Advanced and simplified basketball roles
When it comes to basketball roles, the first thought goes to the classic point guard, shooting guard, wing, power forward, and center. However, such a classification is outdated for modern basketball: these five roles partially “classify” the players on the court.
If before the point guard was unquestionably the back-court player one who led the attack, today it is also possible that the big man plays the playmaker role. Or again, the clear difference between wings and power forward of the past has now faded: with the evolution of the game, classic PF today are small centers suitable for small-ball.
In a nutshell, the five classic basketball roles were valid during the 80s and 90s, as the game had less unconventional players. The player’s height identified the role and the role identified the technical skills to be improved by the player. Today, however, coaches first look at what a player can do, regardless of height or physical and athletic skills.
Several analysts have therefore identified the modern basketball roles through the use of statistics. I also wanted to do the same for the Euroleague, introducing two types of new roles: advanced roles and simplified roles.
Why use roles in basketball
A question like this might arise: how can be useful assigning more specific roles to basketball players? There are several positives points. Firstly, having now a lot of data available, it is easy for someone to lose some in reading them. Furthermore, if you do not know in depth what you are analyzing, it is easy to run into incorrect readings. Instead, through the reading of roles, it is immediately clear what are the main player’s skills, without the need to get lost among a thousand statistics. This aspect is perhaps trivial, but it helps the average user to identify the team hierarchies without the need to consult statistics that may not be available or that they do not know.
Giving roles in basketball also simplify the scouting and analysis of the opponent. Through modern roles, it is possible to make the first selection of some players in a long list to identify the most suitable one to reinforce roster. Or, knowing the roles, it is easier to build effective strategies to limit the opponent’s offense.
Let’s see the new roles.
Advanced roles are built through highly accurate stats, calculated through match tagging. Identification is made through the use of various stats percentiles; these percentiles are calculated taking into account all the players who played in the championship. By setting threshold values, it is possible to identify the various players’ roles.
Advanced defensive roles remain less reliable than offensive ones. Several “intangibles” remain intangible, even using stats obtained from video tagging and ON-OFF values. The lack of some data, therefore, does not allow an accurate analysis. That said, the eye test is still positive: just keep in mind that the accuracy level of the assigned defensive roles will not be as precise as the offensive one.
BACK-COURT PLAYERS – OFFENSIVE ROLES
PRIMARY BALL HANDLER
Primary Ball Handlers are players who create shot chances for themselves and their teammates mainly through pick and roll (or pop) situations in which they are the ball handlers. They are identified by the number of pick and roll/pop played and also accounting the isolations, the Assist Percentage, and the number of possessions played.
Examples: Shane Larkin or Luka Vildoza, season 2019-20.
PRIMARY SHOT CREATOR
Primary Shot Creators are very similar to Primary Ball Handlers but differ from the previous ones in the number of isolations played. A Primary Shot Creator plays a number of isolations equal to or greater than 30% of PNRs played. The drives are also taken into account.
Examples: Sergio Rodriguez or Mike James, season 2019-20.
SECONDARY BALL HANDLER
A role similar to the Primary Ball Handler, but playing fewer PNRs than the Primary; they also have lower values for Assist Percentage and possessions played.
Examples: Sergio Llull or Stefan Jovic, season 2019-20.
SECONDARY SHOT CREATOR
Like the previous role, Secondary Shot Creators are creators of shots with indicators not high enough to make them into the higher category.
Example: Elijah Bryant or Daniel Hackett, season 2019-20.
Slashers are backcourt players with a high tendency to attack the rim with drives. They also have good passing abilities and so, good Assist Percentage values.
Examples: Sam Van Rossom, season 2020-2021.
A player who isn’t in any of the previous roles but yet has a good Assist Percentage, he is a Pass-First Player. He is a player who wants to involve teammates before taking a shot.
Examples: Leo Westermann or Adam Hanga, season 2020-2021.
