Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

TrueHoop: Solving for W

Over at the Mothership, I digest one of the more compelling papers delivered at last week’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at MIT, and pose this question: If stats can’t be correlated to wins, how important are they?

This year’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference featured a bevy of fascinating papers, panels and discussions, a good grip of them basketball-centric. Taken together, they paint a picture of an NBA stats landscape that had even Bill James, Godfather of Sabermetrics, suggesting the sport might soon rival baseball in its employment of advanced analytics.

Get the full whiff!

57 comments on “TrueHoop: Solving for W

  1. Thomas B.

    Over at Grantland, Simmons says:
    “Tony Allen: The league’s best perimeter defender (it’s true) and contract bargain (two years, $6.3 million)…”

    Really Bill? Better than our own Iman Shumpert? Shumpert is just as good a defender (if not better) and is a far better contract value. Where does he come up with this stuff?

    Oh and good work there Jim.

  2. JLam

    DA should play Jerome Jordon.
    I can see the headlines.

    The storyline.
    He gets 10 block shots against the Bucks.
    Knicks win with strong defensive
    New Yorkers chant Jordon for MVP and thus the start of Jeromania.

  3. misterma

    Thomas B.:
    Over at Grantland, Simmons says:
    “Tony Allen: The league’s best perimeter defender (it’s true) and contract bargain (two years, $6.3 million)…”

    Really Bill? Better than our own Iman Shumpert?Shumpert is just as good a defender (if not better) and is a far better contract value.Where does he come up with this stuff?

    Oh and good work there Jim.

    Well, I would say the difference is that Tony Allen has been doing it for years. We don’t know whether Iman’s knee will degrade or he has a secret drinking problem or whether his talking in the third person is a sign of deep-seated mental issues.

  4. Nick C.

    Jim it seemd like you article while interesting was written from the bottom up, that is as an excuse to use the players are the artist’s line. I wish you went more into the article itself, is the method that different from similarity scores. What was the point of the microclassification? It reminded me of a Bill James concept from ages ago about “the so and so school of player” Anyway considering none of the posts seem to relate to your article I see why you didn’t turn it into a doctoral thesis.

  5. Jim Cavan Post author

    Nick C.:
    Jim it seemd like you article while interesting was written from the bottom up, that is as an excuse to use the players are the artist’s line. I wish you went more into the article itself, is the method that different from similarity scores.What was the point of the microclassification? It reminded me of a Bill James concept from ages ago about “the so and so school of player” Anyway considering none of the posts seem to relate to your article I see why you didn’t turn it into a doctoral thesis.

    Believe me, it was much longer before, but we had to get it down to 1000 words. Unfortunately, and unlike many of the papers presented at Sloan, there was no link to his. From what I could gather, it was slightly more in-depth than similarity scores. If I can track down the actual paper, I will surely post it.

  6. Frank O.

    You know, I’ve been saying for a while that people shouldn’t act rashly, but I’m beginning to feel that Melo may be more valuable to the Knicks as a trade piece.
    The whole league views him as a major scorer, and maybe he’d play better under a different system.
    Meanwhile, he could bring in some valuable pieces, and some #1 draft picks, perhaps.
    I don’t like making a giant trade and forcing another change on this team, but I feel as though the Knicks could populate the line up with some more shooters and defenders and clear some salary space. And I have a bad feeling the whole Knicks roster would improve with him not in the mix right now.
    His body language is bothering me, and his inability to play within a system that everyone else but him buys into is disruptive.
    I mean how does a team run its offense through a guy who won’t play in the system everyone else is in?
    I have been one of the voices on this website who believed Melo, playing within this system, could be one of the most efficient and devastating scorers in the NBA. But he seems unable to or, perhaps, unwilling to.

  7. Frank

    @9 – I’m not opposed to trading Melo, but really – we haven’t given him a chance yet. He was playing PG and SF for most of the first half to the season, then got injured while Linsanity took off, then has played a whole 7 games since. IT’S ONLY BEEN 7 GAMES. We are 2-5 in that stretch, and only 1 of the 5 games we lost was a “bad” loss (NJ). Otherwise we lost to Miami in Miami, Boston in Boston, Dallas in Dallas, and SA in SA. We whipped ATL and Cleveland at home. Out of those 7 games, he was bad in his first game back, bad in the MIA and Dallas games, passable in the Spurs game, and actually played pretty well against Boston, Cleveland, and Atlanta – not LBJ good but reasonably well.

