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Pac-12 Basketball: Which players are best suited for their roles?

Borrowing a page from Dean Oliver’s book, I assess which Pac-12 players were the most resourceful with their possessions last season.

NCAA Basketball: Cal St. Fullerton at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Dean Oliver, one of the founding members of the analytical movement in basketball, has utilized player efficiency ratings to determine a simple win/loss record for individual players. Offensive and defensive efficiency ratings are estimates of how many points per 100 possessions a player scores/allows. When offensive efficiency is greater than defensive efficiency, the player is given a win, and vice versa.

Using this data, we are able to predict a winning percentage that each player yields over the course of the season. The following data later in the article helps explain which players are the best at their given roles.

Although it’s nearly impossible to hypothesize whether or not a single player is responsible for a win or loss (and you sure won’t hear a coach say it), efficiency ratings that can be translated to wins and losses can be very insightful to determining player roles.

Throughout the course of studying various players, you might see some players who started in lesser roles and transformed into the most important players on their given teams. When using individual win-loss projections, it can help coaches, fans and analysts to understand how well a player is able to fit various roles as they change over time. You might find a player who is more equipped to be a sixth man than a starting shooting guard that logs a larger number of possessions, and so on.

Below is a graph that uses expected individual win-loss percentage and usage percentage (also known as possessions used) to show which players are best suited for their roles. Players on the right side of the graph, on average, possession the ball more than those on the left. The higher up on the graph, the higher the expected win-loss percentage.

A handful of notable Pac-12 returnees are displayed above, as well as a few of the big names from last year, such as Jaylen Brown and Jakob Poeltl. The red trend-line displays the expected win percentage by the usage percentage rate. As the usage percentage increases (a player who is typically more important to his team), his individual win percentage should improve as well.

This isn't the case for all players. Tra Holder, who is far below the trend line, does not appear to be statistically prepared to take on his go-to role for the Sun Devils, whether or not head coach Bobby Hurley has any other viable options.

It is interesting to assess juniors and seniors and whether their roles seem to be suitable. Here are some of the main upperclassmen in the Pac-12 this year, and how their individual win percentages have changed over the years:

Player (Year) Usage % Individual Win % Team Win %

Dillon Brooks, Oregon ('15)
Bryce Alford, UCLA ('14)
Jabari Bird, Cal ('14)
Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Arizona ('15)
Josh Hawkinson, Washington State ('14)

What does this mean for the upcoming season?

Dillon Brooks, Oregon

Expect the upwards trend to continue. After a 2.9 percentage usage increase from his freshman to sophomore season, I'm anticipating head coach Dana Altman to utilize Brooks even more in the Duck offense. When Brooks possesses the ball more, Oregon is a better team. Brooks might be taking home a fair share of awards at season's end.

Bryce Alford, UCLA

Alford's Bruins have declined each season after his first year on campus, but I don't see that as a possibility with the returning talent and incoming freshmen now in Westwood. Bryce's usage percentage might take a slight dip because of Lonzo Ball's tremendous passing and ball handling abilities, but I do believe this will be Alford's most efficient season yet. There is too much talent on the Bruins roster for this team to fail.

Jabari Bird, California

This California guard has the most interesting stats of any of the players listed. Bird has started 12, 21 and 22 games in his first three seasons but his usage percentage has dropped noticeably each year. Even as his usage has ebbed, he has become a significantly more effective player, improving his individual win percentage by over 35 points since his freshman season. I'm curious to see what head coach Cuonzo Martin has in store for Bird this season. With the losses of Tyrone Wallace (27.9 Usg%), Jaylen Brown (31.2 Usg%) and Jordan Mathews (20.1 Usg%), Bird will have to take over the helm in the Golden Bears backcourt.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Arizona

Maybe this is finally the season that Jackson-Cartwright blossoms into the point guard that most envisioned after his dominant high school career. Jackson-Cartwright (also known as PJC) has been receiving some love from national analysts this summer. CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein is one of many who think the California native is primed for a breakout season. Strangely enough, PJC's efficiency waned last season despite a lesser workload. There are some questions surrounding the Wildcat backcourt, but if Jackson-Cartwright can answer the call, this Arizona team will be a force in the league this season.

Josh Hawkinson, Washington State

Josh Hawkinson might be one of the most underrated players in the Pac-12. He has been incredibly efficient on offense despite playing on one of the worst Power 5 teams the last three seasons. The Wazzu frontcourt took a hit after the Valentine Izundu (14.4 Usg%) fiasco, which opens the door for Hawkinson to carry the burden even more down low. Don't expect much out of the Cougars this year, but if there is one thing that's for certain, it's that Hawkinson will put up huge numbers.