Conflicting Incentives in Charlotte

Posted on November 11, 2008 by


A few days ago John W. Davis – of Pistonscast – posted a link to the following article (by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer):

Bobcats’ guard going beyond the score

The article detailed the development of Shannon Brown, a back-up point guard with the Charlotte Bobcats (and graduate of Michigan State).  Here is the bulk of the story:

Charlotte Bobcats guard Shannon Brown had a simple, yet stark, question for one of his coaches a couple of weeks ago:

Why don’t you like me?

Brown now says he was joking, but assistant coach Dave Hanners had a serious reply. He liked Brown just fine. It was Brown’s game Hanners didn’t like.

“I said Coach (Larry Brown) is asking you to do certain things, and you’re not doing them,” Hanners recalled. “Most guys are misguided about how to do well. They think, ‘If I score 15 or 18 points, Coach has to play me!’

“We have Jason Richardson and Adam Morrison and a whole lot of guys who can make shots. We need Shannon to do something else to help.”

Apparently that registered, explaining how Brown slipped into the rotation Saturday. He played 13 minutes of solid defense, mostly on Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade (5-of-15 from the field), in the Bobcats’ first victory this season.

So it figures that Brown will get more chances tonight at home against the Detroit Pistons.

There was a time in training camp when Shannon Brown looked in danger of being cut, despite a guaranteed contract. The best thing in his favor was the boss’ faith; managing partner Michael Jordan likes Brown’s potential.

Yet he was blowing this chance, playing out of control with quick shots and risky passes.

“When you see something you want that bad,” Brown said, “you can push too hard and sometimes I’ve just got to slow down.”

For Shannon Brown to play, he needs to demonstrate enough playmaking skills and judgment to fill in as the Bobcats’ third point guard. That isn’t the most natural thing for a guy who grew up an explosive athlete and scorer.

So Hanners saw a breakthrough in a decision Brown made against the Heat. His teammates were running, looking for a fast-break advantage, but Brown recognized they didn’t have a numbers advantage in transition. So he backed off and called a set play.

“Two weeks ago,” Hanners said, “he would have done something to get himself a shot.”

The Shannon Brown story is reminiscent of a story I posted last month on the Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz.  In both cases a young player (and in Utah’s case, more than one young player) was under the impression that the key to more playing time was taking more shots.   And in both cases, the head coach disagreed.

These stories highlight a problem that coaches face throughout the Association.  Players have an incentive to shoot.  The more a player scores, the more he will get paid and the more acclaim he will receive. You can see this when you look at the determinants of free agent salaries.  And you can see this when you look at coaches’ voting for the All-Rookie team. 

Given the player’s incentives, it’s not surprising that Shannon Brown would look for his own shot.  What’s encouraging is that it appears the Bobcats are getting through to him.  After seven games, Brown is shooting 50% from the floor and his overall production of wins – which was in the negative range during his first two seasons – is now well above average.

Unfortunately, although Brown appears to be following the dictates of his coaches, he is not getting rewarded.  After six games (not including Tuesday night’s game against Denver), he has missed two games (DNP-CD each time), only averaged eleven minutes per game, and has only taken ten shots from the field.  So although his WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] stands at 0.421 – a mark that leads the team – he is sitting on the bench while the Bobcats give minutes (and shots) to Jason Richardson and Adam Morrison. 

Let me go back to what the above article notes: “We have Jason Richardson and Adam Morrison and a whole lot of guys who can make shots.”

Here is the problem with this statement.  Both Richardson and Morrison had WP48 marks in the negative range after six games.  Against Denver, Richardson’s numbers were quite respectable.  Morrison, though, once again struggled.  In sum, Morrison is not hitting shots.  And it should be noted – contrary the statement from his coach –Morrison has yet to hit shots in the NBA

Although Morrison is not hitting his shots, he still gets to shoot.  Meanwhile, Brown has hit the few shots he has gotten to take.  But he isn’t getting minutes (or shots).  Against Denver on Tuesday night Brown only got to play 3:45 minutes.  In sum, it looks like Brown – in the few minutes he gets — is playing “the right way” (a favorite phrase of his head coach, Larry Brown). But he’s not being rewarded with much playing time. 

All of this must make the relationship between the player and his coaches quite confusing.  On the one hand Shannon Brown is being told to take good shots and focus on the non-scoring aspects of the game.  On the other hand, Morrison and Richardson – who have not consistently hit shots this year – are not being punished with less playing time (or fewer shots). 

Of course it’s still very early in Charlotte’s season.  Certainly it’s more than possible that the Shannon Brown we saw during his first two seasons will re-emerge.  In fact, given that his effort to play the right way is not being fully rewarded, it seems likely that Shannon Brown might want to go back to taking shot after shot.  After all, the data strongly suggests (although his coaches voice disagreement) player evaluations and decisions in the NBA are still driven by scoring (which happens when you take lots of shots).

Let me close by thanking John for finding this story.  And if anyone else sees stories like this, please send them along.

– DJ

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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.