Blood from the Shoulder of Pallas

Richard Hamilton hits a midrange shot off of a Billups pass. So many things have gone right for him to get that open look, but we quantify what we easily observe; we value Hamilton’s shot with two points and Billups’s pass with an assist. However, statistics don’t credit Ben Wallace’s pick, or the attention the rest of the defense pays to Rasheed, or Hamilton’s ability to induce fatigue in his defenders, or an opportune play call by Flip Saunders, or a host of other things. Unlike baseball, a basketball game is basically one fluid and exceptionally complex event.

Statheads like Billy Beane and Theo Epstein have demonstrated over the course of several years that quantifying and statistically analyzing baseball works. But baseball is simple enough to be reduced to a large collection of single, easily evaluated, events. I can comprehend the possibility of something like Strat-O-Matic basketball no better than penguins can comprehend piloting the space shuttle. Basketball is simply too complicated to be reduced to a handful of variables.

As John Hollinger has risen to the top of ESPN’s NBA writing staff, and 82games.com has become one of basketball’s most respected websites, it has become clear that the Moneyball revolution has clumsily smashed its way into basketball like Godzilla falling over Japanese countryside. Over the past year, Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating, Roland ratings and other complicated calculations have emerged as extremely effective ways to evaluate basketball players. I want no part of drinking this cool-aid.

Anyone will agree that traditional basketball statistics are flawed. Baron Davis currently averages more assists per game than any player in the league not named Steve Nash, yet more of us would be willing to argue that Baron Davis is the worst point guard in the league than the best. When Dallas acquired Raef LaFrenz and his 3 blocks per game in 2002, many said that he would be the intimidating presence in the paint that Dallas sorely needed; however, anyone who had watched him play knew that if one could dunk, one could dunk on Raef.

Yet as the Moneyball mentality forces its way into basketball, traditional stats have gradually receded in favor of newer statistics. The goal of these statistics is the same as that of the old ones; they seek to objectively quantify basketball. These stats are particularly difficult to dispute on the strength of the following characteristic: they’re really fucking hard to understand because their formulas are indistinguishable from a Greek bus schedule. However, these stats all do appear to operate on the same underlying principle; they seek to determine the efficiency of a specific player or player combination.

But is it even possible to say what constitutes efficiency in basketball? More points in fewer minutes seems the most transparent analogy, but it’s not a terribly useful thing to know. Obviously, efficiency relates to a player’s production, but a player can “produce” hundred of different things in five minutes of basketball and we only keep track of that which is easy to count. And if we combine all of those measurements into one index, we have to make ridiculous assumptions like: four rebounds are worth three assists. What would it mean to compile a team of extremely efficient players? From what I can tell, it describes a team full of players who are particularly precious at accumulating more “numbers” in fewer possessions above all else. Less obvious strengths, like defensive presence, passing ability, and energy are deemed less important, making for what could be a homogenous and uninteresting team.

But this post is not meant to be an attack on Hollinger or 82games (who claim not to have discovered the definitive way to evaluate players). The idea that everything can and should be quantified has led to using efficiency (of the sell and produce more at less cost variety) as the measuring stick for effectiveness. This idea began in the business world and has bled into other areas, including sports and education. Among entirely too many important people, efficiency is equated with value and utility. An efficient company or organization creates a cheaper and better product, benefiting company and society simultaneously. Everyone wins, at least from that perspective.

The waste laid to Flint and other former industrial cities by efficiency-minded businesses is well documented and need not be revisited it here. It’s also certainly in vogue for dreadlocked wannabe junior Trotskyites across America to assail Wal-Mart for perpetuating any number of conceivable and inconceivable crimes against humanity. But as cliché at is it to criticize the pinnacle of business efficiency, in rural Mississippi I witnessed Wal-Mart further decimate in numerous small and unexpected ways a town languishing from poverty. For example, in Indianola, and many other small rural towns, the largest provider of jobs hires almost exclusively part-time to avoid being forced to provide health care for its employees. While it was nice to get a box of Special K for 40 cents off, I’d rather have had some of my students able to own a pair of glasses or get antibiotics when they’re sick so they don’t infect their classmates.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with “efficient” companies (or basketball players for that matter), but saying that an efficient company or player is “better” isn’t necessarily true. In business, there are so many hidden costs to maximizing efficiency that businessmen ignore that, in some ways, becoming more efficient leads to a society less able to consume their products. Yet this viewpoint requires taking multiple and sometimes clashing perspectives into account, something so many analysts seem unwilling to do. Efficiency may effectively evaluate baseball, but not something as complicated as basketball, or life.

