In recent years, basketball has seen a rise in advanced statistics rivaling the sabermetrics movement in baseball. The traditional basketball statitistics; points, rebounds, assists etc. are flawed because they lack perspective. Good numbers on a bad team has practically become a cliché in basketball, but that was impossible to quantify without watching the games. The box-score won’t tell you that Ricky Davis secured the tenth rebound of his triple-double by shooting and intentionally missing at his own basket.
Seeking a higher understanding of player value teams have embraced statistics as simple as plus/minus (the difference points scored by and against the player’s team while said player was on the court) and as complicated as Player Efficiency Rating (PER):
uPER = (1 / MP) * [ 3P + (2/3) * AST + (2 - factor * (team_AST / team_FG)) * FG + (FT *0.5 * (1 + (1 - (team_AST / team_FG)) + (2/3) * (team_AST / team_FG))) - VOP * TOV - VOP * DRB% * (FGA - FG) - VOP * 0.44 * (0.44 + (0.56 * DRB%)) * (FTA - FT) + VOP * (1 - DRB%) * (TRB - ORB) + VOP * DRB% * ORB + VOP * STL + VOP * DRB% * BLK - PF * ((lg_FT / lg_PF) - 0.44 * (lg_FTA / lg_PF) * VOP) ])
where: factor = (2 / 3) – (0.5 * (lg_AST / lg_FG)) / (2 * (lg_FG / lg_FT))
VOP = lg_PTS / (lg_FGA – lg_ORB + lg_TOV + 0.44 * lg_FTA)
DRB% = (lg_TRB – lg_ORB) / lg_TRB
And that’s before you adjust it for pace. Got it? These are called advanced statistics for a reason. They’re a great tool for teams assessing player value…if you’re a scout, GM or otherwise involved in an NBA front office. They are, to borrow a phrase, inside baseball. For years, advanced basketball metrics were the exclusive domain of insiders and stat-geeks, until 2009’s famed “No Stats All Star” piece in the NY Times Magazine. The article details how Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey used advanced metrics to build a team of low-cost players who, while unimpressive when measured by traditional statistics, actually provide great value on the court. Since the publication of “No Stats”, basketball writers and fans have become increasingly enamored with these new-look stats.
Despite the greater depth of understanding of player performance, advanced metrics do absolutely nothing to increase a fan’s enjoyment of the game. For those of us whose livelihood is not directly tied to the performance of NBA teams, basketball is a diversion. It’s entertainment, and must come to terms with the fact that the best-played basketball, as determined by statistical analysis, isn’t necessarily the most thrilling or aesthetically pleasing.
Most recently the concept of “hero ball” has come under fire. Hero ball is the notion that the best players should put their teams on their backs and will them to victory late in the game…that the superstar should take the game-winning shot. Statistically, speaking, a team should do what works best for them throughout the game. Hero ball leads to poor shot selection and wasted possessions (possessions are the currency of advanced basketball references). From a strategic perspective these people are probably right. I say probably, because human beings are not rational actors, and statistics fail to quantify things like the motivation factor of a thunderous dunk or dagger three.