CLEMSON — Reading from a highlighted magazine article, Ron Bradley recites a quote from Houston Rockets G.M. Daryl Morey, which has resonated with the Clemson assistant coach: "Someone created the box score and he should be shot."
The box score you read in the newspaper is of no importance to the Clemson coaching staff, Bradley says.
To the Tigers, the box score rewards selfishness and masks inefficiency. A player's 30-point performance will be glamorized, but if the player has taken 30 shots to record those points, it was inefficient play.
Like many college teams, Clemson's labor force includes student workers and graduate assistants given the specific tasks of tracking plus/minus and the team's effort chart. The staff also uses measures like true-shooting percentage and points per shot. These are the metrics the Clemson staff uses to evaluate players.
At halftime of each game, including Clemson's first-round ACC Tournament game against Georgia Tech at 2:30 p.m. today in Atlanta, Oliver Purnell will ask Clemson graduate assistant Adam Gordon for one statistical reading: the team's first-half, plus-minus readings.
"I think everyone's style is a little different, ours is a little different than most you see," Purnell said. "In evaluating we have developed certain stat charts and analysis of how effective we are being, how effective individuals are being in terms or our goals: pressure defense and running game.
"We analyze those, where we are struggling, what combination of players are playing the best."
Purnell asks for the plus-minus as it answers a coach's most important question: who is on the court when the team was most productive.
For each individual player, the change in score margin when the player enters and leaves a game is recorded. If Trevor Booker has a plus-5 first half, the number means the Tigers outscored the opposition by five points during Booker's time on the court. A minus-2 shows that the opposition outscored Clemson by two points when a particular player was on the court.
It is not surprising to find that through 26 games, Booker led the team in plus-minus rating with a plus-9.9 average. He is the team's leading rebounder and scorer. He also leads the ACC in John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating.
However, it may surprise you to learn that Demontez Stitt, who averages below double figures in scoring, is second on the team with a plus-8.3 average. K.C. Rivers was a close third at plus-8.2 per game.
Gordon said when the media peppered Stitt with questions regarding his scoring woes, at the same time coaches were praising Stitt for his play: charges drawn, passes deflected, leading to an overall positive production, which went unrecorded in box scores.
Plus-minus is also why David Potter (plus-6.0) often receives crunch-time minutes over Raymond Sykes (plus-3.4) or Jerai Grant (plus-5.1).
But mastering numbers alone can't make you a valuable basketball player, Bradley says. The positive statistical measures are the product of good play, good coaching.
"There is a reason behind the numbers," Bradley says of player who record high plus-minus, "it's because he knows how to play the game ... that's what leads to the numbers."
While not a perfect correlation, the plus-minus echoes some of what the effort chart does: quantifying the seemingly undefined or under-appreciated.
The staff rewards players a point for back tips, deflections, ball pressures, forcing a jump ball, transitions stick backs. Players lose points for allowing a middle drive or not contesting a shot.
The team's top three plus-minus players are also its effort chart leaders: Rivers, Booker and Stitt.
The availability and depth of non-traditional statistics are growing and becoming more available to Clemson and fellow ACC teams.
Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio is one of the league's loudest advocates for advanced statistical metrics, a frequent visitor to kenpom.com — the Web site of college basketball's preeminent numbers wizard Ken Pomeroy.
"We really pour over those statistics," Gaudio said.
The Houston Rockets earned recent publicity via the New York Times — the article Bradley was reading — with their advanced work in statistical analysis. And they are not alone in the NBA.
A friend of Bradley's, a front office member of the Atlanta Hawks, scouted a Clemson game earlier this season and mentioned how the Hawks cannot play a particular player late in games because he shoots 11 percent during the final three minutes.
While, NBA teams have more resources that college teams to devote to analysis, Bradley says the idea that a statistical "revolution" is a new idea is a misnomer: for example he cited how he was working on individual five-man unit production as 24-year-old breaking into the coaching ranks.
Now technology and Internet have allowed for numbers and ideas to be circulated.
But Bradley cautions against the idea that understanding a few numbers will allow anyone to fully understand the game. He believes "reducing" the game to a number like the PER rating is foolhardy. The game, he says, is too complex, has too many variables, to simplify.
"There is so much involved,'' Bradley said. "It like a stereogram. It's kind of like these little tiny dots but know one knows the whole big picture.
"But there is a reason behind the numbers."
Definitions from basketball reference:
True Shooting Percentage: the formula is PTS / (2 * (FGA + 0.44 * FTA). True shooting percentage is a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.
ACC's top-five True Shooting leaders
1. Ty Lawson, North Carolina (.66)
2. Jeff Teague, Wake Forest (.63)
3. Danny Green, North Carolina (.63)
4. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina (.62)
5. Trevor Booker, Clemson (.62)
Player Efficiency Rating (available since the 1951-52 season): PER is a rating developed by ESPN.com columnist John Hollinger. In Hollinger's words, ``The PER sums up all a player's positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player's performance.''
ACC's top-five PER leaders:
1. Trevor Booker, Clemson (30.5 PER)
2. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina (30.3)
3. Ty Lawson, North Carolina (29.2)
4. Danny Green, North Carolina (26.6)
5. Gerald Henderson, Duke (25.5)