Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

An Interview With John Hollinger

Recently the 2004-2005 edition of the “Pro Basketball Forecast” (formerly Prospectus) hit the bookstores, and it’s clear that John Hollinger’s work keeps getting better and better. Whether you’re a fantasy basketball GM, a hardcore hoops head, or just a casual fan, there’s something for everyone. Hollinger keeps readers interested with funny anecdotes in between the hard hitting analysis and his unabashed criticism. There are gems on every page, like when Hollinger jokes about little used 2001 draft pick Primoz Brezec being thrilled about having “front row NBA seats,” or when he declares Etan Thomas as the “NBA’s best dreadlocked big man.”

In the first edition Hollinger introduced us to a new stat, PER, which has become the de-facto standard of measuring an offensive player’s performance. Not only is he able to express a player’s ability in one single number, but Hollinger is able to quantify a player’s ability to rebound, pass, score, and turn the ball over in a way that makes more sense than traditional statistics. If you’re still unsure about buying “Pro Basketball Forecast”, go to the book store, turn to page 90 & read Hollinger’s take on Bimbo Coles. You’ll be laughing all the way to the cashier. If you have never followed basketball closely before, with one purchase, you’ll know everything about every team and their players for the upcoming season.

Luckily, John took some time outside of his busy schedule of writing for Sports Illustrated, the New York Sun, alleyoop.com, and of course next year’s Pro Basketball Forecast to do an interview with yours truly. [Hyperlinks added by me.]

Writing a Book

Do you use co-authors & how much of the book is written by you?
I write all of it.

How long does it take?
Well, the nice thing about an annual is that it can’t take more than a year. In all seriousness, I start writing bits and pieces before the season even starts, but probably 80% of the book is written in a furious blitz after the season ends

What is the process of writing a book of this magnitude?
There’s essentially two parts. During the seamy the most important thing is making the effort to see all the teams and players multiple times so you really get a feel for what they’re doing — even the guys who hardly play. Once it ends I’m pulling together all the final stats and writing most of my player and team comments. Then in July I have to make adjustments for the draft and as many free agent moves as I can accommodate before it goes to the publisher.

This Year’s Prospectus/Forecast

Why the name change from Prospectus to Forecast?
It basically had to do with a licensing agreement my publisher had to use the Prospectus name for their basketball and football books, which expired. So we had to call it something else this year.

What are some of the things that separates this year’s version from previous years?
I made a lot of progress in terms of coming up with new tools to help predict performance. I projected each player’s stats (at least, each important
player’s) for the coming season and that’s a tool I’m continuing to refine. I also came up with some metrics to help evaluate which players in Europe can be of assistance in the NBA.

In last year’s edition regarding defense, you said you weren’t on the tip of the iceberg, but rather “the tip of the tip.” How much of the iceberg can we see in the 2004 version?
Much more. I did some work to evaluate individual defense and provided a “Defensive PER” for every player for the past season.

Even though you acknowledge the offseason moves in the team descriptions, you have the players listed under the teams they played for last year. Why not list players like Shaq, McGrady, and Crawford under their new teams?
Because we can’t get every change in before the publishing deadline — for instance, Kenny Anderson and Jon Barry signed with the Hawks well afterward. So if we try to do it that way we’ll just end up confusing everyone.

Your book has gotten bigger and bigger each year.

'02 - 285 pg
'03 - 307 pg
'04 - 314 pg

For next year’s edition, should I take the over/under on 330 pages?
Well, the seven-page increase this year can entirely be blamed on the Bobcats, so I’d expect it to hold steady around 315.

Why should the casual fan buy this year’s book?
Because it has a lot of information you can’t find anywhere else, and critiques of the players that most announcers and beat writers don’t have the freedom to unleash.

All About John

Any chance that you’ll do reporting on a more frequent basis (either for SI or your blog alleyoop.com)?
Well, I write two columns a week for the New York Sun, so since you’re in the Big Apple that’s a big fat yes.
Otherwise, I’ll be doing a weekly piece for SI.com.

Other than your own, what are some of your favorite basketball books?
Terry Pluto’s Loose Balls is the gold standard, classic story telling mixed with some insights into a league not that many people saw. I enjoyed Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson as well, although I’ve yet to read his new book. And, getting really old school, the Wooden-Sharman Method by John Wooden and Bill Sharman is still on my bookshelf.

When you step on the court, which NBA player’s game does your style most resemble?
LOL … I guess I’d be somewhere between Nick Van Exel and a lefthanded Jon Barry. Lots of 3s, no conscience, not much defense.

Guessing on the Knicks:

By the end of the year, who will be the Knicks’ starting PF?
Mike Sweetney, if they know what they’re doing.

There are currently 4 players on the roster left from the pre-Isaiah era (Houston, Anderson, Sweetney & Thomas). What will that number be by playoff time?
I’ll say two. Thomas will be in the Western Conference and Anderson will be in the Eastern hemisphere.

Nazr Mohammed over or under 5.8PF/48mins (his average last year)?
I’ll say over. He got to play some power forward with the Hawks last year but won’t have that luxury as a Knick.

True or False, the Knicks will end up in the second round of the playoffs this year?
False. The Knicks will be No. 5 behind Indiana, Detroit, Washington and Miami.

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