Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Move Over, Derek Jeter

David Friedman really, really doesn't want to believe Chad Ford.
I have a rule of thumb: I distrust general conclusions made by people who cannot get their facts straight. Yes, anyone can make a mistake but if you have basic information wrong then I tend to suspect that you are either very sloppy or you have such an agenda that you won't allow facts to get in the way. Ford asserts that Bryant has played more regular season and playoff minutes than Allen Iverson; in fact, coming into this season Iverson has played 34,248 combined minutes, nearly 1000 more than Bryant.
I have a rule of dumb: I distrust general conclusions made by people who don't bother to figure out what someone else is trying to say, then write a reactionary blog post about it.

Ford's "'mileage'" comment was meant to point out that Kobe has played more minutes through age 28 than many players have played through age 28. Bryant played over 6000 more regular season minutes than Iverson through age 28. A man in love with an automobile reference should be able to distinguish "mileage" from "years old."

Who made the real factual error(s)? David Friedman did!
Ford's case: Ford relies largely on John Hollinger's PER and Roland Beech's adjusted plus/minus to make the argument that Bryant is not really the best player in the NBA.

Why Ford's case is not built Ford tough: Ford notes at the start of his piece that he talked to several "NBA sources" about Bryant and he acknowledges that Bryant is widely considered to be the best player in the NBA--then he completely disregards expert opinion in favor of relying exclusively on the verdict of some statistical systems. It should be noted that those same systems ranked two-time MVP Steve Nash lower than Bryant last season. Also, Beech says of adjusted plus/minus, "These ratings represent a player's value to a particular team and are not intended to be an accurate gauge of the ability and talent of the player away from the specific team." In other words, they are specifically not meant to be used the way that Ford is using them.
This is the quote Friedman is referring to:

I spoke to a number of NBA sources who have been engaged in or are familiar with the Bryant trade negotiations. Almost all evidence from these conversations points to this conclusion:

Bryant's trade value isn't nearly as high as he or the Lakers would like to think.

So the experts agree: David Friedman is talking out of his ass.

Back to the factual errors: Adjusted plus/minus compensates for strength of teammates and opponents, making it a useful tool for ranking and comparing players who aren't teammates. They're even ranked right here. Roland Beech is a nice guy and all, but I wouldn't credit him with something he didn't do, even if I jinxed myself with a comment about fact checking.

28 Comments:

Anonymous Matt said...

Yeah, Friedman basically confused Adjusted +/- with Roland Rating...which is an adjusted +/- in itself.

Originally Roland Rating was just the net (oncourt - offcourt) +/-, but he later incorporated the player's PER and oPER in some combination I don't quite understand.

12:00 AM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:56 AM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

The Beech quote that I cited was in reference to on court/off court data, not adjusted plus/minus. I have corrected my post accordingly.

As for allegedly misreading Ford's reference to what experts say about Bryant, at the start of the article he says that experts say that Bryant may not have the trade value that Bryant and the Lakers think that he does but, as the course of the article reveals, that does not mean that these experts are saying that Bryant is not the best player in the league. Ford himself later acknowledges that Bryant is widely considered to be the best player. That is what I was referring to regarding point two. Ford knows that expert opinion regards Kobe as the best player in the league but he disregards that expert opinion based on results produced by certain statistical systems--ones that, by the way, rank two-time MVP Steve Nash even lower than Bryant. It is interesting how Nash's statistical rankings never seem to work their way into MVP discussions or conversations about the best player in the league. Ford never makes it clear who he is calling the best player in the league but he apparently is bound and determined to say that Kobe is not the best player.

The reality is that Bryant's contract is the main thing that is holding up a potential deal. Age is not a realistic concern because anyone who trades for Kobe is trying to win right now, not five years from now. Many ESPN experts (Hubie Brown, Greg Anthony, Jamal Mashburn and others) would be happy to tell Ford that Kobe is the best player in the NBA.

As for the "mileage" issue, you are putting words in Ford's mouth that don't appear in the article. All he mentioned explicitly is Bryant's career total minutes (regular season and playoffs), followed directly by a reference to the "mileage" on the legs of Ray Allen and Allen Iverson. He says nothing about who played more minutes by age 28--that is something you came up with on your own. As I mentioned in my post, Ford does not take into account that Kobe is much bigger than Iverson and bigger players tend to last longer.

