Samb A Low Risk For New York

Yesterday the Knicks signed Cheik Samb to a 10 day contract. Samb has played for 3 other NBA teams (the Pistons, Nuggets, and Clippers) but has only amassed 106 minutes in that time. His per minute numbers show him to be a strong shot blocker with a very limited offensive game. In fact his shooting numbers are downright laughably bad (TS% 30.5, eFG 27.3%)

Although I’m a big of a supporter of per minute numbers, 106 minutes isn’t enough of a sample to make a good conclusion. This is especially true with regards to a players shooting percentages, which vary more from game to game than their other stats. Luckily Samb has logged 500+ minutes for the NBDL, and his 14.7 pts/36 on 52.8% TS% in the minor league is encouraging. If you combine his numbers from the two leagues, he projects well for a backup center.

Season   Tm  G  MP  FGA FTA  FT% ORB  TRB AST STL BLK TOV  PF   PTS  PER  TS% eFG%
2007-08 DET  4  31  4.6 2.3 .500 3.5  8.1 0.0 1.2 2.3 1.2 9.3  8.1 12.0 .717 .750
2008-09 TOT 16  75 13.9 2.4 .600 4.3 10.6 0.5 1.4 4.8 1.4 3.4  7.2  7.2 .240 .207
NBA Career  20 106 11.2 2.4 .571 4.1  9.8 0.3 1.4 4.1 1.4 5.1  7.5  8.6 .305 .273
NBDL Career 20 508 12.7 2.8 .744 2.6  9.6 0.9 0.9 5.3 2.1 4.6 14.7 17.9 .528 .497
NBA+NBDL    40 614 12.4 2.7 .714 2.9  9.6 0.8 1.0 5.1 2.0 4.7 13.5 16.3 .490 .458

Samb holds up well when compared to some other NBA centers at approximately the same age/number of years in the league. His rebounding isn’t as strong as Ben Wallace or Andris Biedrins, and Big Ben was chipping in with nearly 2 blocks per 36 minutes. Additionally Samb compares poorly to the lot from an offensive standpoint (if you value his NBA numbers over his NBDL). However his blocked shots are the best of the bunch. In fact there have only been 54 seasons in which a player averaged more than 4.0 blocks/36 in 1000 minutes or more.

        Player   To   G   MP   FGA  FG% FTA  FT% ORB  TRB AST STL BLK TOV  PF  PTS
     Cheik Samb 2009  20  106 11.2 .273 2.4 .571 4.1  9.8 0.3 1.4 4.1 1.4 5.1  7.5
Samb NBA+NBDL   2009  40  614 12.4 .458 2.7 .714 2.9  9.6 0.8 1.0 5.1 2.0 4.7 13.5
  Jackie Butler 2007  69  848 10.8 .539 3.8 .775 3.1  8.7 1.3 0.8 1.3 3.1 6.1 14.6
   Jerome James 2002  72  991 10.8 .481 2.6 .500 3.5  9.0 0.9 1.0 3.3 3.0 6.7 11.7
  Steven Hunter 2004 145 1752  8.3 .506 4.3 .464 2.7  7.4 0.5 0.4 3.1 1.2 4.9 10.4
   Dan Gadzuric 2004 124 2020  8.8 .512 3.1 .500 3.4  9.7 0.7 1.3 2.8 1.3 5.5 10.6
Andris Biedrins 2009 309 7469  9.1 .602 3.2 .535 4.3 12.2 1.5 1.1 1.9 1.7 5.0 12.6
    Ben Wallace 1998 101 1321  5.7 .481 3.2 .347 3.7 10.4 0.5 1.9 2.3 1.3 3.9  6.6

The big question is will Samb ever see that many minutes? It’s hard to tell with D’Antoni. He seemingly coveted Chris Wilcox when in Phoenix, but now that the team has acquired him, the center has yet to see any real minutes. Wilcox has played in only 5 games, and has yet to play more than 12 in any game for New York. My gut feeling is that D’Antoni might throw Samb a few minutes early to see if he’s useful, but that you won’t see him again until the Knicks are officially out of the place race. It’s very likely that Samb won’t see any minutes this year at all. New York may just hold him on their roster for the summer league and re-evaluate him at that time.

To put things in perspective the last time the Knicks picked up a shot blocking center in Jerome James, the deal was 182 times longer than Samb’s. The shot blocker they picked up prior to James, helped them reach the playoffs (Dikembe Mutombo) in 2004. This is a good low risk-medium reward deal for the Knicks. It’s something that the team has been weak at considering the Roberson/Von Wafer mistake over the summer. If Samb can join the legion of NBDLers who have become solid NBA players he will give New York another cheap player to help the team win now. Additionally players like Samb could help New York field a competitive roster for 2011 without hurting them fiscally.