    Look, if we can trade Melo for a high lottery pick + some reasonably priced talent, or in a package for Dwight Howard, then sure, look into it. But I’m actually much more concerned about Amare’s defense and with whether Chandler will be healthy again this year. If the last 6-7 games has shown us anything, it’s that we REALLY miss a healthy dominating dunking Tyson Chandler. And we also really miss JJ.

  8. max fisher-cohen

    For a brief period in college, I thought I was going to be a psychology major. I took three or four psych classes and got bored by the fact that basically we were learning technical terms for commonly known and understood ideas, like cognitive dissonance: “a discomfort caused by holding conflicting cognitions (e.g., ideas, beliefs, values, emotional reactions) simultaneously.” (wikipedia) Translation: people tend to be hypocrites and are upset when that fact is brought to their attention.

    What I wanted was some more in depth look at how those psychological realities impacted people’s lives. And I suppose we got into that a little and would have even more so if I had stuck with it, but the lesson I learned from my brief dalliance with psychology was that there is a lot of tediousness to science; you have to go through this whole process of basically redefining everything we already know in more precise language.

    That seems like what the paper you discuss was trying to do, and yes, it’s disappointing that the categories seem sort of transparent, and their relevance to wins is not clear, it’s still important, I guess, to have a framework to draw from, to hypothesize from.

  9. Frank O.

    Frank:
    @9 – I’m not opposed to trading Melo, but really – we haven’t given him a chance yet.He was playing PG and SF for most of the first half to the season, then got injured while Linsanity took off, then has played a whole 7 games since. IT’S ONLY BEEN 7 GAMES.We are 2-5 in that stretch, and only 1 of the 5 games we lost was a “bad” loss (NJ). Otherwise we lost to Miami in Miami, Boston in Boston, Dallas in Dallas, and SA in SA.We whipped ATL and Cleveland at home.Out of those 7 games, he was bad in his first game back, bad in the MIA and Dallas games, passable in the Spurs game, and actually played pretty well against Boston, Cleveland, and Atlanta – not LBJ good but reasonably well.

    Look, if we can trade Melo for a high lottery pick + some reasonably priced talent, or in a package for Dwight Howard, then sure, look into it.But I’m actually much more concerned about Amare’s defense and with whether Chandler will be healthy again this year.If the last 6-7 games has shown us anything, it’s that we REALLY miss a healthy dominating dunking Tyson Chandler. And we also really miss JJ.

    I realize I’m out there a bit. But I keep recalling some of his best games being losses.
    I also have this nagging feeling that part of Amare’s problem is Melo. I realize I can’t support this comment with data. Call it a hunch, for whatever that’s worth.
    But I’m struck by the fact that often when he plays well, the Knicks seem to lose.
    My mind tells me you’re right, Frank.
    My gut is beginning to say something different.
    I hope you’re right. I just keep recalling how well this team played without Amare and Melo. It’s amazing to me. It’s as if it never happened.

  10. MSA

    Frank:
    @9 – Look, if we can trade Melo for a high lottery pick + some reasonably priced talent, or in a package for Dwight Howard, then sure, look into it.But I’m actually much more concerned about Amare’s defense and with whether Chandler will be healthy again this year.If the last 6-7 games has shown us anything, it’s that we REALLY miss a healthy dominating dunking Tyson Chandler. And we also really miss JJ.

    Melo is playing better than Amare. I don’t think anyone has any doubt about it.

    However, Amare is becoming almost worthless. The only way to get rid of him, is trading for a equally huge contract. at least he looks like a rootable and hard working guy. Much better than having to pay guys like Marbury and Curry.

    And regardless of what we think about Melo there is a good value for him in the league.

    So, is much more easier trade Melo than Amare.

  11. flossy

    I definitely think Amar’e would play better without Melo. The guy’s whole game has been built around being the #1 option on a PnR-centric, spaced-out offense. That’s why he got maxed, not his passing, or rebounding, or defense. Now all of a sudden he’s the second (third? fourth??) offensive option on the floor for a team that plays a totally incoherent brand of basketball and people are surprised he’s playing like crap?

    I don’t buy the idea that he’s suddenly lost all his athleticism. He’s actually shooting a higher FG% at the rim than last year. The problem is that his jump shot is off, and because our roster is ill-constructed and our offense is verkakte, jump shots are all he’s getting. Trade Melo for some shooters to put in the starting line-up and boom, problem solved.

  12. ruruland

    Knicks had an expected win percentage of 100 with Melo at the 4 and Amar’e at the 5 last year, an offensive rating of 138 and a defensive rating of 93

    WIth Melo at the 4 and Jeffries at the 5, the numbers are virtually identical. Sure, really small sample.

    http://www.82games.com/1011/10NYK14.HTM

  13. Doug

    An LA-area high school coach has a youtube channel where he breaks down NBA strategy. His breakdowns of the Lakers’s old triangle, Utah’s flex, and the Spurs’ rote motion offense are fantastic. Thanks to his videos, I am now weirdly fascinated with double screens.