5:28 AM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

One more point:

If you read Ford's article closely, you can see the bait and switch that he pulls. His second sentence reads, "What team wouldn't want the man often called the 'best player in the league'?" Then he refers to the "NBA sources" who allegedly told him that Kobe's trade value is not as high as the Lakers and Kobe think it is (which is not the same thing at all as those sources saying that Kobe is not the best player)--but when Ford gets around to the best player question in point two, he completely dismisses expert opinion in favor of the verdicts offered by statistical systems.

The way that Ford put this article together makes it easy for a reader to conclude that "sources" told Ford that Kobe's trade value is not as high as he or the Lakers think because Kobe is not the best player in the league--you fell into that trap when you said that I am talking out of my...lack of sports knowledge...Look again at what Ford wrote and what I wrote. Ford makes it seem like his "sources" said that Kobe is not the best player but that is not the case at all, as Ford admits early in point 2, when he switches from what is widely believed about Kobe to what the statistical systems say.

All I did in my rebuttal to Ford's point two is take him to task for so cavalierly dismissing expert opinion. Maybe there is a reason that so many coaches and players say that Kobe is the best player; maybe the statistical systems don't quite yet measure everything with 100% accuracy.

Ford cites "NBA sources" early in the article but when he gets down to making his four points he cites statistical systems and his own psychoanalysis of Kobe's motives.

5:42 AM  
Blogger Hot Shit College Student said...

David, a few things you should know -

I bought Chad Ford's Not #1 Argument because I came up with it myself, and
agree with this one too. I'm not going to be swayed by consensus opinion, and there's only a handful of NBA 'experts' that I trust for good analysis. Greg Anthony isn't one of them, and I haven't even seen Mash.

It's tough to bait and switch someone who already agrees with the premise, and looked at the numbers weeks ago.

Ford's "NBA sources" hopefully aren't fans and Hubie, so let's assume they're execs and coaches. That's a small number of people who could possibly know the Lakers are asking for the most talent in the world for the greatest player in the world. Seems plausible that someone would pooh-pooh that.

I could get into Ford's phraseology with "'mileage'" (he did use quotes), and a reference to Bryant's "contemporaries", but I wouldn't be very convincing. It seemed clear cut to me; Bryant has played a lot of basketball for a 28 year old. I agree with your size argument, but that was never the point.

This is turning into something that I didn't hope for: a pointless intuition v. statistics debate. I realized you were pushing that in your piece, but not to the extent that it was the coup de grace aimed at Ford.

"maybe the statistical systems don't quite yet measure everything with 100% accuracy."

That proves your ignorance more than anything else. Statistics tell you exactly how wrong they are, David.

I'm not going to address Steve Nash's MVP-worthiness. That's old, tired, and easily googled.

8:46 AM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

You should visit APBR Metrics, where people who have done a lot of work on NBA statistics have a more realistic view on exactly what they are and are not capable of measuring. Berri's Win Shares has gotten a less than enthusiastic review from people who actually know basketball and statistics.

The bait and switch has nothing to do with what you previously believed. Ford tries to give himself credibility by citing NBA "sources" but most of his article leans on statistical systems and his psychobabble about Kobe's alleged motivations.

Mashburn was on NBA Shootaround last year; I haven't seen him this year but the season's just begun. Hubie Brown is a Hall of Famer. He might possibly know more about basketball than you do. If you spend time around NBA coaches, players and scouts, which I am fortunate enough to do, you would find out that a large number of them consider Kobe to be the best player in the NBA (which is not the same as saying he should have won the MVP or the same as saying that he is easy to trade).

1:45 PM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

Also, why is the size argument "never the point?" Because Ford did not mention it? Size has a lot to do with durability at the NBA level, so for him to compare Bryant's potential durability with Iverson without factoring that in makes no sense. Also, Bryant's ability to play well years from now is not a major factor; whoever acquires him is trying to win now.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Hot Shit College Student said...

I apologize. I suck at writing (but not reading), so here's what Ford was saying:
Ford cited "NBA sources" who think Kobe is overvalued. Ford also mentioned that it's common knowledge that a heck of a lot of people in the NBA, fans, and journalists believe Kobe is numero uno. Ford's sources are obviously people who don't share that opinion of Kobe.

