The Neatest Nets Numbers: Theo Pinson’s Electric Boogaloo
Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Neatest Nets Numbers, where I rant about the most entertaining numbers attributed to this year’s Brooklyn Nets squad. Some of these stats are pretty inconsequential to the team’s success; some (like today’s) are just results of too much free time spent in statistical databases/ What I hope to show is that the ’19-’20 Nets were fascinatingly strange in ways not many average teams have ever been.Ultimately, Brooklyn’s extravagant mediocrity resulted in some numbers that, as the title would indicate, I find pretty neat. Today’s numbers come from Theo Pinson.
I’ve always loved watching Theo Pinson play basketball. As a lanky wing at UNC, he participated in a ton of high-stakes contests on two Final Four Tar Heels teams. In his young NBA career, Pinson has been best known as Brooklyn’s one-man bench mob, a real “heart-and-soul” type clubhouse guy who mostly got garbage minutes. This season proved just why he’s been relegated to that role. A painful series of events led to a sudden Theo Pinson stranglehold on the Nets’ backup point guard position. Some would say he got exposed during his time on the court this year. Per John Hollinger of the Athletic, “Pinson will be in another country next year.”
And yet, I still enjoyed rooting for Theo this season. Once I accepted that his play wasn’t going to make or break Brooklyn’s season, his most striking quality was free to admire. Theo Pinson is a confident man. “Too confident” would just be a disservice. There’s nobody in the NBA who can take his place, if his stateside career is indeed over.
To be clear, I’m not saying Theo Pinson is the most confident player in the league. Just the most entertainingly so. When LeBron James puffs his chest out, it feels a bit inevitable. Stomping all over Zion Williamson and the Pelicans with stare-downs and flexes is a bit on-the-nose, yeah?
No, Theo Pinson plays basketball like a pickup all-star. The Kobe-devotee who will pull from anywhere, regardless of prior success. Like, enough to the point where his teammates aren’t even mad, just in awe of one person’s obliviousness. I hate that guy, as one does. But watching that phenomenon unfold in an NBA game is beautifully absurd. Especially when the culprit is the team’s Official Unofficial Dance Mascot. To combine those levels of enthusiasm and swagger ensures nobody will stop your fun.
The stat this number reflects is not, uh, universally recognized. I’ll term it the Theo Pinson Confidence Indicator (TPCI) score. To find a player’s TPCI, you follow these steps:
Take his %FGA (what portion of his team’s shots he attempted while on the floor)
Take his %FGM (the same stat, solely counting makes)
Subtract %FGM from %FGA (Thus, a positive score means you should probably shoot less)
In a symmetrical world, everybody’s TPCI score would be 0. If you take 20% of your team’s shots, you *should* make about 20%. A rim-running big like Dwight Howard typically produces a negative score: His teammates are shooting far more frequently, but Dwight won’t misfire on many lob-dunks. A gunner like late-stage Kobe Bryant profiles as a high-level producer in the TPCI category. All that freedom and confidence with so few quality teammates, and such little cartilage left. TPCI abound. Sure, TPCI probably has an inverse relationship with a player’s contributions to winning basketball, but that’s not what we’re here to measure. That’s why it’s named after Theo Pinson’s ’19-’20 season.
Speaking of which, in his 365 minutes this year, Pinson accounted for a 23 %FGA, or almost one-quarter of Brooklyn’s shots. His shooting percentages, the worst in the NBA, (min. 350 minutes) leaves him with a 16.2 %FGM, or about one-sixth of Brooklyn’s makes. Thus, the first of our Neatest Nets Numbers is 6.8, the TPCI score of the namesake himself.
6.8? What’s So Interesting About That?
Not much, other than the fact that it’s the highest f**king score in the history of the NBA (at least since the NBA started tracking usage rates in 1996). Nobody has ever taken that many of his team’s shots with such disastrous results. Theo Pinson’s green light only led him straight into oncoming traffic. And yet, he kept driving through it. Glorious. Pinson was thrust into a backup point guard role for a playoff team, having never played the point before while lacking the skills to be a meaningful contributor. And how did he respond to this situation? Only in the most badass way possible, with an I got this attitude. His TPCI score in November, his first trial run as professional minutes-getter occurred due to injuries to both Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert, his TPCI settled in at 8.6.
