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Thursday, October 10, 2013

An "Advanced Basketball Statistic" That Makes Sense

It should be obvious that neither field goal percentage nor an "advanced basketball statistic" like true shooting percentage provide a complete description of a player's shooting ability and/or scoring prowess; a player who posts gaudy numbers in one or both of those categories may be a limited offensive contributor who can only score effectively in a very specific role (i.e., a big man who can only convert from point blank range or a slow-footed perimeter player who can only make spot up jumpers). A player's offensive efficiency can only be accurately determined by examining his ability to create shots for himself and his teammates, his ability to score from a variety of areas on the court and his ability to draw double teams that can break down the opposing defense. Such evaluations can only be made by an informed observer who watches the sport with an objective eye. While baseball is a game that consists of a series of discrete actions that can be isolated and analyzed individually, basketball is a much more complex game in which every action by one player affects and is affected by the actions of several other players.

A player who shoots .600 from the field but cannot make a shot outside of the paint and is easily defended one on one is not nearly as valuable as a player who shoots .450 from the field but can score from anywhere on the court and must be double-teamed. Is there a way to reasonably compare two players who have such divergent skill sets? Kirk Goldsberry's solution to this problem is a new statistic that he and fellow Michigan State professor Ashton Shortridge devised: ShotScore ranks every NBA player's shooting prowess based on the relative difficulty of each shot that he took; Goldsberry and Shortridge determined the average NBA field goal percentage from every spot on the floor, compared the average percentages to each player's percentages from those spots on the floor and then expressed the results in terms of actual points scored versus expected points. For example, based on the location of LeBron James' field goal attempts last season he would have scored 1397 points if he had shot an average percentage but he scored 1628 points, giving him a league-best +231 ShotScore. Kevin Durant ranked second (+204) and Stephen Curry placed third (+164).

There is little doubt that ShotScore is a more precise measurement of a player's shooting efficiency than scoring average and/or field goal percentage. The usefulness of ShotScore and the measured tone of Goldsberry's writing are a welcome contribution to basketball theory--and a marked contrast to the way that far too many "stat gurus" make arrogant and bold declarations that are unsupported by facts/objective observations. However, there are some potential drawbacks to ShotScore: (1) it relies heavily on the completeness and accuracy of play by play data regarding shot locations and (2) a person must have access to a tremendous amount of data in order to calculate a player's ShotScore. ShotScore could be very useful for general managers and coaches but it will be difficult for it to become a mainstream statistic unless/until the accuracy of the play by play data can be objectively proven and unless/until it becomes easier to compute each player's ShotScore; during a game, an informed observer can note the areas in which a player is effective and can instantly calculate his field goal percentage to get a "quick and dirty" estimate of his overall efficiency but there is no way that such an observer can instantly compute a ShotScore unless/until the NBA provides such data in real time (which could perhaps happen at some point).

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:52 PM



At Friday, October 11, 2013 6:59:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

Good post.

I also believe that just because a player is limited offensively doesn'tmean that player is not that good.

People knock Dwight because of his lack of a game outside the paint and not having a great post up game. But he'sa top five player for a reason.
I think no matter how skilled a player is; his impact can't always be measured using his statistics or skillset. As the case with Howard.

Its guys in the league that can score 20 plus per game for a season or could on good percentage because they bennefitted from attention/shot creation from other players. Amare with the Suns come to mind.

At Sunday, October 13, 2013 4:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Amare's a bad example, since his scoring maintained whenever Nash was out, and he was an MVP candidate on an otherwise crummy Knicks team until they brought in Melo to take all of his shots and change the offense. He may have been able to adapt, but shortly after that his injury problems worsened and he's never really recovered.

Dwight, on the other hand, frequently struggled to score last season even with Nash setting him up and Kobe/Pau drawing defensive attentions.

Now, granted, Dwight's lightyears ahead of Amare as a defender and I'm not saying Amare is/was better... but I don't think it's fair to attribute Stat's success to other players and then claim that Dwight's numbers don't matter because of his intangible impact on the game. Dwight was only really a game-changing defender under SVG, so we'll have to wait and see whether he's actually a top-5 player (he certainly wasn't last season), or if if he's a headcase with potential that only a few coaches/systems can coax out of him.

