Tune in elsewhere for Dr. LIC's Black/Jew essay and a truly epic Shoals Unlimited (BOTH UP NOW!).

I really don't like to go back and do an entire post on something from another post that I failed to clearly explain the first time around. It smacks of self-obsessed perfectionism, which is to say, it can obscure whether or not the material really matters that much. But like most of you, I am mortal, impatient, and occasionally busy, which means that my favorite part of yesterday's post got condensed—maybe compressed—into this impenetrable passage:

The challenge, then is to somehow quantify stupidity on both side. Wide-open lay-ups, drives into four defenders, cherry picks, full-court drives, gambling for the steal on every play. . . these are the markers of deviance, and big surprise, the ball I love. Remove them, and pace could truly be universalized. I wonder, though if there's not a slippery slope, or two of them, on either side of an equilibrium forever in question. Where you set it, what represents the mean, is strictly a matter of preference.

To review, the purpose of yesterday's post was to address "D'Antoni inflation," and determine if such a thing were truly statistically possible. Such an investigation would help us all better understand just how to view Kobe's 61-point game; like, if the numbers were completely inflated, then how much of a statement game could it have been? Ziller proved that adjusting for pace alone yielded no conclusive difference, so we delved into the possibility of a qualitative difference. The anecdotal evidence for this is rich, if a little perverse: Namely, players suck after leaving D'Antoni. This feeds into Simmons's claim that D'Antoni screws with the game's collective brain, the LSD of its sporting era, and some never quite recover. To actually "deflate" stats requires some standard by which we filter out "good" plays from "crazy" ones. Simmons suggests no such things, but unlike home runs in baseball, here we are talking about a difference in style—something that clearly manifests itself on the basketball court. One could conceivably draw distinctions, as opposed to estimating, via advance trigonometry, which balls wouldn't have gone the distance if struck by a non-roided up batter.

I was not, however, endorsing this sorting of play-by-play data, because applying the kind of criteria Simmons hints at is both totalitarian and self-defeating. For one, as you can guess, the line between stupid and inspired is preciously thin in the NBA, or at least the NBA as I prefer it to be. When you start to judge plays based on how rational they are, or whether they represent the most efficient form of execution, then you end up fast in Dave Berri territory. That's not to say that D'Antoni teams, or Nelson's Warriors, aren't at the far end of that spectrum. A normative basketball, though, would force you to pass judgemnent on individual basketball acts, regardless of context, overall flow of the game, or symbolic pay-off. Not exactly friendly soil for revelation or transcendence. This also raises the question of whether all basketball contains such imperfections, and thus the goal would be to adjust teams for their relative "stupidity", or punitively hold them all to a single standard.

The latter seems downright evil. You could end up with very, very strong teams punished for not being sufficiently perfect, or not pursuing a single-minded approach to the game. In an even yuckier version of things, the standard is not any particular team that season, but a nameless, faceless archetype, such that the players and teams that have come to define "smart" ball would still have to measure up to an ideal. It goes without saying that truth lies in creation-through-example, not a coach's imagination. The former brings up the question of where exactly you put that mean. Would it be based strictly on that year's numbers? Or is it inserted arbitrarily, a reflection of one's own stylistic preference? In both cases, deflation becomes an essentially political act.

To bring it back to reality, we are on some level talking about the primacy of identity-through-style. Is the game not defined by particular players and teams, the limits of the reasonable charted anew each night? If a man finds himself through "foolishness," well the, who plays the fool? There is only a "wrong way" or "bad plays" if they result from clear misapplication and lead to indisputable wreckage. So what if the Suns screw with people's heads, or there are clear-cut "D'Antoni players?" It's like acid casualties from the sixties. Are we really suggesting that era should've stayed clean, so it would be easier to compare with those that preceded it?

Oh, and only because it can never be said enough: The Suns didn't win any titles, but they have changed the definition of "stupid." Point guards now matter more than centers. Every team plays some small ball now, no one milks the clock. Phoenix itself ran away from the very low rumble of change that they set into motion. Perhaps the right thinking here is that D'Antoni's stats are ahead of their time, and those who emerge from his teams suffering from a permanent time-travel hangover. I've had those, and they suck. Maybe we should be looking at inflating former Suns' numbers so they accomodate a greater amount of "stupidity."

Note: Al Harrington is the Rosetta Stone of this shit.

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At 2/04/2009 1:40 PM, Blogger Craig said...