As efficiency is continually deified in society, it’s easy to take it as being at the heart of what constitutes a good player or business model. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the idea, by quantifying basketball and business, you pretend to remove subjectivity, when in reality, subjective biases become imbedded in the analysis.

Since we need to make subjective judgments about what constitutes efficiency in basketball, we make the assumption that there is a correct and incorrect way for a player to play the game. The idea that there is no one “correct” way echoes constantly through this site. I appreciate the efforts of Hollinger et al., but their machinations arrive at a dangerous time when we are most inclined to blindly accept the idea that superiority and maximum efficiency is the same thing. I’ve seen progress in the name of efficiency cripple a community I loved. I’d hate to see it homogenize the game I love.


At 3/03/2006 8:25 AM, Blogger ForEvers Burns said...

Optional Appendix:

I’m including this part to avoid any “You are too stupid to understand the new statistics and that’s why you don’t like them, you idiot Philistine” comments. I wanted to briefly point out some problems I have with two of the more popular new stats. Of course, it’s entirely possible that I am indeed an idiot Philistine, but I’m an idiot Philistine who’s doing the best he can.

Player Efficiency Ratings

This is basically no different from a traditional stat with a fancy haircut. Hollinger takes a bunch of the older statistics, weights them according to how important he thinks they are, and combines them into one index. By weighting the stats like this, objectivity totally disappears, making the inclusion of the word “efficiency” seem pretty misplaced. This index also adjusts everything “per minute”, which is certainly dangerous as well. How many ineffective back-up centers have transformed “per minute” statistics into ridiculous contracts and then gone on to totally underperform?

Roland Ratings

This index appears to rely heavily on adjusted plus/minus evaluations of a player. This has the effect of rewarding players on teams with poor reserves and punishing players with a deep bench. For example, if a great player’s back-up is a good player, the great player’s adjusted plus/minus may not be very impressive. However, if that great player is consistently replaced by a terrible player, his adjusted plus/minus ratings will rate them much higher.

The Risk of Quantifying what is Hard to Describe

Go ahead and put down Gladwell and check out any research by T. D. Wilson. In particular, this study (I imagine it's somewhere on the web):
Wilson, T. D., Lisle, D. J., Schooler, J. W., Hodges, S. D., Klaaren, K. J. & LaFleur, S. J. (1993). Introspecting about reasons can reduce post-choice satisfaction. Personality and Social Psychology Research, 19, 331 – 339.

At 3/03/2006 8:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know the statistician/salary cap expert that used to write about the nba but said he was leaving to work on some capacity with an NBA team (sorry I can't remember his name). He mentioned in one of his last columns that one GM in particular was aquiring players (via trades and free agency) primarily based on their +/- ratings. Who do you think he was talking about? I'm guessing McHale.

At 3/03/2006 9:33 AM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

I look at a basketball game like a work of literature. The game itself is the raw text, and there are some things about the text that cannot be disputed (like the outcome, and who actually scores the points). And like a work of literature, almost everything else about a basketball game is open to debate--how we interpret and evaluate it, what methods we use to make sense of it, what parts we think are most important, how much outside data we bring to the game, etc.

In literary studies, problems develop when critics subscribing to some particular branch of literary theory claim to have "the answer." There is no one answer in interpreting a text, just as (and as you make clear) there is no one answer in making sense of a player's worth to his basketball team. There's not a particular problem with having a specific methodology for determining a player's worth, as long as nobody attempts to claim that they have found "the" correct methodology.

At 3/03/2006 10:35 AM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

Based on Burns' crack analysis in scutterbugging the "efficiency zealots", I can now confidently state a long held belief of mine.

Sharone Wright was the most dominate post player of the mid-90s. Statistics be damned.

At 3/03/2006 10:40 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

anon, i would guess danny ainge, since he is reportedly a big fan of using personality tests (or something similar) to evaluate players, but seeing as the celtics have so many young, unproven players, there probably aren't even enough stats to compute a very accurate efficiency rating. i bet al jefferson is high, though. his rebounds per 48 minutes average is probably redonkulous.