Berri developed "Win Score" not "Win Shares". I linked to the b-r page that covers the mashup of Bill James and Dean Oliver's work. Thanks for the tip on the APBR, but my browser history has that taken care of.

David, I'm well aware you're fortunate enough to get sneezed on by Mikki Moore. I didn't trip over your blog. I have an RSS reader and everything.

Bryant's size isn't an issue because few players have played as many minutes by the age of 28 (only Garnett played more regular season minutes). Kobe is at a lab rat level of NBA wear and tear. His size may help, but Ford was correct to point out a risk factor.

I'm not going to address the Kobe trade stuff like "win now". I'm tired of it, and the 4th or 5th best player in the NBA isn't someone a team is going to "win now" with.

You're mistaken if you believe I think I'm trying to prove I know more than you, or Hubie, or whomever. I'm tired of hearing/reading that the Bulls didn't trade for "THE GREATEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD." There is no objective evidence that supports a statement like that, and the Lakers' W-L record with just Kobe should speak for itself.

3:01 PM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

Fortunately, Mikki Moore has yet to sneeze on me :)

Quick question regarding your "intuition" versus stats idea. I base my evaluations on a combination of observation, stats and talking to players, coaches, analysts, etc., so "intuition" does not really factor into it for me. I don't know of any NBA personnel people who rely on "intuition"; some are "stats" guys, some believe more in "observation" and some believe in a hybrid of the two (which is my position).

This is my question for you: Since you apparently agree with the stat systems that say that Kobe is not the best player in the NBA, do you also agree with them that he is a better player than Nash? If not, why do you apply "intuition" when evaluating Nash but stats when evaluating Kobe? I guess that's two questions :)

3:35 PM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

Of course, you are right that Berri came up with Win Score, not Win Shares. Sorry about that.

The point is that even the numbers gurus don't agree with each other about how to evaluate players just yet.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Hot Shit College Student said...

You're arguing semantics. I should have stated something more along the lines of valuing v. not valuing statistics. And with the exception of Berri, the "numbers gurus" don't discount other's work. There's value in all the advanced metrics ('cept Berri's), as each tells a different story. Observations are key to providing a context for that data.

I ignored the Nash thing because it's old, and as a fan of a team that can't even get a player in the All-Star game, I'm apathetic regarding the higher accolades. Nash didn't deserve it, and Kobe is better.

4:49 PM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

Fair enough.

I must say that I am a little surprised that, as a fan, you would not want Kobe on your team (assuming that you would not have to gut your squad to get him, which is admittedly a big assumption). Even if one accepts your premise that Kobe is the fourth or fifth best player in the NBA, that is a significant upgrade over whoever you consider to currently be your best player. Except for the ensemble 2004 Pistons, most championship teams are led by one (or two) of the top five players in the NBA.

5:47 AM  
Blogger Hot Shit College Student said...

That's more of a coincidence than the way to build a team. You even wrote about championship teams playing a high level of defense, and that's probably more important than who their best player was.

There's also a significant gap between Kobe's impact, and the individual impact of Duncan, Garnett, and James. Top 5 sure, but far from 1. The rookie wages the better Bulls earn hurts their trade value, and I don't see how the Bulls could get Kobe without gutting the team.

Tyrus Thomas could be a big man who makes a bigger impact than Kobe in the future. Defense and rebounding is cliche, but he scores enough per minute to imagine a player who makes an enormous difference at both ends. That's a sunny outlook, but I like where the Bulls are going with the talent and flexibility they have. Trading for Kobe means losing out on a lot of potential (unlike the Celtics, Deng and Gordon's potential has results in the W column), and filling in the gaps with middling veterans. I don't like the idea of a lateral move for the short term, followed by another rebuilding effort. The Blazers made the playoffs for a quarter century, and that's a goal to shoot for. Why roll the dice on 2 or 3 years of riding Kobe isolations and his anecdotal defensive ability?

9:14 AM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

I'm on record saying that Duncan is the greatest power forward of all-time (not that I am the only one who says that, of course), so I don't disagree that he has significant impact. KG's impact so far, though, has not enabled him to make it to even one NBA Finals in a decade; that may change this year, obviously.

