"[Valanciunas]: you have the upper hand for now..."
If you've ever visited my blog before, you'd know that I'm a fan of the Toronto Raptors (from which, you can probably deduce a healthy hint of masochism).
What you might not know is that every Raptors fan is required to swear an oath of fealty to Jonas Valanciunas. It's true. Whether your forum de jour is /r/torontoraptors, Raptor HQ or RaptorsRepublic, you will be required to donate a pint of blood, your daily bread, and an offspring (or limb, provided that you are infertile) before you can post a comment. Don't question me on this; I happily given a child, and a mug full of O+ to each blog. I am literally dying on the inside, and on the outside (see? masochism).
All (insanely gory) jokes aside, I do love me some Jonas Valanciunas. He is a true center and a star in the making. He dominated summer league (for what its worth - read: nothing) and has boxed out a corner in the heart of every Raptors fans. To us humble and disparaged Raptors fans he is the beacon of hope, the green light at the end of the dock, if you will (and you just did - thank you). When he steps on to the court donning the basket-claw logo, we are proud that he is one of ours, and we know that better things are coming.
Unfortunately, Valanciunas will always be inexorably connected with fellow rookie sensation Andre Drummond. While the reasoning behind the comparison is unclear (different races, different playing styles), they will always be linked, arm in arm, in the baseless comparative narratives of surprisingly excellent bloggers.
I say unfortunate because Andre Drummond happens to be very good (excellent, actually), and I'm afraid his Goliath-like stature will overshadow the accomplishments and achievements of my beloved Jonas. And so, given our Darwinian nature, we will forever ask the question; who's better - Jonas Valanciunas or Andre Drummond?
It is for this (wholly un-) noble quest, the search of truth, that I've wadded into the numbers, and the data. I will look at each player's raw production on the boxscore (the what, and how much). I will then look at how each player produces with shot charts and synergy data. Finally, I will provide a "scouting-report" type of assessment of each player's skills.
THE"WHAT" AND THE "HOW MUCH"
Both players played limited minutes last season. Drummond was famously held back by (former) Pistons coach Lawrence Frank and Valanciunas battled a combination of injury and competition (in the form of Ed Davis and Amir Johnson). However, each player's stellar performances eventually compelled their respective coaches to grant them more playing time, as seen in their minutes played per month below:
Raw Per Game Numbers
Speaking of their performances, here are their head to head raw per game boxscore statistics (per B-R):
Two things should jump right off the bat. One, Drummond is a rebounding monster. Two, Drummond's free throw shooting is a serious problem (I'll touch on this later).
Per 48 Numbers (look away, Raps fans!)
However, per game numbers are heavily influenced by minutes played, and not necessarily indicative of player productivity. Therefore, it's a more prudent exercise to look at their per 48 numbers (I have included a regular center's stats for comparison; per NBAgeek):
Their per 48 numbers illustrate some key differences. First, Drummond is definitely the better rebounder. However, his per 48 numbers may be a bit misleading, given that it's unlikely that he'll ever grab 17 rebounds if he played a full 48 minutes. Nevertheless, Drummond is clearly a proficient rebounder whereas Valanciunas was about average. Their respective rebounding rates show a similar result (per hoopdata):
Of course, rebounding rate depends on raw rebounds, so I'm double-counting the credit, but it's pretty clear that Drummond is the better rebounder. Put another way; Drummond is 53% more likely to grab a rebound than Valanciunas is. Sorry Raps fans, my eyes are bleeding too. Don't worry, it get's better (the numbers, not your eyes).
Second, Drummond has the upper hand in the basic defensive numbers (blocks, steals, defensive rebounding). Again, there's always the usual caveat that goes with per minute stats, but Drummond is significantly better in all the basic defensive categories (stick with me, Raps fans!!).
It should be noted that it is incredibly impressive that both players were more productive than the average NBA center in their rookie seasons. Valanciunas and Drummond were the only rookie centers (Anthony Davis is a power forward) who produced at a level greater than the average NBA center (min: 1000 minutes played).
Advanced boxscore statistics
Okay, so I've shown you both their raw numbers and their rate numbers. However, we don't really have an good idea of the summation of their production. This is where wins produced comes into play (or win shares, but they're essentially the same).