At Monday, October 14, 2013 5:52:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

I'mnot trying to talk about Amare as if he was just a role player. I believe he bennefitted from Nash's presence on Phoenix. Nash made everyone better.

When Dwight was healthy prior to joining L.A. he proved himself as elite. It wasn'ta fluke the Magic did as well as they did with a guy that doesn'thave an elite level skillset as their number one guy. Without that elite skillset he was a 20-22ppg player on great percentage. Offence was running through him.

I don'tthink Amare or Pau Gasol could lead a so so team deep into the playoffs as the number one guy. Which os why Gasol was a number two guy next to Kobe on la.

At Monday, October 14, 2013 3:39:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

The "Nash making everyone better" narrative needs to stop. Marion was great before Nash. Amare/Joe Johnson/Dirk were great after Nash. It was the system more than anything else. Nash's #'s didn't improve that much, and the little they did had more to do with a great offensive system and a more uptempo offense than the mavs ran with Nash. Phoenix had the players to run this offense, whereas the Lakers and Knicks didn't so much. Sure, Amare benefited from Nash, just as Nash benefited from Amare. Nash has played with multiple AS for most of his career and never once made the NBA finals.

Dwight is/was obviously better than Amare. Amare has never had a team anywhere near as good as Dwight's Orlando teams as the main man alone, and neither has Pau. Obviously, Dwight is better than either one of them, but you can't really make an even comparison there. And Dwight would be #2 guy to Kobe as well, so that's argument's moot. And the lakers offense was worse when they chose to run it through Dwight last year.

At Monday, October 14, 2013 9:33:00 PM, Anonymous AW said...

I believe Dwight's cast his last two seasons were just so so. And he led hem to a top seed.

What seperates Dwight from guys like Amare, Bosh and Gasol is that Dwight can do more with less around him.

That seperates the superstars from the all stars.

At Tuesday, October 15, 2013 5:13:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

Referring to Dwights last two or so seasons in orlando.

At Tuesday, October 15, 2013 10:48:00 AM, Anonymous boyer said...

If by top seed, you mean losing in the 1st round, then yea. Sure, his 09 and 10 teams were better, but even then, he should've made the finals in 10, but maybe not in 09. His 11 and 12 teams weren't as good, but still very good and very deep, and he couldn't make it out of the first round in a weak eastern conf. Him being a headcase was the biggest detriment to those teams.

It's obvious Dwight is better than those guys you listed, except maybe Amare, when healthy. At the same time, none of those guys you listed have had as good of teams as Dwight, except Amare for a couple of years. And Amare made it to the west. conf. finals several times, where Dwight would've lost every time as well probably. Amare put up great #'s as a 2nd year 21yo the year before Nash, and great #'s after Nash, until he got the injury bug. He was a much better offensive player than Dwight could ever dream of.

At Tuesday, October 15, 2013 3:44:00 PM, Anonymous AW said...

Dwights 2011 and 2012 teams weren't that good. He didn'tplay in the 2012 playoffs. But before he sat out with
The back problrm I believe they were the third seed.

I never got the impression that guys like Gasol Bosh and Amare were true superstars reguardless of what type of teams they had. I don't believe the Magic would have been as good with those three instead of Howard. His impact is greater than those guys.

At Saturday, October 19, 2013 6:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think SVG gets enough credit for Dwight; Dwight's basically been a scrub ever since scaring off SVG. If we're crediting Amare's success to Nash or D'Antoni, we may as well credit Dwight's to SVG.

Don't get me wrong, when he wants to be Dwight is a game-changing defensive presence, but he doesn't always want to, and since chasing off SVG he's demonstrably done more harm than good for his teams. Amare obviously has never been an elite defender, but he's also not a coach-killing locker room nightmare. If Dwight doesn't show us something this year, I think its fair to credit his good years to the system in Orlando that minimized his weaknesses and didn't depend on his shoddy offensive game.

