Behold, the new Black/Jew dialogue starts today at We Are Respectable Negroes. Look for myself and Dr. LIC later in the week.

I don't know if the intertwub'ns (catch the slang!) is supposed to make me feel perpetually included, or forever alone. Certainly, blogger and Twitter can go either way, mostly depending on my mood. How you make a straight social network anti-social—not in the "Joey never goes out anymore," but actually encouraging narcissism and absence of any form of interaction—is beyond me. I feel the same way about sports sometimes. So Kobe goes for 61 while I'm busy taking notes on the Blazers. I've watched the highlights. I knew it was happening. I'm writing about it. And yet this morning, I can't help but feel like I'm out in the desert with all the wrong memories. You'd think that the power of modern communication and computing could provide a reasonable facsimilie of first-hand experience. Instead, all of this build-up seem like that much more mockery. I missed it. All the catch up, prying, or immersion in the world can't get me any closer to that basic, visceral event, which provides the spark for all the web-borne reinforcement going on this morning.

But fuck it, dude score 61, it was a modern miracle, and I have something to say about that bare fact. For firsts, I know this will repercuss back onto the way this Bynum-less team is perceived. I trust a lot of these reactions will be stupid, so please refrain from airing them out here. I swear to Hoth, I will delete them. This has also allowed me to deconstruct the myth of the Garden, to which I welcome angry, or empirically sound, objections. Yes, I do equivocate the visitor's record with the all-purpose record, with the latter raising all sorts of questions about how the Knicks feel about the Garden, or maybe real evidence of a franchise style that abides throughout the ages (oft-referenced, rarely proven, truism). Or maybe I just don't understand how uncommon 50-point games are.

In Kobe's case, though, even as it was happening you heard mutterings about D'Antoni inflation. This theory holds that playing for or against Mike D'Antoni leads to a stat explosion. Therefore, any and all numbers achieved in that context deserve disdainful raised eyebrow. It's also been brought up in reference to David Lee's numbers, which because they're distorted cannot gain him entry into the All-Star Game. I'm by no means well-versed in the advanced statistical community, but it seems like we could adjust these numbers to determine just how many "real" points Kobe scored, or how many double-doubles Lee would have elsewhere.


The so-called Mike D'Antoni Inflation Effect is wildly overstated. I can't really delve into the philosophical question of whether the mere existence of D'Antoni magically makes every player's heart swell to the point of scoring explosion (read on for Shoals' opinion), but I can strip pace from the equation, something a hundred amateur statisticians have done since the birth of SSOL.

D'Antoni's Knicks play at an above average pace, giving the players more opportunities to score and rebound and so on. The Knicks average 97 possessions/game, league average is less than 93. So adjust David Lee's 16/12 down 6% to account for the extra team possessions, and he's really a 15/11 guy. Quel horreur. (This is a quick and dirty [emphasis on the dirty] calculation; this assumes no other affects on Lee or the team if the team were to be forced into league average pace suddenly. That assumption at a team/player level makes me anxious, but so does Francisco Garcia. But you don't see me discounting Francisco Garcia's existence.)

As this chart -- the Knicks' per-game scoring figures at real pace and league-average pace -- shows, the Mike D'Antoni Inflation Effect as it pertains specifically to pace is wildly exaggerated.

In a equipace world, Brandon Roy would be the league's #7 scorer instead of his current #11. LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, David West and Rodney Stuckey also get love in a land without D'Antonis and Nellies.


This assumes, though, that the difference is a purely quantitative one. Bill Simmons's asterisk argument, I take it, is that there's also a qualitative shift, a suspension of all common sense that gives way to numbers that are not merely inflated, but also empty. I wonder, then, if there's some way not just to fix numbers according to pace (or paceless-ness), but to also quantify the amount of irrationality or impetuousness that a team like the Knicks or Warriors brings to the game. It's possible to play fast and smart.