The difference sounds daunting, because the difference in production was pretty damningly in favor of Drummond over Valanciunas. However, this is where I get off the boxscore statistics train. Boxscore stats like Wins Produced tell you "WHAT" a player did, and "HOW MUCH" he contributed. However, they lack context, and should not be used to assess "HOW" a player performed. Nor should it be used to assess a player's individual skills. Sure, you can get a good idea of a player's ability to rebound, but intuitively, I totally reject the notion that offensive skill is totally encapsulated in shooting percentage and that defensive ability is totally captured by blocks, steals and rebounds. That's why I'll delve into synergy stats, shot breakdowns and shot charts to answer "HOW" each player performed.
Drummond holds a significant edge over Valanciunas in "WHAT" and "HOW MUCH", although both players were above average NBA centers.
If you only looked at boxscore stuff, you'll never accurately know HOW a player played, especially on offense and defense. For example, the boxscore can't answer the question of 'which player has a jumpshot?'. Now, proponents of boxscore stuff (of which I am one) will suggest that the HOW doesn't really matter, to which I agree, but it matters greatly to coaching and to roster construction.
Context matters. It might not matter in the grand scheme, but it certainly matters on the player level. Luckily, context data is available in the form of synergy stats, shot charts and shot breakdowns (thanks to mysynergysports and NBA stats). I will assess each player's offensive abilities (mostly with respect to shooting, considering their assist numbers are miniscule), and their defensive abilities.
Let's first throw 3 macro shooting numbers out there. One, neither player can shoot the three (yet). Two, they both shoot well from the floor (Drummond: 61 FG%, Valanciunas: 56%). Third, Drummond can't shoot free throws (37%) and Valanciunas can (79%).
Let's first touch on how each player was used, and how they performed in certain offensive plays (data from mysynergysports):
Drummond excelled at being the pick and roll man, ranking among the league leaders with 1.18 points per play (ppp) on such plays. He was about average at everything else. It's worth noting that almost the entirety of Drummond's offense came via the pick and roll, off cuts and putbacks (70.1% of his offense). He was not trusted in isolation, or with posting up. His play usage is below:
In comparison, Valanciunas was used in a wider variety of ways (see pie chart below). He excelled at post-ups and in the pick and roll (ranking an impressive 16th; better than Drummond's 24). He was also better at converting his putbacks (16th vs 130th). It is apparent that Valanciunas has a multitude of skills, as he was quite effective in a number of sets.
Overall, based on synergy numbers, it is apparent that Valanciunas is better than Drummond at almost every offensive play. Valanciunas also has a very effective post game (26.7%, 48th in the league), and Drummond appears to have none whatsoever (or his coaches never ran a post-up play for him). Their points per play is broken down below (for %time greater than 8%):
Offense (shot chart)
Okay, so synergy paints a good idea of how each player scored their points with respect to plays. However, we still have no idea where these players shot from. That's where shot charts come into play (shot charts per NBA stats)
Immediately, it becomes apparent that Valanciunas has greater range than Drummond (their shot types will be discussed later on). Both players take the vast majority of their shots from inside the paint and at the rim. Rather hilariously, Drummond only took 23 shots outside of the restricted circle all year (as compared to 275 from inside the paint; <10%). However, Drummond was very effective at the rim (shooting a ridiculous 64%), so this was the correct usage.
The book on Valanciunas's jumpshot is still being written. He seems capable of shooting from outside of 9 feet, however the sample is very small, so I will hold off on making any conclusions. Based on the perilous "eye-test", Valanciunas's jumpshot looks reliable, and seems to be a legitimate threat. You can see below:
The book on Drummond's jumpshot is out. Here's what it is; he has none, and when if he ever shot a jumpshot, it would look something like this:
Overall, Drummond and Valanciunas both shoot the vast majority of their shots from inside the paint. The key difference is that Drummond only shoots from inside the paint, and presumably can only score from inside the paint (rewatch that video of his free throws). On the other hand, Valanciunas's seems to have a viable jumpshot, although he hasn't shot very many.
Offense (shot breakdown)
NBA stats keeps track of the type of shots that each player features. I'm not sure of it's accuracy, as the difference between a hook shot and driving hook shot can certainly be vague, but it does paint an picture of shots each player features.