Knicks Add to Front Office Staff

According to the NY Times:

John Gabriel, a former N.B.A. executive of the year with the Orlando Magic, has joined the Knicks’ revamped front office and will assume a major role in rebuilding the roster after seven straight losing seasons.

Donnie Walsh, the team president, appointed Gabriel as the director of pro scouting and free agency, a newly created position. Gabriel’s primary duty will be evaluating current N.B.A. players, with an eye toward future trades and free-agent signings.

Gabriel is well versed in the art of rebuilding. He was the Magic’s general manager from 1996 to 2004, a period in which the franchise lost Shaquille O’Neal to free agency and traded Penny Hardaway, but restocked by obtaining Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady.

Gabriel was named executive of the year in 1999-2000 after orchestrating 37 transactions that netted nine first-round draft picks and created the salary-cap space to sign Hill and McGrady.

After being fired in March 2004, Gabriel joined the front office of the Portland Trail Blazers, who have undergone a transformation that the Knicks surely hope to emulate. Once saddled with a bloated payroll and a roster of bad actors, the Blazers are now one of the most promising young teams in the league.

Also joining the Knicks’ front office is Misho Ostarcevic, who will be the director of player personnel. Ostarcevic was Walsh’s international scout with the Pacers.

Gabriel and Ostarcevic were hired earlier this month, although the team did not announce the moves. Walsh was not available for comment Wednesday.

You can see John Gabriel’s transactions as the Orlando GM at Hoopshype. Looking at his record, he seems to be average. His first two drafts were busts (Brian Evans 27th and Johnny Taylor 17th). But he grabbed arguably the best player in the 2000 draft (Mike Miller) and found Zaza Pachulia in the 2nd round in 2002. The trio of firsts in 1998 didn’t fare well (Michael Doleac, Keon Clark, and Matt Harpring) but there wasn’t much else in that draft (Rasho Nesterovic and Al Harrington would have been better choices as were Rashard Lewis & Cuttino Mobley however the latter two were taken in the second round).

Gabriel was keen enough to trade for Ben Wallace, but Wallace was shipped to Detroit in the Grant Hill trade. Hard to argue with that without putting on your hindsight glasses. Gabriel best move was grabbing Tracy McGrady from the Raptors for a first round pick. Looking through his transactions it seems Gabriel weakness was finding a stable center. He drafted Michael Doleac, Curtis Borchardt, Keon Clark, and Steven Hunter in the first round, but none were good enough to become starters. The Magic used veteran defensive minded journeymen bigs like Bo Outlaw, John Amaechi, and Horace Grant in the post-Shaq era.

After leaving Orlando, Gabriel did work with the Portland Trailblazers. This is a good sign not only because Portland has done a good job in building a strong roster, but their GM Kevin Pritchard is said to be statistical minded. It’s hard to gauge whether or not Gabriel has an understanding of statistical analysis. He did trade for Ben Wallace, but that may have been luck (considering he traded Wallace a year later). Gabriel did also acquire Hill and McGrady, two players who score highly by statistical measures, although both were known superstars at the time.

NBA 3 Way Deal Good For Most

Cleveland
Receives: Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, Joe Smith
Loses: Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Cedric Simmons, Shannon Brown, Ira Newble, Donyell Marshall

Sure it’s a sore point that the Cavs aren’t getting the point guard that they’ve been looking for, especially considering Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby, Devin Harris, and even Mike James have all changed teams this year. But looking at who they gave up, it’s addition by subtraction. Consider the league average for TS% is typically around 54% (53.7% at this moment), and look at who’s heading out of Cleveland: Drew Gooden (48.7%), Larry Hughes (46.7%), Donyell Marshall (42.7%), Shannon Brown (43.3%), and Cedric Simmons (21.0%). Only Ira Newble (52.2%) has a TS% anywhere near the median. [On a side note, one has to wonder the merits of conventional wisdom when looking at these numbers. Isn’t playing with a great passer/great scorer (LeBron James) suppose to make the rest of the team better on offense? Where are all the open looks in Cleveland?]

Enter Wally Szczerbiak (TS% 57.3%) and Joe Smith (TS% 51.5%), both of who should provide an offensive boost to Cleveland. Szczerbiak has never had a problem scoring efficiently, and at 30 years of age is still near the top of his game. Suddenly the Cavs look to have the makings of a strong offense: LeBron, Szczerbiak, Gibson, Ilgauskas, Varejao, Smith, Damon Jones, all have TS% above 50%. And although Ben Wallace is shooting poorly (TS% 39.1%) he’ll help the defense as well. With Ilgauskas, Wallace, Varejao, and James the Cavs have enough defense to make up for the guards.

In the end it’s hard not to like this trade for Cleveland. It’s not like the big named deals Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Dallas made, but it should make them a considerably better team in the playoffs.

