Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Iverson and Lee: Two Sides Of All Star Perception

In the story “Boy Who Cried Wolf”, the boy lies for his own amusement and his lies doom him when the villagers fail to come to his aid during a wolf attack. This classic fable is a good example of perception. The town believes that the boy is liar, hence they judge all his actions from that perspective. So even when the boy is telling the truth, the perception of the boy results in the townspeople viewing it as a lie.

Perception is a useful tool, because it allows us to remember facts about people without remembering their entire history. For instance if you have a friend who consistently shows up at your party empty handed, your perception of him will make it easier for you to deal with him without recalling every incident.

But perception has its downside as well. Again take the example of your beer mooching friend. Let’s say he finally realizes his selfish ways and decides it would be rude to show up for a shindig without a 6 pack in hand. It may take some time for you to acknowledge this change. The first time he shows up with some ale, you may think that to be the fluke. He may have to do more than any other person to change your perception of him. Perhaps an entire case of your favorite beer and a bowl of guacamole would do it.

Perception works the same way in sports, and is especially true when it comes to fans voting for All Star Games. That would be the only reason why Allen Iverson was voted in as a starter. Iverson has always been a divider among fans. Some see him as a selfish player who always needs the ball and jacks up too many shots. Others as an offensive wizard who provides open shots for his teammates.

If you belong to the first group of fans, you probably didn’t think Iverson was an All Star, so let’s argue the point of view from the latter group. In his prime, Iverson was averaging upwards of 25 points/36 minutes. This high volume scoring was valuable to his team, even at the price of his low percentage shooting. If this were true, then why is Iverson still valuable today? His scoring is down nearly 30% from his career average (16.7 pts/36 this year, 23.6 pts/36 career). And despite the decrease, his shooting percentages are still below their career numbers (51.0 TS%, 43.9 eFG%). Add to this the last two teams Iverson was traded from improved after trading him, and you have to wonder if he’s providing an All Star level contribution these days? But of course Iverson isn’t the only NBA player whose perception doesn’t match his production.

Knick fans were hoping that David Lee might be named an All Star reserve this year, but unfortunately he was not. And while I’m not sure that Lee should have been, I’m certain that he suffered from poor perception. Since his first days in the NBA, Lee has been labelled as a player who only scores because he’s an afterthought in the other team’s defensive scheme. Since then Lee’s game has evolved, but that reputation has stuck. Take this quote from Truehoop:

Lee is just here as a courtesy to the millions of Knick fans. Oh, he’s a player and all, and I know Mike D’Antoni was campaigning for him. But when your guy makes an open 20-foot jumper, and everyone is pleasantly surprised? That guy’s not an All-Star. The competition is just too stiff. Look up there and look at who made it, and tell me who he should replace.

Now Henry Abbott is as informed about the NBA as anyone, and I’m sure this was written with a bit of tongue in cheek. However the implication is clear: Lee only scores because he’s left wide open. And if someone as knowledgeable as Henry Abbott feels this way about Lee, then imagine how the average fan sees him?

Additionally, Lee was probably hurt by Rashard Lewis’ perception as well, since Lewis was a former All Star in Seattle in 2005. Lee and Lewis both provide about the same amount of scoring (Lewis has a small advantage in points per minute, Lee edges him in efficiency) and many of their peripheral stats are similar (they are both weak at shot blocking and steals, albeit Lewis is better in both areas). From a visual perspective, the big difference between the pair is Lewis’ ability to score in a few different ways, including an excellent three point shot (39.3%). But from a statistical perspective, Lewis’ edge in scoring (2.7 pts/36) doesn’t seem to be enough to make up for Lee grabbing twice as many rebounds (11.9 reb/36 vs 5.8 reb/36).

Of course even if Lee has the statistical superiority, the perception is that it’s only because he’s getting wide open looks. But does that make sense? Teams that play Orlando have to worry about their other scorers like Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, and Hedo Turkoglu as well as Lewis. Which Knicks do opposing teams have to account for? Wilson Chandler? Al Harrington? Tim Thomas? Chris Duhon? Jared Jeffries? I’d imagine with those teammates Lewis gets more open looks than Lee. Well at least that’s my perception.


I’ve turned off the comments for this article, because it’s similar to one already in the forum. Please feel free to voice your opinion there.