Getting back to the major point that AW made up top, that a player can still be great if not very good offensively, that's true... but in order to be great without a meaningful offensive game, they need to be the kind of game changing defensive force Dwight hasn't been for at least two or three years now. His job in Houston is to make them a top five defense, and if he can't do that, he's not a franchise guy. Put up or shut up time.

At Sunday, October 20, 2013 11:39:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

About Dwight being a locker room problem, people started saying that during the 2011-2012 Season. Not before that. The Lakers were battling injuries all year long last season.

During his days with the Magic Howard wasn'tsurrounded by top notch defenders. And yet he still lead those teams to fifty plus wins and top seeds.

It's obvious Dwight doesn'thave a great skill set. But even without it he has proven himself as a highly affective player. He'sbeen first team all nba five times prior to last season. That was no fluke when you consider someone probably could have put a supposingly more skilled player in his spot.

Lots of players are criticized for things they say an do. Dwight might have issues but that doesn'tchange the fact he'sa superstar.

Shaq in his playing days didn'tget along with teammates and coaches and burned bridges wherever he went. Phil Jackson wrote a book ans described Kobe as uncoachable. At the end of the day that doesn't change who they were as players.

At Monday, October 21, 2013 2:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But Shaq and Kobe both won, and in multiple situations. And, sure, the Lakers had injury issues but basically always had at least two 2012 All-Stars. Right now Dwight looks a lot less like Shaq and a lot more like, well, late career Shaq, bouncing from team to team talking about how great he is but not backing it up on the court or in the win column. Difference is that Shaq had 4 rings by then.

At Wednesday, October 23, 2013 12:00:00 AM, Anonymous boyer said...

Yea, that's, the 2013 Lakers had 2 starting AS, and barely squeaked into the playoffs. Let's not forget how much weaker the east has been for the past 10-15+years at least. At the same time, even with the supposedly weak players Dwight had around, they won a lot of games, and his teams were better than last year's lakers. He had his chances, but he was never a true superstar, and never as good as Kobe or Lebron.

Howard's won 3 DPOYs, and should've won 4. He might not be as good offensively as the other true great centers, other than Russell, but he's been at least a top 3 center offensively for most of his career.

He's much better offensively than russell ever was, and certainly as good defensively, if not probably better. Different eras, but he's an all-time great. Not Shaq, Kareem, or Wilt great, but still great. Both of you are too far in the extremes.

The rockets still aren't that great. Other than Harden, not much else around Dwight. Asik's their 3rd best player, and he won't be playing that much.

At Wednesday, October 23, 2013 4:35:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

Dwight is not a true superstar? I know he isn'tas good as LeBron or Kobe but he still proved that he can lead a team deep onto the playoffs reguardlesswhether his teams won a title or not.

The Lakers were battling injuries apl year pong last season. And as many stated, Dwight wasn't 100 percent. Now thwt Dwight is no longer with the Lakers, if they don't do well this season who will be the scapegoat?

There's no more than than three or four players that I'd take over Howard.

As for Orlando they haven'tbeen relevant since he left. They took huge steps.

I agree Houston isn't all that great. But adding Dwight did make them better. Harden has to live up to his max contract also.

At Wednesday, October 23, 2013 5:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Dwight is TRULY a top 5 player in this league, let alone the game-changing defensive force his reputation suggests (and not just a product of a system and a coach and/or washed up), then the Rockets basically have to be a top 4 seed this year, right? You add a Lebron, Durant, or CP3 to an 8-seeded team in either conference and they leap into the top 4, so if Dwight's in that stratosphere (which he is implicitly whenever someone calls him a Top 3, Top 5, Best Defensive, whatever), this is the season to back it up. He's been somewhere between mediocre and an actively negative influence on his team for two seasons now, so the leash ends here. For Dwight to prove himself as a true top shelf talent, Houston needs to be at least well above average defensively and a legitimate playoff contender. Otherwise he's just Andrew Bogut with a bigger contract and a crummier hook shot.

