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Battle of the Backups: Frank Mason vs Yogi Ferrell

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Who will snag the minutes behind De’Aaron Fox?

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The Kings have made several changes to their roster over the past 45 days. Vince Carter, Garrett Temple, JaKarr Sampson, Nigel Hayes, Bruno Caboclo, and our sweet prince, Jack Cooley, are all off of the depth chart, with Marvin Bagley, Nemanja Bjelica, Yogi Ferrell, Deyonta Davis, Ben McLemore, and Wenyen Gabriel taking their places, reforming the puzzle that is the Kings’ roster.

Outside of Marvin Bagley, these additions are by no means guaranteed playing time, and in some cases, a place on the depth chart. Each of these players will have to outduel at least one other fellow King to find their way to the floor, a task that seems well-fitted to some and near impossible for others.

The first battle for playing time arises between Frank Mason and Yogi Ferrell, two competitors who have quite a bit in common. Both players stayed all four years at well-known basketball programs, with Ferrell balling out as a Hoosier and Mason leading the Jayhawks, while neither player was taken in the first round despite their collegiate accomplishments. Yogi went undrafted, playing with the Nets for 10 games in his rookie season before finding his spot on the Mavericks, and Mason was drafted in the second round last year, recording several DNP-CDs prior to working his way into Dave Joerger’s rotations. A similar style of play also links the two guards, as they are both prone to scoring the ball before passing, although Frank and Ferrell have also demonstrated the ability to move the rock as well.

The comparability of their individual games makes an interesting study to see who will find themselves subbing in for De’Aaron Fox, and who will be donning warm-ups most evenings.

Scoring

Ferrell exploded onto the scene two seasons ago due to his penchant for putting the ball in the bucket. In a February contest against the Portland Trailblazers, he erupted for 32 points and 5 assists, while knocking down an otherworldly 9 out of 11 attempts from beyond the arc. The unheralded rookie secured his spot in the rotation with that performance, and averaged 11 points and 4 assists on 42% three-point shooting from that point on, evolving into a gem for Rick Carlisle.

While Mason didn’t have any contribution of that caliber in his first pro season, he still demonstrated a habit for putting the team on his shoulders, for better or for worse, and attacking the hoop with ferocity. He recorded 7.9 points per game last year, with that number jumping to 15.1 on a per-36 basis, higher than Ferrell’s 13.2.

Although Frank wins the battle of comparative minutes, Ferrell was the much more efficient getter of buckets. From beyond the arc, Yogi was more slightly more accurate, nailing 37% of his long-balls compared to 36% for Mason, but the battle of efficiency goes much farther than that, as Ferrell also shot three-pointers much more frequently, recording a three-point rate of 49%, an aggressiveness the Kings desperately need, while Frank’s shot selection featured three-pointers just 22% of the time.

A comparison of their shot charts demonstrates that Ferrell was not just a better shooter from inside the arc; he was a much savvier one as well.

*Red areas indicate 10% or worse than league average. Yellow areas indicate league average. Green areas indicate 10% or better than league average.

At its simplest, the graphic shows fewer red areas for Yogi (3) than Mason (6). The numbers from each position also reveal the ineffective and too frequent nature of Frank’s drives last season. While both players attempted nearly the exact same number of shots at the rim, Ferrell more than doubled Mason’s minutes last season. Putting those attempts into another context, Yogi averaged 2.2 shots at the rim per-36 minutes last season; Mason averaged 5.3 using that same ratio. And while both players were as accurate as a blindfolded bowler when they went among the trees in the paint, Ferrell still managed to shoot almost 10% better from that area than Mason. Yogi was bad; Frank had the third-worst percentage out of 338 players.

The midrange was also heavily in Ferrell’s favor, both in terms of success rate and frequency of attempts. He sunk 48% of his shots from that range, ranking 22nd overall in the league and within the 90th percentile. Conversely, Mason’s accuracy was only 36%, in the 22nd percentile among qualified players. And despite that significant gap in capability, Mason still outpaced his counterpart in attempts per-36 minutes, averaging 3.4 to Ferrell’s 2.7. While Yogi was able to knock down the shot with regularity, he still was restrained enough to try and score from more efficient areas of the floor.

