What is shocking is that Dez Wells and Charles Mitchell weren’t even in the top five. Why is that? It’s hard to say, but it could be because they play against much tougher competition (the starters) and because Wells turns the ball over at a rate that may hinder how many points scored.

What is impressive is that Layman cracks the lineup, finally! He is another versatile forward who does not sacrifice much on offense or defense (kind of). His presence on the court permits Maryland to get up and moving, and gives them length at the small forward position which theoretically makes opposing SFs have a harder time. His appearance in this lineup supplants Nick Faust, and when you look at the two they are very similar in all regards save for offensive production and efficiency.

A conclusion:

It’s pretty simple, actually. No matter how you look at it statistically, James Padgett is a guy you want in your starting lineup. Efficiency, defensive prowess, and offensive versatility gives him one spot. Charles Mitchell could start in favor of Padgett without much of a drop-off in productivity, but his endurance suggests he would be much better suited for the bench. They’re interchangeable, really. Padgett also allows the Terrapins to move a bit quicker.

F: James Padgett

The center position goes to Alex Len, who is invaluable to this team and very clearly ranks highly in virtually every statistical measure as well. Not starting him would be foolish.

C: Alex Len

With these two locked down, the other forward position is an area of mild concern. There are really only three candidates available for this position. Faust, Wells, and Layman. Wells might be best suited here, because the ball out of his hands might limit his turnover issue and he can beat anyone one-on-one. Nick Faust could also create for him. But then Layman would be playing the two, and I simply can’t see Turgeon finding justification in starting a 6’8 guy at shooting guard. Therefore it probably has to be Layman, whose offensive and defensive production are pretty darn effective.

SF: Layman

The two back court positions are now between Dez Wells, Nick Faust, and Logan Aronhalt. As much as I like Aronhalt, he is a bench player because of his massive deficiencies on defense. He is a liability on the court, and as such needs to remain on the bench to come in as a spot shooter. The shooting guard position has to go to Dez Wells, plain and simple. His turnover issue is second only to Pe’Shon Howard on the team, and that simply isn’t what produces a winning product. He would be better suited off the ball, and so he’s the two guard.

SG: Dez Wells

Finally, we get to Nick Faust versus Pe’Shon Howard and Seth Allen. Howard’s turnover percentage (a measure of turnovers per 100 possessions) is a whopping 33.6. That alone may eliminate him from the running altogether, because he averages more turnovers per 100 possessions than assists. Seth Allen is an option, and only narrowly loses out to Nick Faust with a 20:21 ratio of assists to turnovers per 100 possessions. Nick Faust is clearly the best at distributing and controlling the ball, as scary as that is. At 20:17 ratio of assists to turnovers per 100 possessions, he does the most damage while limiting the damage. He may not be a true point, but he is the best option.

PG: Nick Faust


When you break it down this way, it’s pretty clear who has to start. It’s also pretty clear who comes off the bench as well. Unfortunately, none of it really involves Pe’Shon, who gets treated like a vestigial organ statistically.