The Theo Pinson era in Brooklyn was something we won’t see again in the NBA for some time. It was a jarring experience that engendered sympathy for a prototype of the YMCA ball-hog I didn’t think was possible, and it was a glimpse into Theo Pinson’s apparent strategy to never allow an ounce of self-doubt. To see him maintain his infectious energy once re-relegated to bench duties made the whole experience feel complete. 6.8 is one of the neatest numbers of this mirage of a season because it contextualizes one of the weirdest plot lines in the entire NBA. Theo Pinson took the archetype of the ideal backup point guard and flipped it on its head, smiling and dancing through it all.
A Graph is Worth a Thousand Words
Here we see each Net’s %FGM plotted against his %FGA. The graph provides some obvious insights into the way Brooklyn ran offense this year. Their primary ball-handlers took and made the majority of shots, with Kyrie Irving spearheading the charge. Despite a bum shoulder which lead to a plethora of ghastly shooting performances, Irving remained remarkably efficient as a high volume scorer, and these stats don’t even include his free throw numbers.
As expected, Brooklyn’s duel rim-running bigs veer off to the bottom right. Jarrett Allen and Deandre Jordan don’t take many shots, but it’s hard to miss dunks as a seven-footer. Fellow TPCI all-star Dzanan Musa saves Pinson from becoming a woeful outlier on this chart, as both of their sophomore campaigns provided plenty of, let’s say, audacious shot attempts.
The Fun Part: A History Lesson
While Theo Pinson is the all-time leader of the single-season category he birthed, that doesn’t mean there aren’t historical benchmarks for his ’19-’20 season. Of players who logged at least 350 minutes in an individual campaign, he stands atop the TPCI list with 6.8, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t players hot on his trail.
4.9: Courtesy of none other than Spencer Dinwiddie, in his rookie year with Detroit. If there’s one number that illustrates just how unexpected Dinwiddie’s ascent into fringe All-Star territory was, it’s this/
5.1, 3.2: The TPCI scores of Shawne Williams and Deshawn Stevenson, respectively, as members of the 12-win 2010-’11 New Jersey Nets. As owners of the 2nd and 3rd worst FG% in the league that year, this duo perfectly encapsulates just how awfully forgettable that team really was.
5.5, 5.2: The scores Sasha Vujacic produced in his first and final years in the NBA. His lone season with the Nets in, you guessed it, 2011, wasn’t even his most miserable experience in the NBA.
3.4: I had to include Treveon Graham‘s 2018-’19 season in this list. The only thing more astounding than posting this TPCI score on such low volume is the fact he finished SECOND on Brooklyn in Offensive Rating. How that’s possible, I have no idea.
6.5: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Pelicans other 2019 first-round selection, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and his rookie season. He is the only player on this list to shoot more often than Theo Pinson, and almost robs him of the top spot.
5.2: Rafer Alston, in his rookie year with Milwaukee. This is the closest comparison I can find for Theo Pinson’s truly incredible 2020 season. He got spot minutes as a backup point guard, and responded to that situation not by turning into an innocuous ball distributor, but by going full Skip 2 My Lou, turning every late shot clock situation into an impromptu isolation session. I’m sure George Karl loved it.
The Nets bench was the most mangled aspect of the team in wake of the injury onslaught this season brought. Heading that unit for significant portions of the year was a reserve point guard unlike any other in the NBA, whole stole the show for better or (mostly) worse when he took the court. Brooklyn’s most beloved locker room presence refused to conform to typical notions of a backup facilitator, and it made for great entertainment. That entertainment promptly ceased when Chris Chiozza took hold of the role shortly after the All-Star break, finding rolling big men and whipping one handed pass to corner shooters. Chiozza fit in the Nets dampened guard rotation like a glove. But I’m sure glad we got those few months of Theo Pinson’s shenanigans.