I think that pace is the first order correction to adjusting the numbers for running teams. What I think is more important is the SSOL statistic about field goal percentage decreasing as the time a team possesses the ball increases. There is better/easier/higher% shots available before the defense is completely set. So players always look better playing in this type of system.

At 2/04/2009 2:01 PM, Blogger j. edwin brandt said...

Side-note from a friend: I bet Kobe's 61 is the most points scored by a player that didn't get a rebound, probably by a large margin.

The man is six feet six inches and he came up with zero rebounds. Has anyone else commented on this? And what is the second highest scoring game without a rebound?

At 2/04/2009 2:18 PM, Blogger avery said...

"...those who emerge from his teams suffering from a permanent time-travel hangover..." perfect for the night that LOST comes on. D'Antoni is Ben controlling his new minions, Nash is Jack Shepherd (we have to go back!), I'm betting Diaw is Locke and Stoudemire is Sawyer--upset and surly and he can't quite figure out why.

At 2/04/2009 2:32 PM, Blogger Darkofan said...

Darkofan: Bryant sat a good portion of the game, spending little over 30 minutes on the floor. His efficiency has to somehow offset any Knick inflation.

Pistol Pete's game contrasts( was it 68 points).

Bryant showed nothing of the same exhaustion.

At 2/04/2009 2:53 PM, Blogger Awkward Fundamentals said...

Not that large of a margin:


At 2/04/2009 3:03 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

The aforementioned column.

At 2/04/2009 3:25 PM, Blogger Caleb Tyler Adam said...

Check out this other statistically, well, divergent game that happened at the Garden (in 2000).

Peep Allan Houston's line.


At 2/04/2009 3:29 PM, Blogger Ziller said...

"What I think is more important is the SSOL statistic about field goal percentage decreasing as the time a team possesses the ball increases."

This applies for every team in the league. Even the slow teams.

(Sorry, this is going to be super obvious.) The difference is that most teams run when they can, hence the high FG% on early in the shot clock. (Offensive rebounds/putbacks also apply here.) SSOL teams push (almost) no matter what. So the Knicks get off a shot in 10 seconds or less on 44% of their FGAs, and they shoot .546 eFG%. Portland is more selective, with a quick shot 29% of the time. But as such, the shooting efficiency on these shots is better (.574 eFG). (Also, better players ... but whatever.)

What I'm saying is that SSOL takes a basic basketball principle (catch them on their heels) and decrees that you can always do this. You will suffer some loss of efficiency on this type of shot, but by increasing the share in which the shot is taken (and decreasing the less efficient late-clock shots), you will increase your overall efficiency.

This didn't work for Denver (in that Denver broke into the top 10 in tempo-free offense with A.I. and 'Melo) because the Nuggets weren't a good shooting team as a whole. When you force action, you aren't going to get dunks every time. By default, the defenders fill the lane. That's where they know to go. Again, I'm being absurdly obvious, but ... you need great shooters to make this work.

We need more Tim Thomas.

At 2/04/2009 3:38 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

I think Joe Johnson is an example of someone who came out of the Suns machine with a permanent improvement. How much of this is from his hard work and how much to some shift due the Suns is up for grabs.

ps Can anyone meaningfully reconcile today's train of thought with last week's physics post? I tried and couldn't get anywhere.

At 2/04/2009 3:43 PM, Blogger Robin said...

I've always felt that the "right way" was just a tactic for coaches to control the dynamism and chaos of the game. Like, even if players could play better on some quantitative level (eg: selective cherry-picking that is consistently beneficial), coaches don't trust the players to be able to sort out the dynamism of the game. SSOL seemed to institutionalize and control this dynamism. In this sense, there was no reason why the Suns couldn't be good defensively, other than the lack of personnel

The dominant big man is the standard bearer of the "right way", because the game is easily manageable for coaches. The Antwan Wrights and Gerald Greens could be productive if they were playing with a circa 2000 Shaq, because they wouldn't be exposed by needing to make decisions: just shoot the open three and run back on defense. The game is mechanized; the system dictates the play.
Modern point guards are at the polar opposite for coaches. There's no predictability for the coaches, and any given play could end up looking like anything. That's not to say that there isn't a system, but rather that the system dictates a function that dictates a play.

At 2/04/2009 4:14 PM, Blogger Craig said...

