How Not to Build a 60-win NBA Team

A maxim in NBA team-building holds that you can’t win an NBA championship without a superstar, and it’s certainly true that every title team since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird featured at least one Hall of Fame player and usually at least two solid Hall of Famers and a third guy who if he wasn’t a Hall of Famer had a fine argument. There are exceptions—Stephen Curry might end up the only Hall of Famer off the 2015 Warriors depending on what Hall voters think of the career of Andre Iguodala. It’s hard to see Kyrie Irving actually ending up …

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For the love of Lithuanian basketball

The FIBA Basketball World Cup gets underway Saturday in Australia, and while the eyes of most of the NBA media are squarely on the United States team, there’s one American hoop junkie whose eyes are firmly cast to the east when picking a squad to root for. It’s not that I’m against USA Basketball per se, it’s just that one country has such an inspired history both with the sport and as a country that I have to root for them out of a go-get-em-guys admiration. I’m talking about Lithuania. “Lietuva” in the local tongue over there. For one thing, …

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PER Is a Garbage Stat and We Should Stop Using It

Player Efficiency Rating is one of the oldest advanced NBA stats, devised by John Hollinger and popularized by ESPN back in the early days of the league’s rise out of the Dark Ages in the mid-aughts. In theory, it takes the totality of a player’s contributions on the basketball court, distills it into one number, sets the league average at 15, and is sufficiently position-agnostic to make it possible to compare guards to centers the way you compare catchers to shortstops by Wins Above Replacement in baseball. In practice, it’s been all but completely superseded by Win Shares (and its …

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How Well do NBA Win Shares Correlate to Actual Wins?

In an earlier Statistical Test on this here quality NBA publication, we took a look at Value Over Replacement Player (or, as it’s known in the Pace and Space offices, One Stat to Rule Them All) and found a strong correlation between VORP and team wins that can describe a team’s win total so accurately that if you have a reasonably good way to predict a roster’s VORP in advance, you’re more than halfway to beating the over/under game in Vegas. But there’s another stat out there that claims to do the same thing, and they even went so far …

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Basketball is the Ultimate Sport About Failure

Move over, baseball. Your title as biggest sport about failure has just been usurped by basketball. Because in baseball, “you can fail 70 percent of the time and be an All-Star” is both untrue (batting average is dead; all hail on-base percentage, and you’d better be getting on base closer to two times in five if you want to be a true star) and irrelevant; once you are out, you are back in the dugout and your ability to contribute meaningfully to your team’s success is done for another two or three innings. In basketball, on the other hand, some …

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Statistical Test: Correlating VORP and NBA Team Wins

Back in May, I examined the contributions of “replacement-level” NBA players, those guys with 0.1 either side of zero VORP, and in the process tried to figure out what an entire team of those guys or their presumed G-League “replacement player” equivalents would do over the course of a season. And in that effort, I took a six-team sample size from a cross-section of NBA competence to determine a formula: Wins (per 82 games) = (2.15*aggregate VORP)+19. But it occurs to me that I can do better than just taking a sample, shoehorning a little back-of-the-envelope math into it, and …

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NBA Awards and the “Media Doesn’t Watch Games” Argument

Every time the question of analytics and the “eye test” comes up, someone starts in with the “these media guys never played the game” argument, suggesting that you have to play the game at a high level to fully understand it. Now, I don’t buy that argument for a variety of reasons. For one, most former NBA players who get into coaching tend to be awful at it. Sure, they’re great at the management of egos and the team cohesion side of the job, but when it comes to the Xs and Os, most former players revert to the style …

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How Much Value Do G-League Replacement Players Have?

One of the most useful catch-all stats in the advanced statistician’s playbook is VORP, Value Over Replacement Player. Like WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in baseball, VORP distills the value of a player’s entire offensive and defensive contribution on the floor to one number, defined by Basketball Reference as “A box score estimate of the points per 100 TEAM possessions that a player contributed above a replacement-level (-2.0) player, translated to an average team and prorated to an 82-game season.” Very long story very short, this means that a team full of replacement players would post a -5.4 net rating, and …

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The NBA has a Baseball Problem

With the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks shooting three-pointers in the playoffs like there’s an invisible electric fence installed in the arc that will shock anyone who shoots the ball between it and the restricted area, Gregg Popovich’s comments about how the NBA has devolved into a three-point shooting contest have once again been all over Twitter. To wit (and hat tip because it inspired this article)… More efficient basketball does not equal higher appealing basketball. Whoever makes the most 3’s wins. Fun sport — Billy Cliff 🏆 (@BillyCliff4) May 6, 2019 You’ll notice that the objection isn’t about analytics. …

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How Much Do High-Volume, Low-Efficiency Shooters Hurt NBA Teams?

In the NBA, there’s a certain class of scorer who puts up monumental counting stats but isn’t actually any good. You know the type. The guy who scores 30 points on 30 shots while his team loses by 20. The guy who’s as likely to shoot you out of a game as into it—as Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard once said of Lance Stephenson, “some nights he was the best player on our team and other nights he was the best player on the other team.” Guys like Josh Smith, Allen Iverson, and Jerry Stackhouse in the old days and guys …

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