As I indicated, the real issue concerning Kobe's "trade value" is how difficult it is for both sides to make a deal not only because of the size of his contract and his trade kicker but because Kobe can veto any deal that he does not like. I'd be interested to hear which, if any, NBA sources actually told Ford that Kobe's trade value is diminished in some way because he is not a winner or he is not the best player in the NBA. That is Ford's opinion.

Tyrus Thomas has great athletic ability but to this point in his career he has not shown the focus to apply it on a night in, night out basis. The truly great ones show that kind of focus pretty early. Bird, Magic, MJ, Duncan, Kobe, LeBron all had that from the start. Their young errors stemmed from lack of experience, not from not being focused. TT drifts in and out. I will be astonished if he ever has a sustained impact remotely resembling what Kobe has achieved--three rings, All-NBA, All-Defense. Heck, how many All-Star Games do you expect that TT will make?

Kobe won three rings as the leadingg playmaker on a team that ran the Triangle Offense. He sublimated his scoring this year in the FIBA Americas tournament. If he has teammates who will step up and make shots then he will not be running too many isolations.

I'm not sure what you mean by his "anecdotal" defensive ability. The All-Defensive Team is voted on by the head coaches and Kobe makes it almost every year. As I wrote last year when this subject came up at my site, I think that the coaches know who the best defensive players are; they know which players they can attack and which players give them problems. An old saying around the NBA is if you want to know who the worst defensive player on your team is then just watch who Don Nelson picks on in isolations. Nelson loves to isolate one of his better scorers on the other team's weak link defender. Not every coach is that direct about it, but they know who plays good defense and who doesn't.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Hot Shit College Student said...

If Thomas ever plays with the second coming of Shaq, I'd say 3 rings are a possibility. Thomas actually had a slightly better rookie year than Kobe, but I haven't cross-checked B-R with an ophthalmologist. I can't forecast All-Star appearances because fans vote for the best shoe commercial, not production. I don't expect Tyrus Thomas to be a "truly great one," and Kobe doesn't even come close to the players you mentioned. Plenty of very good players started slow; Scottie Pippen comes to mind.

That doesn't mean I know Thomas will be a top 5/10 player, but he has the size and ability to make that a possibility. Trading him with Deng, or Gordon is a loss for the Bulls. Have you seen him play this season? Seems focused and improved to me.

Speculating who Ford's sources were is kinda pointless (I have no idea how journalists do their work). Dan Rosenbaum? John Paxson? Danny Ainge dumped his underachievers on Minnesota, not L.A., it could have been him. Maybe Bruce Bowen giggles himself to sleep at night to the tune of a thousand talking heads praising Kobe Bryant.

Coaches aren't above utilizing the "I recognize that name" voting method either. Defensive specialists rarely get honored.

8:39 AM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

A player's individual impact should not depend on the arrival of the next coming of Shaq.

I've seen TT play a lot, including last night. He is very athletically gifted. Focus is evaluated over a period of time, not one game--19 and 14 is great; let's see what he does over the next month.

Fans only vote for the starters; coaches vote for the All-Star reserves.

Kobe had a slightly better rookie season than TT but Kobe did not play much as a rookie coming to the NBA straight out of high school. Kobe basically doubled his production in his second year and made the All-Star Team. By his third year Kobe was on the All-NBA Third Team. I doubt that TT will have that kind of growth curve. Pip's development also followed a quick growth curve after his rookie season. This year and next year are critical for TT. If he does not improve a lot now, it is likely that what you see is what you get--an energy guy off of the bench. He has the talent to be more than that but we'll see how hard he works on his game.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous sbulls9030 said...

I've enjoyed reading the debate. I'm disappointed it took me this long to notice it. I have a hard time believing that an ALL-NBA third team appearance is more meaningful than PER with all it's flaws. Even the 1st team was a joke this year since the voters are willing to buy into the idea that Duncan is somehow not a center.

I don't think it's a stretch to believe that the stat nerds trained to gather all available data, weigh the evidence, and reach defendable conclusions might be better at identifying the best player in the NBA than Jamal Mashburn's analytical training and 42% career FG% (The stat nerds obviously have to have sound basketball knowledge to interpret the evidence, but don't need to be say Hubie Brown). I'm willing to defer to Hubie Brown on most things in basketball, certainly all the little stuff of individual plays and techniques. He's certainly one of the best color commentators in the game. But on the big picture evaluation stuff, I don't defer to him because I doubt he's done the homework. And he has no reason to, his job is to analyze at the level of the individual game or at the most a playoff series. It's not his job or training to evaluate careers, player performance realtive to the league, or player development.

