Photo courtesy Muthu Alagappan

Should there be 13 positions in basketball?


First of all, don’t ask me how to read that chart, because I don’t get it, either.

That’s because it was generated by Stanford math major Muthu Alagappan, who uses software to collate vast data points into visual data so as to more easily pick out trends in the data. He’s become quite a force in basketball circles as a result. The NBA is paying close attention to his models.

I, on the other hand, write about college basketball. So, you know, different skill sets.

However, I do feel uniquely qualified to address Alagappan’s assertion that there should be 13 positions in basketball. That’s because I agree with his basic premise about basketball skill sets and disagree with his word choice. Which is what a basketball writer WOULD do, amirite?

First, I think we’ve all noticed that the classical designations point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center are archetypes that often don’t describe exactly what we’re seeing on a basketball court at any given moment. We’ve invented words like combo guard and point-forward to describe players who don’t fit the mold.

Alagappan, as described in this article from Wired magazine, says there should be 13 positions. To wit:

  1. 1. Offensive Ball-Handler. This guy handles the ball and specializes in points, free throws and shots attempted, but is below average in steals and blocks. Examples include Jason Terry and Tony Parker.

  2. 2. Defensive Ball-Handler. This is a defense-minded player who handles the ball and specializes in assists and steals, but is only so-so when it comes to points, free throws and shots. See also: Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry.

  3. 3. Combo Ball-Handler. These players are adept at both offense and defense but don’t stand out in either category. Examples include Jameer Nelson and John Wall.

  4. 4. Shooting Ball-Handler. Someone with a knack for scoring, characterized by above-average field goal attempts and points. Stephen Curry and Manu Ginobili are examples.

  5. 5. Role-Playing Ball-Handler. These guys play fewer minutes and don’t have as big a statistical impact on the game. Hello, Arron Afflalo and Rudy Fernandez.

  6. 6. 3-Point Rebounder. Such a player is a ball-handler and big man above average in rebounds and three-pointers, both attempted and made, compared to ball-handlers. Luol Deng and Chase Budinger fit the bill.

  7. 7. Scoring Rebounder. He grabs the ball frequently and demands attention when on offense. Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge play this position.

  8. 8. Paint Protector. A big man like Marcus Camby and Tyson Chandler known for blocking shots and getting rebounds, but also for racking up more fouls than points.

  9. 9. Scoring Paint Protector. These players stand out on offense and defense, scoring, rebounding and blocking shots at a very high rate. Examples include Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.

  10. 10. NBA 1st-Team. This is a select group of players so far above average in every statistical category that the software simply groups them together regardless of their height or weight. Kevin Durant and LeBron James fall in this category.

  11. 11. NBA 2nd-Team. Not quite as good, but still really, really good. Rudy Gay and Caron Butler are examples.

  12. 12. Role Player. Slightly less skilled than the 2nd-team guys, and they don’t play many minutes. Guys like Shane Battier and Ronnie Brewer fall under this position.

  13. 13. One-of-a-Kind. These guys are so good they are off the charts — literally. The software could not connect them to any other player. Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard are examples, but you already knew that.

Now, if you are building a basketball team, this is a great way to look at filling roles. I’d bet most coaches have something similar going on in their heads. What I’d refute is that these constitute literal positions. We cling to the five archetypes because only five players can be on the floor at one time. Obviously if you’re looking at VCU or Florida Gulf Coast, you’re not seeing these classic positions represented, but it still gives us a framework for understanding each player’s role in the offense. A skewed framework, quite often, but it’s useful to understand that framework so you can make the mental leap and understand how a creative coach uses available players with different skill sets to subvert that old paradigm.

That’s where I think these 13 categories are a brilliant tool and an excellent way to look at what role a player can really fill for his team. For college coaches, who so rarely have access to #13, the one-of-a-kind player, it’s going to be a mixture of guys who fit into the other twelve roles (sans the NBA terminology) sitting on his bench most of the time.

I could go on, but this is a blog, not a dissertation committee. Suffice to say, I’ll probably have these 13 “positions” in the back of my head the next time I watch a college hoops game.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

2018 NCAA tournament: No. 11 Loyola moves on to Elite Eight after beating No. 7 Nevada

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Loyola is in the Elite Eight.

The Ramblers’ dream run through March continued Thursday as they knocked off No. 7 Nevada, 69-68, in South Region semifinal in Atlanta.

Loyola, an 11th seed making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985, will play the winner of Kansas State and Kentucky on Sunday for a chance to return to the FInal Four for the first time since it won the 1963 national championship.

Marques Townes hit a 3-pointer with under 10 seconds to play to put the Ramblers up four and put the game all but out of reach for Nevada. Townes finished with 18 points while Clayton Custer had 15.  Loyola shot 55.8 percent from the floor for the game.

The Wolf Pack’s Caleb Martin had 21 points while Jordan Caroline had 19. Nevada shot 41.4 percent from the floor.

Nevada looked like it may overwhelm Loyola early as it built a 12-point lead less than seven minutes into the game. The Ramblers, though, struck back by keeping the Wolf Pack off the board for nearly the last 8 minutes of the first half to take a four-point lead into the break.

The strong play considered on the other side of halftime for Loyola, which astonishingly made its first 13 shots of the second half. Still, despite the perfect start, the Ramblers only briefly took a double-digit lead before Nevada sliced it back down below 10.