Scorers are players with a high number of individual possessions, able to score in different situations (from isolation to off-screen). Compared to the previous roles, however, they have a lower Ast%, which identifies a lower ability to involve their teammates.
Examples: Will Clyburn or Jimmer Fredette, season 2019-20.
FRONT-COURT PLAYERS – OFFENSIVE ROLES
They are big men capable of creating shot chances for themselves and their teammates through post-up situations. They have a good number of possessions and a good Ast%.
Examples: Tornike Shengelia or Gustavo Ayon, season 2019-20.
The Post-up Scorers have similar numbers to the previous role; the only difference is obviously the much lower Assist Percentage.
Examples: Danilo Barthel or Giorgos Printezis, season 2019-20.
When a big man is good in post-up situations, but can also shot from behind the arc, is a Post&3. They play post-up situations and shot at least 25% of their shots from the 3-point range.
Examples: Adrien Moerman or Bojan Dublijevic, season 2019-20.
PICK AND ROLLER
They are the big men who end most of their possessions in pick and roll situations (obviously as roller). They also have a good number of cut situations.
Examples: Greg Monroe or Bryan Dunston, season 2019-20.
They are the big ones capable of being dangerous both inside and outside the arc. They then play roll and pop situations and shot at least 25% of their shots from the 3-point range.
Examples: Joel Bolomboy or Mike Tobey, season 2019-20.
GENERAL OFFENSIVE ROLES
These following roles are valid for both back-court and front-court players.
As the name suggests, they are the classic shooters who use teammates’ screens. They play this game situation a good number of times and at least 50% of their shots are from beyond the arc. They are dynamic shooters because they create separation with the defender by moving around the court.
Examples: Dairis Bertans or Jaycee Carroll, season 2019-20.
They are also shooters, but they shoot most of the time in catch-and-shoot (spot-up situations). They are those shooters who, by remaining static outside the 3-point line, build the spacing for their attacks.
Examples: Jeffery Taylor or Nikita Kurbanov, season 2019-20.
In case a player is both an Off-screen Shooter and a Spot-up Shooter, he gets the role of Pure Shooter. Skilled both using screens and in catching-and-shoot, Pure Shooters use both of these situations a good number of times.
Examples: Micheal Roll or K.C. Rivers, season 2019-20.
Players who do not fit into any of the previous roles, but at the same time finished a decent number of possessions (most of the time using his off-ball movements and cuts) are to be considered Off-ball Players.
Examples: Charles Jenkins or Fabien Causeur, season 2019-20.
MARGINAL OFFENSIVE ROLE
Lastly, a role that includes all those players who have not played enough minutes and games to be classified into a specific role.
Back-court players with excellent perimeter defensive skills. They are identified through some advanced defensive statistics, such as Defensive Rating and Defensive Box Plus-Minus.
Examples: Daniel Hackett or Nate Wolters, season 2019-20.
AVERAGE PERIMETER DEFENDER
Players not good enough to enter in the previous role, but who still have good defensive statistics to be considered a perimeter defender.
Examples: Shavon Shields or Nikita Kurbanov, season 2019-20.
Big men with excellent interior defensive skills. They are recognized through advanced defensive stats, such as Defensive Rating, Defensive Box Plus-Minus, and the Defensive Rebound Percentage.
Examples: Ante Tomic or Johannes Voigtmann, season 2019-20.
AVERAGE INTERIOR DEFENDER
Big men not good enough to enter in the previous category, but who still have good interior defensive statistics.
Examples: Anothony Randolph or Jock Landale, season 2019-20.
Wings that are able to defend multiple roles usually fall into this category; in fact, if a player has numbers good enough to be both Perimeter and Interior Defender, he gets the role of Switch Defender.
Examples: Adam Hanga or Gabriel Deck, season 2019-20.
The real rim protector, as the name says: in addition to having good Defensive Rating values, they also have excellent DR%, BLK%, and opponent rim FG% allowed.
