Thursday, February 6, 2014

More fun with Stats

We are in an exciting period for basketball analytics. The SportsVU cameras are giving us gobs of data and some great minds over at Harvard are using that data in a new and exciting way. Kirk Goldsberry of the amazing site Grantland has detailed an exciting new model to look and predict a possessions value on a second-by-second basis (Check that out here). That new model takes into a just about every possible action that occurs during a possession and spits out the Expected Possession Value(EPV).

This new stat is pretty exciting for a number of reasons but what excites me most is that this model can actual put a value on decision making in real time. By calculating a players tendencies to pass or shoot at any given position on the court we can, using this model, actually weigh a players decision to pass or shoot accurately. The implications of this stat are huge. EPV gives us our most accurate look at decision making to date. Eventually, coaches could identify the exact moments during an offensive set or action that would produce the most points for that possession with the given personnel. With this data it could be a possible to create new offensive and defensive philosophies that the NBA has't seen yet. This data will make clever coaches even more clever.

Coaches aren't the only group of people that would benefit from this new wealth of information. This will change the way we value decision makers on the court. It is generally understood who the best decision makers are in the league. The article from Kirk Goldsberry points out that Chris Paul holds the most "points added" crown for the 2012-2013 season and that would seem to makes sense. In his case this stat only affirms what we see with our eyes. But for the fringe players and D-Leaguers these stats could be the difference between a 10 day contract or a trip overseas.

You might have noticed the copious use of 'could' and 'would' throughout this article. This is largely because all of this probably wont be happening for at least few years at the very earliest. Goldsberry notes that the amount of data that would need to be collected is just too huge for most NBA teams to analyze. The biggest deterrent for owners will probably be the cost of implementing this data into their organization but as technology advances that cost should be mitigated.

If anything, the people over at Harvard have only demonstrated that we still have tons of potential new uses for the data the SportsVU cameras gives us and that's pretty exciting in and of itself.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bird in the Hand

You don't have to look hard at the numbers to see Kevin Durant had a monster January; 36-6-6 tends to speak for itself and don't get me started about the percentages. Durant was so good that his greatness called into question the necessity of his sidekick, Russell Westbrook. This is not new. There will always be a pocket of people who believe the best thing for the Thunder would be to deal Westbrook. Durant being amazing without him only provides a large stage for those people to shout on.

On the surface this seems like a ridiculous proposition. We all saw how the Thunder operated without Westbrook in last years playoffs. Even with a greatly improved Reggie Jackson its easy to imagine the same outcome for the Thunder sans Westbrook. There is an interesting aspect to the "trade Westbrook" narrative however. Could the Thunder possibly get more value out of the salary they are paying Westbrook? My initial reaction would be to shout from the highest mountain a resounding no. But every interesting narrative deserves to be looked at in depth right?

Luckily for me, there is a nice metric in WARP that measures the Wins Above a Replacement Player. If you don't completely understand it I completely understand and would direct you here for an in-depth look at this stat. Combine this with player salary and you can find how much teams should be paying players per WARP and that's exactly what the good people at Hooponomics did back in 2012. Using their method and HoopsHype's salary data for the 13-14 season, I found that teams should be paying about 1.76 million dollars per WARP. Multiply that by Westbrook's projected WARP and you would see that he should be making about 20 million per year. That would be about 6 million more than he is getting paid right now.

I understand that this isn't a perfect way to look at the value of Westbrook but I think the point remains. The value Westbrook produces would be hard to reattain in a trade. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush right? Personally, I think that with KD being KD the flaws in Westbrook's game are magnified. It seems almost sacrilegious for a point to waste even one possession when they're sharing the same court as a Hall of Fame scorer. But I think it's important to realize that these two are probably still learning to play together as both of their games grow. Sure, there will be the occasional bad jumper early in the shot clock from Westbrook, but for every bad play I'm willing to bet he will have three more plays that will make up for it. He may even involve KD in one or two of those plays. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

NBA Pool Players

Team USA basketball is some of the most compelling basketball you can watch. International play brings together some of the best basketball players in the world and sticks them on the same team; is there anything more compelling than great players playing with other great players? Any way, the player pool for the upcoming World Cup has been released and I thought it would be great to analyze the potential roster. Check out the full list of names here.

So there are some obvious player that are locks to make the cut for the Spain World Cup. All signs point to the two Kevin's (Durant and Love) making the trip to Spain later this year. So with the out the way here are who I think we will be sending to Spain to bring back the gold. Or is it a cup now? I can never keep these awards straight.