And the question is also rarely defined correctly. How many of the people who claim Bryant is the best basketball player would still choose him over Duncan if the goal was to win a championship?

There's lots that could be discussed about Thomas's development and his worth relqtive to Kobe. But if ALL-NBA 3rd teams are going to be an acceptable measuring stick of player value then I'm not sure if there is opportunity for genuine conversation.

9:18 PM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

The All-NBA Teams are voted on by beat writers and members of the national media who cover the league. I certainly don't always agree with the selections and I did a post noting the inconsistencies with how last season's First Team was selected. That said, there is some significance to being selected to one of the three All-NBA Teams and thus being recognized as one of the top 15 players in the league. Maybe some years the 22nd best player makes it and the 14th best doesn't but that is not really the point in the context of this discussion about TT; the point here is that while neither Kobe nor TT were elite level players in their first years Kobe's game developed very rapidly. I am skeptical that TT will enjoy a similar rise.

As for Mashburn, what does his shooting percentage have to do with his ability to analyze the game? By the way, what is your career NBA shooting percentage? I suspect that it's the same as mine: .000. Mashburn played DI college hoops and had a lengthy NBA career, so he has firsthand knowledge of what it takes to play at the highest level. That does not automatically mean that he is a good analyst but it provides him with an insider perspective.

As for Hubie Brown, I cannot speak for all TV analysts but Brown strikes me as pretty well prepared. Don't forget that not long ago he was coaching in the NBA--winning Coach of the Year honors--so he was preparing game plans to go against a lot of the players that he is currently talking about. He will often mention on-air how his teams dealt with certain players.

PER and other statistical systems are useful tools but their output is only as good as the information that is used.

It does not seem like a Kobe deal is in the works for the Bulls at this point. Kobe is one of maybe a half dozen guys in the NBA who could lead a properly equipped team to a title, so if the Bulls could acquire him and still maintain that type of nucleus--no easy feat, obviously--then they should do that, even if they would have to give up TT. It is possible that TT may become an All-Star but Kobe is one of the top five players in the NBA right now. Unless TT develops either a better jump shot or a legit back to the basket game on offense he will always be an energy guy, a complementary player--not a guy who you can build a team around like Kobe. If he continues to progress, TT is basically a Tyson Chandler in the making, which is not a bad thing if he gets to the point that he is averaging 10-12 rpg and 2 bpg--but would you prefer to have Tyson Chandler instead of Kobe?

9:02 AM  
Anonymous sbulls9030 said...

The Jamal Mashburn career FG% remark was offhand, but the obvious teeth behind it was that his FG% is indicative of poor shot selection and a poor understanding of what really is effective basketball. I don't have to have made a shot in the NBA or D1 to know the difference between a good shot and a bad shot, and I watched Mashburn play enough over a decade to know he either didn't know or didn't care. And I'm unlikely to trust a former player's analysis when he struggled as a player with shot selection. There's a reason that the quality of a former player's analysis tends to be in inverse proportion to their scoring average.

None of what you said about Hubie Brown is anything I disagreed with in my post. I challenged his ability to make bigger picture analysis without 1st doing the homework and really examining the issues. He has no incentive to do that kind of work right now, and if he did I believe some of his conclusions would change.

Let's also distinguish between me talking about using basketball statistics and the average fan. I'm conversant in every publically available basketball statistical system. I read the APBR board. I've read Basketball on Paper, and nearly all the online articles. I am aware of all the statistical systems individual strengths and weaknesses. So you can skip the condescending comments about how to interpret stats. I've even read your article on using stats properly, which was somehwat lacking. You spend two lengthy paragraphs discussing turnovers without even getting to something as simple as turnover rate. Of course stats are going to lose if your only allowed to use the least meaningful ones. Similarly no one who understands stats looks at TS% without also looking at a players usage rate, turnover rate, and assist rate. I realize your writing for a more general audience, but at least make it a fair fight. Anyone intelligent takes in the whole statistical profile, they look at the various rate stats, the +/- information, as well as multipe player rating systems. It's because of that kind of homework that I can say with confidence that Kobe Bryant has never been the best player in the NBA.

