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Friday, April 18, 2014

The Worst Article of 2008

Long time fans know my least favorite articles are the ones where an author obviously has come to a conclusion and tries to put together facts to support it. In 2004 I railed against Frank Hughes, the next year Charlie Rosen caught my ire, and in 2007 I took a writer from paperbacknovel to task. This year’s KnickerBlogger worst article of 2008 belongs to Bill Simmons piece on D’Antoni/Nash, which was published just before the new year. Simmons begins by bashing D’Antoni:

D’Antoni’s Phoenix teams were wildly entertaining, consistently successful—and always heading home before the Finals. D’Antoni didn’t care that just about every NBA champ since the 1988-89 Pistons had won with defense; once teams slowed the Suns’ tempo and systematically broke them down, their lack of commitment to D always surfaced. Always. They had a fatal flaw. It took us four years to realize it.

Simmons logic is straight out of the internet trolls’ handbook in the chapter titled “Count the Ringz!!1!!” Since 1984, only 8 different coaches have won a title, and like many of his peers Mike D’Antoni isn’t in that select group. Jerry Sloan’s teams were consistently successful for nearly 25 years and he never won a championship. Neither have other respected coaches like George Karl, Don Nelson, Rick Adelman, and both Van Gundys. Winning a championship is a rare event, and failing to do so shouldn’t discredit a coach or style of play.

Additionally Simmons claims “just about every NBA champ since the 1988-89 Pistons had won with defense.” After the Bad Boys won back to back titles, the Bulls won three championship teams by finishing 1st, 1st, and 2nd on offense. Then the Rockets won their first championship due to defense, but the 1995 team with Drexler was 6th on offense and 12th on defensive. Phil Jackson’s threepeat Lakers finished 4th, 2nd, and 2nd on offense. Although some championship teams were stronger on defense, most championship teams are good on both ends of the court and the exceptions generally even out. The 2005 Pistons won with their defense (18th on offense, 2nd on defense), while the 2001 Lakers were an offensive minded team (2nd on offense, 21st on defense). The claim that defense wins championships has been debunked before (namely here and here), and there has not been a defensive trend since 1989.

Simmons proceeds to belittle Steve Nash’s career . He says Nash was a “borderline All-Star” without D’Antoni and says Nash was only “slightly better than Mark Price.” The first is preposterous. Nash started off his career with 4 mediocre seasons, however he became a more productive player by improving his scoring. Nash’s pts/36 went from 11.3 to 16.5 to 18.6. He posted a healthy PER of 19.6 in 2001 at the age of 26. The next year he had a similar season (20.7 PER), became an All Star, and was voted to an All NBA team. This was when he was still in Dallas, before he played for D’Antoni. Nash was a late bloomer, but in Dallas he became a legitimate All Star.

As for the comparison to Price, I’m not sure what to make of it. During his career, Price was voted to 4 All NBA teams and received some consideration for the MVP award. So during his peak he was a pretty good player. However Price’s career ended early. He began to decline at the age of 30 and played his last season at the age of 33. On the other hand Nash has aged well. He won his first MVP at the age of 30, and last year at 33 Nash made the All NBA second team. Considering that Nash is still playing at a high level at the age of 34 (a point that Simmons makes by showing Nash’s numbers this season to be identical to his All Star year in Dallas), it’s clear that Nash’s career has already and will continue to eclipse Price’s. From my perspective Mark Price is to Steve Nash as Shawn Kemp is to Karl Malone.

It’s unfortunate because I understand Simmons’ point. Steve Nash’s assists ballooned under D’Antoni due to the style of play. Nash had the ball in his hand frequently due to the fast paced point guard emphasized offense. So Nash was able to rack up more assists than someone playing for one of the Van Gundys. This is common in just about every sport, but Simmons claims the opposite:

Which brings me to my point, and I swear I have one: Of the four major sports, only in basketball is the historical fate of everyone from borderline All-Star to borderline superstar determined entirely by his situation.

In football, we sometimes see great players trapped on abominable teams (Barry Sanders, Archie Manning) and good players hitting the team lottery (Jim Kelly, Franco Harris), but we can usually tell either way.

You have to wonder what Simmons was on when he wrote that. In the NFL, players are consistently a product of their situation. Kurt Warner is a prime example. When he played for the Rams, Warner was highly effective, twice throwing for more than 4300 yards and 36 TDs. But when placed on a Giants team with a different system, Warner’s play was so bad he lost the starting job. This year in Arizona, Warner was mentioned as a possible MVP candidate. So unlike Simmons’ claim, an NFL player can go from backup to superstar depending on their situation.

