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More "Advanced Analytics Tropes"

One of our favorite things around here is naming common logical pitfalls related to sports, stats, and economics (see our last batch here). Well, we're back with a few more!

You Can't Stop LeBron James

This one gets its name from Wages of Wins author David Berri. In an old podcast (that I'm far too lazy to look up the link for) Dave noted that in each sport there's a constant battle between teams to undo the other side's advantage. Pitchers learn batters' weaknesses; NFL defenses train against specific offenses. That said, the NBA is a place where despite teams knowing an exact player's strengths and plans, sometimes you just can't stop them. Paraphrasing Dave Berri: "Every team knows LeBron James is the best player on the other team. Every team knows he's going to try to score. So why don't they stop him? Because they can't! Because he's just that better than them." And, of course, this is one of the most important aspects that sets the NBA apart from other sports. You can pitch around batters. You can run the right scheme around specific offenses in football. But in the NBA? You can't stop the truly dominant players!

Remember the Linsanity

In February of 2012, Jeremy Lin got to start for the New York Knicks. Jeremy Lin had been a bench player that had been bounced around a few teams until then. Jeremy Lin proceeded to go on a tear. He scored lots of points, the Knicks won lots of games. And, as always happens, people started comparing Jeremy Lin to former greats like Michael Jordan. Jeremy Lin has remained a decent NBA player. He's currently playing the best ball of his career for Brooklyn. However, he never turned into a superstar. And I feel he's important every time I see a player have a good month. It's easy to assume a player suddenly doing well means they've figured the game out and are a star and will be an "unstoppable" LeBron. That said, the NBA is full of streaky play, and it's always important to remember that when you see a few good games or even a good month out of a player.

The NBA League Pass Director

Here's a Vine of Victor Oladipo doing a sick dunk. Watch it! There's no real way not to date this entry, so here's what I decided on, hope you like it.

Alright, how many NBA players could you see at the time of the dunk*? I counted maybe seven. How many refs? I think I saw one. How about the coaches? You can only see one bench. One of the biggest hits I hear analytics getting is: "Watch the games!" or sometimes, smugly and incorrectly: "You nerds don't watch the games!" (I've written about this before) But I feel a funny thing people miss is even if you watch the games, you are not watching it "pure." Whichever TV station you choose picks the angles to use, the players to focus on, the plays to replay. And even completely ignoring the "box score vs. live viewing" argument, I feel it's important to note that the live viewing still has flaws, even if you believe your memory and perception are excellent, which they're not, sorry.

*Updated from the original post. Thanks to cedric, who noted that at the start of the clip, all the players are visible.


Alright, there you go! Sorry about the absence of content for a while here. Life gets busy. That said, we should be back with the Boxscore Geeks show next week, and we have tons to talk about! See you then.

-Dre

Not to nit pick, but you see all 10 players on the floor in the Oladipo clip. I'm not familiar with OKC to name them all, but there is Adams and Westbrook next to the key, Kanter (?) coming to set a pick, Oladipo of course with the ball, and some guard at the bottom (who you can see find a lovely open spot for a 3 point shot at the top if Oladipo dishes to him). There are 3 defenders in the paint for Atlanta, and 2 guards for the action between Kanter/Oladipo.
Bill Simmons seems to be an endless source of miguided tropes. On a recent podcast after the rockets had an off night against the Jazz (in the midst of a 5 game road trip where they went 4-1 with a road win over the Warriors) he said that the Jazz showed the league the blueprint for stopping Harden. Pump the brakes, Bill. He also added that this game showed that the Rockets style won't work in the playoffs, adding another dumb trope from the self proclaimed body language expert who has called Harden a cancer and poor leader.
cedric,
Thanks for the note! You're right. I updated the point. Didn't go into more depth but that's even part of the issue, players go in and out of frame all the time. What were they doing "off camera?" Who knows!

MathSez,
Yup! There are some games too like that - "The recipe is for Curry to go 1-5 on uncontested threes and from random guy to score 90% from midrange." Good recipe!
I listen to all the Simmons podcasts about the NBA, and I like him. But I totally agree that he is an endless source of tropes -- he's got his ideas ("irrational heat check guy", "bad body language", etc.) and many of them either come from the NBA conventional wisdom or are the source of NBA conventional wisdom. And many of them are wrong.

I wish he'd have an NBA guy on his podcasts that would challenge him once or twice, instead of just agreeing with him about everything. But I guess that's probably too much to ask.
BTW, Lin is not playing his best basketball for Brooklyn right now. Instead, he's playing his best imitation of a fashion star, sitting on the bench. He's been injured since the 5th game of the season. (As a Nets fan, I know this all too well, since his replacements have been completely awful -- WP48s in negative territory.)
cedric:
the players on the floor for OKC are: Adams, Sabonis, Roberson, Oladipo, and Westbrook
I absolutely love the work that is done on this sight but still have one foot firmly placed in the "eye test" camp. I think shots are the only stat that are truly binary and the rest have some degree of subjectivity. And OKC gave up 16 orb's and 30 fta's vs Houston last night---that would suggest either a leaky perimeter or poor rotations. It wold take eyes to determine the causes.
No one is saying that watching games does not have any value even Patrick mentioned before that he enjoys watching bballbreakdown's analysis of different offensive and defensive plays, the problem is when one totally relies on eye test.

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