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David Friedman: The Strengths and Limitations of Advanced Basketball Statistics (3/10/12)

Everyone loves a good sport debate (ok maybe not everyone but certainly most die hard sports fans that frequent message boards and blogs).  All over the internet right now there are arguments happening on Twitter, Facebook and various message boards debating all types of things from whether the Broncos should get Manning and dump Tebow, whether the Rams committed highway robbery trading the number 2 overall pick to the Redskins for 3 number 1 picks and a number 2 pick (although not much to argue there), and of course whether or not Steve Nash is the greatest offensive player of all time.  Which brings us to David Friedman’s latest article discussing the strengths and limitations of advanced basketball statistics.  He covers a number of things in the article but perhaps nothing sums it up more then the following excerpt:

“”Advanced basketball statistics” can be useful as a supplement to traditional box score data and to the observations of trained scouts/coaches–but some “stat gurus” (and their media sycophants) do a disservice to their cause by overstating the meaning and reliability of their data (I suspect that legitimate researchers into basketball statistics cringe every time they read one of Henry Abbott’s biased, tendentious rants)”

The strengths and limitations of advanced basketball stats

Then there’s his take from near the end of the article on “clutch shots” that may hit a little close to home for some of the authors on this site:

“This stuff is so foolish that I cannot believe that it is a topic for supposedly serious discussion; the problems with sample size are so obvious that it should be readily apparent that “clutch shot” data is, at best, a fun, frivolous stat to consider lightly, and not something that is worthy of in depth debate.”

Well, whether or not it’s worthy of debate is completely subjective but it certainly will not stop the masses from discussing it ad nauseum.  In any case if you’ve read some of the more popular articles on this site then this is definitely one you need to read.


8 Responses to “David Friedman: The Strengths and Limitations of Advanced Basketball Statistics (3/10/12)”

  1. Amen to that!

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | March 10, 2012, 10:36 am
  2. Great article been saying this for years you can’t measure ho good someone is using only stats. It’s a great way to back up your stance on a subject, but you have to watch the games as well.

    Posted by J | March 10, 2012, 5:27 pm
  3. I think what the core of the Friedman article was that despite the traditional stat metrics are still more reflective of true value. The “advanced” metrics can provide further illumination, but in of themselves, are highly subjective and thus should not be trusted as any type of definitive or de facto conclusion.

    The “eye test” can be just as misleading as PER or TS%

    The things that should be considered are points and the measurements that lead to points, specifically, rebounds and assists, blocks and steals. The sum of those parts can go a long way into telling us who is great and who is not.

    When using traditional metrics with proper proportions of Volume, Rate and Environment, the advanced metrics can often provide supplement. Most effectively in cases where the other data is essentially equal.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | March 10, 2012, 8:12 pm
    • Agreed

      Posted by J | March 10, 2012, 8:39 pm
      • I think Friedman realizes that the eyeball test can often be biased and wrong, but after reading many of his articles, I think he thinks that it’s by far the best way to analyze players, and so would I, if the person actually tries to take bias out of the equation as much as possible. He does think stats are important and uses them as well, but to truly understand what’s going, you have to actually watch the game.

        I think rebs/ass/stls/blks are only a part of the equation. You can be a great defender and get few stls/blks, and vice versa.

        Part of the problem is that much of the media is very anti-kobe; simmons, abbott, and dwyer, to name a few. They have an agenda to bash kobe as much as possible, and a large platform in which to do so. Then, if they write a kobe-bashing article, such as him shooting too much or somehow arriving at a conclusion that he’s not clutch, then their readers, even some well-informed readers are going to think that. These are eye-catching articles as well. Kobe’s the #1 lightning rod of topics. So, they could care less if their analysis isn’t logical if it denigrates kobe. The other thing is that abbott blindly follows dave berri, who created WP, and believes that watching games is completely pointless and irrelevant.

        Another thing is that Kobe’s advanced stat metrics aren’t necessarily always up that high, so many of these stat guys just don’t get it if all they do is look at their computers all day long that he really is that good, which they’re advanced stats don’t often say. I don’t know how anyone could think the guys over at WoW are even remotely credible. I look at their website just for the amusement occasionally. Almost every article is worthless. They base their entire conclusions off of one stat: WP, and it’s not that good of an advanced stat to begin with. 2 examples are they think bargnani is one of the worst or worst player on the raptors, and another I remember is that they think sefolosha was better than kobe last year. Oh yea, the 4 worst players for WP last year were aaron brooks, cousins, bargnani, and beasley. And they believe that. I think it’s safe to say these 4 players were nowhere near the worst players in the nba last year.

        I find most of the topics on this website to be interesting, but the way many of the writers go about their analysis seems very illogical. Small sample size is only one of many critiques for some of the articles. I don’t have a problem with going against the norms. But, when you sit back and then read what you wrote, and you’re saying something like chandler is an elite offensive player or that nash is the best offensive player ever, regardless of what some of the metrics might say to suggest that, you just shouldn’t write stuff like that. It makes no sense to write about some stuff like that. I can’t think of even one other player who won 1 MVP, let alone 2, who played alongside multiple AS for most of his career to not at least make 1 or more finals appearances. Take Baylor for one example, he never won a title, but he made it to the finals many years, and he never won MVP. He’d put Nash to shame. And almost every other big-time player when paired with a legitimate team, made some real noise at some pt.

        Posted by boyer | March 10, 2012, 9:38 pm
  4. Boyer,

    Your writings would have FAR FAR more credibility if you left your affection for Kobe aside.

    Bryant is far from a tragic figure that gets needlessly picked on.

    As I have said many many many times, Bryant is a great great player. Unique in that he has played at a high level for a long time, is a great defender, all time great free throw shooter, and one of the rare talents that can attack the rim and still has an effective outside game, but you must stop using Bryant as your example for every injustice that happens in NBA writing.


    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | March 10, 2012, 10:07 pm
    • Paulienuts, you unfortunately don’t realize that a lot of these stathead articles are primarily written to denigrate Kobe. It’s the simple truth. This is what makes the advanced stat basketball society so disgenuous and often worthless.

      I don’t want to use Kobe, because then guys like you whine about the excuse of it. But, Kobe is the prime example. It shouldn’t take long for you or anyone else to realize that by looking around. How many posts has abbott had denigrating kobe? And then compare that to the rest of the league even?

      Posted by boyer | March 11, 2012, 1:52 pm
  5. Since I don’t really bother with reading other posts, I wouldn’t know, or really care what Abbott, or anyone else writes.

    I have commented on this site when I have read really ignorant comments. That has happened far too often and likely I shall cease as the egregiousness of the “statheads” is apparent.

    I do agree with you that Kobe is far too often cited in the negative, but that could be just a push-back from too much Kobe slobbering that others may interpret.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | March 11, 2012, 8:48 pm

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