At 3/03/2006 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the most effective indications of how well a player will perform is their anger. Light a fire under a ballers ass and he will step up. Hollinger and his cronies should be formulating new and interesting ways to piss off players in order to achieve "peak efficiency."

At 3/03/2006 12:20 PM, Anonymous 412hater215 said...

i second your disdain for using traditional sports metrics to evaluate basketball. "Basketball" needs to do two things: 1) It should take some cues from its closest sporting counterparts. 2) It should evaluate/keep stats that log more secondary aspects of the game in order to present a more complete picture.

1. All the other put-the-biscuit-in-the-basket type team games (hockey, soccer) value participatory stats very heavily (appearances in a certain situation, playing time, plus-minus). I guess the logic is that if you are on the ice/floor/pitch when your team is doing well, you must be doing something right. If you are getting run, that is better than getting no run. These stats provide us with a basic picture of whether anybody thinks you are good enough to warrent PT and whether you prevent your team from success when you play.

2. It seems as if (correct me if I'm wrong) nobody counts the number of times somebody touches the ball, how long they hold it and where they are, how many times one passes the ball or what averages or percentages relate to the distances from which one shoots.

All I'm saying is that 120 is the knowledge wisdom cipher, god. And Dale Davis' career Weaselberry index ranking is 120. That's the science of yourself.

At 3/03/2006 12:32 PM, Blogger Josh said...

It's easy to understand why efficiency ratings and roland ratings and other comparative analyses are so popular though, because fans of basketball (like any other sport) love to argue the relative merit of one player against another, one team against another, even one player against his own previous output. However, even the most diehard fan is only gonna be able to watch a tiny fraction of all the nba games played in a given year, and I guess people feel they need something more substantial to base their opinions on than "I've watched the Wolves four times this season and KG is clearly having an off year."

I do agree though that stats shouldn't be the be-all for judging hoops - bringing up literature is very apt also in the sense of basketball as an art form, and the need to prize and value players who create a compelling narrative (or have one created for them, i guess that's the whole auteur vs. prefab debate, where Iverson is Bowie or Dylan and LeBron (so far) is NSYNC). I've believed that long before I ever discovered this site, and stats be damned, it's one of the best reasons I can offer for why 'Melo should've made the all-star team over Pau Gasol.

At 3/03/2006 12:56 PM, Blogger elandfried said...

Burns, you should be a planner. Welcome to our daily conundrum...

At 3/03/2006 1:32 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

I would rather a different distinction be made between baseball's sabermetric analysis and basketball's attempts at the same. Let it be disclosed that I am a proud S.A.B.R. member.

The distinction is this: Using sabermetric statistical analysis in baseball has been shown to successfully predict future performance of players. Using advanced statistical analyses in basketball has only been shown to analyze past performance, with no indication of future performance in different circumstances ascertainable.

Why this is, I'm sure we can all figure out. Baseball is far less team-dependent than basketball is. Numbers in basketball can quantify performance, but they can't quantify chemistry. Which is not to say that baseball isn't team-dependent, but perhaps not at a highly statistically significant level.

I'll also note that even baseball statistics have a huge blank area called fielding where nobody has devised adequate statistical measures for good analysis of runs prevented by good fielding. How much more so is good defense in basketball unquantifiable, where we don't even count 'contested shots' like 'hurries' are counted in football?

With that said, the new basketball statistics are not worthless. I'm a fan of the pace-free stats that have been trotted out. We all intuitively knew that the Pistons' streak under Larry Brown of holding players to under 70 points was not only because of good defense- it was also because the Pistons ran such a slow offense, with relatively few possessions per game. Normalizing for pace makes for better comparisons, and many of the new statistics, while not predictive, are similarly useful for analytic purposes.

At 3/03/2006 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The use of statisical analysis is simply a cop out by sportswriters, GM, and angry Phi Beta Gammas to never have to put their balls (and reputations) on the line, always having the crutch of "numbers don't lie." This has lead to other by products, namely the NBA-ifaction on the NHL's +/-, a simple mechanism to prove if a team functions better or worse with said player getting their burn.
Ultimately this leads to bad contracts being given out in the L, see Cardinal, Brian and soon Pyrzibilla, Joe. Stats don't show that Reggie Miller scored points when games were on the line or that Bruce Bowen deserves to be an Olympian. Stats spit in the face on middle of the road characters that have been invaluable to championship runs; the Paxsons, Oakleys, VanExels, and Horrys around. This holds true with those that have "character issues" as well, Cassell will be your MVP if your team is on the rise, but a VD on a dirty whore when things are a drunken haze, who cares, he knows when his teams suck, and he takes them to the front of those lines quickly.
Lastly, Jimmy the Greek always used statisical analysis for picking the winners on his pregame show, but always finished with INTANGIBLE, never describing what it meant. If your team had the INTANGIBLE box lite up, you had better run to window and put a c-note on them

