Here’s Part II of my interview (click here to read Part I) with Keith Boyarsky and Alex Rucker, statistical consultants for the Toronto Raptors. In this segment, I go one-on-one with Alex about Hedo Turkoglu.
As Hedo Turkoglu gets older, do you anticipate that his role will change with the Toronto Raptors? Do you see an evolution in his responsibilities over time?
Honestly, I think a lot of the reasons that we were okay with the contract length that we gave him was the fact that his game isn’t really predicated on athleticism. It relies, kind of, heavily on the fact that he’s successful in a lot of things. He plays very intelligently, at least on the offensive end, especially. So, will his role change? I’m sure it will. I don’t think it will erode, if you will, like normal players that rely more on athleticism because the fact is that he’s a long 6’10” small forward who is pretty much always in a [favorable] matchup situation at that position. So, the things that he’s able to do I don’t think depend on quickness, speed, and, kind of, inherited abilities as much as they do with his basketball talent. I think that his decline … obviously everybody declines at some point in their 30’s and I’m sure he will, but I would guess that his decline will be slower in ways that we care about.
In terms of his production, you mentioned before that the point guards for the Raptors have played a big role in influencing Turkoglu’s numbers on offense this year. Let’s say either Jose Calderon or Jarrett Jack go down with an injury, do you guys grant more ball-handling responsibilities to Turkoglu?
Oh yeah. That’s one of those things where Jay [Triano] has the luxury of having a bunch of wing ball-handlers, if you will. Two positive value point guards plus Hedo and you can only have one permanent ball-handler at any given time so finding that correct balance is something Jay has obviously, I think, done a pretty good job with this season, honestly. If Jose were to go down or Jarrett were to go down for any kind of prolonged period, I have no doubt that Hedo is in a more prominent role with ball-handling, just like he did with Orlando last year. But I think the rationale right now is we have two permanent ball-handlers with the two point guards. Let them do their thing and then that way, Hedo is not used that much because I think that for a big [portion] of the season, we were kind of trying to set ourselves up for the playoffs and obviously the last month and a half haven’t gone nearly as well as we had hoped but I think that we will still go into the playoffs with a fairly fresh team from top to bottom.
Do you anticipate Toronto relying on Turkoglu more in the playoffs, given what he was able to accomplish with the Orlando Magic in the postseason last year?
Yeah, I don’t know the real answer but I would guess that … we obviously know what he can do and that was part of the appeal. When it came time to the second season, with the season we really care about, he’s a guy that’s proven … that there were observers that said he was the best player on the Magic in the Finals last year. Was that true? I don’t know but he absolutely raised his game in the playoffs and I have no question he’ll do it [this year].
Now, does that mean we’re going to shift ball-handling from the point guards to him? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I think it’ll depend a lot on matchups and who we’re playing but I’d be surprised if Jay and the coaches were working on things, as soon as we get to the playoffs, to do this massive offensive change.
I know that you and Keith joined the Raptors in the off-season. Did you have a say in the signing of Turkoglu or did you arrive to the team after that?
No, the signing took place before we joined the organization. We had no input on the signing. It was interesting, though, I think it was actually … yeah, the first question that general manager Bryan Colangelo asked us was basically, ‘I made this big decision for the franchise: a.) What do you think? Basically, do some analysis in terms of what impact that will have’ and then b.) was the Jay part, which is ‘how is he best used in our offense?’ or ‘how do you think he’ll fit and what are the roles where he appears to have the most value.’ We did a lot of work on Hedo in the off-season but it was all, kind of, after the fact. That was purely a timing thing.
I’m sure you can’t state, specifically, what you’ve done and the numbers you’ve crunched but have you seen some of the suggestions that you’ve given to Jay come to fruition in games? How does that work itself out, in terms of how Jay uses your input?
Yeah, there’s a lot of what I call ‘fog of war’ when it comes to that because we … it’s interesting, from reading [the APBRmetrics forum] and some of the other things at the Sloan Conference, my sense is that most of the quantitative analysts, most of their work is with, kind of, the personnel side and with the management side. I think we’re probably most like 70/30 with coach/management stuff so most of the stuff we do is for Jay and the coaches so in terms of that question, the answer is probably yes.
I’ll ask questions. We’ll look at things provided for them, give them answers, kind of have an ongoing dialogue about certain things. Yeah, I mean, sometimes I’ll talk to Jay and he’ll ask, ‘hey, can you suggest doing this? Does that work well?’ I think most of it is more just additional data points, in the sense of when coaches or managers make decisions, they consider a lot of things. I think that our job is to make sure that when they consider the quantitative production stuff, they consider it more correct than what they’re going to get at [Basketball-Reference] or whatever. Not that the stuff is wrong. I guess ESPN is a better example. Not that box score stats are wrong, they don’t reveal everything.
There’s no question, with the Hedo question, you asked about his role. I mean, yeah, we … possessions that he plays role as creator, not necessarily as ball-handler in terms of bringing the ball up the court but once you’ve gotten into the quarter-court, if he is … I don’t know how you want to characterize it in normal lingo. When he’s the guy running the offense, when it gets to him, he’s the one having to do the shot creation, those are our most valuable possessions. I mean, Jose is a great point guard, Jack is a very good point guard and they have definitely some strengths but Hedo, in the half-court, is a unique player in terms of what he does against defenses. We benefit a lot from that so if you watch Raptors games, I think you’ll see that a fairly significant percentage of our offensive plays when we’re running the half-court will go right through Hedo when he’s on the floor and that’s totally intentional. Now, did Jay do that because of stuff we told him or did he do that because he appreciates Hedo’s talents? I don’t know what the answer is. It’s probably a culmination of the two, I guess.
I like to thank Keith and Alex for taking the time to answer my questions.