Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Step 1. Conclusion – Step 2: Look At The Facts

Bad writing is when an author writes an article with a biased conclusion before looking at any of the facts. The worst misuse of statistics is cherry picking ones that support your point, while ignoring any facts that reject your hypothesis.

Enter ESPN.com columnist Frank Hughes, and his article “These moves aren’t so smooth.” Now I’m not such a Knick fan that I would let my fandom get in the way of an objective and intelligent argument. However luckily for me, Hughes’ article was neither of these. Hughes sets the tone with the first line:

“With all due respect to my esteemed colleague and compadre Chad Ford: What the heck is Isiah thinking?”

The first time I read this I said to myself “Great!” I like to hear opposing opinions. Sometimes it’s good to have a devil’s advocate, because it keeps you in check. If you can’t defend your ideas and theories, then maybe they aren’t as valid as you think. Even better, sometimes you’ll learn something that’s contrary to your current beliefs, and change the way you think. Unfortunately the article had little chance of swaying any rational person. Read on:

“If, in fact, Isiah signs Erick Dampier to go with a sign-and-trade deal for Jamal Crawford that essentially eliminates any future flexibility he may have had, well, in my mind that is figuratively putting the cement shoes — why has Nike not made a pair of those yet? — on the Knicks and throwing them in the East River on a frigid January day.”

Organized crime references to describe a New York sports team? Nothing says bad writing like a tired, drawn out metaphor. Memo to Mr. Hughes: the Knicks have been in salary cap hell for years now. Even without Crawford & Dampier’s contracts, they will be over the cap until at least the summer of 2007. This is his only valid point in the entire article. Being over the cap gives you less flexibility than being under the cap. However being over the cap & being willing to take on more contracts doesn’t make you inflexible. Consider this: if the Knicks are so inflexible, then how come they only have 3 players remaining from the pre-Isiah era? And Zeke hasn’t been with the team for a whole year yet! That sounds pretty darn flexible to me.

Looking at the Knicks roster, they still have some valuable trading chips. Sweetney is valuable for his contract as much as his promising ability. I’d imagine a few teams are interested in Kurt Thomas and Nazr Mohammed. If the Knicks don’t trade them this year, next summer they have a ton of expiring contracts to deal in Penny Hardaway ($15.8M), Tim Thomas ($14M), Nazr Mohammed ($5.5M), and Moochie Norris ($4.2M with a team option – an option that no sane team would be dumb enough to activate). That’s almost an entire salary cap in expiring contracts, enough to make any money strapped GM start drooling. The year after, they have about $35M in expiring contracts in Allan Houston, Shandon Anderson, & Jerome Williams (team option).

So what is Hughes “proof” of Isiah’s poorly thought out plan:

“Yes, I agree, some of the Knicks’ pieces certainly look good, to go with Stephon Marbury and Allan Houston. But now more than ever I am a big believer in chemistry, and when you really get right down to it, the collection of players Isiah has assembled has really accomplished very little in their respective careers, and they have had plenty of time to do it.”

Did you catch that? Chemistry = career accomplishments. What type of chemistry I’m not exactly sure about. Is it locker room chemistry? On the court chemistry? Molecular chemistry? He just doesn’t specify the type. Of course what does he use to measure career accomplishments?

Number of playoff games played.

That’s right it’s the old ring argument (Player A is better than Player B, because he’s won more championships). This kind of thinking is just not well thought out, because winning a playoff game or championship is a team effort, not an individual one. Last year, the following players didn’t play in the playoffs: Vince Carter, Tracey McGrady, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Gilbert Arenas, LeBron James, Carlos Boozer, and Allen Iverson. I didn’t even bother to include any players from the West. Players that did have playoff experience were such superstars as: Dana Barros, Vin Baker, DerMarr Johnson, Shammond Williams, Daniel Santiago, and Wang ZhiZhi. I don’t know about you, but if I were making a team, I’d overlook playoff experience, and go with the first group.

Let’s see he continues with this line of thought, and if you think I’m paraphrasing to make my point, read the article & be the judge for yourself. (Bolding is not in the original article, but added by me.)

  1. “[Marbury]‘s been in the league now for eight seasons. Ten. [Editor's note: I don't know why this sentence "Ten." is there or what it means, but I left it in so you get the exact feel of the article.] You know how many playoff games he has been in in that span? Eighteen. And he’s never been out of the first round…
  2. Tim Thomas has been in the league nine years, playing a grand total of 33 playoff games
  3. Kurt Thomas, signed at sizable dollars through 2008-09, has 48 career playoff games in nine years with career postseason averages of 6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds
  4. “Since he left Orlando in 1999, Penny Hardaway has played in a grand total of 18 playoffs games. By comparison, his sophomore season in Orlando, he played in 21 postseason games…
  5. Nazr Mohammed … has played seven playoff games and has never advanced past the first round. He has career averages of 6.7 points and 5.3 rebounds…
  6. Allan Houston is the biggest conundrum because he clearly is talented. He also clearly is frustrating, going into long spells of quietude during a season and seemingly disappearing at important junctures…

What’s interesting is how he changes the facts he uses from one person to the next when the stats don’t support his point of view. To bash Tim Thomas & Marbury, he shows how few playoff games they’ve played. However, unfortunately for Frank, counting playoff appearances doesn’t necessarily work with his third choice: Kurt Thomas. Kurt’s seen enough playoff action with the Knicks, including going to the Finals in ’99. So he drags up Kurt’s poor playoff statistics. Of course he doesn’t mention that those numbers are heavily weighted when Kurt was a backup (only 22 minutes per game, not the 31+ we’ve been accustom to over the last 3 years.) In his playoff experiences as a starter, Kurt’s averaged 13.6PPG & 11.4REB, which is conveniently ignored. Also ignored are Marbury’s playoff numbers: 19.4PPG, 6.7AST, and 1.6STL.

For Penny Hardaway, not only does he eliminate his early playoff success with the Magic, but uses it against him. In essence splitting Penny’s career in two. What gives him the right to do that? Did Penny’s “chemistry” change after he left Orlando? BTW since Hughes doesn’t mention it, Penny’s career playoff numbers since he left Orlando – 19 games (not the 18 he falsely reported), 17.1PPG, 5.4AST, and 1.7 STL.

For each of the first five guys, he’s mentioned the number of playoff games they’ve played in over their career and when it suits him, their playoff statistics. But eventually he has to mention Allan Houston. H20 has played in 63 playoff games, averaging 40 minutes, 19.3 PPG, and a 48.7% eFG%. If Hughes wants to be an impartial and forthcoming writer he can mention these numbers, and say that Houston is the only player on the Knicks with playoff experience. Surely admitting that the Knicks have one playoff tested starter won’t blow his whole argument out of the water. So does Frank take the high road?

“Allan Houston is the biggest conundrum because he clearly is talented. He also clearly is frustrating, going into long spells of quietude during a season and seemingly disappearing at important junctures.”

I have to give Frank some credit, if you’re going to write bullshit, you might as well use big words like conundrum, quietude, and junctures.

I won’t even bother to go over the rest of the article. It’s more of the same – choose a player & pick only the numbers that make your claim look good. The flaws are obvious in this piece, beginning to end. If Hughes want to criticize Isiah’s moves, then there are many logical arguments that would make sense. This is a lesson to all aspiring writers out there. If you are having trouble writing an article because the facts don’t support your point, then maybe your initial hypothesis was wrong in the first place.

3 comments on “Step 1. Conclusion – Step 2: Look At The Facts

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