Monday, February 16, 2009

The Most Important* NBA News of All-Star Weekend

*Unless you're a Miami or Toronto fan.

It didn't involve Joe Johnson finishing third in the HORSE competition, playing 21 scoreless minutes (with 5 turnovers) in the All-Star Game, or Mike Bibby barely tripping over the first hurdle in the Three-Point Shootout.

In New York Times Magazine Michael Lewis profiles Shane Battier and Daryl Morey to survey the current state of advanced stats (Or at least as much as Morey and the Rockets were willing to reveal about how they evaluate players.) in the NBA:
Battier’s game is a weird combination of obvious weaknesses and nearly invisible strengths. When he is on the court, his teammates get better, often a lot better, and his opponents get worse — often a lot worse. He may not grab huge numbers of rebounds, but he has an uncanny ability to improve his teammates’ rebounding. He doesn’t shoot much, but when he does, he takes only the most efficient shots. He also has a knack for getting the ball to teammates who are in a position to do the same, and he commits few turnovers. On defense, although he routinely guards the N.B.A.’s most prolific scorers, he significantly ­reduces their shooting percentages. At the same time he somehow improves the defensive efficiency of his teammates — probably, Morey surmises, by helping them out in all sorts of subtle ways. “I call him Lego,” Morey says. “When he’s on the court, all the pieces start to fit together. And everything that leads to winning that you can get to through intellect instead of innate ability, Shane excels in. I’ll bet he’s in the hundredth percentile of every category.”

There are other things Morey has noticed too, but declines to discuss as there is right now in pro basketball real value to new information, and the Rockets feel they have some. What he will say, however, is that the big challenge on any basketball court is to measure the right things. The five players on any basketball team are far more than the sum of their parts; the Rockets devote a lot of energy to untangling subtle interactions among the team’s elements. To get at this they need something that basketball hasn’t historically supplied: meaningful statistics. For most of its history basketball has measured not so much what is important as what is easy to measure — points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots — and these measurements have warped perceptions of the game. (“Someone created the box score,” Morey says, “and he should be shot.”) How many points a player scores, for example, is no true indication of how much he has helped his team. Another example: if you want to know a player’s value as a ­rebounder, you need to know not whether he got a rebound but the likelihood of the team getting the rebound when a missed shot enters that player’s zone.
This is a must-read.

1 comment:

Bronnt said...

For every step forward, a big step back.

I don't know how you feel about, but they do a very good job, overall. They provide a lot of stats that I can't find anywhere else, like detailed shooting percentages and a breakdown of positional minutes.

Then I see this article ( that looks promising-analyzing expected performance of draft picks based on their slot, and it's a series that includes a look at the best and worst drafting teams. Looks very good, but the rating system is rather ridiculous. Pts/game + Rebounds/game + assists/game. I can't even understand why you'd even undertake a long-period statistical analysis of the NBA draft with such a simplistic measuring stick.

Extremely disappointing that this writer failed to go any farther in depth in terms of creating a measuring stick for these picks, coming from a site that has promised and generally delivered "innovative statistical coverage and analysis" for going on 5 years.