    He’s done several videos analyzing Jeremy Lin, which I think you guys will like:

    Lin’s shortcomings vs. the Heat: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQJ_jTi9ino

    Lin’s PnR successes in the first Mavs game: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CL_EAKme2OE

    Comparing and contrasting Lin with Steve Nash: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIbz2cdn6lk

    BONUS:

    The Triangle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALeAu_dBjds

    Deron Williams running the flex offense: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRoDi2ECV

    Popovich’s Spurs offense: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJnS3TYkk_c (If “zipper cut” isn’t in your basketball vocabulary, it should now.)

  14. Uptown Ny knicks fan

    Mr.Pringles will never earn the respect of this team!!! Melo will continue chucking shots till he finds his stroke which leads to blown possessions which lead to the Knicks trailing 15-20 points by half time .. Were doomed if this team can’t find a way to score consistently .. We score in spurts take the lead by lets say two point then after the first missed shots they try to force three’s to go back up and .. Well u get the rest

  15. bluemax

    flossy:
    I definitely think Amar’e would play better without Melo.The guy’s whole game has been built around being the #1 option on a PnR-centric, spaced-out offense.That’s why he got maxed, not his passing, or rebounding, or defense.Now all of a sudden he’s the second (third? fourth??) offensive option on the floor for a team that plays a totally incoherent brand of basketball and people are surprised he’s playing like crap?

    I don’t buy the idea that he’s suddenly lost all his athleticism.He’s actually shooting a higher FG% at the rim than last year.The problem is that his jump shot is off, and because our roster is ill-constructed and our offense is verkakte, jump shots are all he’s getting.Trade Melo for some shooters to put in the starting line-up and boom, problem solved.

    This entire Melo drama is starting to feel familiar, very reminiscent of a certain PG that shall remain unnamed. Every game is a new controversy, the coach’s job is again on the line, melo needs his touches….the media sharks are circling. Nothing good can come out of this. The sooner the team gets rid of him the better off the team will be.

    There is actually a decent opportunity with Atlanta. Melo for Josh Smith and williams+ maybe a pick. And then just go back to running the offense through Amare as the first option.

  16. Doug

    Some bullet points I took away from those youtube vidyas:

    Lin seems to have no problem going to his left. The Knicks set a lot of screens for him to go that way.

    Lin sometimes misses the easy pass off the PnR but that is fixable with more seasoning.

    Amare plays pretty good post defense on Dirk by not letting him turn his right shoulder into the “Dirk-Leg” fadeaway.

    Jeffries sometimes has trouble with his positioning with his post defense.

    The Knicks’ offensive spacing is still a work in progress.

  17. Doug

    bluemax: There is actually a decent opportunity with Atlanta. Melo for Josh Smith and williams+ maybe a pick.

    Marvin Williams’ contract expires in 2014. Urgh.

  18. Jim Cavan Post author

    @11

    Absolutely. Like I said, if he can somehow show that these categories can be employed — or historically have been employed — towards the broader, more dynamic construction of a team that actually produces more wins, then he’s on to something.

    But it’s not as if coaches in huddles are going to mark “Rim-protecting big” on their greaseboards when drawing up last second plays. They’re still going to use “5.”

    What Alagappan’s research might suggest, if it continues to be sussed out, is how the future of NBA statistics lies in rotation analytics, something that the Mavs brilliant last year hinted at in its own way.

  19. jaylamerique

    Doug:
    Some bullet points I took away from those youtube vidyas:

    Lin seems to have no problem going to his left. The Knicks set a lot of screens for him to go that way.

    Lin sometimes misses the easy pass off the PnR but that is fixable with more seasoning.

    Amare plays pretty good post defense on Dirk by not letting him turn his right shoulder into the “Dirk-Leg” fadeaway.

    Jeffries sometimes has trouble with his positioning with his post defense.

    The Knicks’ offensive spacing is still a work in progress.

    that was very informative. it puts the Lin by Abbey and others into perspective.

  20. art vandelay

    Melo may be playing better overall than Amar´e so far this year and is certainly more talented, but if I had to choose one to play with rest of this particular team in this particular system (assuming STAT is not physically as diminished as a player as we have seen the major part of this year) I would keep STAT and trade Melo, not taking into account Amar´e uninsurable contract (assuming it was insured and he could be traded for about the same value as Melo). STAT has sublimated his ego for the good of the team and is much more of a team player…when the team goes on runs, STAT is often out there with the second unit…I can´t remember the last time Melo was on the court without STAT and with other Knicks teammates and they suddently started playing very well…this does, however, occur with STAT out there without Melo.