Seattle
Receives: Adrian Griffin, Donyell Marshall, Ira Newble
Loses: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak

For Seattle this trade boils down to one thing: getting rid of Szczerbiak’s contract. Wally was Seattle’s highest paid player at $12M/year, nearly twice as much as their second highest paid player (Wilcox $6.5M). As for whom they’ll receive: Marshall has two years left at about $6M per, Adrian Griffin has two years left at $1.7M and Newble’s $3.4M expires this year. It’s not a great deal for Seattle, but it just doesn’t make sense to keep a Wally around on a rebuilding team that’s going to win 20-25 games. The one downside to this deal for Seattle residents is that cutting salaries is usually a necessary step prior to a team’s changing addresses.

Chicago
Receives: Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Cedric Simmons, Shannon Brown
Loses: Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, Adrian Griffin

And so ends the Ben Wallace era in Chicago. Big Ben never paid dividends in the Windy City for a number of reasons. Age caught up with Wallace, but he wasn’t the right fit for the Bulls in the first place. Chicago would have been better off keeping Tyson Chandler and grabbing a power forward that can score from the post. Instead they ended up with four defensive minded big men who had trouble scoring: Ben, Andres, Tyrus, and Joakim. Sometimes grabbing the best player in the draft isn’t the best option for teams that are looking to compete now.

However it’s really hard to like who the Bulls received. It’ll be a miracle if Larry Hughes can revert to his best days in Washington. As the years go on it looks as if Hughes’ 2004 & 2005 are the exceptions not the rule. Additionally Hughes contract is nearly as bad as Big Ben’s. Meanwhile Wallace and Joe Smith’s departure is addition by subtraction, because it will force Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah into more minutes. Drew Gooden might be helpful in this area as he should be compliment these players better than they would each other.

In the end it seems as if this was about getting rid of Ben Wallace more than anything else. But the price was to take on Cleveland’s equally bad free agent mistake of Larry Hughes. Chicago can benefit from this trade if one (or both) of Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah become successful with the absence of Wallace.

The Basketball English To English Dictionary

Language is a living evolving being. It intermingles with many different fields including sports. Phrases like “three strikes” and “the whole nine yards” are frequently used outside of sports. Meanwhile sports has acquired words from the English language and gives them a new meaning. A word like “dime” has a totally different meaning when applied to basketball. This guide is intended for those who would like to learn more about basketball terminology. All of these words are borrowed from the English language, but their meanings are radically different from their original meaning. All quotes are made up.

Intangibles (adj) – Statistics other than points per game; Tangible stats like rebounds, blocks, steals, etc.
“Ben Wallace is a phenomenal player because of his intangibles.” – Bill Walton

Proven (adj) – A player who has done this feat once in his career. Frequently used when the player isn’t likely to ever repeat that feat.
“Charles Smith will help the Knicks reach the Finals. He’s a proven 20-8 guy.” – Anonymous analyst, summer 1992

Legitimate (adj) – A player who has been a starter for more than one year. Usually refers to one that is a borderline starter.
“We could probably get a lot back for Willie Green, since he’s a legitimate shooting guard.” – Random message board commenter, Philadelphia suburbs

Winner (n) – A person that was lucky enough to play on a championship team. Today this usually applies to just about anyone who played with Tim Duncan or Shaquille O’Neal.
“Derek Fisher is a great acquisition for Golden State. He’s a proven winner.” – Bill Walton

Choker (n) – A person that was unlucky enough to face Shaq or Duncan late in the playoffs, during one of their championship runs.
“Chris Webber isn’t a winner, he’s a choker.” – Eric Montross

Athletic (adj) – Unskilled. Usually in intangible areas, like rebounding, blocking shots, etc.
“Our team could use an athletic player like Kwame Brown or Tim Thomas.” – No one. Ever.

Glue guy (n) – A valuable player who’s main contribution isn’t using up lots of possessions.
“Andrei Kirilenko is the type of glue guy that every team needs.” – Spokesman, Elmer’s Glue

Energy guy (n) – Unlike some of the aliens you would see on Star Trek (Q, Pah Wraiths, Trelane), these are corporal beings. Usually an illegitimate glue guy that can run the floor in transition, or excels in one intangible part of the game.
“And a fast break dunk by energy guy Tayshaun Prince.” – Kenny Smith

Chemistry (n) – Winning Percentage.
“The Lakers had great chemistry under Shaq, Kobe, and Phil Jackson.” – Jack Nicholson

A Layman’s Guide to Advanced NBA Statistics

This guide is intended for those that are interested in modern basketball statistics. In order to make it more accessible, I’ve decided to forgo the formulas and numbers. At times both fans and journalists alike struggle to use stats when it comes to basketball. Often enough, their interpretation is inadequate because they don’t have the right stats to explain what is happening on the court. Even worse is when stats are used improperly to arrive at the wrong conclusion.