As far as Tyrus's development, I've seen every NBA summer league, regular season, and playoff game Tyrus has played. And comparing him to Tyson is ridiclous. Tyrus can already dribble, pass, and shoot at a level Tyson never will achieve. And even posing the question in terms of only Chandler v. Kobe is disigenuous. Any trade would involve at least two additional players. But, I personally would be reluctant to trade Tyrus straight up for Kobe. I'll take Tyrus's prime over 3 years of Kobe's becaue Tyrus's prime will actually be at the same time as Deng's and I'm confident based on both visual scouting and statistical analysis that Thomas will be an All-Star and DPOY candidate by then. And his actual productivity when it comes to helping his team win will likely rival Bryant's actual production.

And I'm not this confident in Thomas because of sportscenter highlight dunks and blocks. My confidence is based on far more fundmental things: lateral quickness, post entry passes, and ball handling, shooting form, etc. Those highlights belong to the Kobe Bryant crowd. Maybe there's only a 30-40% chance I'm right about Thomas, but that seems to me at least as good as the odds of winning a championship with Bryant after having to give up Thomas and at least two players.

11:59 PM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

Mashburn suffered some injuries early in his career that diminished his capabilities and altered his game but I understand better what you meant, even if I can't say that I completely agree with your premise.

We'll just have to agree to disagree regarding Hubie.

Considering turnover rate does not change my basic premise about turnovers, which is that they are more significant on a team level than an individual level. A team's primary ballhandler is going to generally have the most turnovers and probably have the highest turnover rate but if he is productive enough in other areas that should not be a big concern. You want to keep team turnovers at less than 15 per game if possible. If Kobe or Nash are getting four tpg but making a lot of plays--thereby reducing the ballhandling responsibilities and turnovers from the other players--then their turnovers are not a big deal. Also, as I indicated, some kinds of turnovers are more damaging than others.

You can say with confidence that Kobe has never been the best player in the NBA but that does not mean you are right. Gilbert Arenas said with confidence that he'd score 50 versus Portland and that the Wizards would beat Boston...so I guess we'll agree to disagree regarding Kobe as well.

I am not disputing that TT has a lot of talent but I just don't see him becoming nearly as good as you do. Time will tell on this one. TT is a bit more developed offensively than Tyson but he may never be quite as good as a rebounder.

So you really think that TT has better basketball fundamentals than Kobe? Right now? You are completely wrong on that one. Kobe's footwork and fundamentals are light years ahead of TT's. You really think that TT is a good passer?

The odds of any one team winning a championship are not high but the odds of TT becoming as good as you think are much lower than you are indicating. TT's best case scenario is Tyson Chandler and the worst case is Stromile Swift; I expect the reality to fall somewhere in the middle. This will be interesting to revisit in 3-5 years.

I understand that any Kobe deal would involve more than just TT; that is obvious based on salary considerations alone. All I'm saying is that if I were the Bulls--or if I were looking at this as a Bulls fan--I would not have a problem including TT in a package for Kobe. TT would not be untouchable.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Hot Shit College Student said...

"You can say with confidence that Kobe has never been the best player in the NBA but that does not mean you are right. Gilbert Arenas said with confidence that he'd score 50 versus Portland and that the Wizards would beat Boston...so I guess we'll agree to disagree regarding Kobe as well."

If that's how seriously you take the numbers, you're never going to be able to make or refute a who's the best argument. I can say with confidence there's objective evidence to back my statements about Bryant up. You can't. So why bother?