On the other hand, when a D'Antoni or Nelson team is intent on sowing the seeds of mayhem and disrupting all basketball order, the opposing team is either tricked or forced into following suite. They are the proverbial serpent 'round the hoop, and dude, we kind of needed to listen to the serpent to so we could one day build our own zoos. I don't believe that there's no such thing as a bad shot or poor decision against these teams, just that you can get away with things—maybe even have to get into them—if you can't outright shut down these offenses. 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.


(We considered also adjusting for the team's own defense, with the idea that D'Antoni teams don't care about defense and can thus reserve all energy for offense, thus inflating their production -- as in, on any other team, the players would produce less because they'd get tired on defense. But this is stupid and a few steps too far. Your top scorers list would just be Celtics and LeBron. BOO.)


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At 2/03/2009 3:32 PM, Blogger Kellen said...

The question: is the D'Antoni Effect simply tempo?

Compare players tempo-free stats in years with D'Antoni and years without D'Antoni. Lots of other things to check for, but this seems pretty easy.

Steve Nash's return from the stratosphere back to his old Maverick self after the D'Antoni era in Phoenix seems to show up in the tempo-free stats too. Even accounting for tempo, there appears to be some kind of real bump that's not just attributable to tempo. Again, it could be lots of other things like, you know Nash hitting the prime age during that exact time as well, but it's worth a look-see.

Someone who has a little spare time care to check it out, write it up, and make a graph?

At 2/03/2009 3:55 PM, Blogger Ziller said...

The un-D'Antoni'ing of his players (specifically Diaw, Marion and Nash) has been done, and it's boring. But my question: why would you want to strip out all a coach's impacts? Should we use the fact that Riley is one of the greatest defensive coaches ever to adjust Mourning's defensive stats?

I mean, at what point in removing the D'Antoni from Lee do you start removing some Lee, too.

When you start taking about adjusting for D'Antoni himself, you're slipping into dangerous territory and you're unlikely to find anything real. (First of all, the sample size would be atrocious. How many players has he coached since '04, like three dozen?)

One more thought: you can't ascertain what's behind the D'Antoni veil at the player level, because D'Antoni's impact on said player is not temporary. Like, Nash can't be a regular point guard now. See: Marion, Amare, Barbosa.

At 2/03/2009 5:02 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Dystopias I fear:

1) All stats become relative.

2) All stats are adjusted according to a norm that never existed in the world.

3) As Ziller said, we start messing with the numbers of obvious greats, rather than taking those as points of reference. His example was Stockton/Malone.

At 2/03/2009 6:01 PM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

Logical conclusion

Subtract coaches and Ty Thomas = Josh Smith 2.0.

At 2/03/2009 6:04 PM, OpenID tredecimal said...

They are the proverbial serpent 'round the hoop, and dude, we kind of needed to listen to the serpent to so we could one day build our own zoos.

Is it wrong I want to high five you for that?

At 2/03/2009 7:15 PM, Blogger labbit said...

So is there stat deflation if you play for Pop? Could I argue personal stat deflation if my team sucks (I'd have more points if you didn't have so many turnovers)?

Stats are stats. They only have so much meaning.

At 2/03/2009 7:28 PM, Blogger Kevin Pelton said...

Kellen, I sort of did some of that with the Knicks here:

I think it is possible that D'Antoni affected Nash in a different way than almost anyone else. Chris Duhon + D'Antoni is still Chris Duhon, but Steve Nash + D'Antoni = two-time MVP.

At 2/03/2009 10:06 PM, Blogger yezzy. said...