At 3/03/2006 1:55 PM, Blogger c-los said...

haha...Sharone Wright...Havent heard that name in years.....he was perhaps the best big man in NBA Live 95

At 3/03/2006 2:29 PM, Blogger Pooh said...


In honesty, Darrin Hancock was the best player in that game anyway, if memory serves.

At 3/03/2006 3:19 PM, Blogger Travis said...

Like any science, statistics must be interpreted by people with a knowledge of both the science and the field to which it is being applied. The sabermetricians are powerful because they fit this bill. In basketball, and business, the talent pool isn't quite as developed. This is precisely because statistics are _less_ useful here than they are in basball, for the reasons that you made clear.

However, this doesn't mean stats are useless in basketball (or business). They are quite powerful, but must also be treated with respect and caution. You've got to know what you don't know, and know what the stats can and can't quantify. The per possession changes that folks have been suggesting recently do a great job of explaining the Suns and Pistons recent successes in the way that we all saw, rather than "offense, no defense" and vice versa. We don't need them to understand the big examplee like pho and det, but they are clearly insightful and useful.

Keep the new stats flowing, just make sure to validate them against common sense and understand what they can and can't say.

At 3/03/2006 3:19 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

great post burns. we somehow managed to keep a sort of theme this week without trying: my shit on AK the fantasy beast and use of stats to highlight utah's culture of life, DLIC's fantasy tale of woe, and shoal's need to invent J.R., which is essentially the same thing that APBR heads do, except they choose to glorify the battier's and cardinal's of the world.

as someone who was slated to be a part of 82games game charting project at the beginning of the season, i can't say that i'm entirely against this stats revolution. i'm for anything that could make the GMs of this league more competent, but i agree with all of the deficiencies you pointed out. Plus, there’s just no way to properly assign value to a guy like bowen who guards Iverson one night and Nowitzki the next.

Regarding live 95: nobody could stroke it like dana barros, but the 95 warriors were my favorite video game team of all time. Hardaway, Mullin and Spree raining threes, Webber hitting everything around the bucket and Billy Owens just being Billy Owens.

At 3/03/2006 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is the best sports writing i've ever read.

your critique of the narrow minded, short-sighted conception of efficiency and its penetration of ever growing arenas of life is spot-on and most welcome.

sadly, practicality (which is to say value) has been reduced to efficiency. which leaves those of us who would critique efficiency stuck in one of two, equally unsatisfactory, positions: 1) mere negative, critique of efficiency; 2) celebration of some sort of art-for-art's sake, neo-bohemian, stop and smell the roses aestheticism.

i've often thought that what's really needed, in US culture, is a heavy dose of the far more thoughtful and holistic notions of practicality and value that appear in the pragmatist writings of william james and others, who do care about results and benefit/cost ratios, but have a far more complex and ethical understanding of how to calculate them.

thanks for the provocation...i'll be back

At 3/03/2006 3:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suggestion to the writers (after reading for about two months):

Great work, but you might want to cover a wider range of emotions ... most of the posts seem analytical and argumentative, but a different style wouldn't hurt (content = excellent)

At 3/03/2006 3:39 PM, Anonymous White People Don't Know said...

Even in baseball, i think it would be hard to argue that statistics are the be-all-and-end-all of building a winning team. beane's athletics have consistently outperformed their payroll, but let's not forget that they still have kind of sucked. There has been no more unstoppable force in recent years than oakland choking in the playoffs. Some might say that this shows that the whole sabermetrics thing is not all its cracked up to be. I think it might be even more interesting to consider whether the statistics themselves are a cause of performance—i.e. these Oakland teams get into the postseason and don’t feel as confident because they know their success is based on monkeying with numbers. This lack of confidence undermines their performance, and they make a quick exit in the first round.

