In early October I began using my Expected Scoring numbers and some preseason statistics to profile some potential breakout players. One of the players we looked at was the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Martell Webster. Webster had a terrific preseason and with the change in scenery from Portland to Minnesota seemed ready to take a huge step forward.
I shared my initial profile of him at the Timberwolves’ site Canis Hoopus. A commenter there, skeptical of my positive outlook on Webster, asked me to revisit his numbers 25 games into the season and see if they looked quite as rosy. So here we are, using Expected Scoring to review and update my assessment of Martell Webster’s scoring efficiency.
If you’ve missed my other posts on the subject, Expected Points uses a player’s FGA from each area of the floor and multiplies it by the average number of points scored on that type of shot to come up with an Expected Point total from that area. The Expected Point total can than be compared to the actual number of points a player scored from that area to arrive at a Point Differential. This point differential is an expression of how a player shot compared to the league average, but I like that the comparison is drawn with actual point totals. The average values of shots by location that I use (At Rim – 1.208, <10ft. – 0.856, 10-15ft. – 0.783, 16-23ft. – 0.801, 3PT – 1.081, FT – 0.759) were calculated by Albert Lyu of ThinkBlueCrew.
Let’s start by looking at some of his traditional numbers. The table below shows his statistics for his last full season in Portland, this preseason and the 1st 25 games of the season.
Webster sat out the first 24 games of this season, recovering from back surgery. While Webster was out Michael Beasley used some dominant scoring performances to firmly entrench himself in the starting small forward position. Wesley Johnson and Corey Brewer have shared minutes at shooting guard which has left Webster fourth in the wing rotation in terms of minutes per game.
His numbers overall are fairly similar to what he did during his last season. However, his shooting percentages are nowhere near what he was making this summer. Webster averaged 12.7 FGA/36 minutes in the preseason. He’s averaging 12.2 in the regular season. Since his shot attempts are basically flat the big dip in his scoring average is all due to the drop in his shooting percentages.
Let’s now take a look at his Expected Scoring numbers. Below is a table showing Webster’s Expected Points, Actual Points and Point Differential for each area of the floor from the last three seasons, this past preseason and through the first 25 games of this season (all numbers are per 40 minutes). I have omitted 2009 as Webster suffered a foot injury and played in only one game. If you prefer a spreadsheet to the embedded table photo, here is the link.
It appears this was a case of me getting a little over-excited about a player’s preseason numbers. While Webster has remained a consistent mid-range jumpshooter he is finishing at a career low rate at the rim. In addition his terrific percentages on 16-23ft. jumpshots and three pointers from the preseason have basically regressed to the league average. Webster still scores at an above expected rate but his per 40 minute point differential is nowhere near the +3.46 he put up in the preseason.
Webster injured his back again on Friday. Although I haven’t heard a solid timetable for his return, it doesn’t sound nearly as serious as the back problems which led him to have surgery this Fall. Still, I have to believe there is room for optimism. His 3PT% is basically at a career low. If he can get healthy and stay on the court consistently it seems likely his shooting from that area would improve and could push his point differential even higher.
One issue that may be affecting his shooting percentages is how he is being utilized by Minnesota. Webster is averaging 1.41 PPP in transition, 1.29 PPP coming off screens, 1.08 PPP as a spot up shooter and 1.57 PPP on cuts to the basket. Those four situations account for 53.4% of the possessions he’s used this season. He’s averaging 0.41 PPP in isolations, 0.70 PPP as a pick and roll ball handler and 0.91 PPP on hand offs. Those three situations account for 29.3% of his possessions used and he has been extremely ineffective in those cases. 20.7% of his three point attempts have come out of those three scenarios and he’s shooting just 18.8% from three in those cases.
Basically, he’s terrific when catching and shooting, finishing opportunities that others have created for him. When he’s asked to use his dribble to create opportunities for himself and teammates he’s not nearly as effective. The problem is that the Timberwolves don’t have a lot of shot creators. Beasley is very much a black hole, Love is a finisher and none of the other wings have much inclination in this regard.
Even with his recent shooting struggles Webster has a better TS% and ORtg than any of the wings he has been competing with for minutes, including Michael Beasley. He is probably the weakest defender of the four, but for a team that ranks in the bottom third of the league in each of the Offensive Four Factors besides Offensive Rebounding, they could probably use a little more efficiency on that side of the ball.