The Trouble with Tyrus in 2008-09

[Note by your friendly BullsBlogger, 06/06/09 9:32 AM CDT: From the FanPosts. Purely epic.]

I'm a Tyrus Thomas guy. I've been a Tyrus Thomas guy since before we drafted him. I loved his fire at LSU and his shot blocking and the highlight dunks and all that he brought to the table.  I loved his tremendous upside potential. In his first two years for the Bulls, I loved his productivity and hated that Skiles didn't get him more playing time.

This year, I wanted and expected him to improve.  This year, I was left disappointed.  That's not to say that Tyrus didn't improve in some areas.  His jumper seemed to improve over the course of this year, especially after his awful start to the year shooting the ball, but overall Tyrus regressed this year.

Now, let's look at some numbers to back up these assertions and try to figure out what Tyrus did wrong this year, and what he can do to improve next year (assuming he's with the team).

To start let's go to the beginning (Tyrus's rookie year) to see what made Tyrus so successful as a first year player:


Tyrus's shot selection on the offensive end was perfect for a player of his limited skill level as a rookie.  He took 72% of his shots from inside, and dunked it on almost a third of his shots.  When we look at his hotspots chart from his rookie year, we can see why he chose not to shoot from outside:


It's pretty clear Tyrus couldn't really shoot from outside his first year in the league, and he wisely chose not to do so.  He did a pretty good job of finishing on the inside.  He managed to only slightly hurt the team's offense (-.4 when he was on the court versus when he was off) when he was out on the floor as a first year player, but he more than made up for it with exceptional defense.  Check out his on/off stats from that year:


So, what made up Tyrus's exceptional contributions on defense as a rookie?  Well, let's look at it through the spectrum of the Four Factors (eFG%, TOV%, Reb%, and FT/FGA).  The most important part of basketball success is eFG% - basically shooting better than the other team.  This is hardly groundbreaking.  But look at just how much Tyrus effected the game when he was in there on defense.  The Bulls own eFG% was unchanged by Tyrus's presence, but they allowed an eFG 4.2% lower than when he was off the court.  That's huge. So huge in fact that it was able to overcome Tyrus's neutral to below average performances in the other Four Factors areas on defense.  Tyrus had no impact on net turnovers as a rookie (the Bulls forced slightly more turnovers with him on the floor, but they turned it over slightly more with Tyrus in the game).  The Bulls DReb% went down with Tyrus in the game, but their offensive rebounding went up with him in.  (This is probably part of how he mitigated his limited offensive abilities as a rookie.)  The drop off in DReb% when he was out there versus when he was not was not enough to overcome all he did in preventing the other team from getting good looks - evidenced by the drastically reduced eFG%.  Tyrus also fouled, a lot.  He averaged 6 fouls per 36 minutes of playing time.  Not exactly great for keeping down the other teams FTA. But again, that shot blocking and altering ability really, really helped to the tune of a 4.0 point advantage on defense with Tyrus in versus Tyrus out.

Next, let's see how Tyrus progressed from his first to his second year.  Let's start again with his shot selection on offense:


Tyrus took a big leap in the amount of jumpers he took in year 2 versus year 1 (28% up to 47%), but he also had a good deal more success with the jumpers he took (eFG% rose from abysmal at .200 to just bad at .352).  It was clear that he was working on adding that jumper to his game, and we can see that he added many more attempts and many more makes, though still not the percentage you'd like to see him hit.  The real problem for Tyrus (and the hotspots below highlights this) was how much his ability to finish inside dropped off from year one.


Looking back up at the 82 games shot selection data, it's clear why Tyrus wasn't finishing as well.  He was getting fewer dunks.  He went from 29% of his shot attempts being dunks to just 16%.  He also was not nearly as effective at tipping the ball in, in his second year, but tips accounted for such a small part of his shot attempts that this hardly matters.  It was about Tyrus not being able to get to the rim like he did in his first year.  I think this was a product of the offense not being run as well as it had been the previous year and because  Tyrus didn't cut as well as he did in his first year. Also, Tyrus had taken a more perimeter oriented approach, shown by the great increase in the number of jumpers he took, so that he was further away from the basket to begin with so the opportunities for dunks were fewer and farther between.  On the brighter side, Tyrus became, at least for that year, a much better passer.  He improved his AST% to 11.0% up from 6.6% as a rookie, and he cut down on his TOV% from 20.8% as a rook to just 13% in his second year. This was probably partially a side effect of passing lanes opening for Tyrus as his jumper became an actual weapon, albeit a rather weak one. Despite Tyrus's decreased efficiency scoring the ball, he managed to improve in terms of his individual impact on the offense marginally.  As a rookie, he had been a slight negative. In his second year, he became neutral.  His ORtg also improved from 95 to 101.