But a more appropriate example for Nash might be Tom Brady. In 2007 Brady threw for 50 TDs, nearly twice his career average. Did Brady all of a sudden become more talented? No. Rather the Patriots changed their offense which emphasized his strengths. And you can say the same thing for Nash. D’Antoni’s system increased his stats to the point where a PG in a traditional system might not be able to reach. However Nash still had to perform at a high level to attain those stats. Saying the system turned a regular starter into an MVP is a stretch whether you’re applying that to Steve Nash or Tom Brady.

Arguing D’Antoni’s system was ideal for Nash to win games and put up eye popping numbers seems reasonable. Arguing that Nash’s numbers were inflated by the offense that the team ran is also logical, and that he might not have been the best player in those two seasons is rational. Simmons could have written an article that showed that Nash and D’Antoni were fortunate enough to cross paths having a synergistic effect on each other.

Instead he uses old cliches and false analogies in attempt to assert his opinion. Simmons blames statistics for the problem, and says “stat geeks” as the ones responsible for falling in love with Nash’s inflated numbers. But as this APBRmetrics poll from 2005 showed most numerical analysts didn’t have Nash as a top 3 MVP candidate that year. Ironically if Simmons had a rudimentary understanding of statistics, he would have understood the concept of pace, and could have better articulated his position on Nash. Oh well, maybe next year.

42 comments on “The Worst Article of 2008

  1. daaarn

    Simmons has been slipping for awhile now. Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever actually taken his sports articles all that seriously to begin with. I mainly read for the entertainment/humor value, but even that’s been off in recent months. I don’t know if he’s burnt out from allegedly writing his new book, but I’ve found his work to be much more lacking than in year’s past. I just know I don’t enjoy it as much as I used to.

  2. italian stallion

    People have different views on which qualties should weigh the most when it comes to deciding the MVP. Should it be best player, best player among the major contenders for the title, player that is the most valuable to his team’s success, some combination?

    I doubt too many of the people that voted for Nash in either year actually thought he was the best player in the NBA. However, they weren’t voting for “Best Player in the NBA”. They were voting for their definition MVP. I think to argue against Nash is really to argue against the criteria that many people use to decide MVP. There is no standard.

    On the stats issue, I think there are multiple categories of stats users. There are average fans and sportswriters that look at basic and other stats as part of their analysis and there are the most sophisticated numbers oriented people out there. The former could easily come to some incorrect conclusions using stats, but it’s a reflection on their sophistication using stats and not on the stats. I think it’s the former group that was being referred to here and not something that should be taken personal by a stats oriented person.

  3. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger) Post author

    I think it’s the former group that was being referred to here and not something that should be taken personal by a stats oriented person.

    I don’t think so. Using a term like “stat geek” is done intentionally. It’s derogatory and wide reaching.

    If I used a term like “caveman sports writer” to describe Simmons, I would imagine that all cavemen would be offended, not just the ones that were sports writers.

  4. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger) Post author

    Re: no stat inflations in other sports

    Um, Matt Cassel?

    That’s one thing I don’t get about Simmons’ piece. He’s a Bostonian and for the past two years the QB position has been a circumstance of the team/system. Cassel’s numbers are nowhere near Brady’s, which shows that you can’t take an average player and turn him into an MVP. It also shows that bright coaches have backup players that are similar enough so that they can step into the same system and be productive.

  5. oberonz

    Simmons has exposed Nash for what all know he is, a incredible offensive talent with little to no defensive ability, he is a paradox, the main reason you win enough to get to the big game and the main reason you will lose the big game.

    I can’t figure out why there is need to really counter Simmons, he speaks the cold hard truth then statistically it, then uses other players (Q-Richardson)who were pumped up by the system to make his point, Nash was not the most valuable player in the league either of those years he was simply the most entertaining because of his excellent skill level, demeanor, unique size and appeal to the average NBA fan….he was and is good for basketball but he will never be in the league of say a Stockton or Kevin Johnson, Mark Price is a good comparison but no one in their right minds would have voted him MVP either… even in his best years.

  6. Gian Casimiro (SSoM)

    If I used a term like “caveman sports writer” to describe Simmons, I would imagine that all cavemen would be offended, not just the ones that were sports writers.

    So easy Bill Simmons can do it?

