Photo courtesy Muthu Alagappan

Should there be 13 positions in basketball?

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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.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.