What is Wrong With Brian Scalabrine?
Posted by Zach Lowe on Jan 4, 2010
On this site and just about every other Celtics site out there, we spend a lot of time picking apart Tony Allen, criticizing every confounding turnover and awful-looking shot (and expressing cautious optimism at every drive to the basket and drawn foul).
But let me ask you: Do you realize how awful Brian Scalabrine has been this season, at least statistically?
I don’t say this lightly or before doing the required research and number-crunching: You could pretty easily make the argument that Brian Scalabrine has been the worst player receiving regular minutes in the NBA this season.
And the disturbing thing is that Scal’s production has gotten even worse as his minutes have increased due to injuries to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
But let’s take the big picture first. Over the course of the season, Scal is shooting 32 percent from the floor and 25 percent from three-point range. He has taken just four free throws all season and hasn’t scored more than three points in a game since November 7. And he’s rebounding like Eddie House; Scal is pulling down 2.4 rebounds per 36 minutes, easily a career low.
Guess where that rebound rate would have ranked among forwards who qualified for the scoring title last season?
Dead last, behind the Holy Trinity of Forward Rebounding Awfulness (Steve Novak, Bruce Bowen and Jason Kapono, according to Basketball Reference.
As for advanced stats, John Hollinger at ESPN.com compiles his Player Efficiency Rating for every player who appears in an NBA game—415 players through Saturday night’s action. Brian Scalabrine’s PER is 2.9. Guess where that ranks?
That would be 398th, ahead of 17 players, none of whom have appeared in more than 12 games this season. Scal has appeared in 25 of the C’s 32 games, logging 240 minutes—about 9:40 per game. The only guy with a PER in Scal’s range who receives regular minutes is Washington’s DeShawn Stevenson.
But Scal’s playing time has jumped a bit recently thanks to the KG and Pierce injuries. Scal has played in 13 of the C’s last 14 games and logged about 169 minutes in that span—about 13 minutes per game.
And his production has, somehow, dropped. Over those 13 games, Scal is shooting 3-of-24 (12.5 percent), including 1-of-15 from three-point range. He has grabbed just 14 rebounds in that 168:30 span—one every 12 minutes.
I know what you’re thinking: Scal’s game isn’t about numbers, it’s about helping the team by playing to his strengths and avoiding mistakes.
Here’s the thing, though: The Celtics have performed abysmally with Scal on the floor. His overall plus/minus for those 13 games is -36, and he has recorded a positive plus/minus number in (and this is fairly remarkable) just one of those games: The Dec. 12 blowout win at Chicago, when Scal was +11 in 16:22 of playing time.
Take away that game, and we’re talking about a -47 mark in 12 games (and just 152 minutes).
For the full season, the C’s are 21 points worse per 100 possessions (which amounts to a little more than a 48-minute game) with Scalabrine on the floor versus with him on the bench, according to the raw plus/minus numbers at Basketball Value. No Celtic regular even approaches that type of negative number. In fact, that plus/minus mark is worse than any NBA player who has logged at least 480 minutes this season, according to BV.
In other words: It’s hard to find any statistical evidence showing Brian Scalabrine helps the Celtics in any way.
I knew Scal was having a tough season, but the awfulness of his numbers caught me off guard. I thought he did a nice job making Vince Carter work hard for his points—and generally staying in front of Vince—in a pinch on Christmas Day, and Scal generally runs the C’s sets correctly on both ends.
And maybe that’s why we, as fans, let Scal slide while harping on every wrong thing Tony Allen does. TA’s mistakes are easy to spot, and he usually makes them only after using his athleticism to put himself in a position to make a play. Example: TA steals the ball, streaks down the court and attempts an ill-advised fast-break lay-up against two defenders, committing a charge in the process. Or: TA uses his speed to beat his defender off the dribble, draws the defense and attempts a high degree of difficulty pass that misses its target by five feet and lands out of bounds.
We all shake our heads at the idiotic plays and bemoan TA’s inability to harness his athleticism.
Scalabrine, in comparison, is a fairly invisible player. Scal doesn’t seem to turn the ball over nearly as often (about 1.4 turnovers per 36 minutes for his career, compared to 3.2 per 36 for TA), and when he does cough it up, it lacks the Bonehead Effect of a classic TA turnover.
Guess what though? Their career turnover rates are nearly identical, according to Basketball Reference. TA gives the rock up on about 17.6 percent of the possessions in which he tries to do something with it; Scal’s turnover rate is 17.2 percent. It’s just that TA tries to do something with the ball much more often than Scal does.
So Scal enjoys a pretty friendly relationship with fans in part because he blends in and stays out of the way on the court. TA’s reputation suffers because he tries to do things but screws up sometimes.
But Scal’s numbers—both the traditional stats and the advanced plus/minus variety—suggest that giving minutes to a player who merely blends in may be more destructive than giving them to someone who plays a more active role and makes mistakes.
This isn’t to say Scal should suddenly start taking people off the dribble and launching off-balance runners. He obviously shouldn’t. There is value to playing within your limitations. But even players who stick to what they are good at (like, say, Steve Novak, Jason Kapono, Reggie Evans and Bruce Bowen) are good at something. They make shots, or they get rebounds or they play hard-nosed defense.
What about Scal?