    I hadn’t realized how few championship winning coaches there were since ’84. Thanks for that little fact. Good points all around, Mike.

  7. Frank

    I know I’m not one of the super-stat guys here, and maybe it’s not surprising, but I don’t really have too much of a problem with Simmons’s article. Certainly I would not characterize it as “the worst article of 2008″.

    If possible, I’d like Mike, or Owen, or another one of the more hardcore stat guys to explain two things — #1 why the violent backlash to this article? I think it’s an entirely reasonably written article — whose major points Mike even agreed with in the 2nd to last paragraph above. You call him a caveman sportswriter but you agree with many of his points.

    #2 – Mike writes: “Ironically if Simmons had a rudimentary understanding of statistics, he would have understood the concept of pace, and could have better articulated his position on Nash.”

    explain to me (honestly – I have not read as widely on advanced stats as you guys have so this is truly an educational question) — how pace in and of itself explains Nash’s drop in assist rate, increase in turnover rate, drop in TS% back to his pre-D’Antoni levels. I can believe age (although Simmons makes the good point that these are essentially identical stats to his last Dallas year when he was 4 years younger). As far as I can understand, things like assist rate and turnover rate were specifically created to offset things like different paces between teams. And TS% should not really change with pace alone should it? Unless faster pace = easier shots? Which = better stats which = a system that inflates even advanced statistics? Or explain why pace in and of itself might be responsible for Shawn Marion’s essentially career low stats across the board.

    Why the violent reaction to Simmons’s article, when its main point is that the D’Antoni situation greatly inflates statistics — when you agree that it happens in other sports? These are all team games — it seems obvious to me that situation/offensive system/etc. will matter. Can basketball and the advanced stats used for it really be all that different than advanced stats for football?

    Other things of minor note:
    I think we can safely call Nash a borderline all-star in Dallas. Out of the 4 years he was a starter in Dallas, he made the all-star game in the 2 middle years. 50% all-star rate in Dallas. Sounds borderline to me.

    Mark Price was a GREAT player as you note above. His prime years were from 1988-1995, fully spanning 8 seasons during which he averaged roughly 19 points and 9 assists per game. He hung around for 3 more years after that (one lost to injury essentially) averaging roughly 15 and 7 (which ironically is roughly what Nash is aveaging this year in gross stats). Nash has had about 8 seasons of prime statistical value with roughly equivalent statistics – he just entered his prime a bit later in life and so had less wear and tear in his early 30s. Minus the D’Antoni years I think it is entirely reasonable to say they are very comparable players. Not that that is an insult in any way — Price was great. But it was ONLY under D’Antoni that anyone even started to talk about Nash as a hall of fame sort of player, which now that he is a back-to-back MVP guy, he will probably be.

    Last thing — I know what you guys are probably thinking at this point, that I am trying to badger you guys into admitting that stats are not the best (only) tools to evaluate players since sliced bread. Which I guess I am. But I would not be doing that if you guys did not continually ridicule people who are reasonable sports fans but who do not think the same way as you. Just because I/we/Simmons don’t fully agree with you does not mean we are cavemen.

  8. italian stallion
    I think it’s the former group that was being referred to here and not something that should be taken personal by a stats oriented person.

    I don’t think so. Using a term like “stat geek” is done intentionally. It’s derogatory and wide reaching.
    If I used a term like “caveman sports writer” to describe Simmons, I would imagine that all cavemen would be offended, not just the ones that were sports writers.

    Maybe, but the guys that vote for MVP usually aren’t the type of people we see here, on Wages of Wins, etc… Either way it’s clear that the most sophisticated stats users understand Nash’s game very well.

  9. Caleb

    Frank,

    I agree – there is some unknown force in Bill Simmons’ writing that causes people here to really wig out.

    Yes, his point about Nash is backwards – it is not “stat geeks” but non-stats-literate commentators who made Nash MVP and super-famous – and Mike is right about the weird blind spot for football, where The Team and The System play a much bigger role in player success. (Baseball being at the total opposite end of the spectrum). I also get irked about the coaching stuff — D’Antoni’s teams played just as well in the playoffs as during the regular season (well, close) and did without changing style, i.e. they didn’t slow down any. Just because his teams were a hair worse than the Spurs, doesn’t invalidate the system.

    But other writers muck that stuff up every day. IMO, this piece doesn’t stand out.