Loyola’s inability to build a substantial lead came back to bite it as Nevada, the comeback kids of this tournament, mounted its attack on the deficit and had it erased before the under-four timeout, setting up the final frantic minutes of a battle for a spot in the Elite Eight that the Ramblers claimed thanks to Townes’ late triple.


2018 March Madness: Fans in Times Square pick fake teams in Sweet 16 predictions

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NBC Sports went into Times Square this week to ask basketball fans for their Sweet 16 picks.

The only problem?

The teams in the games are not actually playing in the NCAA Tournament.

They aren’t even actually teams.

Hilarity ensued.

Miami’s Bruce Brown declares for draft without an agent

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Bruce Brown wants to hear what the NBA has to say.

The Miami sophomore has declared for the draft but will not hire an agent, the school announced Thursday.

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game during his second season with the Hurricanes. He did, though, see his shooting numbers take a tumble compared to his freshman season with his field goal percentage down from 45.9 to 41.5 percent and his 3-point shoot go from 34.7 to 26.7 percent. There’s also the matter of a foot injury that required surgery and kept him off the floor for the ‘Canes’ last 12 games.

By declaring for the draft, Brown can get in front of NBA teams, who will likely take a very close look at his shooting mechanics after that sophomore season downturn. It will also be an opportunity for him to build up his reputation in the professional ranks after spending much of his sophomore season injured.

Big East makes its rules recommendations in wake of FBI probe

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The Big East has ideas.

The conference on Thursday unveiled its recommendations to change college basketball in the wake of the federal investigation of corruption that resulted in 10 initial arrests and general tumult across the sport.

Among the recommendations are allowing players to go pro out of high school but requiring those who go to college to stay there at least two seasons.  They also posit increased regulation of agents, shoe companies and its own members as well as a changed recruiting calendar and more coordination with USA Basketball.

These all seem well-intentioned, but probably not destined for implementation or success.

First off, the age limit that creates one-and-dones is an NBA rule, and no matter what lobbying the NCAA does, they’re not likely to change it on college’s behalf. Any change there will come at the behest of the National Basketball Players Association. The only real leverage the NCAA has on this front would be to declare freshmen ineligible as they once were, but that seems incredibly unlikely. The idea was floated a few years back, but felt entirely like a bluff.

Even if the NCAA somehow mandated players spend at least two seasons on campus, that seems incredibly anti-player. Trae Young probably wouldn’t have left Norman North High School after his senior year, but it would be silly to make him stay another season at Oklahoma if he didn’t want to after the year he just had. Going to college helped Young’s draft stock, but staying there would almost certainly hurt him.

Players that play their way into a multi-million future being made to stick around and play for free for an extra year doesn’t seem to be a viable solution in 2018. Beyond being anti-player on its face, it could fuel even more negative consequences for players who feel they are fringe candidates. Instead of just going to school for a year and proving themselves, some players may just decide they don’t want to risk being there for two years and declare, essentially, a year early.

It also is worth noting that the same document that calls for shoe company influence to be curtailed while also bringing in USA Basketball, which is very intertwined with Nike, is…interesting.

At the end of the day, these recommendations address symptoms – and probably not that well – rather than the root cause, which is amateurism. As long as players, who clearly, literally and inarguably have value beyond their scholarship, are unable to cash in on their skills, there will be people willing to pay them surreptitiously.

It’s hard to “clean up the game” when the “dirty money” isn’t going anywhere.

Purdue’s Isaac Haas unlikely to play on Friday

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BOSTON — Isaac Haas has become the biggest story in the East Regional, as he, with the help of a group of mechanical engineering grad students at Purdue, tries to find a way to play through the broken elbow that he suffered in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

And head coach Matt Painter threw a glass of cold water on those dreams on Thursday.

“He didn’t practice the last two days,” Painter said, “and when you don’t practice, you don’t play.”

“I don’t see him playing until he can practice and show me he can shoot a right-handed free throw and get a rebound with two hands,” he added. “I would think he’s done. To me, it’s the eye test. It’s going out and watching him. He can go practice today if he wants, and I can evaluate him. But if he doesn’t practice, nothing changes, right? No matter what I say or you say or he says especially, he fractured his elbow. You know what I mean? So if you fractured your elbow and you can’t shoot a free throw, I don’t know how it changes in two days.”

No. 2-seed Purdue plays No. 3-seed Texas Tech in the East Regional semifinals on Friday night.

That hasn’t stopped Haas from lobbying his head coach to let him on the floor if the officials clear the brace that was rigged for him. The brace was not cleared on Saturday for Purdue’s second round game against Butler.

“I told him multiple times, that hey, even if it’s one minute, it’s worth it to me,” Haas said. “I’ll just keep trying and giving my best effort to be out there. I don’t care if I’m out there or not, you do what you need to do, but if I’m an option, call me up.”

Haas’ ability to shoot isn’t the only concern. If he falls, he could do more damage to injury, requiring more extensive surgery after the season. He said that the injury should keep him out for 2-to-3 months, but those Purdue engineers, they’ve been trying to find a way to get him on the floor.

“My email’s been blowing up with people saying here’s some stuff you can do, here’s some stuff that we have,” Haas said. “It’s funny because they’re all saying this stuff and or trainer and doctors have all that stuff already. I reply, ‘thank you for your consideration. Means a lot, but we have those same machines here.'”