With another week to go before the NBA season starts, (9 more days!) it is still open season for everyone and anyone with a computer to make predictions. Nothing is off limits, with optimism stretching from superstars like Blake Griffin to offensive sinkholes like MKG.
While most of these are all blindly placed faith, one indicator that does interest me is international play. Even if the player did not participate, as is the case with Manu Ginobili, fans can spin it into a positive light. Injuries are a real risk, with the harshest end of that spectrum resulting in the Paul George injury. I still refuse to watch that video.
As a small excercise, I put together the entire USA team from the 2010 FIBA competition. There are two years of stats, for before and after the tournament. I look at the difference to see if there were any overarching themes that can be seen.
To identify the differences, I am looking at Usage %, TS %, and Minutes played. This way, I can identify new roles, improved efficiency, and fatigue after a long summer. I have ranked these by age in order to test the hypothesis that more professional experience would lead to a more stable NBA role, unaffected by international play.
Usage percentage looks at how often a player is directly involved in an offensive play while on the court, whether it be through a shot, free throw, assist, or turnover. An increase in the year after international play would mean the player took on more responsibility. From the usage of this team, a couple things stand out. Firstly, there is a general trend downwards as the age increases, which would make sense. As I mentioned, older players likely have a more stable NBA game, while younger players can improve in two ways. They can either earn their coach’s trust with a good performance on a big stage, or learn a couple things that they take back with them and improve their play. Either way, this bodes well for players such as Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving, budding superstars waiting to break into the top echleon. Secondly, the average USG% increased by roughly 1%, which translates to roughly 1 more possession a game that a player impacts. This isn’t necessarily insignificant, but it doesn’t represent any big breakthroughs.
Total minutes is a pretty self explanatory stat. I am using it as a gauge for how healthy a player is. Essentially, this is what I am looking at to see whether I should be relieved as a Spurs fan that both Parker and Ginobili sat out FIBA this year. The answer is… no? There is no obvious trends towards old guys getting injured more, which should happen even without international play. The average minutes played actually increased by 5 minutes a season. In my opinion, there’s not really anything to see here. Too small of a sample size to look at something as complex as injuries.
Win Shares/ 48
Win Shares / 48 minutes is basketball version of WAR, or wins above average. Essentially, it looks at how many wins a player creates for the team. Here’s where the stats get interesting. Across the board, all but three players saw their level of play jump. In this group, you find the MVP Derrik Rose, forgotten player turned championship hero in Tyson Chandler, and first time All-Stars in Kevin Love and Russel Westbrook. The average jump was 0.04 WS/48, which is mindblowing. Looking at Anthony Davis again, if you add this to his 0.21 total from last year, he jumps up to 0.25, which would put him just behind Lebron and establish him firmly as a generational talent.
Therefore, the biggest impact of international play is not in the role of players or even in how healthy their bodies are. Being played in September, it is like pre-season warmup anyways. However, instead of playing against guys at the local gym, international tournaments represent an opportunity to rub shoulders with the very best players in the world on a regular basis, providing invaluable skills that are shared or learned. In general, in this admittedly small sample, I have found that the greatest impact of international play is simply improving the games of players.