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Ben Gordon and the Diawara Line

After I wrote Ben Gordon compared favorably to Vinnie Johnson, a friend of mine GChatted me with gripes. He said I was overreacting to one game (fair), the Pistons overpaid for Gordon (maybe) and Gordon is too inconsistent (let’s see).

The argument boils down to this: Although his season numbers are impressive, Gordon has too many games where he shoots poorly. Because he doesn’t do much more than score, winning those games is extremely difficult.

My friend set the cutoff at 35-percent shooting. But I didn’t think that was fair. Gordon makes his 3-pointers and free throws. Going straight my field-goal percentage sells Gordon short. So I wanted to see what an equivalent true-shooting percentage is to a field-goal percentage of 35.

It didn’t take long. The year before, Yakhouba Diawara shot exactly 35 percent from the field. Thankfully for my research, he shot some 3-pointers, too. His true-shooting percentage was .473.

In what I’ve dubbed the Diawara Line (modeled after baseball’s Mendoza Line), I’ve created a cutoff for individual-game game performance. After rounding, I set the The Diawara Line at .470.


In the last two seasons, there have been 46 individual 20-points-per-game seasons, including Gordon in 2008-09. As someone who believes Gordon can become one of the league’s top scorers, I’m considering 20-point-per-game scorers Gordon’s peers.

Diawara Line percentage

Let’s start with my friends first assertion: Gordon has too many poor shooting nights.

Of those 46 players in this sample, they surpassed the Diawara Line in 76.9 percent of their games.

In 2008-09, Gordon surpassed the Diawara line in 73.2 percent of his games, which ranks 30th.

(Click to see full size)

That’s certainly not great, but about a third of the sample did worse. As I wrote in Gordon’s The Big Question, I’d like to see him above the Diawara Line in 79 percent of his game, which would have ranked him 20th.

Gordon is streakier than the average 20-point-per-game scorer in the last two years, but he’s far from the most inconsistent.

Diawara Line effect

Now, let’s look at my friend’s second assertion: Gordon doesn’t do enough to help his team win when he doesn’t shoot well.

When those 46 players shot above the Diawara Line, their teams won 57.4 of their games.

When they shot below the Diawara line, their teams won 37.1 percent of their games – a drop of of 20.3 percentage points.

The Bulls won 53.3 percent of their games when Gordon surpassed the Diawara Line.

They won 40.9 percent of their games when he shot below the Diawara Line – a drop of 12.4 percentage points.

That’s the 19th-smallest dip among the sample, better than average.

(Click to see full size)

So, the Bulls handled Gordon’s poor-shooting games better than would be expected.

Does Gordon get shortchanged for his contributions besides scoring? Maybe. I think he’s a better defender than he’s credited for, but his passing and rebounding are probably accurately rated.

So, I don’t think that’s it (although, I’ll certainly be watching closer to see if Gordon does, in fact, do more than score). I think the real answer is offensive rebounding.

The Bulls ranked sixth in offensive rounding in 2008-09. So, Gordon’s misses weren’t as crippling. There was a well-above-average chance the Bulls would get a second shot when Gordon missed.

Outlook for this year

This is why the loss of Jonas Jerebko is so huge. Aided by his 2.4 offensive rebounds per game last year, the Pistons ranked second in offensive-rebounding percentage.

Without Jerebko, Gordon’s misses will be costlier this year. I don’t expect Austin Daye to crash the offensive glass as effectively.

The simple answer is Gordon needs to play better than he did in his final season with the Bulls. He needs to shoot a little better. He needs to focus every night. He can’t allow a poor start to rattle him. (The flip side of that might mean not allowing a strong start to energize him too much, but I can handle that if it goes both ways.)

I still think Gordon can become one of the league’s top scorers. Proving he can surpass the Diawara Line in a higher percentage of his games would be a key way to do it.


  • Oct 25, 20109:39 pm
    by Laser


    we can sit and crunch numbers and spend hours doing researching and building graphs, but can’t you just look at the roster and figure out he’s just not going to be productive? certainly not in line with his contract.
    even if austin daye is now a permanent power forward (somehow), we’re still looking at the same backcourt (where a healthy team had gordon managing about 18 minutes and 9 shots on a good night) plus t-mac. he’ll never be the first option on offense, probably more like third. far be it from me to say you’re wasting your time, but there are so many intangibles that work against him on this particular team that he can’t be treated as more than a role player who’ll explode for a bunch of points in a small handful of games. throw rip hamilton or rodney stuckey in a wood chipper and i’ll start analyzing his place on the team and what should be expected.