Sometimes I barley understand the stuff you write about but the parts that i do grasp are wonderful. After following a Dallas Penn link from his blgo to yours i have been an avid reader... also i'm very glad you guys post on a regular basis now. keep up the good work. :)

At 2/03/2009 11:04 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Appreciate Ziller's argument, but to argue that SSOL is of minor impact on stats (6%) is to turn a blind eye to mountains of evidence.

a) Nash: pre and post D'Antoni vs. D'Antoni years. Which, as Simmons pointed out, weren't even his prime!

b) Duhon went from longtime backup to Kirk Hinrich (!) to legit top-10 point guard, at least statistically.

c) David Lee really isn't this good.

d) Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford looked like legit All-Stars for the first six weeks of the season.

e) Al Harrington looking like an effective version of Kevin Martin (ouch... take that, Ziller).

So, yes, maybe # of possessions isn't the only criteria at play here. Maybe it's tempo, saved effort on defense, or even D'Antoni's small rotations (the Knicks rocked 6 and 7-man rotations most of the year, with Duhon averaging something like 50 mpg this season), or all of the above and more. And therefore maybe it's not so easy to strip out statistically, as Shoals argues.

Me, personally... I just can't wait until Kevin Durant gets to the Knicks in 2011, after the LeBron thing fizzles out. He'll average like 40 ppg his first season under D'Antoni.

At 2/04/2009 4:28 AM, Blogger nadiel said...

So is the "D'Antoni Effect" a product of pace or of coaching ability? And is one more desirable than the other?

I think Ziller is right about pace. If David Lee leaves the Knicks, he still appears to be a good rebounder, regardless of how many rebounds are available.

Shockingly enough, maybe we say something like "If David Lee leaves the Knicks for a quality coach, there will be no drop off..." Crazy to think that good coaches get the most out of their players, I know.

At 2/04/2009 8:14 AM, Blogger StreakShooter McFloorburn said...

I think the D'Antoni effect is just that of a good coach knowing how to most effectively use their personnel. Of course pace inflates some stats for some players, but it isn't at all a guarantee of increased production and shouldn't diminish his players' accomplishments. Take some of the examples from this thread: "Zach Randolph looked like a legit all-star for the first six weeks of the season". Not any more than he has for the Clippers. Only his rebounds and steals were better under D'Antoni, all of his other numbers have been just as much better in L.A. Boris Diaw (and Raja Bell, for that matter) have been just as, if not more effective playing for Larry Brown, who is arguably as good a coach as D'Antoni, though inarguably as different in style as a coach can be. And however unpopular Brown's methods may be in this liberated world, stylistically Diaw and Bell don't play that much differently under him than they did under D'Antoni, and although Bell is probably more a Larry Brown type player than a Mike D'Antoni type player, I don't think anyone here would have said the same about Diaw (until now?) Marion, Nash, and Barbosa seem like the most obvious Suns beneficiaries of the D'Antoni system, and I don't think it's any coincidence that Harrington, Duhon, and Robinson are the most obvious Knicks to benefit from it (as I remember, Lee was the most highly regarded/desired Knick around the rest of the league even before D'Antoni got there). Amare suffers not from a lack of SSOL, but from having to coexist with Shaq, who never had to play with another alpha-type big before, and is too old to learn now. I'd bet my left pinky finger that Amare would be just as good on the Spurs as he would be on the Knicks, if not as fun to watch. Simmons asterisk argument was tongue in cheek, as most of his stuff is, but he's dead on where Nash is concerned, if not for all the right reasons. Another point: regardless of what history or current popular opinion may tell about Avery Johnson, the Mavs had their greatest successes (and failures) under him. Is Lawrence Frank a better coach because he set Devin Harris free? I suppose from an FD perspective, the answer must be yes, but wins still count for something, don't they? Stats do too, regardless of how they are achieved. One more thing and I'm done rambling. Did Kobe take Bynum out intentionally to have another shot at proving he doesn't need a dominant center? Some of Bynum's recent numbers were pretty ridiculous, enough to be potentially threatening to Kobe's MIL (Most Indispensable Laker) status. I don't think putting up 61 in the next game is innocuous or just about rallying the team in the wake of Bynum's injury.