Over the past few years basketball statisticians have learned a lot about the game. While most of it is based on the same stats you would see in boxscores, the findings go far beyond traditional stats. Evaluation on the team level is the most reliable aspect of basketball statistical analysis. In other words, we’re very sure what factors lead a team to victory. Although statisticians aren’t exactly sure how player stats equates to wins, there are many ways to better evaluate individuals than the classical stats.

Team Stats

What You Need to Know
When looking at team stats it’s important to understand that some teams play faster than others which skews their per game stats. Faster paced teams will get more chances to score per game, solely because they have more opportunities. It’s similar to two NFL RBs, both with 1000 yards rushing, but one had 300 attempts and the other only 200 attempts. In this case it’s not enough to know the totals, instead you have to account for the difference in the number of opportunities. The same applies for team stats.

So in lieu of viewing how a team performs per game, we calculate how a team does per possession. What’s a possession? A possession ends when a team gives the ball to the other team, usually through a score, a turnover, or a missed shot recovered by the defense. By using points per possession, we’re looking at how many points a team scores when they have the ball on offense. This is called offensive efficiency or offensive rating, and is measured in points per 100 possessions. Basically offensive efficiency answers the question “if this team had the ball 100 times, how many points would it score?” Similarly we can rate defenses by calculating how many points a team allows per possession, called defensive efficiency or defensive rating.

But it doesn’t stop there. We can break down what aspects of the game contributes to those rankings. Offense (or defense) is broken down into 4 crucial factors: shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and free throws. Shooting is by far the most important factor and is best measured by eFG% which is a better version of FG% (see “Shooting” below). Next come turnovers and rebounding which are about equal to each other, but less valuable than shooting percentage. Like points, turnovers are measured per possession (how many times you cough the ball up when you have it). Rebounding is measured by percentage of missed shots recovered. This is so teams that shoot poorly (have lots of misses to recover) are judged on an even platform with teams that can shoot. Last and least is free throw shooting. This is measured by free throw shots made per shot attempt.

In 50 Words or Less
Throw away points per game for team stats. Instead use offensive efficiency (or defensive efficiency), which is basically how many points a team would score in 100 possessions. Team stats are broken in four factors: shooting, rebounding, turnovers, and free throws. You can find these stats on basketball-reference (search for “Points Per 100 Possessions” and “Four Factors” on the team pages) and my stat site.

Examples Why
In 2006, Portland ranked 18th in points allowed per game, which means they should have been slightly worse than average. However they finished a paltry 21-61 that year. Their defense wasn’t adequately measured by points allowed per game, because they played at the league’s third slowest pace. Ranked by defensive efficiency they were 29th, which would make their 21 win season more understandable. Of course there’s the 1991 Denver Nuggets.

More Please
Dean Oliver (Points Per Possessions): http://www.rawbw.com/~deano/helpscrn/rtgs.html
Dean Oliver (Four Factors): http://www.rawbw.com/~deano/articles/20040601_roboscout.htm
Kevin Pelton: http://www.nba.com/sonics/news/factors050127.html
Basketball-Reference: http://www.basketball-reference.com/about/factors.html

Player Stats

What You Need to Know
Without a doubt per minute stats are more important that per game stats. This is because per minute stats makes valid comparisons between players of varying minutes. Using per game stats in the NBA is like using hits/game in MLB. In 2007 Michael Young averaged 1.29 hits/game to David Ortiz’ 1.22, but Young’s batting average was only .315 to Ortiz’ .332. Young had more hits because he had more at bats (639 to 549), not because he was a better contact hitter. Similarly you might find that one basketball player has better per game stats, but if he had more minutes then the comparison is invalid. Only per minute stats will clarify which player is truly better in a category.

The common notation for per-minute stats is using per 40 minute stats. This is because it’s easier to visualize 2.3 blk/40 min instead of 0.0575 blk/min. Measuring basketball stats per 40 minutes is similar to measuring earned runs per 9 IP in baseball (ERA). One thing to note, unlike ERA in baseball, basketball players’ per-minute stats stay the same despite their playing time. So while baseball relievers have lower ERAs than starters, the same is not true in basketball. Additionally this doesn’t mean a player should play 40 minutes, just as using ERA doesn’t mean that a pitcher should pitch a full 9 innings. It’s just a fair way to compare players.

In 50 Words or Less
Throw out a player’s per game stats, and look at per-minute stats instead. Per minute stats are usually measured per 40 minutes. Study, after study, after study shows a player’s per minute production to stay the same despite how many minutes they play. You can find them at basketball-reference for historical data, or my stat page for the current season.