  • Oct 25, 20109:40 pm
    by Laser


    i mean, call me old fashioned…

  • Oct 25, 201010:36 pm
    by nuetes


    Well then call me new fashioned…or something. I’m a sucker for stats. This is a fancy little metric. It correlates to wins and losses, however not every 20 ppg scorer takes the same percentage of their team’s shots. As it shows when Lebron or Durant have bad shooting nights a loss is a lot more likely than when Gordon or say Paul Pierce have a bad shooting night, because Lebron and Durant account for such a large portion of their team’s attempts. The more shots a player wastes the worse off the team is going to be. It’s a wasted possession.
    Also the 35% cut off line is pretty low. That’s just a little above Hollinger’s PER cutoff, and his stat is all messed up. If a team shot 35% for a game their chances of winning that game would be next to nothing. The league’s worst shooting team last season was New Jersey, and they shot 42.9%, and won a whopping 12 games. The cutoff should be something like 44%, any player shooting above that is helping the team win and any player shooting below it is helping the team lose, for that specific game – if in fact their only contribution is scoring.
    I’m with Laser I think someone has to get booted off this team, and Gordon is probably the easiest guy to boot. Rip is going to be difficult to trade. There isn’t much of a mystery here. Gordon, Rip, and CV are signed through 2013. They can’t all stay on the team until then. Well, I suppose they could, but if they did Dumars would be long gone by that time. Somebody has to go, and you can’t wait 2 more seasons before you can finally buy out Rip or deal him. Watching Gordon in the Preseason was pretty tough. I have no doubt he could get 20 a night, but I do doubt whether him doing so is beneficial to the team.

  • Oct 25, 201010:58 pm
    by koz


    There should be a “Diarrhea” line for Ben Gordon and his game.

  • Oct 26, 20108:23 am
    by Patrick Hayes


    What a fantastic blog you would run.
    “Everything is terrible. How do I know? I watch the games. The end.”

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ty Vannih, PistonPowered Feed. PistonPowered Feed said: Ben Gordon and the Diawara Line: After I wrote Ben Gordon compared favorably to Vinnie Johnson, a friend of mine G… http://bit.ly/9yo2oU [...]

  • Oct 26, 201011:48 am
    by Laser


    @hayes: do you honestly think dissecting all these numbers and making graphs and sh*t is a productive exercise when it comes to analyzing the efficiency of a bench guard in the most overcrowded backcourt in league history?
    i wasn’t trying to be smug, but if it looks like a duck and smells like a duck and quacks like a duck, you don’t need to break it down to the cellular level and make a bunch of graphs and… ok this comparison isn’t really working. but it’s a waste of time to analyze what ben gordon needs to do to be productive. what he needs to do is push rip or stuckey off a cliff. or demand a trade.

  • Oct 26, 201012:21 pm
    by Patrick Hayes


    “i wasn’t trying to be smug”
    Haha. That’s pretty hard to believe.
    I understand what you are (always) saying. Doesn’t change the fact that the roster is set for now. Still gonna write about it. I don’t think any of this is “productive exercise” — writing/commenting about a sports team all day? — but the post is interesting for some people.

  • Oct 26, 20101:02 pm
    by nuetes


    See I think statistical analysis can be very valuable. I wouldn’t say all fans, but most fans can’t detect scorers flaws using the eye test. Scoring is all that matters to a lot of fans. This particular Diawara line gimmick is trying to show how successful the team is when Gordon shoots well (well being completely subjective). Sorta. The stat is based solely on scoring, or shooting percentage. No other statistical categories are being measured. Given that scoring is Gordon’s main skill, or one might argue only skill, it could be a valuable metric. 35% is way too low to set the bar imo.

    If a players only skill is scoring he has to be expected to do it well since he’s not helping in any other way. 35% is not well. Hollinger’s cut off is 30%. That’s weak. Any player shooting above 30%, which every player does, can inflate their PER by taking more shots, making scorers (shooters) look better than players that play defense, rebound, block shots, create turnovers, etc. That’s why Stuckey has a decent looking PER. And I assume Gordon would as well. It’s why CV led the Pistons in PER last season. According to Hollinger then CV was our best player last season. Does that make sense?

    CV being rated our team’s best player by a widely used stat just feeds Laser’s argument. Nobody, and I mean nobody, would have considered CV to be the team’s best player last season. But, but, but Hollingers says so!!! And he invented PER! And everyone uses it!!! Everyone! Stats are only good if the model is good. You can’t produce an epic fail like that and have a good model.
    So while I love stats, it doesn’t take a genius to see that Gordon is not that valuable.