There isn't too much new information in this data. Drummond's best shots are assorted layups and dunks. Valanciunas is also excellent at dunking and shooting layups, however he does have a very reliable hook shot, which could explain why he is given opportunities to post-up, while Drummond isn't. Anyway, the data here is pretty screw-y, given that I plotted all shot types with 9+ attempts, but it does illustrate that Valanciunas is able to score via more ways than Drummond is. You can play with the data set here.
Offense (assorted factors)
There a few other factors to consider. First, Drummond was assisted on more of his baskets (61%) than Valanciunas (56%; per hoopdata). This is could be due to the differences in their playing styles, or it could just be randomness (the sample is pretty small). Secondly, Drummond's point guards were Stuckey, Bynum and Knight. All three were horrible players. In comparison, Valanciunas played with Calderon and Lowry, both of who are excellent passers (AR>33%). It's possible that part of Valanciunas's success was attributable to his superior teammates.
There's also the athleticism factor. Drummond is the larger player, standing at 7'0 and weighting 279 lbs (full data here). Valanciunas is 6'11 and 240 lbs (however he did bulk up, as seen at NBA summer league; data here). Drummond is also probably the better jumper (33.5 inch max vertical leap; data for Valanciunas is not available). The eye test certainly confirms that Drummond is certainly more reliant on his athleticism than Valanciunas is. However, how these differences affect each player is hard to quantify, so I'll just leave it as is.
NBA statistics certainly have a hard time quantifying defense. Drummond holds the significant edge in the boxscore data, however I believe synergy data shows a more accurate depiction of a player's defensive ability. Nevertheless, here is their boxscore numbers (per 48; theNBAgeek):
The synergy data for each player's defensive performance is below:
Overall, the data seems to favor Drummond (0.82 ppp) rather than Valanciunas (0.90 ppp). Valanciunas was able to effectively guard spot up shooters, and was good at defending the pick and roll, but he was pretty mediocre in defending post-ups and was horrible in isolation defense.
Comparatively, Drummond was also bad in isolation (although much better than Valanciunas) and was passable in defending post-ups. Drummond was excellent at defending the pick and roll man, but was average at defending spot-ups.
Overall, Drummond looks to be the vastly superior defender. He holds the edge in boxscore statistics and synergy stats. There is hope for Valanciunas; if he bulks up, he will likely be a better post-defender (where he is weakest). However, for the time being, Drummond is definitely the better defender. It's worth nothing that Drummond is able to be the better defender while fouling less, which is very impressive.
OKAY, YOU'VE SHOWED ME ALL THE NUMBERS AND CHARTS IN THE WORLD. GIVE ME A VERDICT; WHO IS BETTER?
Before I continue, I would like to issue a deep apology to Raptors fans (myself included):
Forgive me Rapsfans, for I am about to sin. I am going to take our lord Jonas (Christ)'s name in vain. Furthermore, I will disparage and question his holy sainthood.
I am a heretic.
I will shoot 4 hail mary's; or however many Derozan shoots in a game.
Please forgive me.
For the time being, it looks like Drummond is the superior player. There, I said it. He's the superior player because his boxscore stats trump Valanciunas's boxscore stats (to be fair, Drummond trumps like everyone not named Lebron, Durant or Chris Paul [the holy trinity]). Valanciunas is a more capable and versatile offensive player, having a post-game, more shots in his arsenal, a jumpshot and the ability to shoot free throws. However, all the defensive numbers point to Drummond being superior. Therefore, with great grief and reluctance, hand the crown over to Drummond.
Ultimately, they are different players who produce in different ways. Drummond is a defensive beast, but his offensive game is limited to dunking and layuping. Valanciunas is defensively adequate, but he is a much more versatile offensive player. He has a jumpshot and a great post-game.
Only time will tell who is truly better. Nevertheless, if this two-man rivalry continues, the battle will be fierce, and fascinating. Both men are extremely young (Drummond is 19, Valanciunas is 21), and they will certainly change and develop as players. However, for now, Drummond is the better player.
I'm sorry Raptors fans. I really am. Remember, we could have had both of them, but instead we have Terrance Ross. Yup.
All of the data featured here were acquired from the NBA geek, basketball-reference, hoopdata and NBA stats. Many thanks go out to them. You can play with the data here: (valanciunas, drummond, both).
If you have a comment, leave it below, or message me on reddit/whichever forum this I've posted this.