Not only was Yogi Ferrell a better shooter from deep, from the midrange, and in the paint than Mason, but he also possessed a much better understanding of his offensive strengths and weaknesses than Frank. He was more accurate, more efficient, and more impactful than his first year counterpart.

Running the Offense

At first glance, Mason dominates Ferrell in every single passing-related category, from passes made per game to assist percentages and teammate success rate. His numbers are reflective of a traditional point guard, while Yogi’s look more like those of a guard who focused solely on scoring:

Passing Numbers

Player Pass/36 Min Ast/36 Min AST% Pass to AST%
Player Pass/36 Min Ast/36 Min AST% Pass to AST%
Mason 61.8 5.4 22.70% 10.10%
Ferrell 43.9 3.9 13.50% 8.90%

Those stats while accurate, fail to portray the differences between the Mavericks’ and Kings’ offensive systems. Dallas operates out of a dual point guard set, a strategy that resulted in Yogi playing off of the ball the majority of the time last season. He shared the floor with Dennis Smith Jr. 40% of the time and J.J. Barea 35% of the time. Basketball-reference lists him at the shooting guard position 63% of the time last season, compared to just 22% of his minutes coming as the lead guard. Meanwhile, Frank Mason was on the court with De’Aaron Fox 7% of the time and Geroge Hill 8% of the time. He was slotted at point guard for 984 out of his 984 minutes last season. Frank was utilized as a full-time ball-handler, while Ferrell was more of a combo guard.

Although Yogi’s ability to play off of the ball will provide some versatility for the Kings, he will be slotted in as a point guard for the vast majority of his time on the court. Using the data from his 2017 season, a year in which played point guard for the entire year, helps to provide comparative numbers in the proper context:

Passing Numbers Revisited

Player Pass/36 Min Ast/36 Min AST% Pass to AST%
Player Pass/36 Min Ast/36 Min AST% Pass to AST%
Mason 61.8 5.4 22.70% 10.10%
Ferrell 54.4 4.6 24.10% 10.60%

Neither player appeared as the second coming of Steve Nash when running the offense for their respective teams, as they both landed in the 50th percentile among guards in adjusted assist to pass percentage, falling in the range of players like Raul Neto, Jameer Nelson, and Michael Carter-Williams. They were each fairly careful with the ball, with Mason landing in the 67th percentile with a 2.27 assist to turnover ratio, and Ferrell besting that with a 2.46 assist to turnover ratio, pushing him into the 76th percentile among guards.

Turning away from raw passing numbers and toward individual offensive sets reveals how often each player ran a particular play, and how well they executed that strategy. In short, Ferrell bested Mason in every category:

Pick & Roll

Player Frequency PPP eFG% Score % Percentile
Player Frequency PPP eFG% Score % Percentile
Ferrell 30.2% 0.91 47.1% 42.2% 76th
Mason 39.6% 0.8 41.3% 37.9% 49th

Spot Up

Player Frequency PPP eFG% Score % Percentile
Player Frequency PPP eFG% Score % Percentile
Ferrell 27.20% 1.07 56.10% 40.50% 71st
Mason 12.80% 0.76 37% 33.30% 18th

Transition

Player Frequency PPP eFG% Score % Percentile
Player Frequency PPP eFG% Score % Percentile
Ferrell 13.50% 0.93 48.40% 38.30% 21st
Mason 20.70% 0.92 45.40% 43.10% 18th

Dribble Hand Off

Player Frequency PPP eFG% Score % Percentile
Player Frequency PPP eFG% Score % Percentile
Ferrell 6.20% 1.06 55.30% 45.30% 77nd
Mason 6.70% 1.03 58.30% 42.40% 73rd

Isolation

Player Frequency PPP eFG% Score % Percentile
Player Frequency PPP eFG% Score % Percentile
Ferrell 6.10% 0.87 42.20% 40.40% 54th
Mason 10% 0.82 38.5% 42.9% 42nd

Last season, both players demonstrated the ability to run the offense, while their individual preferences shied toward scoring rather than sharing. Frank put up slightly better passing numbers, but Yogi’s domination of the individual play sets indicates a player more primed to running the offense behind De’Aaron Fox.

