Mar 1, 2014; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Tyler Ennis (11) dribbles the ball against the Virginia Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis fit into Suns moneyball

PHOENIX — I watched “Moneyball” for the third time the other night, mostly because Brad Pitt plays a great Billy Beane and Jonah Hill was somewhat endearing as the bashful, smart front office talent. Forget that I’m not a huge baseball guy; it speaks to me as a somewhat fictional account of a real, inspiring story.

The analytics movement in baseball didn’t happen overnight, but it became mainstream pretty damn quickly.

At the beginning of the film, Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s, sits down with his crusty old scouting staff, which doesn’t know he’s in full nerd mode. When Beane dumps on a few eye-test-based scouting reports and begins pushing his numbers-driven theories on his sour old staff members, one word stuck out to me.


2014 draftee Tyler Ennis was a controversial pick for Phoenix at No. 18, and he doesn’t seemingly fit the Suns’ recent moves that emphasized athleticism and upside. But he does have an elite skill, and he proved it in his senior year of high school and one year of college.

Ennis just doesn’t make mistakes.

“With Tyler, his composure at his age stands out,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said during Ennis’ introduction. “If you look at his numbers in close and late games, they were terrific, like, unbelievably good, what he did down the stretch of games with the game on the line. When he needed a shot to win or tie the game or needed to make a play to bring the team back, he did it at a remarkable rate. That’s pretty rare for a 19-year-old freshman.”

Ennis posted a turnover rate of 11.9 percent in his only collegiate season, which is nearly half the rate of Michael Carter-Williams’ 22.1 percent at Syracuse a year prior. The scary Ennis comparison for Suns fans, 2012 pick Kendall Marshall, had the same 3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio as Ennis. But Marshall’s college turnover rate clocked in at at 27.8 times per 100 possessions, according to College Sports Reference.

Both Eric Bledsoe and Ish Smith turn the ball over at a relatively high 17.8 and 17.9 percent rate. Compare that to the ball-dominating Goran Dragic’s 14.3 percent or the more surprisingly safe Gerald Green’s 11.3 percent, and there’s a lot of room to improve the miscues in the guard slots. The aggregate of the Suns’ turnover issue as a whole tends to point to where Ennis could be so valuable. He’ll help bring that turnover rate down.

Turnover percentages are a big deal.

Turnovers lead to easier opportunities and are the catalyst to finding an easy way into “early offense,” which itself has become a buzz phrase for Phoenix. Coughing up the rock also obviously takes away a shot attempt — you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take — and the ability for an offensive rebound. So on, so forth.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post’s Seth Partnow called avoiding turnovers the “new moneyball.” Using the Portland Trail Blazers as an example, he points out the statistical difference in possessions begun by a turnover and those that aren’t.

… avoiding turnovers, especially live ball turnovers (steals for the opposition) greatly aids a team’s defense. Blazer’s opponents had an eFG percentage of 57.3 on possessions starting with a steal, whereas they shot only 48 percent eFG off of Portland missed field goals. That gap is wider than the difference between the best defense (Indiana) and the worst (Philadelphia) in terms of opponents’ shooting.

Effective field goal percentage (eFG), which accounts for three-pointers being worth more, is something directly linked to turnover rates, and the Suns are also buying into that with Ennis’ rookie teammate, forward T.J. Warren.

After the draft, I asked Hornacek if Warren would, in a different way than a low-post scorer, give the Suns a more diverse offense.

But Hornacek answered a question about Warren as a mid-range scoring threat more broadly. No matter how the team scores (with threes, in the paint, off drives or in the mid-range) it all comes down to that efficiency, he said.

“Our system, we do shoot a lot of threes,” Hornacek said. “But you hear the analytics, it’s always effective field goal percentage. Our goal is to shoot 51 percent or better in effective field goal percentage. Now, whether you do that through all threes or all twos, whatever. T.J. shot over 50 percent from the twos (last year) and he made threes also.”

McDonough was introduced last year after president of basketball operations Lon Babby labeled the offseason “the Summer of Analytics”. McDonough emphasized the importance of getting into early offense, but noted that was a direct result of the Suns forcing turnovers themselves.

Bledsoe and Dragic made Phoenix a terror in the fullcourt in 2013-14, and it was absolute doom for opponents once turnovers fueled the Suns.