At 2/04/2009 9:27 AM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

stopmike, a big reason that Nash wasn't as good in Dallas is that the Dallas team wasn't really set up for his skills. Dirk was certainly an asset for Nash, but Bradley couldn't catch layup passes, NVE was mostly an iso-guy, Finley was getting old and an iso-guy, etc. But there truly was no in the lane finisher, which hampered Nash's impact to a huge degree. That said, I feel that the Mavs were the best team in the league the year that NVE was constantly on fire, but Dirk went down in the playoffs.

On another note, I think that the qualitative point of some of the people claiming a stat-inflation comes from the style of game that a D'Antoni pace dictates: up-tempo and loose. This creates a lot of open layups, open threes, and defensive breakdowns for both teams. It's easy to see how someone would assign less value to the 2 points (even adjusted for pace) that Lee is getting off of running the floor versus the two points Lebron gets for some ridiculous slam dunk that should have never happened.

This may be right or wrong, but it seems to me that FD is actually coming down on the Right Way side here, valuing the points more than the manner in which they were scored! (Although I guess that you're really trying to defend the style of a whole game or team or coach as opposed to the usual obsession with spectacular minutiae.) Sorry, this was kind of long.

At 2/04/2009 9:47 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

This may be right or wrong, but it seems to me that FD is actually coming down on the Right Way side here, valuing the points more than the manner in which they were scored! (Although I guess that you're really trying to defend the style of a whole game or team or coach as opposed to the usual obsession with spectacular minutiae.) Sorry, this was kind of long.

I'm saying, ultimately, that trying to "deflate" stats depends on judging whether any given play was "real" or not. So it's anti-Right Way. Shows even that the real world exemplars of the Right Way would be undone by this approach.

At 2/04/2009 9:53 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Actually, hold up for about an hour, I'll do a post clarifying my last few sentences (which were actually my overall conclusion)

At 2/04/2009 12:18 PM, Blogger sdgrizzles said...

First comment here, so I'd just like to give props to the FD team for producing a heady, mystical and transformative forum to discuss the transcendental zen of basketball.

That out of the way.... I've been observing the NBA universe's obsession with SSOL ever since the sad disassembling of its definitive team, the D'Antoni led Phoenix Suns. Since FD often looks at the NBA as epochs: ie. Jordan era, Iverson era, LeBron era, etc., is it possible that the era immediately preceding LeBron was the "Suns era"?

Is it possible that that team (including Bryan Colangelo, D'Antoni, and all the players on that roster) could be thought of as one great, sort of macro-player? Maybe the greatest "player" since Jordan? To be sure, the phenomenon that is SSOL, as embodied by the Suns, is one of the most talked about, inspiring, debated, polarizing, copied, misunderstood events in the NBA since the Jordan era. It certainly gets as much burn as the infamous "Summer of LeBron." I would argue that we are in the LeBron era, and it slightly overlapped with a receding Suns era.

People like Dave Berri, Tom Ziller and other stat-heads tend to minimize the importance of coaches. But following the discussion here, and on other basketball blogs, it seems that D'Antoni has a very real "effect" on every player he coaches/has coached. Isn't that what good coaches are supposed to do?

Is it FD to examine which coaches are the most FD? Nelly, D'Antoni, Phil Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, and even Kevin McHale come to mind. Mike Brown is a particularly fascinating story: First head coaching gig ever, and he inherits one of the greatest talents the game has ever known, and also one of the most versatile. Curious what impact a player like LeBron has on the development of a "rookie" coach like Mike Brown (but I'm losing my point now).

Can't we argue that coaching style is driven by personality and impacts the poetics of the game as much as Rasheed Wallace's bullheaded refusal to be the greatest basketball player ever? (in recognition of Charles Barkley's claim, take it or leave it).

Coaches like D'Antoni clearly have an effect. I think the pace argument is a sleight of hand that draws people's attention away from something more important: the possibility that D'Antoni's sets, substitutions, tempo, COACHING, is what makes him such an intriguing and mysterious figure. Why do so many teams try to implement his system and fail while D'Antoni takes a group of Knicks who seem like a bad fit for the system and, by most reasonable metrics, makes it work?