Defense

The initial study of both players’ defensive numbers indicates plus-defenders who should be lauded for their contributions on that end of the floor. Last season, the Mavericks defensive rating plummeted from 112.3 to 103.8 when Ferrell stepped onto the floor, a team-leading differential of 8.5. Similarly, Mason was second-best on the Kings in defensive rating differential, as Sacramento dropped from 111.6 to 106.5 when Frank was on the court, a change of 4.8.

Although impressive at first, pairing those statistics with positional context and the eye-test severely dampens the excitement that first arises. The first consideration is the level of defender each player was replacing. Both backups were taking over for a pair of oft-played 19-year old rookies who were simply trying to figure out how to run an NBA offense, much less make an impact on the defensive end of the floor. De’Aaron Fox, was a complete negative on defense, as the Kings’ rating jumped from 107.4 with him on the bench to 113.0 when he was in the game, the third-worst mark among rotational players. Likewise for the Mavericks, Dennis Smith Jr. helped his team to a defensive rating of 114.5 when he was on the floor, with that number dropping to 107.2 when he donned warm-ups. Both players should be granted some credit for outplaying their starting counterparts on defense, but neither was a particularly capable defender overall.

Likely due to their vertically challenged nature, Mason and Ferrell struggled to shut down opposing shooters. Both players held an average defensive field goal percentage (the difference between a shooter’s average field goal percentage, and his field goal percentage when guarded by the individual player), when defending the three-point line, but as they moved closer to the rim their lack of size was exposed at a much higher level

Defensive FG% Differential

Player < 6 Feet < 10 Feet > 15 Feet 3P FG% Overall FG%
Player < 6 Feet < 10 Feet > 15 Feet 3P FG% Overall FG%
Ferrell +13.8% +11.5% +1.9% +0.6% +4.8%
Mason +4.5% +6.5% +1.5% -0.8% +0.9%

Watching tape of both guards reveals two vastly different defensive playing styles as well: each having their own strengths and weaknesses. Ferrell utilizes a wide stance and depends on his quickness to get around defenders, a habit that often allows him to be screened out of defensive possessions. Last season, he was ineffective when guarding the pick-and-roll, allowing opposing offenses to score 0.95 points per possession, sliding him down to the 21st percentile among defenders. That dependence on his quick-footed nature hurts him when taking on ball-handlers, but is a boon to his recovery when defending shooters. Yogi was able to hold spot-up shooters to 1.02 points per possession and 41% shooting from the floor, ranking him in the 50th percentile in the league.

Mason’s offensive style of play is extremely similar to Ferrell’s, but his defensive tendencies and areas of effectiveness are quite different. Instead of giving ball-handlers space to operate, Frank uses his bulldog build to get up in their chest and pressure the ball. That physicality, while more successful than Yogi’s approach, was still a below-average 0.89 points per possession, in the 36th percentile. Whereas his on-ball defense was better than Ferrell’s, Mason’s ability to stop opposing shooters was almost non-existent. His tendency to body up every defender allowed shooters to rise above him and knock down shots with ease, scoring 1.2 points per possession, a mark in just the 10th percentile.

It can be pretty readily assumed that granting minutes to either Frank Mason or Yogi Ferrell isn’t done to generate positive defensive possessions. Each player has areas that they’re better or worse in, but neither is going to be in consideration for All-Defense awards anytime in their careers.

When the Kings signed Yogi Ferrell, they immediately created a much-needed battle for the second rotation point guard position. Both players will have an equal opportunity to snag those minutes during training camp and at the start of the season, but the newest member of the team will likely win that battle. While Mason possessed slightly better passing numbers and won some minor skirmishes on defense, Ferrell’s domination in his efficiency should grant him the opportunity to backup De’Aaron Fox on a nightly basis.