Examples Why
Some examples of players that had good per minute numbers, but poor per game numbers due to a lack of playing time: Ben Wallace, Jermaine O’Neal, Gerald Wallace, and Michael Redd. Throw in a point guard, and that’s a pretty good team.

More Please
Kevin Pelton’s Stat Primer: http://www.nba.com/sonics/news/stats101.html
The Basketball Notebook’s Primer: http://basketballnotebook.blogspot.com/2005/12/basketball-notebook-stats-primer.html

Shooting

Another stat that should be replaced is FG%. Why? Field goal percentage doesn’t account for the scoring bonus in a three point shot, which is a lower percentage shot. Sharp shooter Kyle Korver’s career FG% (as of 2007) is a lowly 41.3%. If FG% rates a good shooter like Korver so poorly, then it’s obviously not a good stat to use. So replace FG% with eFG% (effective field goal percentage), which compensates for the extra point in a three point shot. Korver’s eFG% is a more robust 53.6%.

But eFG% isn’t the only statistic used to measure a shooter. True Shooting Percentage (TS%) accounts not only for three pointers, but free throws made as well. For instance a player that hits a layup, gets fouled, and hits the extra point is more valuable than the guy that just sinks a jumper. To compare players with respect to their total scoring contribution, this is the stat to use.

In 50 Words or Less
Field goal percentage (FG%) should be replaced by eFG% or TS%. Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) compensates properly for three pointers, while true shooting percentage (TS%) compensates for three pointers and free throws.

Examples Why
Well I used Kyle Korver above, but otherwise you can look at any player that takes a large amount of three pointers or gets (and converts) a lot of free throws. Players like Kevin Martin, Jason Kapono, Manu Ginobili, and Shawn Marion come to mind as players who are misrepresented by FG%.

More please
Kevin Pelton’s Stat Primer: http://www.nba.com/sonics/news/stats101.html
The Basketball Notebook’s Primer: http://basketballnotebook.blogspot.com/2005/12/basketball-notebook-stats-primer.html

Overall Player Value

As I mentioned earlier, it’s not exactly clear exactly how to calculate a player’s worth. However there are 3 main stats that have attempted to give a single number to represent a player’s total contribution. The first and most prevalent is Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Created by John Hollinger, it attempts to take add up the good things, subtract the bad things, and account for team pace and minutes played. It’s normalized to 15, which means the average player in the league scores a 15 PER. The league’s best players are around 30, while the worst are in the single digits. Following Hollinger is economist Dave Berri (and friends) who came up with Wins Produced and it’s cousin Win Score. Unlike Hollinger who chose his equation, Berri and co. statistically derived what factors went into Wins Produced.

But both stats have their weaknesses. According to Wins Produces, PER tends to overrate players that score a lot of points, but do so inefficiently (poor shooting numbers). Meanwhile PER says that Wins Produced overrate strong rebounders that score infrequently. Additionally since they both rely on box score stats, neither captures actions that occur outside of the stat sheet. For instance Bruce Bowen plays tough defense and forces Kobe Bryant to take a bad shot that Tim Duncan rebounds. The stat sheet will record Duncan’s rebound and Kobe’s missed shot, but Bowen doesn’t get any credit for his defense.

One stat that does capture Bowen’s effort is plus/minus stats. Currently kept by Roland Beech, +/- comes in a few different flavors. Among the most popular are offensive and defensive +/-, which measure how a team does with the player on the court. Also Roland Rating and net +/- attempt to evaluate a player’s value. However plus/minus doesn’t just capture than the individual effort, it captures the value of his teammates as well. When Bowen and Duncan prevent the Lakers from scoring not only do they get credit for the effort, everyone else on the court gets the credit as well.

In 50 Words or Less
Trying to create a player’s total worth using a single number isn’t highly reliable. But if you need to use one, you can try PER, Wins Produced, or +/-. Each has their strengths & weaknesses and are only good to begin a discussion, not end one.

Examples Why
The biggest hole in statstical analysis is defensive stats. Blocks, rebounds, and steals aren’t enough to tell the whole story on what happens on defense. Players who excel in this area of the court usually have strong defensive +/-, like Bruce Bowen (-9.6). However these numbers tend to fluctuate based on the strength of the team. A player that spends a lot of time on the court with strong defensive players will have their defensive +/- inflated.

More please
Kevin Pelton’s Stat Primer: http://www.nba.com/sonics/news/stats101.html
What is PER?: http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/columns/story?id=2850240
Dave Berri’s Site: http://dberri.wordpress.com/2006/05/21/simple-models-of-player-performance/
Roland Rating: http://www.82games.com/rolandratings0405.htm
Adjusted +/-: http://www.82games.com/ilardi1.htm
Online & Downloadable +/- stats: http://basketballvalue.com/index.php

Using Stats to Gauge Player Ability

Let’s assume you’re the GM of an NBA franchise. It’s the offseason and you need to sign a free agent center. You have three options.

