Sunday, August 4, 2013

Valanciunas vs Drummond: Read on if you dare, Raptor fans

"[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.

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). 

By raw wins produced, Jonas produced 3.6 wins last season, whereas Drummond produced 8.1. Their wins produced per 48 minutes (WP48) was significantly different; Drummond posted a WP48 of 0.313 (4th best in the league; mere percentage points behind Durant at .317), whereas Valanciunas produced 0.116 WP48 (average center: 0.100).

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.

Offense (synergy)
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):

Andre Drummond:

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:

Jonas Valanciunas:

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)

Andre Drummond

Jonas Valanciunas

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.

Andre Drummond

Jonas Valanciunas
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.

Defense (synergy and boxscore)
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:

Andre Drummond

Jonas Valanciunas

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.


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.


  1. It's ok we forgive you. Raptors fans are very biased when it comes to JV so it was nice hearing more reasonable analysis. I'm starting to get a feeling or i'm hoping that this will develop into Wilt vs Russell or Magic vs Bird type of rivalry. That would definitely generate views. Greatest rivalries are still the best sports stories. Its funny how Shaq says Centers became more Euro style instead of Back to the Basket and now we have JV (european) being better post up center and Drummond is more pick and roll. Maybe it's just something I would like to believe lool. Oh and I was wondering if JV's rebounding could be affected by his teammates? I'm not exactly sure but Landry, Lowry and Amir are pretty good rebounders so maybe they take some of JV's rebounds lool it's just theory not backed by anything.

    Once again great post.

    1. I was so nervous when I wrote this article. I know how much the Raptors fanbase love Jonas (+his horde of Lithuanian fans).

      In no way is this a negative article against JV. By all measures, he is an excellent player. I'm simply comparing him to a fellow rookie phenom.

      I would love for the Valanciunas/Drummond rivalry turn into a Bird/Magic thing, but I think they lack the personalities to pull it off. Bird/Magic was literally magical and their story is so compelling.

      I don't know about how the other players affect Jonas's rebounding. You're right that he's played with a lot of strong rebounders (fields, lowry, Johnson and Davis). However, I'm sure Drummond has played alongside some impressive rebounders as well. It might make a slight difference, but Drummond collected 27% rebounds when he was on the floor last year, and JV collected 15% (which is league average). That difference is huge.

    2. Let's let this season actually start before we pull out stats.

  2. JV got some personality lool but yeah you're right. Magic and Bird is just next level. Anything remotely close to it would be awesome.

    Damn Drummond is rebounding monster for real. Truly insane. Still cheering for JV though hahaha

    1. Jonas is pretty awesome. I love the guy.

      I'm cheering for JV too! For what it's worth, I'd rather build around JV than Drummond.

  3. 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.

    It's mentioned.

  4. Doug Smith: No we absolutely couldn't have drafted Drummond. There was simply no room for him to develop. These questions just frustrate me because the average fan is so stupid.

    Ya. Now team wants two potential future all star centers both under the age of 21. That is really stupid.

    1. I can't believe Smith said that. His argument is incredibly stupid. They could have just given Drummond Gray's minutes and traded Johnson or Ed Davis (although both players are very productive).

      Doug Smith is off his rocker.

    2. Ya, obviously not a direct quote but that was the gist of it.
      Even if they couldn't play/develop together, they would have instantly been the two most valuable assets on the roster.

      But Doug Smith understands the game in a way that average fans like me don't. Such an arrogant, dismissive SOB..

      Sorry for the off topic rant. Great article!

    3. I think the dozen or so years of covering the Raptors has corrupted and destroyed his spirit. He has been surpassed by a lot of beatwriters (eric koreen comes to mind)

      Thanks! Keep coming back for more. There will be 3-5 posts per week

  5. Man! why didn't I find your blog earlier???

    That was a very well written, insightful article. I'm a RR and RHQ regular and even though they have great writers, you sir are excellent.

    I agree that Drummond is the better raw stats player at this stage but with either one of the two you cant go wrong it seems, its like who would you rather have? (with out comparing actual careers... yet!) SHAQ or Timmy D, Bird or Magic, Lebron or Jordan? there will always be arguments about who is better.

    1. That's incredibly kind of you. I just started writing here two weeks ago. I'm humbled to be even mentioned with the likes of the RR and RHQ writers. They put out really good stuff (usually).

      I definitely agree with that you can't go wrong with either player. It's going to be really fascinating to watch how their careers develop.

      Anyway, I hope you keep coming back to this blog. There will be ~3-5 articles a week (they won't all be this long and this indepth).

  6. Can we really call a player that won't be playing late in the 4th quarter (when it really matters) better?

    1. Yes because 1) all the points count the same and 2) his free throw shooting will improve (it has to; nobody in the NBA shoots that poorly).

