New Statistical Monster: Joel Przybilla

Whew! Thank goodness I got a few non-Blazer posts published there, so that I can get back to writing about my favorite team. (I swear, this won't last all season. And actually, I think this particular tale has value well beyond one team.)

TrueHoop reader Ben has crunched some numbers from Portland's win streak. He's ready to hand a ton of credit to Joel Przybilla, and he has some numbers to back it up. He emails:

Could it be that part of the key to the Blazers playing so well is LaMarcus Aldridge's injury?

It forced McMillan to play Przybilla, who's logged 99 minutes total in the last three games compared to 72 in the four prior to that.

I think this could be another one of those "what advanced stats are useful for" notes.

In the last three games Przybilla was +30 overall, including +15 against a running Warriors team. Clearly he's doing something right.

You wrote: "Joel Przybilla has been the kind of lane patrolling alpha dog that winning teams almost always have," and 82games.com backs you up.

Teams shoot a full 6% worse when he's on the floor! That's enormous. The Blazers' defense plays at a rate equal to the third best defense in the NBA withJoel Przybilla him on court, and with him off are by far the worst defensive team in the league (the Knicks give up around 114 points per 100 possessions as the worst defense in the league -- league average is around 106 -- and the Blazers without Joel are at 115.5).

Przybilla grabs an offensive rebound on 10% of all his own team's misses (which puts him in the top tenth of NBA players), and 23% of opponent's misses (putting him in the top 5% of the NBA). He blocks about four percent of opposing field goal attempts (only about 10 players in the league are better).

His game is definitely limited offensively, but he helps so much on the defensive end and on the glass that I think there's no question he's helping (and can help) the Blazers win.

Last night the game was won because of the offense, but in the previous three games the Blazers put up incredible defensive ratings -- they allowed 97 points per 100 possessions against Utah on December 11th, 103 to Golden State on December 12th and 96 to Utah again on December 14th. Considering that the second best defense in the league gives up 102 points per 100 possessions, and that the Utah and Golden State offenses average 111 and 110 points per 100 possessions respectively, those are some impressive defensive numbers.

Looking at the normal stats someone might shrug and say: OK, four and a half points, six and a half boards and a block and a half a game.

But there's a lot more to the picture. And I think between these numbers and the results you've seen over the last few games, it makes you wonder if he doesn't deserve much more playing time even when Aldridge comes back.

Fouls could definitely be an issue, but take, for example, when Portland played at Philadelphia on November 16th. He didn't have a single foul and played all of 10 minutes. In those 10 minutes he was +11 (including an eight-minute stretch in the second quarter where Portland extended the lead from 21-14 to 38-14).

And Portland ended up losing by four.

You don't think he could have helped win that game?

Przybilla is one of a crop of incredibly strong defensive and rebounding centers who have limited offensive skills and are thus undervalued by fans everywhere. DeSagana Diop is another. He's a defensive game changer (just like Przybilla his team plays as one of the best defensive teams when he's on the floor and as one of the worst when he's off) yet his minutes have completely dropped off with the return of Dampier and the solid play of Brandon Bass. And of course, why are the Mavs struggling this year? Defense. They're #1 in the NBA offensively but 24th defensively, an incredible drop off from last year's #5 overall.

Just another in the series of "how we can use stats to improve our understanding of players, teams and the game itself."

Ben also included some very positive statistical trends to do with LaMarcus Aldridge, of whom he is a big fan. This isn't a story of Aldridge being a bad player. It's more a story about Przybilla not getting on the floor as much when Aldridge is healthy -- something that you have to think could be changing when Aldridge returns, which should be soon. There is no reason those two can't play together.