Quantifying the Absurd Plays and Players of the NBA: Steve McPherson, writing for BallerBall

Oh how I wish…how I wish I’d thought of this. ESPN recently introduced a new metric (!) they are calling “Real Plus-Minus” which attempts to focus on that elusive thing we are calling the “signal” and not all that obnoxious “noise,” in relation to the often misleading “plus/minus” stat that has now been incorporated into box scores for a few years.

Side note: As a short and out of shape sophomore on my junior varsity hoops team, I accumulated a minus-311 in one game…or something close to that).

Over the last year, I stumbled upon a similar stat, “Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus” at the site www.gotbuckets.com (courtesy of @talkingpractice). I’m sure there are a half-dozen variations which attempt to quantify a player’s overall impact on the game in one number, either separating defensive and offensive categories or into two numbers or incorporating them both into one. I don’t think ESPN is doing anything particularly groundbreaking with “Real Plus-Minus,” but they are announcing to the intelligent basketball fan, through their universally worldwide sports-leading platform, that the old plus-minus is rather noisy.

If Nate Silver gives someone the middle finger while screaming at them, is he giving them the signal AND the noise? (Insert visual image here)

In any event, Steve McPherson has written a wonderfully funny piece for BallerBall, which introduces yet another controversial advanced stat “Surreal Plus-Minus.” In the below piece, one of the more memorable misses this year, if not in NBA history (Swaggy P wasn’t so swaggy after that in-and-out situation, and Tyson Chandler’s season just keeps getting more frustrating.)

McPherson contributes to the NYTimes Off the Dribble blog, Grantland, and the NBA sites A Wolf Among Wolves and Hardwood Paroxysm (yes, he’s something of an NBA internet journeyman) writing at ballerball.com, on surreal plus-minus. Here’s the opening:

The moment the first basketball players made some helpless nerd write down the final score of their games, the analytics movement was born. Surely these first box scores — now lost to the sands of time — were the analytical equivalent of the Lascaux cave paintings: rudimentary, crude, conveying only the most abstract impression of the game as it existed on the court.

In the quest for clarity, more and more categories of statistic were invented and recorded, all in an effort to better represent the game: rebounds, assists, blocks, field goal percentage. Eventually: effective field goal percentage, offensive rating, defensive rating, player efficiency rating. And now: estimated player value and real plus-minus.

As introduced by ESPN, one of the goals of real plus-minus is to reduce the noise that clutters standard plus-minus stats. It’s another step towards ever greater fidelity in the numbers, bringing the box score closer and closer to photographic replication of the game, to a high definition representation of the sport itself.

But what about the absurd?

Surely there’s no metric that can adequately convey this:


No all-in-one statistic that can explain this:


There never has been. Until now.

Allow me to introduce surreal plus-minus. Let’s take a quick tour through some games from this past season and see how surreal plus-minus can help us understand them.

To read the full post, click here: http://ballerball.com/ceci-nest-pas-une-metric/


To check out McPherson’s proposal for pop-culturally-accurate new NBA team names, click here: http://grantland.com/the-triangle/a-modest-proposal-for-more-pop-culturally-accurate-nba-team-names/

Hooray for the unpredictability of the game of roundball.


On a less surreal note:

Generations: NBA Fathers and Sons

A story from Scott Cacciola of the NYTimes, back on February 15. This piece reflects on the generational links between fathers and sons in the NBA, being an NBA player’s little boy, and other aspects of the lives of these current NBA players and their dads. Among those mentioned: Stephen and Dell Curry, Tim Hardaway (Jr. and Sr.), Mychal and Klay Thompson, Gerald Henderson (both the current Bobcat and his father, the man who stole the ball in the 1987 NBA Finals). Perhaps in the coming generations, we won’t have so many boys named after their fathers, and there would be less confusion.

It’s a great read: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/sports/basketball/a-generational-wealth-of-nba-talent.html




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