    And Simmons’ other big point has nothing to do with stats — it’s that that we often remember players, or forget them, because of elements involving luck or context. Like, his point about “Stockton and Malone” being a much bigger deal than just “Malone” (imagine him on the Timberwolves for 10 years, next to Marbury and Troy Hudson).

    p.s. You are right that pace does not affect TS% or other “rate” statistics.

    p.p.s. Age is a huge factor — the vast majority of PGs (and players in general) start dropping fast by age 30. Nash was just getting ramped up. He may have only improved a bit going from Dallas to Phoenix, but compared to what you’d expect – steady decline — I’d say the system/team/anti-aging formula had a much bigger effect. If it it were another sport we’d be asking about performance enhancers.

    Although… Hollinger did an interesting piece a year ago, looking at Nash and some other outliers — Billups, Kidd and I forget who else. One conclusion was that PGs with size age much better, as do PGs who can shoot. Obviously, forget Kidd on the shooting. Which makes sense, because those are two things that don’t go away with age. That’s also why big guys have much longer careers — paging you, Dikembe.

  10. Caleb

    explain why pace in and of itself might be responsible for Shawn Marion’s essentially career low stats across the board.

    It’s not; he’s a 30-year-old with a shaky jump shot whose game has always been based mostly on athleticism. So a decline – which really started last year – isn’t surprising. The Miami system doesn’t do him any favors, either, playing so much in the half-court set.

  11. jon abbey

    I need to read this all more carefully, but I’d take most of Bill Simmons’ work (including this piece), over virtually anything else written by anyone about sports these days. did you just take that “stat geeks” crack personally?

  12. Owen

    Simmons’ argument is that players statistics are a product of circumstance. For instance here is what he says about Chris Duhon:

    “Here was a career backup suddenly looking like a cross between Bob Cousy, Magic Johnson and Scott Howard during the “I Don’t Need to Be the Wolf for Us to Win” game … and I wasn’t remotely surprised.”

    This argument is simply wrong. When adjusted for pace and massively increased playing time (which usually improves performance as KB has written about in the past), Chris Duhon has been exactly the same player he has always been.

    By and large, players are not a product of their circumstances. And there is a giant mountain of evidence to prove this. The perception of players changes far more than their actually performance.

    For every Nash or Damon Jones (who posted a 62.5% ts% in his last year in Miami), there are 100s of examples of players whose productivity hasn’t changed at all.

    Take Barbosa Diaw and Bell. Simmons says they have been revealed as “overpaid bench players.” However, a quick look at their statistics, at least their WP, shows that they were all below average producers for Phoenix. Now that they have been removed from a winning context, now that they no longer are providing “veteran grit” on a contending team, the perception has finally come into line with reality.

    Take David Lee, now “suddenly gone in every fantasy league.” What has changed about his play. Absolutely nothing. His TS% is right on his career average, his rebounding is too adjusted for pace. His productivity has actually been less than it was two years ago, but pretty much exactly what you would expect given his history.

    Or Shawn Marion. Yes his numbers are down, but his WP is still extremely high this year after a very slow start. Since they reined in Beasely, his production has been hovering around the .300 mark, three times better than the average player.

    When you account for all the things that change in the NBA, like pace, playing time, injuries, teammates, age, it turns out that most basketball players are incredibly consistent in their actual production. Simmons thinks differently and he is wrong. He is right that perception changes, but not right about real changes.

    I also think his argument about the Suns not being able to win in the playoffs is a total canard. It’s a crapshoot when you have a bunch of great teams going at it every year. The Suns didn’t get lucky. But they could just as easily have won two championships if a few things had gone differently.

    As for Caleb’s points, I have a problem with most basketball writers, but Simmons might be the most prominent sportswriter in this country. When he takes a shot at stat nerds, it irritates me more than most because more people read him.

    I guess I hoped he might turn out to be the kind of guy who might swing the pendulum a little bit. He could have made a big splash with an article like “what the hell is true shooting percentage,” maybe started to change how people look at basketball. Instead, he has gone the caveman route.

  13. Owen

    And one more comment. Simmons says.

    “Play a few seasons of SSOL ball, and people will eventually believe that you’re better offensively than you really are.”

    This is just so frustrating. It’s like he has the concept right on the tip of his tongue. But he just can’t put the puzzle together.

    And for those of you folks interested, Berri has covered this topic, (really all these topics) in a great deal of depth. Check out his “distortion score,”

    http://dberri.wordpress.com/2008/05/08/does-george-karl-not-understand-game-pace-and-introducing-distortion-score/

    Or read, “Speeding up Time for Bill Simmons,”

    http://dberri.wordpress.com/2007/05/15/speeding-up-time-for-bill-simmons/

  14. Caleb

    sure, I agree with all that… just saying that “most typical article of 2008″ would be more apt than “worst article.”