Tyrus's defense slipped somewhat from its lofty rookie level heights.  His DRtg went from a sterling 93 (which led the league, as a rookie) to a 103, and as shown by the on/off data above, the Bulls net points per 100 possessions when he was in versus when he was out on defense in his second year dropped to 3.7 versus the 4.0 he posted his rookie year.  It occurs to me that I should probably note when using this on / off data that back-up effects are highly involved here. But, looking at the other data (i.e. DRtg slippage, Tyrus's drop in individual DReb%, Blk%, and Stl %), I feel pretty safe in saying that his defense was slightly better as a rookie. Not coincidentally, his first year was an all year Skiles affair with no bumbling B%$#@lan and no Skiles quitting on the team.  It's amazing what a good coach can do for defense.  

Another thing that jumps out is that Tyrus's ability to alter shots to lower the other team's eFG% largely disappeared in year 2. In his first year, teams shot eFG% 4.2 percentage points lower with him on the court and then as a second year player team's actually shot a better eFG% with him on the floor versus not. Whether that was a result of Tyrus not being as good of position - due to lack of coaching, his own lack of awareness, or some combination of the two, I'm not sure.  In perhaps somewhat related news, Tyrus was less reckless with getting whistles and reduced his personal fouls per 36 down to 4.6 from 6 as a rookie.  You can make a good argument that Tyrus's more controlled play on the defensive end actually limited his effectiveness.  As a rookie, Tyrus literally seemed to be everywhere on defense, but he also got whistled a lot, and as a result found himself on the bench too often.  It's unclear to me what accounts for the change in Tyrus's effectiveness at reducing eFG%, but it's certainly clear that it happened.  But in the interest of time, and because it's easy, I'll blame B#@%an and move on.

In year 2, team defensive rebounding improved with Tyrus on the court versus not, but his own individual DR% stayed the same. While his OR% dropped, this was probably related to Tyrus playing a more perimeter oriented game.

All in all though, last year was a still a pretty great success for Tyrus as he posted the team's best 1 year adjusted plus minus, at +4.97, according to basketballvalue's numbers (insert caveats about the noise of those numbers, here).  His improved passing and reduced turnovers, combined with his increased ability to space the floor, relatively speaking of course, contributed to him being an average to slightly below average offensive player and he continued to be a big defensive force, if not at the quite the same level he was a rookie.

Finally, we arrive at this year, which was a very up and down affair for Tyrus Thomas and those who follow him closely.  One trend that held up was Tyrus's increased use of the outside shot.


Tyrus jumped up to using 55% of his shot attempts on jumpers.  Up from 47% the previous year, and just 28% his rookie year.  Unfortunately for Tyrus, and Bulls fans, was that he did not see the same leap in effectiveness on his jumper that he had between year 1 and year 2. In fact, his eFG% on jumpers was nearly identical this year relative to last, .350 versus .352, respectively.  On the up side, in terms of Tyrus's shot selection, more of his attempts by percentage this year were dunks than the year before, 17% versus 14% last year.  Unfortunately, his eFG% on dunks was just .883 this year versus .921 last year. However, Tyrus counteracted that by being more effective on "Close" attempts that were not dunks (eFG% up to .390 from .338) and tip ins. Tyrus's total eFG% was up slightly to .453 from .424 from the year before.  He also got to the line more frequently netting 5.0 FTA per 36 versus 4.7 the year before and converted those attempts at a higher clip (78.3% vs. 74.1%). Add it all up and Tyrus clocked in with his highest TS% of his career at .525.


Tyrus's hotspots chart from this year (above) looks like a combination of the previous two years. The first year he was finishing inside and nothing else, then his second year he was struggling inside, but increasing his shooting touch.  This year he had his midrange game going (relatively speaking for Tyrus) and was finishing pretty well inside. It would seem then that Tyrus probably had a pretty good year on offense, but what do the on / off stats say?


Tyrus looks terrible by the on / off stats here.  He clocks in at a -6.6 on offense and and a +.4 on defense (which is actually a bad thing) for a net point differential when he was on the court versus when he was off of -6.9.  Now, again, insert the caveats about these numbers being unadjusted for the teammates Tyrus played with and who he played against and who his backups are.  Still, these numbers are pretty ugly for Tyrus.  The adjusted numbers for this year are not much prettier, basketballvalue lists Tyrus as the worst on the team in 1-year adjusted plus minus. He clocks in at a terrible -7.82, albeit with a standard error of 3.85, so take it for what it's worth.  The 2 year numbers are more friendly to Tyrus, but that's just because they add his data from last year (when he lead the team in APM) to the sample to reduce noise.