Of course every team is going to shoot better early in the shot clock, I am in total agreement that doing it more often will decrease the overall effectiveness. The difference I think is the rate of conversion of a steal/layup is 100% where as the early in the shot clock open three (the barbosa special) is less effective. These two are obviously different plays but get lumped into the same early in the shot clock shot statistic.
The ideal statistic, which will never be tracked, is some type of open shot vs contested shot break down. If 82games or someone counts this I will be pleasantly surprised.
@SB Addressing this versus the physics post last week, this is a discussion of RATE of point A to B, where as that was an explanation of Path of A to B.

At 2/04/2009 4:30 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

ahem, new rules interpretation to favor perimeter players

At 2/04/2009 4:37 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

This post and discussion is basically the opposite of the "Michael Jordan would have averaged 50 points a night if he was playing in today's NBA (no hand checking, no bruising 90's Knicks defense)" arguments. Basically, it is like D'Antoni's stats are futuristic; it's like we're talking about comparing two different eras to each other, only in fact we are attempting to compare teams within the same era (D'Antoni's teams vs. his contemporaries).

All that aside, I want to see LeBron's response to Kobe's 61 tonight. I'm going to guess that the only appropriate response for LeBron would be a 30-20-20 game ("the triple-double doubled").

At 2/04/2009 5:19 PM, Blogger Kevin Pelton said...

I enjoy few things more than discussing the impact of the rules re-interpretations, so with a nod to MC Welk I want to interject them into the discussion.

Could D'Antoni's system have worked under the old rules? Would anyone have noticed the rules interpretations had it not been for the marriage of D'Antoni and Nash at the same time? And how much of this was intentional, given that Jerry Colangelo was running the Suns and heading the rules committee that decided to open the game up?

My recollection is that nobody really paid the rules changes much attention in 2004-05, even as the Suns had the league's best record. It was only the next year -- when they did it again without Stoudemire and when Dallas beat San Antonio -- that all of a sudden it became a huge deal and people were arguing the Spurs were too defensive-minded to win. Then they won the championship in 2007 and everybody forgot about that argument.

At 2/04/2009 5:53 PM, Blogger El Presidente said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2/04/2009 10:16 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

Not the triple-twenty, but 52-10-11 is just as awesome a response. I'm not even sure what to say.

At 2/05/2009 12:12 AM, Blogger Austin said...

is reconcilation possible between this truth and the fact that Al's Hollinger PER is perfectly normal, or even slightly below average, with his previous ratings?

At 2/05/2009 12:55 AM, Blogger antonymous said...

Tonight's LeBronning of the Knicks reinforces that oft-ignored flipside of the coin - defense. If I were Lebron, and I could choose where I wanted to play, why would I pick the system that gives up so many points? I know the economics outweighs the hoops here, but why would I want to be on a team full of other players who just want the stats (and contracts that come with them)?

When I'm out playing pickup, I don't want my team full of scorers. You need a Charles Oakley type, someone willing to get dirty. You need someone to guard the opponent's perimeter threat, etc.

By contrast, and what D'Antoni takes advantage of, is the fact that most players are in the league because they are scorers. They got to this level by proving they can score against anyone. It's what they're best at, so why not take advantage of that well-nurtured instinct.

At 2/05/2009 8:43 AM, Blogger W2 said...

"The challenge, then is to somehow quantify stupidity on both side. Wide-open lay-ups, drives into four defenders, cherry picks, full-court drives, gambling for the steal on every play. . . these are the markers of deviance, and big surprise, the ball I love. "

I will take your Al Harrington and raise you a Ricky Davis

At 2/05/2009 2:51 PM, Blogger Stumbleweed said...

Chris Andersen has asked to be addressed as "Birdzilla". That is all.

At 2/06/2009 4:37 AM, Blogger T. said...

If I may digress just a bit:


Also, is it disconcerting to see Wire actors in other roles? Clay Davis/Isiah Whitlock, Jr is in the Disney movie Enchanted which I was watching with my nieces over Christmas. I couldn't explain what was so funny to them.

At 2/06/2009 7:47 AM, Blogger W2 said...

This is an enormous digression and stomping on a beaten horse somewhat...but in watching the Celts and Lakes last night conversation turned to Kobe and Lebron...we were trying to find apt comparison to current or former players. Kobe was easier than LeBron

This is what we got...

Paul Pierce + Ray Allen = Kobe Bryant (with more flair)

Magic Johnson + Tony Gonzalez = LeBron James



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