As for the claim that he's "much better offensively" than Russell, that's hokum from somebody who probably never watched much Russell. Russell was never an elite scorer, but he could score when his team needed him to, and more importantly he was an excellent passer and a genius mover off the ball; whether it was setting screens, cutting, or positioning himself for a rebound. Dwight's offensive game comes down to brute force and poor decision making (his insistence that he wants to play back to the basket over pick and roll is a big part of what sunk the Lakers last season and could punish Houston this year, as Dwight isn't very good with his back to the basket).

He's finally got a talented team around him (a top 2 or 3 SG (#1 according to ESPN), two above average point guards, an excellent two way forward (Parsons) and a handful of prospects) that's likely to get better when they turn 15 million of Asik into a starting 4 or some bench firepower, he's being coached by BOTH of the two greatest back-to-the-basket scorers ever (McHale and Olajuwon), and he's as healthy as he's likely to be for the rest of his career. Dwight may very well be the elite player everyone keeps insisting he is, but if he is, then the Rockets had damn well better be a true contender.

At Wednesday, October 23, 2013 9:13:00 AM, Anonymous boyer said...

That's very few superstars. Only Durant, Kobe, and Lebron last year.

Maybe Howard comes back to his top 5 status, but even then, he still wasn't seriously taken as a legit threat. He's a clown like Lebron was/is, though Lebron less so of now, which is the main reason why his teams have now won, though with a lot of luck as well. And Howard's been a big detriment to the lockerroom. We'll see if that changes. The 09 magic made the finals, which they shouldn't have. But, then they're in the 10 east conf. finals, and blow it. They should've won that series. Howard's great, but can't be taken seriously all the time. He doesn't bring it every night, which is what superstars do.

Harden so far has lived up to his max contract, but can he continue to do so is the question? He was a top 10 player last year, but so was Kobe, and the lakers went nowhere. Even with all the problems the lakers had, they still should've done better. Dwight wasn't top 10 last year, but pretty close, and they still were just mediocre.

At Wednesday, October 23, 2013 3:31:00 PM, Anonymous AW said...

Prior to joining Howard was first team all nba five straight seasons. He had those magic teams in contention. Yes, Orlando lost in the 2010 eastern conference finals. That celtics team was a very good team. Orlando isn't doing so well without him now.

Last season Dwight obviously wasnt a top player.
I don't believe he just fell off the planet. I believe he will get back in the top five status. And since he was a so called cancer last year with la, who will be the scapegoat if they don't do well this year.

At Wednesday, October 23, 2013 3:52:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

Dwight was certainly elite for several years. Last year he was still AS caliber, but injuries kept him being elite, first time that this was the case. I wouldn't call him a superstar(elite of the elite), but he's certainly been elite.

Houston only has maybe 5-6 guys you'd want in a contender's rotation. And 2 of them are centers, which you really can't play together ever. Prospects are just that - prospects. Parsons was a nobody 2 years, and then was forced into a huge role last year. If he's 3rd or 4th man on a team, little chance for that team. Lin is as overrated as a player can be. They'll have to dump Asik eventually, so maybe they can get someone good for him. The West is more wide open now. The spurs are still good, but way over the hill. The thunder won't be as good. The lakers supporting cast last year is at least very nearly as good as houston's this year. Howard is a headcase, but he's already proven he's the best center of this generation. Mchale has yet to prove much as a coach. And I might be wrong, but I don't think Olajuwon is working with Dwight everyday or anything.

I've seen clips of Russell, about as much as anyone else has seen or can remember. To say 'he could score whenever he wanted to' is absurd at best. You could say that about almost any player. And even if it's true, then why did he shoot such a low pct. against historically bad defenses and in a bad center era other than Wilt? And why did he score such few points? And don't say because he didn't need to or that's not his role. He didn't have the capability to do this. His %'s speak for themselves. If he was indeed selective and only shot high % shots, and in a bad defensive era, then his %'s wouldn't have been so awful.

It's one thing to score 15ppg shooting 65%, it's another thing to do it shooting 44%. And he was a 3rd or 4th option player. I've never met or seen an elite player who was such. He might've been able to throw get outlet passes, which is a skill, not a particularly hard skill but still a skill, but that hardly makes you a great player.

Dwight's a punk, but don't let that cloud your thoughts. Break down each player, and Dwight is certainly the better player.