  21. ruruland

    art vandelay:
    Melo may be playing better overall than Amar´e so far this year and is certainly more talented, but if I had to choose one to play with rest of this particular team in this particular system (assuming STAT is not physically as diminished as a player as we have seen the major part of this year) I would keep STAT and trade Melo, not taking into account Amar´e uninsurable contract (assuming it was insured and he could be traded for about the same value as Melo). STAT has sublimated his ego for the good of the team and is much more of a team player…when the team goes on runs, STAT is often out there with the second unit…I can´t remember the last time Melo was on the court without STAT and with other Knicks teammates and they suddently started playing very well…this does, however, occur with STAT out there without Melo.

    Stat’s, npi, don’t really match up with that.

    selective memory. Knicks have better +/- with Melo, and recently went on their big run in the first and second half with Melo on the floor against Boston (lowest +/- of any starter), and the Knicks began their huge run against Cleveland with Melo.

  22. art vandelay

    Well, if Amar´e is anything like his old self, I think his +/- numbers with rest of team (Melo off court) would be better than Melo´s with rest of team (Amar´e off court). I don´t have the data here now, but would be interesting to look back to second half of last year to see who wins that of the two, though again Amar´e´s slump coincided more of less with the arrival of Melo.

  23. flossy

    bluemax: There is actually a decent opportunity with Atlanta. Melo for Josh Smith and williams+ maybe a pick. And then just go back to running the offense through Amare as the first option.

    Melo for Smith and filler would be interesting but I’d rather take back Hinrich’s expiring than Marvin Williams. Hinrich has fallen off a cliff, but he’s $8 mil off of someone else’s cap if we could flip him for another, more useful piece. If you could get a sweet-shooting 2 guard, a Lin/shooter/Josh Smith/Amar’e/Chandler line-up could be pretty interesting.

  24. flossy

    flossy: Melo for Smith and filler would be interesting but I’d rather take back Hinrich’s expiring than Marvin Williams. Hinrich has fallen off a cliff, but he’s $8 mil off of someone else’s cap if we could flip him for another, more useful piece. If you could get a sweet-shooting 2 guard, a Lin/shooter/Josh Smith/Amar’e/Chandler line-up could be pretty interesting.

    Hell, maybe that 2 is JR Smith and you, keep Hinrich and split the cap room he creates between Lin and Smith.

  25. jaylamerique

    jon abbey:
    I have zero Lin hate.

    hate was a poor choice of words on my part. i should have described it as skepticism for his game instead.

  26. bluemax

    flossy: Hell, maybe that 2 is JR Smith and you, keep Hinrich and split the cap room he creates between Lin and Smith.

    a chandler/smith/amare/lin/smith team with the kind of players we have on the bench would def be a top three defensive team. As for the offense, would certainly have to be better than what we run now. I would say top 10. So, a substantial gain on balance.

  27. jon abbey

    yeah, I definitely have that, at least right now. I want to see him back to being more aggressive and trying to pile up assists again, I could care less about the turnovers if he’s also piling up assists.

    off to a film for work, will have to catch this one on DVR, so do what you will with the game thread. I have my SHUMP SHUMP shirt on, though, let his force channel through the Knick fan collective and lead us to solidifying our ticket to Chicago or Miami.

  28. jon abbey

    also, more minutes for Jorts, please. I think 22 last game, at least 25-30 pius a few for Jerome Jordan.

  29. nicos

    steveoh:
    Lin/Davis/Fields/Melo/Amar’e starting tonight.

    Of all the bench guys D’A's moving Davis into the starting line-up?? A three guard line-up in which none of them can hit a three? I’d rather see Novak or Smith in there instead of Davis.

  30. max fisher-cohen

    steveoh:
    Lin/Davis/Fields/Melo/Amar’e starting tonight.

    Whoa, I like that lineup. Especially against the Bucks who, without Bogut, have no interior threat. Still, I’m sure we’ll see plenty of pick and roll with Jennings and Gooden. This could be a real shootout.

  31. ruruland

    nicos: Of all the bench guys D’A’s moving Davis into the starting line-up??A three guard line-up in which none of them can hit a three?I’d rather see Novak or Smith in there instead of Davis.

    Yeah, it’s an absolutely ridiculous move.

    Baron needs the ball in his hands to be worth anything on the floor.

    MDA’s worst move yet. If you don’t start Shumpert, you must start Smith.