The 2014 draft class includes two very different looking players that seemingly don’t fit the Suns’ up-tempo system from a year ago. But both fit in quite well in terms of analytical improvements — character and all that too.

The numbers say Tyler Ennis and T.J. Warren will help the aggregate of two very important team statistics.

  • 4everis2long

    IMO Kev that is an excellent analogy of how the Suns can improve their effectiveness by minimizing the turnovers. On one hand it is common sense but on another I never spent much time wondering how someone’s turnover ratio is to their assists, especially when the player did other things well. I thought about Marshall’s turnovers to assists because he did not do anything else well IMO.

    I know Bled turns it over more than he would like and expressed his concern about that down the stretch as does Steph Curry. However when I consider guys like that who can score, assist and in Bled’s case defend and rebound I do not overly think the turnovers. Anyway I appreciate the insight on this issue.

    Yeah I question the Enis pick because I personally think Napier has a better upside but I never thought about the turnover issue.

    • Kevin Zimmerman

      I think I was pretty critical of Bledsoe’s TOs this past season, so that’s how the Ennis pick (and later Warren) made sense to me. Obviously, they hope that’s not the only thing he brings. But his TO #s for a young player obvious have the Suns thinking he’s a mature kid, smart player, etc.

    • DBreezy

      The type of turnovers matter too, which is essentially what these stats get at with the eFG differences, but I wonder if they’ve got those eFG numbers down to a particular player or just by team? Nash had a lot of turnovers, but most of those really didn’t lead to those open court opportunities that really raise eFG. Unlike say, Kendall lobbing some ill advised cross court pass that get’s picked out of the air and starts a break-made worse by Kendall’s poor speed not allowing him to get back early enough on D.

      Hornacek’s comments make sense as they basically are talking about Sloan’s Utah offense with a recognition of today’s increased use of the 3pt shot. The Jazz never shot a ton of 3′s, but they were always up there in FG% because of that O. It wasn’t like they got it by being a slow it down pound it inside low scoring team like the Grizzlies either. They scored a lot of points and didn’t turn it over which is why I hated playing them in their prime. If they got ahead of you by 7-10 points they made it seem like 20 because they kept running those plays and scoring without turning it over. When talking Suns you also have to consider true shooting percentage imo as that has suffered post Amar’e because the Suns don’t have a high FG% big who also gets to the line and makes a ton of free throws night in and out.

      Going back to the Bledsoe TO conversation, it’s honestly kind of perplexing to me. I think the DX video on him from Schmitz is pretty good, but the thing that concerns me the most is that I don’t think he’s a selfish player. A lot of young pg’s are trying to make a name for themselves or just prove that they can take on all comers, but that’s not the feeling I get with Bledsoe. I don’t think he’s selfish, I just think he doesn’t have great vision as Schmitz said, he gets careless with his handle at times, and often gets himself too deep in the paint without good options. The carelessness he should be able to get rid of. If you put Suns colored glasses on, you would say that age and experience playing with Dragic will help him make better decisions in the paint. Dragic learned from Nash, but more than anything he needed the confidence that Gentry/Adelman/McHale had in him. Dragic was much better in that area after his first season and has steadily improved since. That’s part of why I say Suns colored glasses, the other part being that Bled played with CP3, Chauncey Billups and Mo Williams prior to coming here along with John Wall in college. A lot of ball control, low turnover guys, and Bled seems like he’s an unselfish willing learner. He just may not be good at reading things, we’ll see. It wouldn’t stop me from bringing him back.

      As for Ennis, the pick doesn’t bother me. I know people are scared because of Kendall, but Kendall’s biggest problem was Kendall. He had an attitude. You could see it during the draft process and his self-expressed view of his game. He got pretty humbled in summer league(2x), training camp, the D league, yet he was still the same Kendall. You can’t even get to his on-court plusses or minuses until you get past the attitude. I found D’Antoni’s comments on him interesting in that they praised his passing, but he noted that he has a lot to work on to be a consistent NBA player. That’s not earth-shattering, but historically D’Antoni rarely ever talks specifics publicly about his players when they’re on his team. I wonder if he saw the same attitude and thought a little public comment might get to him? Ennis seems to have a great attitude, and a offensive and defensive game that already way better than Kendall. He’s probably not as creative vision wise, but he protects the ball better and still gets the high assist numbers.