  15. Caleb

    or even “Most Annoying Article”.

    The evidence of its devastating qualities is right here in this comments section!

    But is it worse than the New Year’s Eve Bermarbury column?

  16. Frank

    Owen – I must admit that I have not read Berri’s stuff very carefully, or at least not as carefully as I should. I do want to do some of my own research re: players really not changing their stats or WP or whatever when drastically changing situations. But– interesting points and well put — thanks.

  17. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger) Post author

    If possible, I’d like Mike, or Owen, or another one of the more hardcore stat guys to explain two things — #1 why the violent backlash to this article? I think it’s an entirely reasonably written article — whose major points Mike even agreed with in the 2nd to last paragraph above. You call him a caveman sportswriter but you agree with many of his points.

    Did I agree with his points? I said it would be reasonable or rational to believe some of those points, not that I necessarily agreed with them. And I didn’t call him a caveman sports writer either.

    But just because I reach the same conclusion as someone else doesn’t mean I agree with their viewpoint. Two people can write an article concluding the earth rotates around the sun. One cites the works of Kepler, Copernicus, Gallileo, and Newton. The other says it’s a giant invisible unicorn tows the earth around. Obviously different viewpoints.

    #2 – Mike writes: “Ironically if Simmons had a rudimentary understanding of statistics, he would have understood the concept of pace, and could have better articulated his position on Nash.”

    explain to me (honestly – I have not read as widely on advanced stats as you guys have so this is truly an educational question) — how pace in and of itself explains Nash’s drop in assist rate, increase in turnover rate, drop in TS% back to his pre-D’Antoni levels.

    They don’t.

    No one is saying that stats can answer every question. But rather they provide more information than what the eye can see. It’s obvious that the Suns are playing slower (6 FGA/G less) and probably Nash is running the show less. Aging could be a part of it as well. Perhaps D’Antoni is a genius that makes point guards great. Or maybe Porter is putting Nash is situations that make him less effective.

    Simmons’ point wasn’t that Nash was aging. But rather that he was mediocre (“borderline All Star”) to begin with, and that D’Antoni + stats made him appear to be an MVP caliber player when he wasn’t. In the interim he also ridiculed D’Antoni. But it doesn’t make sense. How does a borderline All Star and smoke and mirrors coach average 58 wins a season?

  18. Ricky_J

    I like Simmons, but he really is dumb as bricks. Consider that he wrote an article in 2007 arguing that Nash was the best MVP candidate then another in 08 trashing the guy’s entire career. In that light, maybe it is fair to label the article ‘worst’. You know, for the minor contradiction and all.

  19. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger) Post author

    I need to read this all more carefully, but I’d take most of Bill Simmons’ work (including this piece), over virtually anything else written by anyone about sports these days. did you just take that “stat geeks” crack personally?

    No. I’m much more angered by stupidity than insults. Everyone has insulted someone else. Not everyone writes stupid things hoping to convince thousands of people to think the same way.

  20. italian stallion

    >“Play a few seasons of SSOL ball, and people will eventually believe that you’re better offensively than you really are.”<

    Owen,

    I think perhaps you guys are taking this a bit too personal.

    Mike is correct that “stats geek” was not the correct term to use to decribe those that don’t intepret some of this stuff correctly. But I think saying the above is actually correct. Most “ordinary” people do correlate higher PPGs, Assists, etc… with playing better offensively because they don’t think in terms of pace and stats Per 36 Minutes or PER 48 minutes.

    Then there are always guys like me who are in between. We ask questions about whether adjusting stats for minutes is as accurate as it is sometimes portrayed because perhaps some players can’t sustain the same level of play over longer minutes that they can over 10-15 minutes and sometimes players with lower minutes accumulated a lot of their stats in garbage time etc….

    If it isn’t clear who someone is talking about, it isn’t clear who is being insulted. That’s why “stats geek” was the wrong term to use to describe who I think he was really referring to.

  21. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger) Post author

    From Owen’s link of Berri:

    http://dberri.wordpress.com/2007/05/15/speeding-up-time-for-bill-simmons/

    Fifty years from now, some stat geek will crunch numbers from Duncan’s era and come to the conclusion that Kevin Garnett was just as good. And he’ll be wrong. No NBA team that featured a healthy Duncan would have missed the playoffs for three straight years. It’s an impossibility.