  7. William,

    Another fantastic article. I really came down hard on Colangelo for passing on Drummond in the draft, but if given a choice between the two, I'd choose Valanciunas for a couple of reasons. The first is that Valanciunas seems passionate about basketball, which is a huge plus with someone of his work ethic and abilities. The second and most important one is that Drummond will become a liability at the end of games, whereas Valanciunas becomes a strength.

    We've had this debate before, but you can't discount a team's ability to finish games. A player who is such a poor free throw shooter won't be on the floor at the end, so his importance is lessened. Look at what Oklahoma did to Asik and San Antionio did to the Lakers and Golden State in the playoffs.

    And while Drummond will, most likely, improve, he's got a LOOOONG way to go before it will be anything close to acceptable.

  8. Personally, given the choice between the two players, I would also pick Valanciunas.

    First, I believe that their production will converge. Drummond will likely face tougher competition next season (moving from the bench to being a starter), and the addition of Josh Smith should somewhat curtail the ridiculous rebounding rates that he's posting (although when you watch him, it's clear that he has the size and the athleticism to justify the rate).

    Second, the NBA marketplace will overpay for post-scoring, and will always underpay block/efficiency/rebound (BER) guys. That's why we have Pau Gasol getting 20 million per year, and Tyson Chandler (probably the best BER in the league) is getting 10 million. Therefore, having Valanciunas's post-scoring is extra valuable (because of the market).

    I understand the concerns with having Drummond on the floor during the end of games. I really do. However, I just don't see the math behind it. First off, the free throw concerns are regarding the effectiveness the "beat-a-drum" strategy, right? Here's how it breaks down (at least on paper):

    No intentional fouling: average NBA offense is ~102 offensive rating

    Intentional fouling (50% free throw shooter): 25% chance of 2 points scored, 50% chance of 1 point scored, 25% chance of no point scored = 100 offensive rating. Then you toss in the positive benefits to potentially score off a putback, and you're definitely at ~102.

    So why should teams be THAT concerned about intentionally fouling? You basically need to hit 50% to break even (someone, somewhere must have gone more indepth than the "back of envelope" calculation that I did).

    1. Second, he's a very good defender (boxscore, synergy data both back this up). That's also got value in the clutch. Plus, his ability to grab offensive rebounds for second chance points is very valuable (especially with how many long jumpers Detroit will be missing with Smith and Jennings out during crunch time)

  9. It would be interesting to see how many minutes were played against starters for both. Jonas started in 57 games while Drummond only started against 10. I'm not saying all bench players are scrubs but if Jonas was playing more minutes against the guys who are supposed to be better then that could affect the difference in the two at least a little. Another thing I would like to add is that Jonas was playing at the beginning of the year with Andrea Bargnani and not Greg Monroe as Drummond was so that might also cause some differences in numbers. Either way I think Drummond is elite at rebounding and defense so if Jonas can even be mentioned in the same discussion on this side of things I am more than happy as a Raptors fan moving forward.

    1. You're right about the competition thing. I don't know any data for what you speak of, but it would certainly be very eye-opening, and may very well change the conclusion.

      The point about JV played with Andrea and Drummond with Monroe would be a slight against JV. Andrea is literally one of the worst rebounders in the league (bottom 5 for his position) and JV still couldn't post above average rebounding numbers.

    2. Good point but there is also the possibility that Drummond was left alone while Monroe was being double teamed and that he was able to get some offensive freebies. I guess my point was that Jonas had to think more about covering for Andrea and thus wasn't able to be more aggressive on the boards but it could be a moot point based on your comment.

  10. What I think will help Jonas on defense is the added size and strength he's gained over the summer. If one thing was evident especially early on what that Jonas was being over powered when rebounding or defending the post.

    1. The added bulk will certainly change things, but I'm not sure how it will change things. He may very well be a better post-up defender with that extra bulk because he won't be bullied anymore. At the same time, it could stunt his quickness, and he becomes a liability with pick and roll defense.

      Who knows? It'll be fascinating to revisit this once they both step on the court this season. I can't wait.

  11. Admittedly, I'm not a stats guy to begin with, but using stats of a guy that mostly played against bench players, as a comparison (for evaluation purposes) to a player who mostly played against starters, is sillier than usual use of number crunching.

    1. I'm totally cool with you not being a stats guy. I tried to approach it from every angle. If you don't like wins produced numbers, you can look over their shot chart (and see that Drummond can only score in the paint).

      The point about the bench play might be a factor, but how do you know who Drummond or JV played against? We don't have that type of opponent faced information. Therefore, we can't make any kind of definitive statements that rule out the validity of the data.

  12. Is having a lot of ways of scoring is better than just one pony trick? If one can dunk with a high percentage, he should dunk. Knowing a lot of ways but not excelling in any or knowing which one to capitalize is not better.