Name Ag PTS REB STL AST TO BLK
Player A 24 11.7 10.9 0.7 1.5 1.5 1.6
Player B 24 9.8 8.2 0.4 0.5 2.2 1.8
Player C 25 4.8 8.0 0.9 0.8 0.8 1.6

If these are the only stats we have, then it’s clear. Player A is a superior scorer and rebounder, and his defensive stats are about as good as the other two. On the other hand, Player C is a feeble scorer and the worst rebounder of the three. Player B is twice as good a scorer than C, and slightly better in rebounding and shot blocking. I would rank them Player A, Player B, then Player C.

Now what if your options were these three players:

Name Ag PTS REB STL AST TO BLK
Player A 24 13.5 12.5 0.8 1.7 1.8 1.8
Player B 24 12.6 10.5 0.6 0.6 2.8 2.2
Player C 25 8.0 13.3 1.5 1.4 1.4 2.7

In this example Player C is the best choice. He is superior to the others in 4 categories: rebounds, blocks, steals, and turnovers. Meanwhile Player B sinks to the bottom of the list, being too turnover prone and the worst rebounder of the three. This time I would rank them Player C, Player A, and Player B.

Now what if I revealed that the players in the first table are the same as the ones in the second table? How is it that a player can have two entirely different set of stats? Simple, the first table is the players’ per game stats, while the second is their per 40 minute stats. The stats changed so much from the first table to the next because per game stats are proportional to the number of minutes a player receives. And in this example, the players played varying amounts of minutes. Player A averaged 34.7 min/g, Player B 31.2 min/g, and Player C 24.1 min/g.

Playing time in the NBA is dependent on a few different factors. For younger players their talent, draft position, contract size, pre-draft hype, team depth, coach’s tendency, team record, and sneaker deal may alter their court time. A #2 overall pick playing for a rebuilding team with little depth (LaMarcus Aldridge) will see more playing time than a #4 pick playing for a playoff team with ample forwards/centers (Tyrus Thomas). Since per-game stats are proportional to playing time, and playing time is based on many different factors, then it makes sense that per-game stats are capturing some factors other than a player’s ability. In other words when Aldridge had more rebounds per game (5.0 rpg) last year than Thomas (3.7 rpg) it’s not due to Aldridge’s skill on the glass, but rather his higher draft position, team depth, team record, et al.

If we want to judge a player based on their talent alone, then we need to isolate a player’s talent from the rest of those variables. And that’s what per minute stats do. Once we remove a player’s minutes from his stats, then all the factors that go into playing time are removed as well. Per minute stats aren’t dependent on draft position, contract size, pre-draft hype, team depth, coach’s tendency, team record, or sneaker deal. When compared to per game stats, per minute stats come much closer to capturing a player’s ability.

Getting back at our tables above, it’s clear that Player C was hindered by his lack of playing time. Hence why he appeared to be inferior when using per game stats. But when we accounted for this lack of playing time with per minute stats, Player C was clearly superior to the other two. Player C, also known as Ben Wallace, would receive major minutes the next year in Detroit and win the first of his 4 Defensive Player of the Year award the season after. Player A, Dale Davis, was a fine player for 14 seasons, but was never considered great. Michael Olowokandi, Player B, never amounted to the hype of being the #1 overall pick, and despite being a year younger than Wallace, is barely holding on to his NBA career.

In the end, per game stats was unable to distinguish the perennial All Star (Ben Wallace) from the solid pro or the first round bust (Michael Olowokandi). However per minute stats identified the players correctly from most to least talented. Using per minute stats to compare players eliminates many of the unwanted factors that go into per game stats. Like sneaker contracts.


Extras:

  • Why do we use per 40 minutes stats? Ben Wallace averaged 2.3blk/40 and he also averaged 0.072blk/min. It’s easier to visualize 2.3 blocks instead of 0.072 blocks. You could use any number instead of 40, but we use 40 since it has become the most commonplace.
  • Using per 40 minute stats isn’t an endorsement for the player to receive that many minutes. Nor should you use per 40 minute stats for one player, and per game stats for another. (And yes I mention this because I’ve seen people do it).
  • You could use more advanced metrics than per-minute stats, but per minute stats are easily calculated and widely circulated.
  • Don’t think that per minute stats hold up over increased minutes? Check this out:

    I did a small study using player-seasons from 1978-2004. To be included in the study, a player had to (a) see an increase of at least 50% in minutes per game from one season to the next and (b) play at least 41 games in each season. These criteria gave me 465 player-seasons. In 346 of these seasons (74.41%), the player’s PER increased with an increase in playing time.