Someone mentioned danny ainge using personality tests, and part of his testing regimen was measuring the beta brain waves of players. There’s a story that the acquisition of ricky davis was spurred in large part by him getting the highest beta wave score ever recorded. Then again, ainge is the same guy that told us in boston that chris mihm was one of the best rebounders in the league when his stats were adjusted to 48 minutes. Clearly, stats aren’t everything.

a side note, am i the only person that's furious about iverson not being on the next olympic team? AI IS America. where do i send my 30 page polemic?

At 3/03/2006 4:01 PM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

I just gotta say, holy SHIT I can't believe Burns just dropped Tim Wilson in the Freedarko comments. You just took to the whole other level. Also, this doesnt really have any place anywhere, but I wanted to show everyone a pretty good sampling/indication of how people found our site yesterday.

Check It Out.

At 3/03/2006 4:07 PM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

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At 3/03/2006 4:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 3/03/2006 4:37 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

To get back to the discussion at hand, this is part of the reason that I liked "Basketball on Paper". Oliver is very upfront about saying 'if we know one thing, it's that we don't know anything.' And all throughout the book he highlights where statistics are inadequate.

At the same time, I think one thing has been the catalyst for drving hoops fans of a more intellectual bent towards 'efficieny' and 'per 48' type stats: the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets. Blair Rasmussen averaged a double-double. If that doesn't demonstrate the unreliability of per game averages. Seriously, we all know the 'great numbers on bad teams' SAR archetype, so we want to know whether they are damn lies or just stats.

Personally, Gilberto is that guy in my mind right now, so I'm having a hard time giving him props for what looks to be a great season.

At 3/03/2006 4:42 PM, Anonymous 412hater215 said...

i have to second Brick's call on the 95 Warriors. Chris Mullin was so ill I named my son cyberChris (one for all you Manute junkies out there).

At 3/03/2006 5:04 PM, Anonymous T. said...

95 warriors were my favorite video game team of all time

The Charlotte Hornets on NBA Jam will be the end all and be all of video game basketball teams. 'Zo AND Larry Johnson at the height of his gold tooth powers?

(This, however, takes nothing away from Tom Chambers on the Lakers vs. Celtics/Blazers vs. Bulls games - the 3 point dunk? Unstoppable)

At 3/03/2006 5:09 PM, Blogger Pooh said...


was that the double ball fake-knees to the chin- two hander from anywhere in the middle of the court? I was so fired up when they gave that move to my boy Reggie Lewis (RIP).

At 3/03/2006 5:50 PM, Anonymous T. said...

I think that was the one - of course on my IBM XT - it was difficult to even tell which one was Tom Chambers - except for the large outsized number - but I rememebr the double pump.

At 3/03/2006 6:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

agree with you on chambers, lakers celtics was great until you figured out that if you press steal as soon as you hear the ball bounce you can steal it every single time... led to a ban on volume things got so bad.

At 3/03/2006 6:51 PM, Anonymous dejan bodiroga said...

i didn't read any of these comments but i needed to chime in to remind all that john hollinger is essentially chad ford with a calculator, which is to say that if he writes it, it's probably bullshit. case in point: hollinger, who moonlights as part of the vast anti-knicks media conspiracy, was quick to point out that -- based on the numbers -- michael sweetney was just as valuable, if not MORE valuable, than eddy curry. now, don't get me wrong - i was always a fan of sweetney and his rotund presence in the post and thought he could have been a throwback to earlier days in which post players thrived on excellent footwork and fundamentals instead of superior (if not freakish) athletic gifts that would have been considered unimaginable before our generation. but anyone with half a fucking brain knows that there's simply no substitute for size, and a cornfed 6'8" doesn't even come close to a legit 6'11", 285.

sure, sweets averages more rebounds per 48 minutes, but i have grave doubts that any coach would be willing to put up with sweetney and his slappy defense for the duration of an entire game. as most knicks fans know, as much as we held out hope that he could be our own paul silas in the post, nothing about him ever screamed "full-time NBA starter." was this guy going to be playing 38 minutes for a team that makes it to the eastern conference finals? doubtful at best.

curry, on the other hand, is right in the mix. in spite of the fact that he brings more bad than good to the table - his turnover-to-assist ratio was 12.5:1 at last glance (no, i'm not making this shit up) - and his shoulder-lowering move to the hoop is about as predictable and inauspicious as that one thing bald bull did in mike tyson's punchout (i used to knock that fool out erry time). that doesn't mask the fact that curry is a phenomenally talented post scorer with a combination of size, strength, and agility seldom seen in any professional sport. his indifference be damned - i doubt any GM in the league passes up a trade with sweetney/curry as the main pieces. it's really not that hard of a call to make.