Guards: Westbrook, Curry, Irving, Rose

Forwards: Durant, George, Iguodala, Harden

Bigs: Davis, Love, Aldrige, Cousins

You may be noticing some big names missing from this roster, namely Lebron James, Chris Paul, Deron Williams etc. Well, I'm operating under the assumption these guys wont be up to international play that does't involve the Olympics. Anyway, here's some quick notes on this roster.
  • Anytime you have the chance to send Stephen Curry to a place with a shorter 3 point arc you take that chance and watch the points rain in.
  • Rose working his way back in international play just seems like the right decision. He wouldn't have to carry a huge offensive load and he could start experimenting with a style of play that won't destroy his knees.
  • Who scores on a lineup featuring Iggy, George and Love? The correct answer is no one.
  • Anytime you can send DeMarcus Cousins to a foreign country to represent your country you should do it.
  • I may be crazy for leaving off Blake Griffin. The more I think about it the more I hate myself. He is having himself a season right now but my big selection is more about them more than its about him. I just like the way those other bigs fit in international play.  
Something more on those last one. Griffin could very well make the roster over DeMarcus but I really think that Cousins could use this experience so much more than Griffin. These past few seasons of international play the young players that make the team have come back and have seen a leap in their play. As crazy as it seems, I could see Cousins picking up some good habits from a team that should be winning a lot. Him bringing that experience back is nothing but a positive.

Anytime you can put together a team of the younger, most talented players in the league its a good thing. No matter who we send the games should be fun and hopefully they can bring back that golden cup medal for America.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ode to a Villain

I will never like David Stern for obvious reasons. Being from Seattle, this shouldn't come as a shocking revelation. Once Stern steps down as commissioner the lasting image I will have is this press conference, but particularly what he said not 5 seconds into this particular presser. This is Stern at his Sterniest; the NBA's lovable villain.

I'm willing to bet that Stern is the smartest person in whichever room he walks into. He is meticulous in choosing exactly the right words to convey what he wants to. If you're to slow on the uptake you will completely miss the words behind his words. That's why that statement in that presser cuts pretty deep. The funny thing is that this is exactly why people will miss him when he is gone. 

Stern understands that no matter what he does there will be a segment of people that dislike him no matter what; such is the life of a figure head. So Stern, in all his wisdom, decided to own that disdain and relish in it. he wanted to, Stern could probably stay commissioner for another 30 years, surviving off of draft night boos alone. The way he owns his title of villain is actually what makes him lovable; in a sick kind of way. Its almost as if he's been cast in the role of the villain and has been nailing it for the past three decades. Its impressive really. But there is some serious substance behind that villainous mask.

If you take Stern's total tenure as commissioner it's impossible to say that he didn't do his job. According to forbes, league revenues have increased from $118 million when he first entered office to $4.6 billion, with a B. People can point to Stern as the primary reason why the league has grown in popularity beyond North America. As an aspiring marketer, it's hard not to admire what Stern has built the league into. I'm 100% sure that we will be getting a completely new style of commissioner-ing when Adam Silver takes over and thats ok. Not everyone can wear the villain hat as well as Stern.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Can you blame him?

Full Disclosure: I think Kyrie Irving is really good. I would go as far to say as he deserves a max deal, even though the teams led by him haven't gotten a game over .500. I know that sounds strange, but hear me out. This season, Irving has a usage rate of about 29%; a number higher than most superstars. Now you may be saying to yourself  "if he is using that many possessions, most of the blame for the losses should be on Irving's shoulders." and to that I would ask can you blame him? For the Cavs to succeed as currently constructed Irving needs to be 06-07 Lebron and that is completely unfair to him.

Some players just should't be high usage players. Rudy Gay would be the poster boy for that statement. Ever since his move to Sac-Town, his usage has fallen from around 30% to 24% and his numbers are already showing signs of improvement, particularly his shooting percentages. Irving would benefit from a similar dip in usage. To do this though you would need more quality players and turning Andrew Bynum into Loul Deng is definitely a solid starting point. With some smart moves and some player development, the Cavs could see Irving's usage drop and see some serious on court improvement. But as for right now, Irving is doing to much; can you blame him though?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A (Running) Conversation on Eric Bledsoe

Me: So it's been a pretty fun season so far.

Kevin: Oh for sure, it seems like every team is going through some interesting point in their long-term plans.

Me: Can you say that either of the New York teams have long-term plans though?

Kevin: That's beside the point. Every team has something going on; take the Suns for instance.They just blew out the Clippers at home and are 6th in the West right now. You know who the lead guard for that team is?

Me: Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic of course. At this point in this teams evolution, you can't mention one of these guys without the other. Still not all that convinced Bledsoe is a legit l guard though. I know it sounds crazy but the lineups where he is the sole point on the floor have some funky numbers.