Examples: Nikola Milutinov or Walter Tavares, season 2019-20.
Players who contribute to the defensive cause by capturing as many rebounds as possible, but who do not have good enough statistical indicators to make them enter into the categories of Interior Defender and Average Interior Defender.
Examples: Greg Monroe or Landry Nnoko, season 2019-20.
Lastly, a role that includes all those players who have not played enough minutes and games or do not have enough positive statistical values to get one of the previous roles.
GLOBAL ADVANCED ROLES
Knowing both the offensive and the defensive roles, it is possible to assign a global role to each player: the table below shows the intersection of all the roles.
You can find all advanced roles for the Euroleague 2019-2020 and Euroleague 2020-2021.
Advanced roles are identified through ON-OFF and video tagging stats. However, if these tools are not available, it is still possible to identify roles using only advanced statistics calculated from the box-scores. They will not be as accurate and detailed as the previous ones but still allow a reasonably good division into roles. The defensive side, however, he accuracy will be even lower: if previously the available data were few, now they are too few. I report them anyway, but it has to be clear that these defensive roles will not be as reliable as the offensive ones.
PRIMARY OFFENSIVE LEADER
Primary Ball Handler, Primary Shot Creator, and Post-up Creator are into this category. They are those players who are able to create shot chances for themselves and their teammates.
SECONDARY OFFENSIVE LEADER
They are game creators not good enough to be into the previous category, but still able to make a positive contribution to team offensive phase.
This category includes Off-screen Shooters, Spot-up Shooters, and Pure Shooters. They are the players who spread the court thanks to their skills from beyond the arc.
Finishers. They conclude various offensive actions but do not have a high Ast% value.
It’s the same type of role you can find in the Advanced Roles. In this case, you will not have the data relating to the cuts made.
The big men who prefer to play near the rim and rarely go outside the 3-point line.
DOUBLE THREAT BIG MAN
The big men dangerous both from inside and outside the arc.
MARGINAL OFFENSIVE ROLE
Same as the role described for advanced roles.
The defensive roles are the same reported in the Advanced Roles paragraph. Some data (for example the opponent rim FG%) have not been contemplated because are not available. Furthermore, the statistics are not calculated on the ON-OFF stats. Once again, it has to be clear that the reliability of these roles will be medium-low.
GLOBAL SIMPLIFIED ROLES
Also in this case by crossing the defensive and offensive roles it is possible to assign a global role to each player.
You can find all these roles for every competition on the web-site.
How to read tables
For each Euroleague season, there is a sheet with two Excel tables. In the first you can consult all the basketball roles assigned to the players, filtering them as you prefer. Next to the roles, the percentiles of various advanced statistics are available and, only for the Advanced Roles, also of the game-type situations.
Percentile is a mathematical tool that allows you to classify a group of values: the maximum percentile (corresponding to the highest value of the selected group) is equal to 1 o (100%); the minimum percentile (corresponding to the lowest value of the selected group) is 0 (or 0%). In other words, it is possible to understand how high (or low) a player’s statistic is, by not looking at its real value.
To further simplify the reading, next to the percentile there is also a grade from F (worst) to S (best), assigned based on the percentile. The following scale is used:
100th – 95th: S
94th – 93rd: A
92nd – 90th: A-
89th – 87th: B+
86th – 83rd: B
82nd – 80th: B-
79th – 77th: C+
76th – 73rd: C
72nd – 70th: C-
69th – 67th: D+
66th – 63rd: D
62nd – 60th: D-
59th – 0th: F
In the second table, it is possible to compare two players:
- Player selection area;
- Advanced or simplified roles assigned;
- Percentiles and grades assigned to the stat (or game-type situation) described. It is not shown the real value of the stat.
Mike James, in this example, has a percentile equal to 1 for isolations played. In other words, he is the player who has used this game situation the most. Larkin, on the other hand, has a percentile of 0,97 for isolations: it means that he has played this situation less than James.