Ekpe Udoh got the first start of his career last night. The Warriors won. While Udoh has garnered quite a few fans with his defensive prowess, what he actually does on defense — aside from blocking shots — is difficult to determine from looking at his box score stats.
And while some appreciate his defense, others criticize his lack of rebounding productivity. This is true and can be measured objectively in several ways. We can look at his personal rebounding percentages: 7.6.% ORR and 12.0% DRR. These are not good at all for someone playing center. We can also look at how the team rebounds when he is on the floor vs. off. Perhaps, someone else picks up the slack, while Udoh is busy doing all that defense. Well, that turns out not to be the case. The net offensive rebounding rate (ORR) is -7.2%, and the net defensive rebounding rate (DRR) is -7.7% (data from 82games.com).
Ok, but rebounding is not everything. Remember the four factors? (If you don't, click on that link.) Besides rebounding, there is shooting efficiency, foul rate, and turnovers. I showed (and others have showed) that shooting efficiency (as measured by eFG%) far outweighs rebounding as a factor for winning. It seems to me as if many of Udoh's critics are unaware of this fact.
So, let me expand on the point with real numbers. I already gave the net rebounding figures for Udoh. The net offensive eFG% when Udoh is on the court is +2.6%. The net defensive eFG% is -4.9% (negative is better in this case, meaning the opponent has a lower shooting percentage when he is on). If you had read my article on the four factors (if you still haven't read it, despite my repeated begging — please do so now), then you would know that we need to take those percentages and plug them into the "winning formula" to determine whether the superior net shooting stats trump the inferior net rebounding rates. Of course, you don't have to do the math yourself. I have already calculated that (just looking at the shooting and rebounding parts of the formula) the team would win approximately 17 more games during the course of a season, because the shooting stats are so much more important.
If you don't want to use the fancy formula, just look at the net point differential per 100 possessions when Udoh is on the floor vs. off: +5.8 PPP. Taking that and multiplying it by 2.54 (from the wins vs. point differential equation) gives +14.7 wins over the course of a season. The reason it's a bit lower is that I didn't account for turnovers or foul rate above. The point remains: When Udoh is on the floor, the team appears to be vastly improved.
Now, it's perfectly reasonable to argue that it's small sample size, yada, yada. And it's reasonable to argue that until now Udoh has played bench minutes (although with mostly a terrible bench). (But if you're going to make this argument, then you must apply it to his rebounding stats, too, right?) The bottom line is that, if I'm the coach, I look at what the team does when a certain unit is playing. What I want to do is put the best-performing unit on the floor. Box score stats don't really show Udoh's effect on the offense or defense, but his RAPM (+1.7) also suggest a very beneficial effect. EZPM confirms that his rebounding is not good (around -3.0), but also shows his counterpart defense (~ +3) is very, very good. Taken all together, the data (and our eyes!) suggest that the positive effects of Udoh's defense and overall game vastly outweigh his biggest weakness (rebounding). Until the data show me otherwise, I say, welcome Mr. Udoh. Glad to have you on board (no pun intended). Keep doing what you do, Udoh, and don't listen to the nay-sayers.