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2006 In Review: Mike Bibby

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(Note: This is the first in a series of season retrospectives. They will be posted as they are finished. First up: the Bibbilicious Bibbinator.)

When amateur APBRmetricians are putting Mike Bibby's career on a scale in five years, and when TV analysts make the inevitable comparisons to Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis, remember 2005-06.

This was the year Mike Bibby became a point guard in name only.

The highest scoring average of his career? Check. The highest usage rate of his career? Check. Top five in the league in three-pointers taken and made? Check. Lowest assist rate of his career? Check. Lowest rates for steals and rebounds in his career? Check.

If it wasn't increasingly clear before, it is now: Mike Bibby is a scorer.

  • He finally got over 20 points per game - a goal he made rather well-known in the media. He ended the season at 21.1 points per game, a full 1.5 points higher than his 2005 season.
  • He finished 4th in both three-pointers made and attempted. Only Ray Allen (shooting guard), Gilbert Arenas (point guard), and Kobe Bryant (shooting guard) took more. Only Allen, Arenas, and Raja Bell (shooting guard) made more. (It's worth noting in fairness though that among players with at least 1,000 minutes played, Bibby is 22nd in three-pointers per minute and 20th in three-point attempts per minute. So there roughly 19 rotation players that chucked up the three-ball more frequently than Mike. And yes, Eddie House is #1 on this list.)
  • He had the highest usage rate of his career, and the highest by far on the Kings team. Usage rate measures the percentage of team offensive possessions a player effectively ends by shooting, assisting, getting sent to the line or turning it over while he's on the floor. It's not a good/bad stat like so many others - it's an adjective stat. If every player on a team was equally unselfish and used an equal amount of possessions, everyone would have usage rates of 20. So if I tell you one NBA player has a usage of 35.2, you can probably guess that it's either Allen Iverson or Kobe Bryant. (This season, it happens to be Kobe Bryant.) Mike Bibby ends up at #31 on the highest usage rate list this season, behind a lot of point guards, shooting guards and a handful of big men. (Bibby is surprisingly ahead of both Steve Nash and Kevin Garnett, though.)
  • His assist rate was the lowest it's ever been. Assist rate measures the percent of possessions a player gets an assist on, taking out those possessions when a player shoots or turns it over or gets to the line. Bibby's has been betwen 22 and 25 since coming to Sacramento (it was in the 30s in Vancouver). It was 20.2 this season. A lot of that could be attributed the system - the Kings overall saw their assisted baskets percentage decrease dramatically. (According to 82games, it was 62 percent this season, down from 69 percent just two seasons ago.) Also, Brad Miller went out and had the best assisting season of his career (and possibly by any modern center). But those factors only account for so much - as shooting attempts rise, assists invariably drop.
So we know Mike Bibby shifted his focus to scoring, even beyond what he'd done in the several few seasons. So how did the increase in volume affect the quality?

Well, every analyst on the planet can look at the year-end statistics and see Bibby had his worst field goal percentage since he was a rookie (he pulled a 43.2 in 2006, and a 43.0 in 1999).

But straight FG% is flawed on so many levels, it's disingenuous to just point at that and run.

(Okay, here is the reason FG% is so flawed: It doesn't take three-pointers into account. Guy A takes six two-pointers and hits three. He shot 50 percent and scored six points. Guy B takes six three-pointers and hits three. He shot 50 percent and scores nine points. Tell me which one shot better. With FG%, you can't.)

Obviously, Mike took a lot more three-pointers this season than ever before (25 percent more than his previous high, actually). So it makes sense that his overall FG% will drop - the degree of difficulty for his shots is increasing, along with the reward for those shots.

So let's look at effective field goal percentage, calculated by ((three-pointers made * 0.5 + total field goals made) / total field goal attempts). This gives credit for the extra point you get from three-pointers.

Well, of course Mike had a better season when looking at it the fair way - his eFG of 50.1% was the third-highest of his career. Those three-balls paid off. His 2006 eFG was markedly better than his 2005 figure (49.5%), despite Bibby's regular old crappy FG% having fallen off significantly.

(So when Mark Kreidler yaps about Bibby having his worst season as a King, you point him here, OK?)

Mike's three-point percentage of 38.6% was the third-best of his career as well. His free-throwing shooting improved as well, as it got closer to 2002-03 levels (when it was among the best in the league).

How well did Bibby draw fouls this season? Not as well as in 2005, but still good for second-best in his career. There were certainly times this season we wish he would've went to the rack more, to open up the perimeter game for both he and Brad. But he still ended up averaging almost 5 free throw attempts per game, a good amount for a shooting-based scoring point guard. (Gilly, who seems similar but better to Bibby at this point, averaged a ridiculous 10 free throw attempts per game this year. Ridiculous. Anyways, this is just to show that it wouldn't be insane to ask for 7 FTAs per game from Bibby.)

But seasons aren't best described in year-end statistics, because seasons are made up of games.

The bars on this graph show Game Scores for each individual game of the season. The red line depicts the five-game average for the Game Scores, acting as a sort of trendline for Bibby's performance. Game Scores should be thought of as a measure of game-by-game PER - with PER being John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating. More info on Game Scores should be found at lowpost.net, where Jason Gurney has done a bit of work with extreme Game Scores.

Anyways, in short form: 15 is average, 20 is above-average/All-Star level, 25 is solid All-Star/MVP candidate and 30 is Jordanesque. (Kobe and Dirk tied for the season lead in PER with 28.4.)

Game Scores are obviously a bit more volatile - players like Rashard Lewis and Mike Bibby can exceed 30 now and then without a jaw-dropping effort, thanks to the formula. Great players, Bibby included, can also get some really poor Game Scores, even below zero.

The season started horribly for Bibby, as he struggled to get things right. After that, for the most part, Bibby stayed above-average, save four distinct dips in performance. The first came in the December swoon that had everyone playing poorly. The second was a very brief dip right before the trade because of a couple of poor outings. The third was the longest and most troubling, encompassing the period around the All-Star break as the team was in a sort of flux. The fourth was also brief, after a big rebound.

Bibby shows a pattern of having a couple of great games and a couple of horrible games mixed in with lots of fair to good games. It seems like every dozen games, he'll go off a couple times. And every dozen games, he'll suck for a few games. It's real volatile.

Still, it's hard to argue with a palyer than can throw out 40-point games and 30+ Game Scores a few times a season. You might hope for more consistency at this point in his career (this should be his peak, as he turns 28 on Saturday). But again, the heights are good enough to make up for the relative instability.

We'd love to talk about MB10's defense this season, but:

  1. There isn't a lot of great data on defense.
  2. This thing is already way too f*cking long.
So, with that, tune in next time for Brad Miller's season in review. (We promise not to be such a Pollyanna.)