    A. Still think that Simmons means “stat geeks” only as fantasy sports participants?

    B. Anyone else think if Garnett hits a big shot to seal a back-to-back championship, Simmons will be the first to write an article on Garnett’s superiority to Duncan?

    C. Wow Simmons really hates statistical analysis. I wonder how many times he’s used that phrase?

  22. Conor

    “Simmons’ argument is that players statistics are a product of circumstance. For instance here is what he says about Chris Duhon:

    “Here was a career backup suddenly looking like a cross between Bob Cousy, Magic Johnson and Scott Howard during the “I Don’t Need to Be the Wolf for Us to Win” game … and I wasn’t remotely surprised.”

    This argument is simply wrong. When adjusted for pace and massively increased playing time (which usually improves performance as KB has written about in the past), Chris Duhon has been exactly the same player he has always been.

    By and large, players are not a product of their circumstances. And there is a giant mountain of evidence to prove this. The perception of players changes far more than their actually performance.

    Isn’t this basically what Simmons is saying? The circumstances that Duhon is playing under have changed, and as a result his stats (at least the raw stats) have changed even though his actual level of play hasn’t changed. Simmons is referring to hiw raw numbers when he is talking about statistics, not pace adjusted stats.

    You say the peception of players change far more than their performance; that seems to be exactly what Simmons is arguing. The system D’Antoni uses results in people having different opinions of players even when their actual performance doesn’t change.

    I do agree with your comments on the Suns not winning a title though; they were awfully close and who knows what happens in 07 if Amare doesn’t get suspended, etc.

  23. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger) Post author

    Then there are always guys like me who are in between. We ask questions about whether adjusting stats for minutes is as accurate as it is sometimes portrayed because perhaps some players can’t sustain the same level of play over longer minutes that they can over 10-15 minutes and sometimes players with lower minutes accumulated a lot of their stats in garbage time etc….

    Neither statement is true. Well unless you mean 10-15 total minutes on the season. Then I might be inclined to agree.

  24. italian stallion
    Then there are always guys like me who are in between. We ask questions about whether adjusting stats for minutes is as accurate as it is sometimes portrayed because perhaps some players can’t sustain the same level of play over longer minutes that they can over 10-15 minutes and sometimes players with lower minutes accumulated a lot of their stats in garbage time etc….

    Neither statement is true. Well unless you mean 10-15 total minutes on the season. Then I might be inclined to agree.

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say that neither statment is true. I don’t really know the answer. I am using my intuition given the knowlwegde that not all players are not equally fit or play against the same quality opponenents.

    To clarify….

    I think it’s at least possible that “some players” that can perform at Level “X” for “Y” minutes (call it 20-25 minutes) may not be able to perform at the same level if asked to perform for 36 minutes or more because they get tired, wear down after awhile, or injuries creep up. “IF” that is true, then adjusting stats for 36 minutes could sometimes cause a person to reach a misleading conclusion about how valuable a player would be if given more time.

    I also think that it’s “possible” that “some players” that accumulate impressive per minutes stats competing primarily against second unit opponents and at garbage time would not be able to duplicate their stats if given time as starters and for 36 minutes or more.

    Of course there are other stats that try to adjust for the quality of opponents (like adjusted +/-), but I’m not aware of anything related to stamina, injuries, age, related issue etc…

    It’s a potential issue.

  25. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger) Post author
    Then there are always guys like me who are in between. We ask questions about whether adjusting stats for minutes is as accurate as it is sometimes portrayed because perhaps some players can’t sustain the same level of play over longer minutes that they can over 10-15 minutes and sometimes players with lower minutes accumulated a lot of their stats in garbage time etc….

    Neither statement is true. Well unless you mean 10-15 total minutes on the season. Then I might be inclined to agree.

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say that neither statment is true. I don’t really know the answer. I am using my intuition given the knowlwegde that not all players are not equally fit or play against the same quality opponenents.

    Your intuition is wrong. This issue has been done to death, and is covered in the “Layman’s Guide to Advanced NBA Statistics.”

  26. Owen

    “David Berri is the author of the Wages of Wins…

    Should that be on my reading list?”

    Yes. The book is very good. The blog, the wages of wins journal is also excellent and perhaps more accessible. And you will know the secret source of my schtick and be able to defeat me in any argument any time….

