Analyzing the Sacramento Kings Usage Rates

Ezra Shaw

Critics of the Kings point to the overabundance of high-usage volume scorers. But how do the Kings stack up to the rest of the league in terms of usage rates?

Introduction

A common refrain we hear about the Kings is that they have too many high-usage volume shooters. I've probably said something along these lines about this team at some point. I know others around here have mentioned it. But it's especially common amongst those outside Sacramento looking in. So out of my own curiosity, I set out to try to examine and make sense of the roster's usage rates and how they relate to other teams in the league.

A quick note on methodology, all data courtesy of HoopData. To narrow the amount of data I was looking at, I removed players with usage rates below 15. 15 is an arbitrary number, but the league average (again per HoopData) is currently 18.93, so I feel it represents a fair sample size. From there, my methods are entirely unscientific. I put the numbers into a spreadsheet, sorted by team, and looked at what jumped out at me. Is this perfect? Not even close. Am I smart enough to run a more sophisticated analysis? Maybe, but why risk it. So take this analysis for what it is. If this bothers you, please skip directly to the comments section to tell me how wrong and/or stupid I am.

"Analysis"

First, let's look at the Kings:

Player Name Tm GP Min USG
DeMarcus Cousins SAC 7 31 29.8
Marcus Thornton SAC 9 30 24.11
Isaiah Thomas SAC 8 23 22.26
Tyreke Evans SAC 9 32 20.69
James Johnson SAC 9 25 18.74
Travis Outlaw SAC 4 14 18.27
Aaron Brooks SAC 9 19 18.02
Thomas Robinson SAC 7 17 17.29
John Salmons SAC 4 19 16.97
Jason Thompson SAC 9 31 15.23

It should come as no surprise that DeMarcus Cousins is the highest usage player on the Kings. What I do find interesting is that two of our current starters barely register high enough usage to make my list. Jason Thompson and John Salmons require little usage. Good to know. For our starters (as the line-up currently stands), Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus lead the way. Aaron Brooks has a slightly below league-average usage rate, while the recently demoted Isaiah Thomas has a slightly higher usage. But for those pointing to this as an explanation for Isaiah's benching, we should note that Isaiah is shooting twice as well as Aaron Brooks, so a little higher usage isn't the problem.

Looking at the Kings usage in a vacuum, I don't see a major problem here. The Kings have two high usage guys in the starting line-up, with three below-average usage guys complimenting them. The second unit similarly has two volume scorers in Marcus Thornton and Isaiah. The biggest issue I see is that James Johnson and Travis Outlaw need someone, anyone, to explain to them to stop thinking they are god's gift to offense. This is particularly apparent when you see each player's shooting percentages right next to their usage.

But the point of this exercise is not to analyze in a vacuum. Let's look at some other teams. Since it would be excessive to review every team, I'll pick out a few that I find interesting. Again, I know this is not the most scientific approach. This is simply for the sake of discussion. Please feel free to go ahead and skip to the comments and complain.

Let's take a look at the Miami Heat:

Player Name Tm GP Min USG
LeBron James MIA 11 37 29.84
Dwyane Wade MIA 8 33 26.46
Chris Bosh MIA 11 33 25.04
Rashard Lewis MIA 11 16 19.24
Norris Cole MIA 10 20 18.27
Ray Allen MIA 11 27 17.76

Not very surprising, is it? The Big 3 gets the most usage, followed by the team's point guard and perimeter shooters. This chart makes complete sense within the context of the Miami offense. These players all score extremely well (outside of Norris Cole, who has an incredibly high turnover rate early in the season that I suspect is inflating his usage rate). The Heat are actually far more concentrated than the Kings in terms of which players get high usage.

Next, the surprising New York Knicks:

Player Name Tm GP Min USG
Carmelo Anthony NYK 7 37 31.73
Raymond Felton NYK 7 33 26.81
Rasheed Wallace NYK 7 13 25.1
J.R. Smith NYK 7 34 21.66
Ronnie Brewer NYK 7 25 15.69

This is a rather funny chart, to me at least. Carmelo is the team's best player, so it's no surprise that he gets the highest usage. Felton, all jokes aside, has been playing better this season. Rasheed and J.R. are all the lols, but not exactly surprising. Ronnie Brewer being there is kind of weird. (Please note, I've now given up all pretense of attempting scientific analysis. You know where to skip to.)

Again, though, interesting to notice how few players on the Knicks have notable usage rates.

Next, let's look at the team the Kings just beat, the Lakers. This is mostly just so I can say once again that the Kings beat the Lakers on Wednesday. It was neat.

