This post was originally published on June 3, 2012.
On the ESPN pregame show before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals between Boston and Miami, there was a long discussion about why peripheral players tend to struggle more on the road than at home. Which, of course, begs the question…do peripheral players really struggle more on the road than at home?
If we break down player importance by minutes played, we can stratify everyone in the NBA into six categories, ranging from guys who play under 15 minutes per game to those who play more than 35. This is what the results look like for free throw shooting:
|Free Throw%||Away||Home||Diff||Away % of Home|
|Players Over 35 mpg||.763||.757||-.006||100.8%|
This confirms another myth-buster we learned at the Sloan MIT Sports Conference this year: teams shoot free throws better on the road, not at home. Players over 35 minutes per game see a small improvement on the road, with home-cooking only reserved for players in the 20 to 25 minute bracket. Those players see a 1.1% decrease in free throw shooting on the road.
Obviously, free throw shooting isn’t a category that tells us much. Instead, let’s look at overall box score statistics that ballpark play based on the basic box stats. First, Game Score (similar to PER) and then Expected Value run only on the box score stats. Finally, points per game and True Shooting% are included.
|Game Score||Away||Home||Diff||Away % of Home|
|Players Over 35 mpg||14.6||15.7||1.1||93.2%|
|Box EV||Away||Home||Diff||Away % of Home|
|Players Over 35 mpg||4.5||5.4||0.8||84.3%|
|Points Per Game||Away||Home||Diff||Away % of Home|
|Players Over 35 mpg||18.95||19.62||0.7||96.6%|
|True Shooting%||Away||Home||Diff||Away % of Home|
|Players Over 35 mpg||.535||.556||.021||96.2%|
Based on these measurements, lower minute players are actually more consistent on the road than they are away from home. Consider:
- 25-30 minute players decrease the most on the road by Game Score and Box-based EV
- 25-30 minute player see no decline in points per game and TS%
- Under 15 minute players see a Road decline comparable to high minute players in points and efficiency
Otherwise, the players with the biggest drop-off in road performance are the high-minute players! Whether it’s composite box metrics or scoring and shooting, the biggest difference between road and home is typically seen in the key players. In the composite metrics especially, the high-minute players see a significantly larger decline on the road than the low-minute players do.
Keep in mind this is not a definitive study, but a broad examination. We could change the criteria to examine “only All-Stars” or “only All-Stars in the playoffs,” and it’s possible the results look different. But it’s important to note, that in general, it is not the role players who decline more on the road, but the stars.