    But I also highly highly recommend Basketball on Paper by Dean Oliver. I love the WOW, but I think many members of KB might say get the former first.

    God I love David Lee…

  27. Thomas B.

    “And you will know the secret source of my schtick and be able to defeat me in any argument any time…”

    I can do that now. So if I read the book nothing else will change. :-)

  28. big_fella

    Simmons’ statement that only good defensive teams win championships and Mike’s repsonse reminded me of something I’ve been trying to figure out: To what extent are offensive and defensive efficiency ratings mutually reinforcing? It seems to me that, as Mike said, most elite teams are very highly ranked on both ends of the floor, and also that severe splits between offensive and defensive efficiency are relatively rare. As a general proposition, it seems logical that teams that make shots and turn the ball over less will generally give up less easy baskets on fast breaks or before their defense has time to get set. At the same time, teams that force turnovers and grab more defensive rebounds will have more opportunities to score before the other team gets their defense set. Has this ever been studied? Or is the effect so trivial that it doesn’t need to be taken into account?

  29. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger) Post author

    The NBA from LVP to MVP, Part II

    2. Steve Nash

    Other than Kobe, the one star who consistently gets the “Look, There’s No Way We’re F——- Losing This Game!” look on his face, an absolute staple for any MVP candidate. He also navigated an arduous situation in Phoenix those first few weeks, back when the Suns were figuring out how to incorporate everyone into the mix and Amare and Marion were embroiled in a silly alpha-dog battle. As I described in my column about the Suns three months ago, they were on the verge of imploding and Nash wouldn’t allow it to happen. He raised everyone else to a higher place.

    Which brings me to the Nash/Dirk thing. You could have switched Dirk with Duncan, KG, Bosh, Brand or any other elite forward and the Mavs still would have won 55-65 games. But the 2007 Suns were built like a complicated Italian race car, with specific features tailored to a specific type of driver, and Nash happened to be the only person on the planet who could have driven the car without crashing into a wall. The degree of difficulty was off the charts…

    – Bill Simmons, April 19, 2007

    Borderline All-Star, eh?

  30. jon abbey

    I think you’re missing the point, Mike. Simmons is writing this in part because he didn’t realize it before (whether you agree with him or not), so pulling up his old statements on the topic isn’t especially relevant.

  31. Conor

    Wasn’t Simmons saying Nash was a borderline All Star in Dallas?

    I also don’t think Simmons was belittling the career of Nash nearly as much as you seem to think he was.

  32. italian stallion

    Then there are always guys like me who are in between. We ask questions about whether adjusting stats for minutes is as accurate as it is sometimes portrayed because perhaps some players can’t sustain the same level of play over longer minutes that they can over 10-15 minutes and sometimes players with lower minutes accumulated a lot of their stats in garbage time etc….

    Neither statement is true. Well unless you mean 10-15 total minutes on the season. Then I might be inclined to agree.

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say that neither statment is true. I don’t really know the answer. I am using my intuition given the knowlwegde that not all players are not equally fit or play against the same quality opponenents.

    Your intuition is wrong. This issue has been done to death, and is covered in the “Layman’s Guide to Advanced NBA Statistics.”

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree then because I suspect in aggregate most players are fit enough to extend their minutes and remain as productive. However, I feel close to 100% certain that age, injuries, high energy role players that give their team a few minutes of the bench, and stats that were padded during junk time are factors in minute extension in some individual cases.

  33. italian stallion

    Mike,

    I’m not sure I understand your position, but I guess this issue more or less higlights the difference I often have with people that are extremely geared towards stats and statistical analysis. I see the stats as a indespensible tool for understanding the abilities of players and the game, but IMO you can get a more accurate picture if you combine them a more detailed analysis of the specific circumstances.

    By most standards, Shaq is having a better year this year than he had the last few. He is still one of the most productive centers in the league when he plays. So why not play him 36 or more minutes per night like other young players the way he used to at his peak?

    I think the answer is that he and the coaching staff feel he would eventually wear down or that some of his nagging injuries would eventually act up and cost the team down the line.

    I think they are probably correct in that view. They and he knows his body.

    So I think his PER 36, PER 40, or PER 48 stats measure his productivity PER minute played relative to other Centers, but they don’t reflect what he would be capable of producing at more minutes at this stage of his career on a sustained basis.

    IMO, in order to continue to produce at the current level he’s going to need games off from time to time when there is a “back to back” in the schedule and lower minutes here or there to recharge.