Player Name Tm GP Min USG
Kobe Bryant LAL 9 36 29.36
Dwight Howard LAL 9 35 24.58
Jordan Hill LAL 9 17 22.11
Jodie Meeks LAL 7 10 20.59
Devin Ebanks LAL 4 11 19.75
Pau Gasol LAL 9 37 19.4
Metta World Peace LAL 9 35 18.08
Darius Morris LAL 7 20 17.14

This is a little more interesting. No surprise that Kobe Bryant and Dwight top the list. But Jordan Hill at number 3? Interesting. If anything, I think this chart shows just how dramatically the Lakers are a tale of two rosters, the starters and the bench. Within the starting line-up, the ball generally flows to Kobe or Dwight, the team's two best players. Gasol and Metta are right around league-average for usage. Not excessive, but not lost either. Steve Blake doesn't even register based on my criteria, but I'd expect that trend to change when Steve Nash returns to the line-up. Meanwhile, L.A.'s bench is not very good and is comprised of guys who shoot a lot regardless of that strategy's success.

Let's stay in the Pacific and check out our NorCal neighbors, the Warriors:

Player Name Tm GP Min USG
Stephen Curry GSW 9 36 25.02
Klay Thompson GSW 9 34 24.23
Carl Landry GSW 9 27 23.44
David Lee GSW 9 37 21.56
Harrison Barnes GSW 9 27 17.86
Andrew Bogut GSW 4 18 15.79
Jarrett Jack GSW 9 25 15.65
Richard Jefferson GSW 9 17 15.48

The distribution of the Warriors' usage is interesting. They have exactly 4 players who have usage rates above league average. Everyone else is below, but clustered in a group.

When I think of the Warriors, I think of the Bucks, so I'll look at them next:

Player Name Tm GP Min USG TS%
Monta Ellis MIL 8 35 29.32 48.8
John Henson MIL 3 11 24.27 44.8
Brandon Jennings MIL 8 36 22.88 54
Beno Udrih MIL 7 18 21.36 55.7
Marquis Daniels MIL 7 14 20.45 46.7
Ersan Ilyasova MIL 8 24 18.94 35.6
Tobias Harris MIL 8 19 17.65 67.3
Mike Dunleavy MIL 8 27 17.32 63.2
Larry Sanders MIL 8 25 16.66 61.8
Samuel Dalembert MIL 8 17 16.51 72.2

Let's look past John Henson for a moment. When the entire league is still in small sample size territory, Henson stands out as a particularly small sample size having appeared in only 3 games. Aside from Henson, we see the exact thing that many people say about the Kings: high usage volume scorers. Ellis and Jennings lead the team in usage, to the surprise of exactly nobody. They're followed by Beno and Marquis freaking Daniels. Funny thing, though, the Bucks are currently 6-4 and sit atop the Central Division.

One last team I wanted to look at is the upstart Bobcats. Charlotte is suddenly not-terrible, and a fun team to boot. Let's see what their stats looks like:

Player Name Tm GP Min USG
Ramon Sessions CHA 8 27 27.88
Ben Gordon CHA 6 25 26.38
Kemba Walker CHA 8 37 24.87
Gerald Henderson CHA 2 28 23.07
Tyrus Thomas CHA 8 18 20.91
Michael Kidd.Gilchrist CHA 8 27 19.44
Byron Mullens CHA 8 32 19.33
Reggie Williams CHA 8 11 16.93
Jeffery Taylor CHA 7 19 15.37

So the Charlotte Bobcats are led in usage by 4 guards. Gordon and Walker in particular are volume scorers. Charlotte is also 6-4, tied for second in the Southeast. Charlotte won 7 games last season. Just throwing it out there.

Conclusion

What can we take from all of this completely unscientific review? I think it's obvious. The problem isn't the usage. The Kings best players have the highest usage rates. This is completely normal. And we've looked at several other teams where the best players are volume scorers. The NBA is full of guys who take a lot of shots to get a lot of points. The successful teams generally have some lower usage guys who can efficiently contribute, like a Pau Gasol.

So the problem with the Kings isn't that we have a lot of high-usage volume scorers. No, the problem is that our high-usage volume scorers aren't very good. Like I said, I'm scientific. We have guys who can't score in a variety of ways, and guys who duplicate styles. That's a problem. The usage isn't. We have guys in the starting line-up who can contribute well even without high usage, like JT. But he's not good enough to make up for the other issues. The talent as a whole is lacking.

There are plenty of things wrong with the Kings roster construction. Usage rate isn't one of them. Let's retire the trope.

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