Thursday, January 15, 2009

We Live in a Golden Age of Statistics...Or Do We?

One thing that has always driven me crazy about shot-blockers: Why do they take such pride in blocking shots so emphatically that they send the ball into the crowd? Don't they realize it's costing their team a chance at a fast break and giving the ball back to their opponent? 

Well, thanks to the geniuses at 82games.com, we now know which players commit this cardinal sin most often: Dwyane Wade (24 percent of blocks out of bounds), Dwight Howard (23), Kenyon Martin (23) and LeBron James (21). No surprises, especially not Martin. The only images my brain has recorded of Kenyon Martin are of him dunking; hanging on the rim; and blocking shots into the fifth row while Jason Kidd stands at the foul line wondering if Martin realizes he has the best fast-break point guard in the league on his team. 

To his credit, Dwight Howard has acknowledged that this is a problem. Here's Howard in a November interview with Florida Today

"My coaches and teammates want me to block the shot and keep it in bounds, but I think the fans like for me to knock it all the way out of bounds."

What did surprise me: Josh Smith has the highest percentage of blocked shots (63 percent) that result in a defensive rebound for his team. I always thought of Smith as a hot dog. I'm glad to see I was wrong, at least on this count. Also on the "good" side of this stat: Pau Gasol and Andrei Kirilenko. On the bad side, aside from Wade, Martin and Howard: Mark Blount. Keep collecting that $8.5 million salary, big guy!

I feel better knowing these arcane things. 

But the age of numbers also has its downfalls. For instance, before really smart people started coming up with really smart ways to evaluate players, it would have been axiomatic that Lamarcus Aldridge is a good player. He averages 17 points per game on 48 percent shooting and can stretch defenses with his size and shooting ability.

Along comes David Berri, whose wins produced formula finds that Aldridge is a below average NBA player. Ah, but then we have Basketball Value (hat tip to True Hoop), which has come up with a version of plus/minus that adjusts for the quality of the other nine guys on the floor. Aldridge ranks eighth-best in the NBA by this measure, behind names like Chris Paul, LeBron James and KG. 

So who's right? The truth is, even the smartest NBA fans--and this includes beat reporters, bloggers, writers, etc.--simply don't have the mathematical background or the time to sit down and evaluate these formulas.

Complex stats have enhanced our understanding of all sports (especially baseball), but they've spread so quickly in the last 15 years, due largely to the Web, that sometimes you can read for hours and come away with no firm conclusion. And that's probably a good thing, even if it's a bit frustrating. 

7 comments:

  1. I think the key is that the smartest basketball fans realize there's no 'answer' yet, though realizing that Dave Berri doesn't have it. Unfortunately Berri's tone suggests that Berri really thinks Berri has the answer.

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  2. The most underrated statistic out there is the DCUP version of Plus/Minus. Those guys know what plus/minus is all about. You deal a card off the table, you get a minus. You throw a card at someone's face, double minus. No arguments, no complaints. So simple, yet so accurate.

    No, I don't have a link to support my story.

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  3. Its gotten so bad some just invent useless stats for no reason. Like me.

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  4. Care to enlighten us on the useless made-up stats, Mr. Brown?

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  5. Sure, self-promotion on others blogs is what I'm all about: http://deceptivelyquick.blogspot.com/2008/12/scoring-consistency-observation-1.html

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  6. Ga! Chopped off url, serves me right. It was for the best.

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  7. "Advanced" basketball statistics are the new tea leaves.

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