    None of this makes the stats any less relevant. I also don’t think I’m saying anything that lots of other people wouldn’t consider obvious. I’m simply saying that there are always exceptions and specific circumstances within aggregate data and conclusions.

  34. Frank

    Then there are always guys like me who are in between. We ask questions about whether adjusting stats for minutes is as accurate as it is sometimes portrayed because perhaps some players can’t sustain the same level of play over longer minutes that they can over 10-15 minutes and sometimes players with lower minutes accumulated a lot of their stats in garbage time etc….

    Neither statement is true. Well unless you mean 10-15 total minutes on the season. Then I might be inclined to agree.

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say that neither statment is true. I don’t really know the answer. I am using my intuition given the knowlwegde that not all players are not equally fit or play against the same quality opponenents.

    Your intuition is wrong. This issue has been done to death, and is covered in the “Layman’s Guide to Advanced NBA Statistics.”

    Mike — again — all due respect to you for creating this blog, which I very much enjoy. It has made me think about basketball in a different way, and I look forward to reading the posts each and every day. BUT — it is precisely your repeatedly dismissive answers to people who think differently than you that truly irritates me when I read the blog. Let me tell you why:

    You repeatedly say “you’re wrong” or statements like that with no wiggle room to acknowledge that the statistics upon which you base your conclusions are obviously not perfect. In regards to the per-minute stats that were the subject of the “discussion” above that was summarily dismissed by you, I took a look at the layman’s guide to stats that you asked IS to read. The three studies that you provide a link to can be broken down like this:

    - PER study
    - PER study
    - broken link

    Before we even get to the issue of using PER as an outcome measure, let’s just look at the #s that were arrived at –

    In Kubatko’s study, anywhere from 25-28% of players’ PERs went DOWN with more minutes. In Ballhype’s study 28% of players’ PERs went DOWN with more minutes. Which means that IS’s “intution” which said “perhaps some players can’t sustain the same level of play over longer minutes that they can over 10-15 minutes and sometimes players with lower minutes accumulated a lot of their stats in garbage time etc…. ” is actually CORRECT.

    Now to PER — it certainly is an interesting stat, but quoting from YOU later in the article:

    “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.”

    Now — what I do for at least part of my living is clinical research. I would not pretend that I’m extremely well versed in the statistical methods that are used to prove x, y, or z – we have professional statisticians for that. But what I CAN tell you is that the identification of confounders is the MOST important job in the construction of a proper study. There are so many PILES of confounders in team sport statistics that if the studies that you quote above were submitted to an actual scientific journal, they would be thrown out in a second.

    What I can also tell you is that retrospective and observational studies of outcomes (which is what we do here) can lead to incorrect conclusions. Perhaps the most famous recent result is the finding in a prospective, controlled, multi-center randomized study involving nearly 16000 women that hormone replacement therapy is actually HARMFUL in multiple ways to post-menopausal women, despite the fact that for decades they were thought to be HELPFUL (decreased cardiac risk, etc.) based on multiple observational studies. Why were the observational studies wrong? Who knows. People will be debating that forever. But on a large scale, looking at the total picture (NOT individual people), the observational studies were wrong.

    Even if the studies you mentioned were prospective in nature and you could do the impossible in taking away most of the confounders (ie. have every player play in the same system with the same teammates against the same level of opponents with exactly the same role in the offense/defense against the exact same defenders in the same defensive system etc. etc. but just with some increased minutes) those studies would STILL be thrown out because your outcome measure, the PER, is by your own admission a non-definitive outcome. Again, I’m not a statistician and I haven’t read Hollinger’s book, but I challenge anyone here to look at that formula and tell me why any of the terms he uses, the adjustments he makes, are necessarily the correct ones, and whether he left any out that might confound those results.

    After that, tell me that the results are SO CLEAR CUT that one can just tell IS so dismissively that his “intuition is wrong”.

    Now just to be clear — I’m not saying that just because a study is not statistically perfect that its conclusions are wrong – I’m just saying that being so dismissive based on imperfect studies IS wrong.

  35. khandor

    Defense, alone, doesn’t win championships. However, neither does offense, alone.

    What it takes to win the NBA Cahmpionship is … a healthy, balanced combination of:

    * Defense
    * Shared Team Offense
    * Rebounding

    Pace of play per se … is an irrelavent concept, when it comes to distinguishing the best team in the NBA for a specific season, i.e. the team that will eventually win the championship.

    Have yourselves a terrific day! :-)

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