    And this:

    No, increased minutes do not seem to lead to decreased efficiency. In fact, the data indicates increased minutes lead to? increased efficiency. More than 70% of the players in the study (there were 251 in total) saw their PER (which is, by definition, a per-minute summary statistic) increase with the increase in minutes. Players whose minutes per game increased by five saw an average change of +1.38 in their PER.

    And then this:

    Players who receive 10 or more minutes per game are likely to keep the same per minute stats no matter what the increase in playing time is. Therefore per minute stats remains far superior to per game stats in terms of comparing and evaluating players.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Nate Robinson

KnickerBlogger: New Yorkers absolutely loved Nate Robinson when he first came to the Knicks. Coming out of the University of Washington, Robinson was a lilliputian guard with colossal physical abilities. Last year Robinson did what you’d expect from an undersized shooting guard. He led all Knick guards in eFG% (51.3%) and 3P% (39.0%) and showed despite his short stature he could get to the line (TS% 55.2%, second among Knick guards). Due to his efficient scoring ability, Robinson was second on the team in points per 40 minutes (19.0 pts/40) only behind Eddy Curry. Not just a one dimensional scorer, among Knick guards Robinson was the best in respect to offensive rebounds (1.6 OREB/40) and turnovers (2.1 TO/40), and second best in respect to steals (1.5 STL/40). Yet despite all that, Robinson is no longer a fan favorite. So what happened?

Simply put, Nate Robinson is his own worst enemy. Along with his diminutive stature and his youthful enthusiasm, Robinson comes with a childlike temperament. There’s a fine line between having a zest for the game and acting like a grade schooler. Robinson not only crosses that line, he lives on it. Less than one month into the season, Nate attempted an in game alley-oop dunk on a fast break, only to be called for traveling on the play. Throwing away points on a losing team for the sake of showboating is among the game’s cardinal sins.

Robinson exacerbated his image problem by perpetually arguing with officials. It’s annoying when a marquee player like Tim Duncan disputes every call, but it’s downright unbearable when a bench guy like Robinson does it. Unfortunately, Nate gave himself plenty of opportunities to argue with officials as his foul rate (4.7 PF/40) was equal to Marbury (2.7 PF/40) and Crawford’s (2.1 PF/40) combined.

Robinson’s immaturity causes his actions to be viewed by the public through tinted glasses. Take for instance Nate’s role in the Denver melee. In the past plenty of Knicks have improved their public image through fisticuffs. Fighting improved Starks, Childs, and L.J.’s popularity among Knick fans. Although Nate was an instigator in the event, it’s hard to believe that a player with a calmer outward demeanor like Eddy Curry would have been seen in the same light. Had Curry been involved, the local airwaves would be talking about his moxie and willingness to defend his teammate. But Robinson was vilified for his role. It’s ironic considering a few years ago, Knicknation was up in arms when no one came to the rescue of Tim Thomas after Jason Collins slammed him to the floor.

To be fair, Nate’s negatives aren’t all in his head. His defense is suspect, and his assist rate is minuscule for a guard. While 82games.com says the Knicks are 2.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Robinson on the floor, opposing PGs are better than average (16.3 oPER) when Nate guards them. To the eye Robinson struggles mightily against the pick & roll, and other than the steals he doesn’t do anything particularly well on defense. I would rate him a mediocre to average defender.

Most people expect Robinson to be a point guard due to his height, but he’s really more of a shooting guard. Even accounting for that, his assist rate is subpar. As I said earlier, the Knick offense allows all the guards to play the point interchangeably. But it seems that Robinson isn’t sharing enough with his teammates. To put things in perspective, his 2.7 AST/40 is about the same as David Lee’s 2.4 AST/40 who rarely touches the ball. Nate does have the ability to make the spectacular play, and can pass the ball on his drives. It just that he desires to take the shot instead of making the pass. Normally you wouldn’t mind that from a guard that shoots as efficiently as Robinson. But then again Robinson suffers from his poor image, one that being a greedy guard certainly fits in with. In a way, for Nate Robinson hell is other people.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: C, due to bad behavior.

2008 Outlook: With Nate Robinson entering his third season, it’s time to evaluate whether his poor decision making in the past was just youthful exuberance, or if it will continue to be a Rasheed Wallace like permanent petulance. I don’t expect Nate Robinson to turn into John Stockton, because he’s such an excitable person. What I would like to see is for Nate to take his job a little more seriously.

Robinson played 21.4 min/g under Larry Brown, and 21.2 min/g under Isiah Thomas. It seems that two coaches, who had very different views & philosophies, saw Robinson in the same light. If Nate wants to shed his role as spark off the bench, he’ll need to shed his image as a circus act crammed into a basketball uniform. It’ll be interesting to see how Nate plays in the preseason. I can envision Isiah giving Robinson more minutes due to his strong summer showing. If Nate can continue his productive ways, it could mean more playing time when the season starts. That would be a good thing, since the Knicks are paper thin at shooting guard, and they could use Robinson’s production.