that's not to say that the concept of player efficiency is bullshit. a guy like josh childress, for example, is wondefully productive given his limited role (as an aside - in my fantasy drafts this year i was busy stockpiling guys of his ilk and i'm having a downright dominant year), but the idea of efficiency as a realistic assessment of a player's true value is tenuous. i know my knicks far better than any other team because i bleed blue and orange, and i can say that in spite of channing frye's +13 figure in points scored/allowed when he's on the floor it doesn't account for the rookie mistakes he makes while he learns the NBA game. in other words, we wouldn't be competitive in most our games if he were our full time power forward. in spite of what weary knicks fans say, there's a reason that malik rose is getting considerable time at that position.

At 3/03/2006 7:04 PM, Anonymous d. bodiroga said...

"a side note, am i the only person that's furious about iverson not being on the next olympic team? AI IS America. where do i send my 30 page polemic?"

dude, just to remind you - colangelo is building a team that can compete in 2008 and possibly even in 2012. iverson has a simply inexplicable way of getting better the older and more war-scarred he gets, but i'm not foolish enough to bet on him being as dominant as he is now in a handful of years. i've got him in a keeper fantasy league and even in that i'm starting to get a little nervous.

with the notable exception of bowen (who probably won't make the final team anyway), the majority of the invited players are young studs. bosh, howard, lebron, wade, amare, redd, et al. some guys like billups, pierce, and miller aren't green by any means but don't predict to have their best days behind them by the time the olympics roll around.

point being: iverson is probably one of my favorite players to ever play the game (along with an odd cast of characters like allan houston and tj ford) - i doubt we'll ever see a man of his stature dominate games and put up the kind of absolutely baffling statistics the way iverson does. in terms of little men, the only thing holding him back from being the best ever is a ring. as of now isiah's got it, but it's a close race. but in spite of that if i were in charge of assembling the olympic team i would have left him off as well. it's a tough call to make, but it's the right one. iverson's freakishness is a spectacle to watch but it's not a gamble worth taking when you consider the time horizon in question.

At 3/03/2006 10:57 PM, Blogger Josh said...

But to not even include him in the initial 22? I've heard some positing that they're saving him the embarassment of ultimately getting left off, but it's just a fact that a number of great players aren't gonna make the final cut, and the fact that Luke Fucking Ridnour has even a chance to make the squad and AI doesn't is ridiculous.
And honestly, you could put Iverson in that final 12 at the expense of any one other player and it ain't gonna make the difference b/w gold or silver or bronze - whether we win it all or not is gonna to be dependent on a number of factors, not simply the presence or absence of one guy. Obviously we need stoppers, but Josh Howard ain't single-handedly winning us a gold medal either. So why not give AI his due - the man's earned it, plus he was one of the only guys to come out and say he wanted to play, putting the responsibility for the outcome squarely on his own shoulders (where some of the other guys could always play the card of "I never asked to be on the team, they asked me" if we come up short).
Question: if one or more of the 22 gets injured before tryouts, do they fill their spots or just cull the team from the remaining guys? I imagine it's the latter.

At 3/04/2006 1:51 AM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

Please stop talking about the '95 Warriors, you're going to make my heart break...

Gawd! And they even had Rony Seikaly, who was the only decent center we've had since, well, before my time.


On the other hand, I've been trying to develop some statistics regarding competitiveness in the major European soccer leagues and it is very tough to make sure that you're getting at least something approaching objective results. Something about Hollinger's constants just makes my eyes bleed.

At 3/04/2006 6:28 PM, Anonymous aug said...

Anyone pay attention to Villanova basketball? Their coach keeps track of all kinds of great stats such as extra passes, loose balls dove for, rebound tips, pass deflections, picks leading to baskets, and a bunch of other little things. I think it's great considering many people can't look past the box score and their style of play to evaluate players. Sure it has flaws, but it's fun. I'd love to lead the team in extra passes.

At 3/05/2006 9:56 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

Gladwell's got a lot of thought-provoking and relevent things to say in SG's Curious Guy Part II, about the Moneyball revolution and about Isiah as a GM. Anyone else seen it?

At 3/06/2006 1:55 AM, Anonymous Jimbo said...