So why was the offense so bad with Tyrus on the floor versus when he was off?  Well, he reverted back to being bad at passing.  His AST% dropped from 11% last year to a career low 5.5%, he turned the ball over slightly more (13.6% versus 13.0%), and as a result the team did not get good looks when Tyrus was in the game.  This can be seen from the 3.2% drop in eFG% from when Tyrus was in the game versus when he wasn't.  Oddly enough, though, there were a great many more assisted FGs when Tyrus was in the game versus not.  So it appears Tyrus wasn't hindering the ball movement, despite not racking up many assists himself. Though, it could just be that Tyrus played a lot of minutes with the better assistmen on the team and so his lack of assists didn't matter and were easily overcome by those guys.  Tyrus also didn't hit the offensive glass. His individual OR% dropped to 7.8%, a career low, and team rebounding (offensive, defensive, and total) was lower with Tyrus on the floor versus when he was off of it.

On defense, Tyrus was again unable to impact the other team's ability to make shots, as the other team's eFG% was about the same with or without Tyrus, and in fact was slightly better even with the shotblocking Thomas out there.  This combined with Tyrus's lack of defensive rebounding lead to the Bulls being worse off on defense with Tyrus out there versus not.  This is something that would've seemed inconceivable after seeing his rookie season.


Tyrus's jumpshot has become a big, big part of his game.  It still needs work. Ideally we'd want his eFG% on jumpshots to be more like the .442 that Amare Stoudemire shoots on 2pt jumpshots. For reference, Amare shoots  the same percentage of his shots as 2P jumpshots as Tyrus.  Each player shoots 53% of his total attempts from 2p jump shot range.  For Tyrus to become an elite offensive weapon, he needs to at least get to around .40 - .41 eFG% on his 2p jumpshots, especially if he's going to insist on taking 53% of his shots as 2 point jumpers.  I have no doubt Tyrus will continue to put in the work on his jumper and if we chuck out his early month struggles when his jumper was truly abysmal, I imagine he's close to already being relatively close to that range now.  Even if Tyrus never improves his jumper, which is a doubtful proposition given his committment to it, he can still be an effective offensive player or at the very least, he can be a player that doesn't hurt the offense.  But, he must absolutely get back to passing the ball the way he did as a second year player and he must absolutely get back to hitting the glass, particularly the offensive glass, the way he did as a rookie - when he posted an OR% of 10.6%.  An OR% of 7.8% from your starting PF just doesn't cut it, especially when that guy struggles to score efficiently.

The biggest and most glaring thing to me has been the disappearance of Tyrus's elite level defense.  He went from being one of the better defenders in the league by a number of different metrics, to being a neutral force on that end to even a negative for the Bulls defense by basketballvalue's adjusted numbers for this year, they have him clocking in at a +1.86 on defense (where negative numbers indicate positive defensive contributions). The measurable things (blocks and steals) were still there for Tyrus this year, but his defensive rebounding dropped from the previous two years level of 21% down to 19%.  Still, a 2% drop in DR%, while important, can't account for such a large drop on the defensive end.  I suspect there's a combination of Vinny's defensive scheme, or lack thereof, not putting Tyrus in the best position to be successful, Tyrus not being as focused on that end of the floor, and other teams simply figuring out that Tyrus is going to try to block everything remotely resembling a shot and taking advantage at work which led to Tyrus's bad year on defense.

For Tyrus Thomas to be worth keeping, he has to get back to being an elite defender (and Vinny needs to come up with a real scheme that utilizes Tyrus's strengths), continue improving his offensive game (shooting, finishing, and PASSING), and he has got to get back to hitting the glass like a big man, like he did as a rookie.  To get better at boarding, Tyrus will probably need to bulk up and get stronger, or at the very least, learn how to box people out rather than relying so much on his ability to outjump everyone.

I expect the Bulls to try to move Tyrus for a more established star at PF, but if they don't, I really hope he can make the leap to the next level, unlikely as that may be.  I hope this post served as a good primer for the ways in which he should look to improve.


For a very in-depth breakdown of Tyrus's jumpshot, check out Doug Thonus's take here.  He does a month by month break down of every midrange jumper Tyrus has taken in the last two years using the NBA hotspot data (yeoman work by Doug to do that manually).  He also used Synergy Sports Tech to tell us a bit about Tyrus's jumpshooting.  Ultimately, Tyrus's jumpshot appears to have gotten worse from last year to this.  Keep working Tyrus.


FanPosts are user-created posts from the BlogABull community, and are to be treated as the opinions and views of that particular user, not that of the blogger or blog community as a whole.

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