Dave Crockett

In many ways KB’s take on Robinson has been by far the most “fair and balanced” (pardon the regrettable and unintended pun) I’ve read. I agree with his take on Robinson in total, but I also wish to offer a complementary perspective that’s less about Robinson’s performance than Robinson as a character in the theater that is professional sports. It’s easy to forget that sports is more than the simple pursuit of competitive dominance since that is precisely what the regular visitors to this blog come to read about and discuss. But, pro sports is also improv theater and all good theater (or “good copy,” to use the parlance of journalists) needs “heroes,” “bad boys,” and “villains.” As the great fat sage, Charles Barkley, is purported to have once said, “They can love you or they can hate you. Both sell tickets.”

Robinson, through a combination of his own immaturity as well as the fickle nature of media and fans, has gone from being a precocious but impish bad boy to something of a villain in just two full seasons. Though Robinson has clearly been the catalyst for his own fall from the good graces of many Knicks fans I also think he’s suffered from a demand for a steady of supply of villains that is becoming insatiable. Most of the time in professional sports players move seamlessly between the basic “villain,” “bad boy,” and “hero” roles for any number of reasons through a process that is reasonably organic and not always totally predictable. (I suspect many readers aren’t old enough to remember when Muhammad Ali was a villain to much of the American sporting public. He was hated in no uncertain terms. He had perhaps the most amazing role transformation ever.) But increasingly, the theater of pro sports has come to resemble the theater of pro ‘rasslin’ in its predictability, its cardboard cutouts of who gets assigned to which roles and for how long.

In Robinson’s case, since the Denver fight I see him being typecast as a particularly crappy villain archetype, and I really hope he’s allowed to work his way out of it. I call it the “Jeff George” villain archetype. Sometimes a player opens himself up to fan/media disdain by doing something over-the-top or exposing himself as a jerk and for whatever reason isn’t allowed much of a shot at redemption. Soon, the guy just can’t do anything right. The media fits him with a black top hat and a curly-Q mustache and it becomes obvious to the audience that he’s the guy to hate. (Note: I’m talking about sports-related stuff here NOT criminal or near-criminal behavior.) If you remember former NFL QB Jeff George, he was by most accounts a pompous jerk; universally reviled by fans, media, opposing players, even teammates and coaches. You would think by the way people couldn’t wait to denounce him that the NFL was not littered with similarly unbearable jerks. But of course it was, and is. As much as I truly loath Kansas City Star (and former ESPN.com) columnist Jason Whitlock, I must agree with his sentiment that no one can point to anything George ever said or did that was uniquely awful.

Robinson, though not having “achieved” anything approaching the pariah status of George, seems to be quickly approaching the “can’t do anything right” status that is the hallmark of the Jeff George villain archetype. Hell, watch any Knick’s telecast with Mike Breen (even before the fight) and you’ll see what I mean. Regardless of what Robinson actually did on the court Breen would raise questions about his immaturity and decision-making, typically citing his ball-handling, shot selection, and his role in the Denver fight as prima facie evidence. So a poor shooting night or any turnover became proof of Robinson’s immaturity and poor decision-making. Yet somehow a good shooting/low turnover night did not indicate maturity or improved decision-making. The “Nate Robinson cautionary tale” always spins such a night as proof of how much talent Robinson is potentially squandering by his immaturity and poor decision-making.

My outlook for Robinson in 2008 completely mirrors KB’s in most respects. I believe Robinson is quite important to the Knicks playoffs chances. Not only are the Knicks thin at the SG, my entirely intuitive suspicion is that Crawford’s injury last season may be the first in a string of small-but-ongoing leg-related ailments that may keep him shuttling in and out of the lineup. So I believe the Knicks need Robinson to improve; it’s not a luxury. To do so he will have to start with the man in the mirror. Whether he is the new Jeff George or the new Bozo the Clown he simply must learn to focus on things that help the team win and leave the nonsense alone–period. But, I also urge the fans not to give up on this kid. He’s already a useful player and has the chance to get even better.

Brian Cronin – Man, Dave just reminded me of how annoying Mike Breen can be sometimes. The man is a GREAT announcer, but I think he works better on national telecasts, where he is not close to the situation, because man, he certainly seems to have soured upon the Knicks.

Breen reminds me of the stereotypical middle age guy complaining about how the NBA is “all thugs” nowadays. Those guys annoy me so much.

Anyhow, as to Robinson, the guy definitely exhibits some weird behavior, but since the fight, I thought he was actually a lot calmer than before the fight, and he seemed like a real nice asset to the team as an outside shooter. I hated when he tried to control the offense at times (that is not his specialty), but as a guy there to hit the outside shot, I like him there more than most other Knicks, and I think he will be a useful player this season.