    Really questioning this guy’s smarts right now. Almost like he’s trying to get fired.

  32. ruruland

    max fisher-cohen: Whoa, I like that lineup. Especially against the Bucks who, without Bogut, have no interior threat. Still, I’m sure we’ll see plenty of pick and roll with Jennings and Gooden. This could be a real shootout.

    Baron Davis runs about as much isolation as Melo does, though it looks different.

    This move makes zero sense from any conceivable angle.

  33. max fisher-cohen

    Nicos, my guess is the theory is to get guys in who pass the ball well, just to get the offense flowing. Hopefully with three strong passers, we’ll get in a rhythm where we make the right play even if we miss shots. I don’t know if you can get away with Novak when you have such an all offense front court already.

    Prediction: Fields makes 3+ three pointers tonight.

  34. ruruland

    max fisher-cohen:
    Nicos, my guess is the theory is to get guys in who pass the ball well, just to get the offense flowing. Hopefully with three strong passers, we’ll get in a rhythm where we make the right play even if we miss shots. I don’t know if you can get away with Novak when you have such an all offense front court already.

    Prediction: Fields makes 3+ three pointers tonight.

    Passing the ball means nothing when guys can’t stretch the defense.

    For people whining that Melo can and Lin can only play with the ball, this only compounds that problem.

  35. ruruland

    max fisher-cohen:
    Nicos, my guess is the theory is to get guys in who pass the ball well, just to get the offense flowing. Hopefully with three strong passers, we’ll get in a rhythm where we make the right play even if we miss shots. I don’t know if you can get away with Novak when you have such an all offense front court already.

    Prediction: Fields makes 3+ three pointers tonight.

    And let’s pretend that the Knicks weren’t passing the ball well when you had SHumpert and Jorts missing open shot after open shot. (Lin, Melo and everyone else as well).

  36. bluemax

    ruruland: Baron Davis runs about as much isolation as Melo does, though it looks different.

    This move makes zero sense from any conceivable angle.

    Maybe he is expecting them to trap and press hard. he is countering with this 3 guard (ball handling) alignement (just guessing)

  37. nicos

    max fisher-cohen:
    Nicos, my guess is the theory is to get guys in who pass the ball well, just to get the offense flowing. Hopefully with three strong passers, we’ll get in a rhythm where we make the right play even if we miss shots. I don’t know if you can get away with Novak when you have such an all offense front court already.

    Prediction: Fields makes 3+ three pointers tonight.

    Hope you’re right about Fields- his shot looked better against SA- I’d be very happy with a 2 for 4 game from three game from him. Having a two man unit (Amar’e/Lin and Davis/Melo I’m guessing?) should make it easier to find whatever matchup the Knicks want to exploit- probably whichever of Melo and Amar’e Drew Gooden winds up guarding. I just think you finally have a chance to have Amar’e play significant minutes with Lin without Chandler in there clogging up the middle so spread the floor as much as possible and see if he can’t be the Amar’e from last year- not worth his salary but still a valuable guy.

  38. nicos

    Having a two man unit on either side of the court, I meant. One of these days I’ll actually proofread my comments before I post them!

  39. bluemax

    I have a feeling this is going to look like a repeat of the SA game. An endless parade of drives and put backs with no resistance to speak of. We are going to get blown out unless we shoot the lights out ourselves.

  40. ruruland

    bluemax: Maybe he is expecting them to trap and press hard. he is countering with this 3 guard (ball handling) alignement (just guessing)

    The lineup might make a little sense if he was actually using three guards, as Smith is a better ballhandler than Fields.

    Knicks played their best when Smith was on the floor last night, as he defended and was the one guy making open jump shots.

    This probably the least synergy most redundant lineup possible– all of your high usage guys on the floor at the same time, none of your best shooters….

    If it works I’m not crediting MDA because a) it’s not something that any sane person will use moving forward and therefore it makes no sense to try to build cohesion from it b)if it works it’s going to be because guys start making open shots tonight.

    Frankly, MDA is cracking under the media pressure. This situation call for patience.

    This is not a long-term solution by any stretch, therefor it does nothing to improve the time from the 20,000 foot perspective.

  41. ruruland

    Celtics outscoring Blazers team 31-6 in second quarter (don’t Knicks fans want to trade rosters with Portland?)

  42. ruruland

    d-mar:
    Boston up 55-23 over Portland in the 2nd quarter, wow.

    Yeah, but c’mon, this team would be so much better with Camby, Wallace and Batum……

    The latter are significantly overrated defenders, while efficient, do nothing to create space or shots for others, while Camby is the ultimate empty stats guy in the league, and of the least efficient scoring centers in basketball.

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