11:22 AM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

If you are familiar with my site then you know that I have listed a number of reasons that Kobe is the best player in the NBA, based on his completeness as a player both offensively and defensively--one could term this kind of analysis a "scout's eye view," which was the name of my two part series looking at how scouts evaluate talent. Kobe's skill set is unmatched. Numbers may be "objective" but how they are processed/interpreted is not. Each of the various statistical systems has its own blind spots/shortcomings, no different than the blind spots/shortcomings that individual observers have (after all, the stat systems were developed by individual observers). At the end of the day it comes down to whether you rely primarily on observation, primarily on numbers or some mixture of the two. I go with a mixture of the two but I would never rank players strictly based on numbers without watching them play and seeing how they accumulate those numbers. For instance, I don't evaluate a player's passing exclusively by his assists; I want to see if he makes the correct passes at the correct times with good technique--he may not get an assist if the shot is missed or if the recipient swings the ball to the weak side for someone else to shoot. As Hubie Brown often points out, the second pass out of the trap leads to a wide open shot. So if Kobe is double-teamed, makes the correct read and the correct pass then he is doing his job, whether or not the play leads to a score (and the play is more likely to lead to a score if he is passing to Amare than to Kwame).

Picking one player as the best is inherently a subjective exercise and I realize that there are five or six legitimate contenders but a better case can be made for Kobe than for the others. That is why there is a constant parade of execs, coaches, players and analysts singing Kobe's praises. I realize that it is very popular among fans to assume that they know more about the NBA than people who do this stuff for a living and that's fine; it is a fan's prerogative to think that "his" team and/or "his" player is better than all others. If you choose to believe that TT is better than Kobe at a similar stage in their careers and/or has better upside to contribute to a title team in the next three to five years you are certainly entitled to that opinion. However, I doubt that many--if any--NBA insiders would agree with that nor do I think that this opinion will be proven correct in the next three to five years. As I said, this will be an interesting topic to revisit at that time. Will TT be a 20-10 guy who is anchoring a team in the paint, will he be a Chandler-esque guy averaging 10 ppg and 12 rpg or will he be a Stromile Swift who wows with his athletic ability but does not perform on a consistent basis?

1:45 AM  
Blogger Hot Shit College Student said...

"At the end of the day it comes down to whether you rely primarily on observation, primarily on numbers or some mixture of the two."

David, I get that you really want to argue that Greg Anthony and you are a million times more knowledgeable about the NBA than me and anyone else who knows the formula for calculating PER. Thing is, smartypants, that's not something I'm going to debate, nor do I really care. Fuck, I'll concede it. I know sbulls and I are interpreting the data correctly (it's pretty easy to figure out who's not #1), and more importantly, using the right numbers (easy again, because we used just about all of them to rule just about everything out).

They're just tools, and neither of us are relying completely on them. Apparently you think we're looking at double-doubles, and APG. I'm positive you missed the point, or didn't read what I linked to.

If you really want an Insider to tell you Kobe isn't all he's cracked up to be, Chad Ford did. Kelly Dwyer will tell you the same thing. I trust that they are way more qualified than me. Hollinger too. They all do it for a living, and nobody does a shitty job when it's for a living, right?

If all you have to rely on is a who-has-a-press-pass-collage-contest, and hyperbole ("Kobe's skill set is unmatched."), then you don't have a good argument. He can score a lot, but it's obvious he isn't productive enough as a rebounder, defender, or passer to warrant a statement like that. Maybe he's really good at all that, but doing it consistently is something he doesn't do. That's why statistics are helpful. No one can quantify everything that happens in one game, and we're talking about a long career.

12:03 PM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

I'm not talking about who has a press pass. I'm talking about what GMs, coaches, scouts and players say. Fans say things like Kobe's defense was not at an All-Defensive team level last year because Dwyane Wade scored a lot against the Lakers--yet coaches voted Kobe to the All-Defensive First Team. Why is that? Perhaps because people who watch the game with understanding realize that what happened versus Wade--and in many other games when the Lakers had defensive breakdowns--the problem was bad pick and roll defense by the Lakers' bigs. The Lakers also had a huge problem at defense with their point guard and when you have breakdowns there it has a chain reaction effect--Kobe or somebody else tries to cover that mess up, which leads to another hole. It could be the shooting guard, the small forward or someone else who ultimately scores but it was the point guard's fault.

I think that you missed my point about interpretation. It is easy to see that PER says that Kobe is not number one; I'm not questioning your interpretation of that. I am talking about how these formulas are put together. Why are you so convinced that they provide the definitive word in basketball analysis? They are a useful tool, not a divine edict. You say that you are just using it as a tool, but then you trumpet Kobe's ranking as the last word. Statistical analysis in non-basketball areas incorporates a margin of error. What is the margin of error with PER and these other systems? If a player is ranked 6th is it possible that he is actually anywhere from 3rd to 9th? A number like PER is not a fact like a scoring average; it is an interpretation of a data set that could be interpreted a lot of different ways. One could even argue with which data is used or omitted. You are just using these numbers as a shortcut for actually watching the players and understanding how they play. That's fine--Cliffs Notes were invented because people like shortcuts, but reading the Cliffs Notes is not the same as reading the book and looking at a PER list is not the same as actually scouting players.