  • Oct 26, 20103:01 pm
    by Alan


    Amazing that you took the time to put this into graphs and charts.  I think fans are growing more and more interested in articles like this and only a handful of writers take the time to put them together.  I think this will separate Pistonpowered.com from the pack.  Now, I’m really not smart enough to understand this so I’ll find someone to explain it to me. 

    I know this, when the game is close, Ben Gordon can be the difference-maker.  He can single handedly keep a team in a game and he can consistently put teams away down the stretch.  In fact, the only players that put teams away more consistently are all superstars.  It takes a team to put Gordon in a position to close-out games and I think we all agree that Detroit isn’t there yet. 

    Ben Gordon has value.  Critics can dog him all they won’t but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a 20-point scorer in a league that only offers 15 of them.

  • Oct 26, 20103:34 pm
    by Patrick Hayes



    This was actaully Dan Feldman’s post, but things for the compliments.

  • Oct 26, 20103:37 pm
    by nuetes


    @Alan -

    Actually this is the kind of stuff that drew me to this site in the first place. Seems like Feldman used to throw graphs and provide statistical analysis all the time. I can read opinions anywhere, but actual insight you can’t get everywhere.

    stuff like this: http://www.pistonpowered.com/2010/01/sorting-the-detroit-pistons-by-how-much-they-each-play-with-ben-wallace-could-be-the-key-to-building-their-best-lineup/

    or this: http://www.pistonpowered.com/2010/03/should-jonas-jerebko-make-the-all-rookie-team/

    or this: http://www.pistonpowered.com/2010/05/rodney-stuckey-rarely-dunks-when-he-goes-inside-and-other-thoughts-on-the-point-guards-future-with-the-detroit-pistons/

    for examples.

  • Oct 26, 20104:10 pm
    by Laser


    @hayes: believe it. no smugness this time. just a fervent belief that ben gordon can never be a top scorer in the league on this roster. he’s likely to rank third or fourth on the team.
    and come on, man, you’re as smug with me as it gets.

  • Oct 26, 20105:28 pm
    by Mike Payne


    An interesting point to note about Gordon was that despite his abysmal outside shooting last season (with his career performance as the standard), Gordon had one of the absolute best isolation (49.3%) and off screen (48.3%) offenses in the game.  Despite being one of the league’s top 20 players in these categories across all five positions, his season averages tanked primarily on the failure of his 3-point shot.
    I agree with Laser above that on this roster, one with an offensively maligned starter ahead of Gordon and no pure point player beside him, it’ll be more difficult for Gordon to maintain the averages produced in Chicago, healthy or not.  And with an isolation game as brilliant as Gordon has (which is likely the crux of the PistonPowered thinking that Gordon can be a league leader in scoring), he needs possession of the ball to be most effective, which renders a pure point player kind of useless.  The problem with this is Gordon’s A/T issues, which make him a liability if he’s controlling the ball on most of his on-court possessions.
    That’s what separates Gordon from Hamilton.  Both had terrible seasons last year, but Hamilton was a net positive player on court where Gordon was not.  Hamilton took better care of the ball, distributed and rebounded better, leading to positive productivity on court.
    I don’t want Hamilton on this team, but I’m concerned with the thinking that Ben Gordon will produce up to the lofty standards some are hoping for without making our team worse.  Your “Diawara Line” takes into account TS% alone, but the turnovers, the rebounding, the defense and the nature of Gordon’s ball-dominating offense are just as important to note.  TS% variance to wins is a bit too much of a 30,000 feet analysis– as correlation in this case most certainly doesn’t imply causation.

  • Oct 26, 20107:14 pm
    by Laser


    don’t forget screens, payne. no good screen setters for rip and bg. that’s an underrated shortcoming of the team, among our thousands of shortcomings. we’re basically all shortcomings right now.
    i’m with you on the intangibles, too. but i have a hard time judging ben gordon in the context of this team. he’s playing behind two other scoring guards and managed less than 20 minutes and 10 shots when rip was healthy, and he was basically a third scoring option. that’s just not his game.

  • Oct 26, 20109:45 pm
    by nuetes


    send gordon to the suns or knicks where he can jack up all the shots he wants then. that’s the kind of team he needs to be on – a team that will never win it all. he’s like a bottleneck on offense and a sieve on defense. if the warriors can’t give monte ellis away i’m not sure how the pistons are going to get rid of gordon. he seems more tradeable than rip, but maybe not. we’re screwed at SG. you’d think $23 million would create a position of strength.

  • Oct 27, 20102:45 am
    by Laser


    yeah. you’d think.

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