1.10.2011

Dr LIC's Krazy SyEnce Korner Pt. 2011

























Hello, all. While stumbling around the web, I found this phenomenal little paper by behavioral scientists, Emily M. Zitek and Alex Jordan, entitled, Anger, aggression, and athletics: Technical fouls predict performance outcomes in the NBA." From the abstract:

A dataset including all players from five consecutive National Basketball Association (NBA) seasons was analyzed to determine the relationship between displays of hostile aggression—as measured by the number of technical fouls a player received—and markers of successful performance. Analyses revealed that a greater number of technical fouls predicted success in aspects of the game that require power and energy, such as making field goals, grabbing rebounds, and blocking shots. However, a greater number of technical fouls was also associated with performance decrements in aspects of the game that require precision and carefulness, such as making three-pointers.

This paper harkens back to an idea I long ago discussed with resident statistician Silverbird 5000. We wondered why the best players in the league--this year Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, and Amare Stoudemire--consistently lead the league in technical fouls. Certainly their increased playing time contributes to this recurring phenomenon, but we speculated that even controlling for playing time, one would see that better players are called for more technicals. This could occur for a number of reasons--the increased salience of star players, the increased tendency of star players to beg for star treatment (and thus face consequences), or even a subconscious intuitive sense of justice that the refs feel toward punishing the players who are the most well to do.
























Zitek and Jordan's article points to a link between on-court performance and techs, but points to a more nuanced relationship. First, they note that technical fouls constitute a special kind of aggression--hostile aggression (aggression for aggression's sake), rather than instrumental aggression (aggression that serves a particular goal in the sport like checking in hockey). The interesting finding is that although this form of aggression has no particular aim, it has adaptive consequences for success in the more energy-laden/rough-and-tumble aspects of basketball--getting to the line, rebounding, blocking shots, and overall field goal percentage. On the other hand, technical fouls had negative effects on the more finesse aspects of the game such as assists and three-point shooting. Note that the authors controlled for key factors in their analyses such as position of the player and minutes played.

The authors conclude that this form of hostile aggression allows players to maintain a level of high arousal necessary for the high-energy components of the game. All of which gives credence to one of the observations from our first book:



Of course, as the authors note, caution must be taken in interpreting too much from this correlational research. Still, it is nice to confirm what fans of high intensity players have always suspected--that there is a potential benefit to receiving technical fouls.

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12 Comments:

At 1/10/2011 12:12 PM, Blogger tomrigid said...

Bit of a cause/effect conundrum here. Players engaged in power/energy facets of the game are necessarily exposed to aggression, which brings about an aggressive response from them. The overall number of technicals is likely situational, while the associated increments of positive performance may simply be a residue of their athletic superiority. I'll get back to you on this ;)

 
At 1/10/2011 6:13 PM, Blogger j_d_hastings said...

Did they use Bayesian analysis? http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/science/11esp.html

 
At 1/11/2011 1:23 AM, Blogger Benjamin said...

Is this sample large enough to be extrapolated to a wider subset of aggressive/technical foul/improved aggressive statistics players?

I'd also be interested to further explore the loss of finesse-ability; these players really become less able to complete passes and shoot threes based on the total number of techs received?

Just when I think I can't become any fonder of this space something like this post comes along and leads inexorably to a huge nerdgasm. Great work LIC.

 
At 1/11/2011 9:53 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Some friends and I have actually started a fantasy league this past season predicated on the notion of rewarding technical, flagrant, and personal fouls, and attempting to predict who will cause trouble. Here's a blog post a friend of mine wrote that relates to the league and our prediction models:

http://www.negativedunkalectics.com/2010/12/fouls-league.html

 
At 1/12/2011 12:09 AM, Blogger Abraham said...

I'd be curious, too, about whether data was collected on coach's T's. I'd also wonder, given that upticks in free-throw rates were noted, if any of the stat games might be attributable to subtle changes in the way the game was officiated.

 
At 1/13/2011 2:28 AM, Blogger kerem said...

where's nate silver when you need him?

 
At 1/15/2011 8:44 PM, Blogger David Murphy said...

Chris - I notice only current players in you league. I'm supposing J.R. Rider would have been a star?

****

Not even tangentially related I guess but somehow the post made me think of drummers. Many years ago, when I played in bands, I had a good friend named Rock Vodka who was a drummer. One night a bunch of us were hanging out and Rock said he figured he could tear a cymbal in half. We said 'go for it'. Rock dragged the cymbal back into a corner and worked on it all night. He eventually managed to rip it pretty good. Well anyway.

 
At 1/16/2011 10:05 AM, Blogger bernard snowy said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tliH0JHBiFo

between this and the Darko jumpball tip-in, it's been a banner week for spontaneous FD swag

 
At 1/20/2011 4:11 AM, Blogger evan said...

It seems more like they're saying the technical fouls are a byproduct of a mindset. I don't think technical fouls necessarily "help," they merely serve as an indicator for hyperarousal.

 
At 1/27/2011 6:33 PM, Blogger Chris said...

The problem I have with this analysis is that the unevenness with which referees hand out technical fouls renders this a very poor measure of hostile actions. I've seen Rasheed Wallace get tee'd up for a cross look, while someone like Steve Nash would probably have to body-slam the referee, and even then he would probably get a warning. It also depends on the referee. If Steve Javie is in a bad mood, he'll call a technical if he doesn't like the way you tied your sneakers. Without good data, the conclusions of the study are suspect.

 
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