Furthermore, as I pointed out in my example about passing/assists, the raw boxscore numbers--which are all the stat systems ultimately have to go on, no matter how they slice and dice them--don't tell the complete story.

Ford, Dwyer and Hollinger, with all due respect to them, are not what I mean when I say "insiders" (nor do I consider myself an "insider"). I'm talking about GMs, coaches, scouts and players/ex-players. The "insiders" see things differently than the fans and differently than the stat gurus. Hey, maybe the fans know more and should be running teams instead. That would be interesting.

I am not relying on hyperbole; I just did not want to repeat the list of Kobe's skill set since I've mentioned it more than once at 20 Second Timeout but since you asked, here it is:

1) Finishes at the hoop with either hand
2) Dribbles well with either hand
3) Has excellent post moves and footwork
4) Draws fouls and shoots FTs very well
5) Has three point range
6) Can get off a good shot attempt even against good defense
7) Rebounds well for his position
8) Reads double-teams well and makes the correct passes, which don't always lead to assists for two reasons: the second pass out of the trap often leads to the assist and it is not possible for anyone to get an assist if the shot is not made
9) Excellent defender, as acknowledged by the league's head coaches in All-Defensive Team voting
10) Tremendous inner drive and will to win

That list could be more detailed, with specific comments about each area, but that is a bare bones list of how a scout would look at Kobe's game. Kobe's critics mention his "highlight" plays but if you think that this is why GMs, coaches and scouts like Kobe's game then you are seriously mistaken.

The stats tell you some of what happened--but not all, because some things are not measurable or not measured--but they don't tell you how it happened.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Hot Shit College Student said...

"Why are you so convinced that they provide the definitive word in basketball analysis? They are a useful tool, not a divine edict."

No one here believes that. Stop trying to make that the issue. If you had actually read the arguments I linked to, you would be more concerned with the conclusions, not the method (again, not entirely based on numbers). And the conclusions weren't: "Kobe isn't number 1 because this says he isn't." That he's not 7 feet tall has a lot to do with it.

I was mistaken; ex-players, execs, and coaches. Got it. The same group of people Chad Ford heard pooh-pooh Kobe's value.

And forgive me if I'm going to take the last word on my own post, but you've had more than enough rope to hang yourself with.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Ty said...

Didn't David Wright just get voted as a Gold Glove winner by COACHES and MANAGERS?

Wasn't Chipper Jones pretty upset about that saying maybe Ramirez or Feliz should have won it?

Obviously players and coaches know all about who's the best.

2:56 PM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

Ty:

What does that have to do with NBA coaches voting for the All-Defensive Team or making statements about who is the best player in the league?

HSCS:

If you would carefully read Ford's article then you would notice that at the start he says he talked to insiders but the part of the article that asserts that Kobe is not the best player does not cite one quote (anonymous or otherwise) from insiders; Ford only cites the verdicts of various statistical systems. That's why I called what he did a bait and switch. The bait is Ford saying that he talked to insiders, the switch is that he does not cite any insiders who say that Kobe is not the best player.

The reality is that trading Kobe is difficult because of the size of his contract and Kobe's no trade clause.

Do you still think TT is an All-Star in the making? His coach says that TT won't even run up and down the court with any consistency (yes, I know that Skiles apologized; apparently, TT is a bit too sensitive to hear legitimate criticism). As I said before, best case scenario is that TT becomes Tyson Chandler; worst case scenario is that TT becomes Stromile Swift.

4:15 PM  
Blogger David Friedman said...

I am sure that we still disagree about Kobe's value and about how effective "advanced basketball statistics" are but I hope that we can agree that I was right about Tyrus Thomas. I think that it is safe to conclude that Tyson Chandler turned out to be better than Thomas, who you would have been "reluctant" to trade for Kobe!

6:48 PM  

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