Kevin: Before I tell you how wrong you are I'll let you explain yourself.

Me: Well, with the recent success the Suns have been having and knowing that Bledsoe is a massive part of that I started doing some random digging on the wonderful NBA Statistics site. So I looked at lineups were Bledsoe was the lead guard and compared it to the starters and the Goran Dragic led lineups just for fun. Luckily this worked out because both lineups consisted of Gerald Green, Channing Frye, P.J Tucker, and Miles Plumlee.

Kevin: That works out I guess for comparison sake. But your still wrong.

Me: Let me finish. So I looked at the four factors of these lineups and found out exactly what you would think the numbers would be. The Bledsoe led lineups fell behind the most in the offensive category stats while the Dragic lineups fell behind in the more defensive stats.

Kevin: So what you're telling me is that because there is a fall off in production when the team runs one lead guard you don't buy Bledsoe as a solo point? That is your first major mistake sir because it fails to take into account the system they employ. Mr. Andrew Lynch had a great piece on that very system (Read it here). If you had read that piece you would understand that the Suns use their two-point lineup as the fulcrum of their offense. Which means that as the Suns run a solo point there is more decision making placed upon Gerald Green. That just spells some sort of production fall off.

Me: Whose to say that the Suns run the same types of things when they play one point guard.?

Kevin: We would know if you would buy us League Pass so we could watch more.

Me: One day bro. But I understand that you have to,ideally, take into account system when discussing any player. But this is a somewhat unique system the Suns run. I'm just not sure that Bledsoe would thrive as much as a lead guard in a more traditional system.

Kevin: Good thing he is with the Suns then. I personally love two point guard lineups. Dribble drives are some of the most exciting plays in basketball and with two Points you can really stretch the defense if you get creative.

Me: For sure. Those are some of my favorite lineups and when you get right down to it the line between a 1 and a 2 has been pretty blurry for a while now. But that's a conversation for another day.

Kevin: I'm glad we are starting to agree. One of the most interesting aspects of this team is its immediate future. Do the Suns think that they are one or two pieces away from seriously contending? What do they have in Alex Len? Is t

Me: Well, Hornacek has the team playing well within the system. Right now I would say they could end up being the Starless Era Nuggets; a team no one wants to see in the playoffs.

Kevin: Sounds about right. And I guess at some point you have to take individual production into account and Bledsoe is averaging 18 and 6 right now.

Me: I'm glad I'm starting to get through to you.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The More You Know

Back in October, Kirk Goldsberry had an amazing piece (Which warrants a read) that introduced the concept of the Shotscore. By taking into account shot positions, the leagues expected output at that position and the players actual output at said positions, we may understand the great scorers in the league. By using this metric we gain an interesting perspective on the leagues best scorers. By analyzing the Shotscore with the newly installed SportsVU sports cameras we can gain a greater insight into a number of different aspects of a game. For instance, lets think about the shot selection of Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook is obviously among the best players in the league and the criticisms of him has died down in recent seasons. That doesn't mean that there wont ever be some eyebrow raising when Westbrook takes more shots than Kevin Durant. And those eyebrows should be furrowing because Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant and he is, by that Shotscore metric, the second best scorer in the league. But Russell is amazing in his own right. Whose to say that his pull up jumper at the elbow is less efficient than a semi-open KD 3? Well, using an amalgamation of the new technology available could make that person a little more qualified. Analyzing the value of a single shot is pretty straightforward now-a-days; We have Shot Charts and a number of other different stats for that. Where it gets complicated is quantifying a "semi-open" shot.

In that Goldsberry piece he mentions how, with the combination of the SportsVU cameras and the Shotscore metric, we can begin to quantify defensive impact. Super exciting stuff particularly because we as fans will be able to appreciate defensive plays with greater nuance. Someday soon we will be able to tell who the best jump shot contester by noting how much the expected value of an opposing players drops when said defender is in range for a contest. I know it sounds pretty "Sports Science" but those days are getting closer than they may appear.

What it boils down to is that we are beginning to gather new types of positional data and with that will come new ways to look at the game we love, particularly on the defensive end. As the season goes on and the SportsVU cameras continue to collect data we will eventually have a good enough sample size to really start examining the data within a number of different contexts. How far can a player sag off a shooter to contain a river while still being able to recover and contest a shot? How does Giannas Antetokounmpo's ever growing name and arms effect shooters at varying contest ranges? It all sounds like a series of word problems right now, but someday soon we will have the concrete information to provide some interesting insights. Its a fun time to be an NBA stat nerd. The more you know right?