Shoals has lamented how today's NBA makes "Macrophenomenal..." seem a tad off the mark. Could a second volume include an examination of the spiritual and psychological styles of coaching?

It would be interesting to see an exploration of different coaching philosophies. In a FD world, SSOL is the 95 theses on the MSG door of Riley's grind-em-out, half-court NY Knicks. Tex Winter's triangle remains as much an enigma today as ever, and perfectly embodies Phil Jackson's zen Buddhism: following "The Way" with fluid, enlightened improvisation replacing rigid, dogmatic roles. Larry Brown's "Right Way" is like the Talmud, an ancient, orthodox system of rules/outcomes. Jeff Van Gundy could be John the Baptist to Riley's...well, you get the point.

Coaches, especially former players, are just as FD as anybody who's playing in the NBA right now. While I love basketball because of the improvisation of movement and thought it allows on an individual player level, I also love it for the creativity it affords in coaching (Kevin McHale may be the next great philosopher with his "no positions, only basketball players" ideology). If you separate the two, you are left with less than the sum of the parts.

Please excuse the rambling...

At 2/04/2009 12:29 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

What about confidence? Raja Bell took a leap when he played for Sloan but he took a quantum leap under Mike D' when he played without conscience.

At 2/04/2009 12:44 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2/05/2009 12:44 PM, Blogger Jerry Vinokurov said...

I think any debate about whether or not it's the players that make the system or the system that makes the players is like the iconic question of whether the man goes around the squirrel posed by William James in Pragmatism. It's a meaningless question in the end because all coaches have a vision of how they would like their teams to play (at least, the good coaches have a vision) and they try to find the players that match that vision. Would SSOL have been possible without Nash & Co.? Who knows?

There are two other points that the debates over D'Antoni get wrong. One of them is the presumption that there is a Right Way to play, and therefore any statistical deviation due to his system is inflation. I don't think I need to explain just how stupid this view is. Second, there seems to be a double-standard among many (possibly due to point 1 in this paragraph) according to which D'Antoni is called to account for his system in a way that, say Popovich is not. After all, couldn't we ask whether the dread Parker-Duncan-Ginobili triumvirate would have been as effective under a different coach, or whether Popovich would have done just as well with another set of players (say, the same Suns)?

The final analysis for me is that even though I care moderately about wins and losses, the Suns were fun for me to watch in a way that no other team was fun. Maybe they couldn't play a lick of defense, but they seemed to believe in themselves. Now that Porter has taken all the life out of that team, all I see when I watch them are Nash's soulless eyes and Amare's equine placidity in the face of the inevitable apocalypse.

At 2/06/2009 1:44 AM, Blogger Alex said...

D'antoni obviously inflates stats--so what? We don't go back and doubt stats from the 1980's, when defense was unheard of and teams scored 130 points on any given night. Another thing to consider is the personnel. D'antoni requires a certain type of player; he won't inflate the stats, in all likelihood, or a Rip Hamilton or even Tim Duncan.
Everyone had good numbers on the Suns as long as points, rebounds and assists are the only stats you look at.

At 2/09/2009 6:48 PM, Blogger Lucas said...

We don't doubt stats from the 1980's, or defensive stats from under Pat Riley because they were still working toward the goal of winning. The knock on SSOL is that it may just be inflating stats for the sake of having high stats, but it is in fact working in detriment to winning. If a football team didn't put a defense on the field in order to get the ball back asap, we would naturally be up in arms that yes, they were getting 20 possessions per quarter, and yes they're QB was going to throw for 10,000 yards in a season, but they were doing it at the expense of winning.

Very extreme hypothetical example obviously, but an example nonetheless. And I'm not saying that the only difference between SSOL and others is that they don't play D, just drawing a parallel with another sport.


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