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What is “Basketball, Stat”

I’ve always been obsessed in finding value that others don’t see. Perhaps it has to do with feeling that I played this role in teams growing up, but I’ve always believed that the “stars” in teams, whether or not it’s a sports team, receive much more credit than they should (win or lose), and then other “role players” are routinely undervalued.

For me, the example of this that I couldn’t get away from when thinking about the NBA was Shane Battier. I’ve spent so much of my NBA fandom thinking about Shane Battier, it’s quite frankly embarrassing. What was it about him that caused him to never make an All-Star team, yet still end his career in the top 60 of Volume Over Replacement Player (VORP)? He unquestionably made his team better when he was on the floor, but he never put up the counting stats to gain that recognition. To me, he epitomized the case of finding value in the role player that others may not recognize. Did he have a skill set that would allow him to lead a 20-win team into being a 40-win team? Probably not. But he had the more important value of allowing a 40-win team to break through 50-wins and above, by enabling stars around him to succeed.

And that leads us to one of the most interesting questions of basketball: How do you quantify value? The biggest misunderstanding of the analytics movement in sports is that “basketball people” feel like they’re being told what basketball is by “analytics people.” As someone who played the game (granted only at a high school level, but I’ve always played basketball) and still loves the analytics side, I think most people that are involved in analytics would tell you that they’re just trying to answer questions objectively. Are there elements of basketball, teams, and human interactions and behaviors that can’t be predicted and quantified? Absolutely!!! But anyone who is competitive is going to be looking for every edge they can find. For scouts, that might be finding a player with potential to develop skills that others don’t see. For the analytics community, that’s trying to use data to find information that isn’t visible to the naked eye.

Analytics are like a bikini, they show you a lot, but they don’t show you everything.

— Bob Myers, GM of the Golden State Warriors

So I absolutely agree with every skeptic that says that the game isn’t played on paper or that you can’t just shoot threes and layups and expect to win. Analytics isn’t about telling people what to do and how to do it. It’s about asking questions trying to learn more than your opponent to gain an edge.

And that’s what I hope to do here: ask questions. I hope that’s something that you can appreciate and enjoy. So with that, welcome to Basketball, Stat.

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