Someone mentioned the stats tracked in soccer and hockey. I think it's worth pointing out that in my experience, outside of the U.S. there is literally zero tracking of soccer stats beyond goals scored. I was very surprised once when I watched a MLS game with American commentators where the colour guy was talking about the keeper's 'saves per game' or something similar. It was the first I'd heard of that stat or any other beyond goals on the season.

In very recent times I think statistics are becoming a little bit more prominent, and in fact I was reading a side comment the other day about 'the statistical approach now favoured in Brazilian [national team] soccer'. And obviously I'm speaking just as a fan and I'm not privy to the scouting and management techniques of professional teams. They may have an advanced statistical analysis that they don't tell anyone about. But it seems unlikely.

But let's say for the sake of argument that statistics are marginal or irrelevant to both the soccer managers/coaches and fans. The question that I'd ask even before getting to the accuracy or otherwise of basketball statistics is: why do such things exist at all? What exactly is their importance?

At 3/06/2006 1:59 AM, Anonymous Jimbo said...

To reformulate the question is hopefully more coherent terms: given that many major sports worldwide get by without any significant statistical analysis, why is such analysis so crucial to American professional sports?

Is it something intrinsic to the sports themselves? Is it something about the American psyche? Is it historic accident or a FBI conspiracy to distract the masses?

At 3/06/2006 3:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know that making careful arguments is not what this site is about. But. Throwing words like "efficiency", "simple", and "complicated" around like water balloons just makes a soggy mess. Basketball = more complicated than baseball? Sit someone down who's never seen a minute of either game, and which one would they grasp sooner? Baseball is composed of more discreet events, sure, and while the bridge from that to "simple" might look solid it's not gonna get you where you're going.

My two A.M. web pitstops are here and Baseball Prospectus (interweb sabremetric yeshiva), and I can't express how tired I am of hearing them say that a good baseball operation needs good statistical AND scouting analysis (because, enough already, I agree). But obviously it bears repeating if people still insist on beating the stats pinata with blunt objects. No self-respecting proponent of statistical analysis would ever claim to describe their followed sport with said stats in its entirety. No one. And please, calling out Beane is so 2 years ago. Um, could it be that Oakland's payroll is at least part of the problem? Or the luck of a short series (cough, Denver Nuggets, cough)? And anyway, if you're gonna call out the A's, knock on the Braves' door, too, I hate those mf's.

As far as efficiency, it's hard for me to see it being in any way a negative on the court, if you're thinking along the lines of which players use their time on the floor most successfully. The problem lies in the briar patch of "success" vis a vis basketball. In baseball, success is not making an out, pure and "simple" (though how you manage that, or keep someone from managing that, is a whole 'nother story). The problem, v.2: What is the goal in a basketball game, at the most fundamental level? Score points? Keep points off the board? Keep the ball away from the other team?

Back to basketball, and Iverson. I'm from Philly, and adore him in a sometimes unhealthy (it seems to me) way, and tear my hair out and eat it at the mere thought of him being traded, especially if King's doing the dealing. But anyway. Not only is he the most "Philadelphia" sports figure in a bazillion years, he's the most "American" one, too, at least in the ways that I'm glad/fascinated to be from this here country, and that, my friends, is why I want to drive USA Basketball to ANY neighborhood in Philly (doesn't matter) and drop them off w/o directions back home. If there is any Olympic-caliber player I cannot imagine being from any other country, it's AI. As far as AI-about-to-break-down-at-any-minute talk, that some theoretical, wormhole, Steven Hawking shit right there. If you have no idea how something (time travel/afterlife/women) really works, don't tell me to drive a DeLorean/pray before bed/talk about my feelings. He's AllenfreakingIverson, he's a snowflake, he is alpha and omega, and while we *could* throw virgins off the Wachovia Center roof, hoping a talking cheesesteak will tell us when AI is going to stop being AI, I for one put my food in my mouth, not my ear. Point. If Vegas had a line on AI's 2008 ppg, and it was 25 or below, I'd be searching the classifieds for my own private tropical island, cause I'm gonna be rich.

At 3/06/2006 10:31 AM, Blogger c-los said...

That '95 Warriors team was the truth. My buddy and I to this day have some ferocious battles between them and My "95 suns. A backcourt of KJ and Thunder Dan with Cedric Ceballos running the wing. Even AC and the Big O could hold it down in the post...ahhhh...good times

At 3/06/2006 5:05 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

Ollie Miller was pretty damn good for a minute there. Between Crave Cases I suppose....


