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Friday, November 14, 2014

LeBron James' Rescinded Phony Triple Double is a Symptom of a Larger Problem

Intelligent NBA observers know that there are serious problems with the accuracy/meaningfulness of box score numbers, which by definition means that the so-called "advanced basketball statistics" that are cherished by "stat gurus" are also deeply flawed. Box score numbers are not only devoid of context--points scored by a bench player during garbage time of a blowout game count the same as points scored in the fourth quarter of a close game that will decide which team wins a division title--but they often are just flat out wrong. Faulty scorekeeping is a serious NBA problem; when I have charted Chris Paul's assists I have consistently found that he is credited with more assists than he deserves--and it is perhaps most telling that I have never found an instance when a player was not credited with an assist that should have been recorded. The scorekeeping errors only happen in one direction (i.e., padding totals as opposed to depriving players of assists that they rightfully earned) and I am not convinced that this is primarily "home cooking," though that may play a part. NBA scorekeeping is either inherently sloppy or else there is a bias toward artificially inflating the numbers of certain players, perhaps with the intention of comparing today's stars favorably with stars from previous eras by making it seem as if today's stars are setting records that they are not really setting.

The latest publicly acknowledged example of NBA scorekeeping gone bad took place on Monday, when LeBron James supposedly posted 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists while leading his Cleveland Cavaliers to a 118-111 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Upon further review, the NBA removed one rebound and one assist from James' totals. Both scorekeeping errors occurred during one continuous sequence: the incorrectly tallied rebound happened when a missed shot bounced off of James' hands into the hands of his teammate Tristan Thompson, who controlled the ball and should have been credited with the rebound. Thompson then made an outlet pass that resulted--after many dribbles--in a Kyrie Irving fastbreak layup. No assist should have been awarded on that play but instead the scorekeeper gave James an assist, which makes about as much sense as giving Mark Price an assist on the play.

One can dismiss this as "home cooking" or say that Cleveland's official scorekeeper just had a bad night but the reality is that egregious errors regarding LeBron James' box score numbers do not only happen in Cleveland. This is the second phony LeBron James triple double that the NBA has corrected, with the first one happening in Madison Square Garden on February 4, 2009. Scorekeepers would not be making such obvious mistakes unless this kind of box score padding is an accepted practice. The NBA claims that it regularly checks game film to make sure that the box score statistics are accurate but--in light of the numerous uncorrected box score mistakes that I have found in just a handful of Chris Paul's games--it seems more likely that the only reason LeBron James' phony triple doubles were rescinded is that observers outside of the NBA publicly called attention to these outlandish mistakes. Meanwhile, routine errors that are not publicized become part of the sport's historical and statistical record.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:13 PM