At Thursday, October 24, 2013 5:40:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

You make some interesting points, Boyer. About Bill Russell. Almost everyone would say he could have scored more points or didn'tneed to because of his stacked supporting cast. I don'tthink he can fill Olajuwon's role or Shaq's role on their title teams in 1994-1995 and 2000-2002.

You mentioned Dwight is as good or better than Russell defensively. Would you put guys like Ben Wallace, Olajuwon, and Robimson closer to Russell defensively than Howard? Not saying you're wrong or right.

We both agree that Dwight was not elite last season. But before joining la he definately was a top five player. Assuming he'sback at that status now, then there'sonly a few guys in the league I'd take over him. LeBron, obviously. Durant. Kobe, if he is still capable of playing at the level before the injury. But his age is factor. No way I take guys like Carmelo, Harden, Westbrook, Paul and Rose over Dwight.

Dwight at one point in Orlando did have a solid cast. But if you remember midway through the 2010-2011 season Orlando made a trade. I don'tbelieve the trade strengthened the team at all. Before Dwight went out with the back injury in his last season with Orlando I believe he led them to the third seed before he went out. A mediocre cast. He didn'tparticipate in the playooffs. So he had those teams in contention. You also have to look at how teams like Miami got better with the addition of LeBron and Bosh. Chicago and Indiana improved also. So I believe he got the most he could out of his teams.

I will come out and say it. The Magic were wrong for firing Van Gundy. I believe they did it for Dwight to stay but that plan backfired. As you see the team isn't doing to well without both as of now.

At Thursday, October 24, 2013 4:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did... did you just say Dwight Howard is better than Bill Russell?

The FG% isn't really as relevant as you think it was; go look at basically anybody from that era who wasn't Wilt and their FG% would be abysmal for their position in today's era; part of that is a function of improved strategy and shooting mechanics, part of that is a function of pace, part of it is that they played more back to backs (and back to back to back to backs) while traveling in cramped busses or rent-a-cars instead of designer jets, part of it is a function of today's reduced physicality in the lane... there's a lot of variables, and comparing the numbers straight up is ignorant. And, sure, you can say "don't tell me it's because he didn't need to or that wasn't his role"... but that doesn't make either of those points any less germane. With guys like Cousy and Sam Jones and Havlicek etc., it would have been foolish of Russell to shoot much more than he did.

And, again, he was much better at literally every facet of basketball except scoring than Dwight; and they're close as scorers. So suggesting Dwight is anywhere near the league of an 11 time champion with 5 MVPs is ludicrous.

And you all seem to be continuing to ignore my main point: Dwight hasn't done anything of merit post Van-Gundy. I'm not saying he wasn't a (situationally) top 5 player during those prime Orlando years under a coach who could maximize his strengths and mask his weaknesses... I'm just saying he's been mediocre ever since. You don't get to keep claiming you're a top 5 guy if you've stunk for two seasons.

So, once more with feeling, if Houston underachieves this year, it's time to put the "Dwight is an elite game changer" narrative to bed. Lin's an above average (but not all-star) point guard who's shown improvement in the pre-season, Harden's an elite 2 guard, Parson's is top shelf Ds and 3s role player, Asik means the team is never without a meaningful interior defender (or whatever they trade for him), and Beverly is a way above average backup PG. That's enough to contend in a shakier than usual Western Conference. And, if Dwight's truly a top 5 guy, it should be enough to win it.

At Saturday, October 26, 2013 4:39:00 PM, Blogger Abacus Reveals said...

Very well-put, Anonymous -- particularly regarding Russell.

Here are some thoughts and numbers that might be pertinent to your point:

Re. Howard
As Russell would do to Wilt -- allow him to establish a comfortable rhythm, then alter his defensive strategy to throw him off.
For all he brings to the table, it seems too easy to frustrate Howard and make him ineffective. (Then again, the same could fairly have been said about LBJ until the last couple of seasons.)
A free-spirit like McHale can either be the perfect fit or the very worst one for an immature kid like Dwight.
I'm pulling for it to work out well, but either way, it should be interesting.


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