Someone mentioned the stats tracked in soccer and hockey. I think it's worth pointing out that in my experience, outside of the U.S. there is literally zero tracking of soccer stats beyond goals scored. I was very surprised once when I watched a MLS game with American commentators where the colour guy was talking about the keeper's 'saves per game' or something similar. It was the first I'd heard of that stat or any other beyond goals on the season.

They actually do track stats, try looking up "Carling Opta" statistcis. The problem is, everyone knows they are bullshit because it ends up with results such as Jermaine Jenas being better than Frank Lampard, which is patently ridiculous. For non soccer types, it would be roughly equivalent of calling J.R. Rider superior to Clyde Drexler. The British have a phrase for players who give the impression of being better than they actually are: "Flattering to Deceive." Or, as we say it on this side of the pond, Tim Thomas.

At 3/06/2006 5:18 PM, Anonymous T. said...

Since this discussion has slowed down - did anyone see the Pat Forde article on MOrrison/Reddick and the white/black question in hoops?

Some relevant paragraphs:

"Don't underestimate the influence of the AAU programs here," said author Charles P. Pierce, who has written frequently and insightfully on race and basketball. "Even white kids from white suburbs, segregated most of the time by the invisible barriers of class, have to play, travel and live with black kids from harder circumstances."

• Hip-hop. Don't underestimate its impact on basketball. Or on white America.

Redick has said that he likes the lyrics of Nas and Tupac, and much of his publicized poetry is written in a hip-hop cadence. It's a chicken-and-egg debate as to which came first for many young white players -- immersion in hoops or immersion in hip-hop -- but there is a synergy between the two.

"What we are seeing now coming through the college basketball pipeline are the white children of the hip-hop culture," Pierce said. "These are the kids who took the music and the style back to their suburban homes the way the kids of the '50s brought jazz to the upper West Side and, pretty soon, you had white musicians sitting in with the best of them.

At 3/06/2006 7:05 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

okay, i am sitting in the jet blue lounge area of jfk (HEAVEN ON EARTH) trying to pull together a post for tomorrow. but couldn't help but weigh in on the forde article.

all his "theories" want to get at how the white man could possibly hang with the black man at the college ranks. . . disregarding the obvious fact that the college game is more hospitable. whether this is why black star don't stick around/make it there in the first place, or is a result of it i'm not sure. but there's a reason why the "i love college basketball but can't watch the nba" line exists in this country. college ball is everything that the nba's worst critics wish it were--coach-dominated, defense and hustle heavy, lots of organized plays, and an emphasis on sound shooting.

notice: I AM NOT RACIALIZING BASKETBALL, forde did. i just want to point out that if you go that way, you have to look at what it does to the big picture.

and about the hip-hop thing. . . millions of white kids have come up listening to it, yet that doesn't mean it's suddenly easy to gain acceptance as a white rapper. easier, but come on.

At 3/06/2006 7:09 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

god it is fucking loud in here. i meant to type "college game might be more hospitable to 'white' players."

remember, that article isn't arguing that reddick or morrison plays "like a black guy," just that they might be in touch with the blackness. which makes his point doubly outlandish, since you've got them dominating using a fairly white game in a fairly white context.

if you can't figure out where to put the quotation marks in there, you're a fucking idiot. i have airport food to eat.

At 3/09/2006 6:20 AM, Blogger abstract said...

Gladwell's got a lot of thought-provoking and relevent things to say in SG's Curious Guy Part II, about the Moneyball revolution and about Isiah as a GM. Anyone else seen it?

Yes, I read that. Of particular relevance to this discussion, I think, is his assertion that it's better to have some criteria on which to base your managerial decisions (both draftwise and tradewise), even if that system is flawed or overly simplistic. His criticism of Zeke is that he seems to acquire players based on their "potential" or what he sees in their soul, rather than anything quantifiable.

By no means is Gladwell the be all end all, but I thought these were interesting points.

I stumbled on this blog a couple days ago, and I've loved what I read so far, casual NBA fan though I may be. Keeping it comin'.

At 7/10/2006 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Basketball Stats Criticism: How Would You Respond?


FYI, in case you werent aware. I think dialogue can be good, often better than dueling monologues.


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