Stats How It Is, Part II

I’mna continue on from yesterday’s NYT article that I talked about in Part I (better known as the part that didn’t realize it was Part I and instead initially felt like it was a fully formed blog that needed no other blogs to complete it.  The moral: we all need someone/thing.  Even the blogs.)  The article’s thrust actually was that the hi-def cameras would help strategies by taking statistical analysis to the next level.  The thing is, the reason basketball stats are so simple and years behind say baseball isn’t due to the fact that we haven’t had the technology.  It’s because we haven’t figured out what exactly we want to measure and what formulas we’d need to do so.  That’s the hard part.  Once people derive the formulas, probably a high school student would have the mathematical ability to calculate those stats.

As has been said many times, part of the problem with evaluating basketball at a statistical level is that there are so many variables occurring simultaneously.  In baseball, there’s just one batter standing there and one pitcher throwing to him from a constant set distance.  This also limits the complexity of defensive schemes, versus say in the article they talk about how these cameras can measure exactly how far away you were from the man you were supposed to be covering.  But maybe your coach told you to sneak into the lanes to help out on Kobe, and thus to try to actually get your man to shoot it.  And a defensive scheme can change within a game.  Maybe your coach wants you to cheat off your man to help defend Paul Pierce, but when Eddie House comes in with his sizzling three-point shot, your coach says forget helping, stick to House like gum on a shoe.

The variations are endless.  If you guard someone like Rondo, your coach will probably have you play that extra step off, versus when you’re on Ray Allen you’ll be told to crowd him so he has no space to get off his smooth jumper.  Or maybe your coach specifically wants you to play the way Phil Jackson frequently uses Kobe: as a roamer to sneak into lanes and pick passes off or to try and steal the ball from unsuspecting big men.  Coaches also have some variations on how they want the team to play help D.  When a perimeter player gets burned, the big man on that side usually steps up, but who moves to cover his now open man?  The other big?  The defender covering the shooter on the weak side?

So yes, now the NBA can capture every single movement in a game no matter how slight it is.  This will be a huge boon for basketball.  But how?  That’s the question that will likely keep on being asked for a long, long while.

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