Category Archives: General

Thoughts On the 2010 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

MIT SSACOn Saturday, I had the distinct honor and privilege of attending the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, where a virtual “who’s who” of basketball analysts were on hand to listen to panelists that ranged from Daryl Morey, Mark Cuban, and Kevin Pritchard to John Hollinger, Dean Oliver, and even Bill Simmons. It was such a great experience and a thrill to meet many of my fellow APBRmetricians, so here are some of my hoops-related impressions from the conference:

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Adam Morrison, Meet Barry Parkhill

Last time around, we ran a study using a system of estimating Win Shares in seasons prior to 1978, and I wanted to touch a little on how that was done. Basically, I ran an OLS regression on all pre-1978 players, based on player stats (plus age & height) from 1978-2007, that estimated their “missing” totals — turnovers prior to ’78, TO/BLK/STL prior to 1974, etc. Whenever team stats were available, I scaled up/down the individual numbers to match team totals. When team numbers weren’t available, I had to estimate them as well using the same method, and then makle sure the individuals matched the teams. In other words, the team numbers always superceded the individual totals.

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The 220-Three Club

No, that title shouldn’t be interpreted as a particularly butchered way of writing “The 223 Club”… It’s about guys who made at least 220 3-point field goals in a single season.

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The NBA: It’s Dynastic!

Over the past few decades, “parity” has been the major watchword in professional sports, as frustrated owners feeling statistically eliminated from postseason contention on Opening Day lobbied for changes like salary caps and wild-card playoff spots to even the playing field. And it seems to have worked: at one point the NFL was seeing surprise teams (St. Louis 1999, Baltimore 2000, New England 2001) win the Super Bowl every year, and MLB hasn’t seen a repeat champion since the Yankees in 2000.

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So, Who’s This “Replacement Player” I Keep Hearing About, Anyway?

This past week,’s John Hollinger rolled out a new stat that compares a player’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) to that of a “replacement-level” player, in an effort to incorporate minutes played into an evaluation of the player’s worth. Said JH:

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Love & Basketball

As I’m sure many of you already know from Justin’s post last Monday, my father passed away suddenly from complications of pneumonia last Saturday at the age of 59. First of all, I’d like to thank everyone for their love and support during this difficult time for me and my family. It means a lot to have people thinking of and praying for us right now, while we try to sort this tragedy out. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to focus on the minutiae of turnover rates and true shooting percentages when life’s big things place themselves squarely in front of your face. At the same time, though, I thought I would share a little bit today about my dad and what the game of basketball meant to our relationship. After all, I wouldn’t be here writing for you guys if it weren’t for him introducing me to the game many years ago.

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Player Profile: Marvin Williams

If the NBA season ended today, the Atlanta Hawks (18-21) would make the playoffs for the first time since the 1998-99 season. Now, obviously, this speaks more to the inadequacy of the Eastern Conference beyond its top 2-3 teams than anything else, but the Hawks still deserve credit for at least partially emerging from the hole they’ve dug for themselves ever since trading Steve Smith to Portland for Isaiah Rider way back in 1999. One of the biggest reasons for Atlanta’s improvement has been the emergence of third-year forward Marvin Williams, who is finally cashing in on the promise he showed when Atlanta drafted him 2nd overall in the 2005 NBA Draft. Last night, Williams scored a career-high 33 points in a win over Seattle, and he has been one of the Hawks’ catalysts all season long. Today we’re going to look at Williams game, and highlight the improvements Williams has made to turn from a draft bust to one of the better young forwards in the game.

Physical Tools: Williams has never lacked in this area — he’s 6-9 with good quickness and leaping ability. If anything, the knock on him has been that he lacks strength, but he’s improved that in recent years, and the Hawks have also been masking this problem by having him check fewer power forwards than they did a year ago.

Offense: This is where Williams has improved markedly in 2007-08. First, the stats: (glossary)

 Season         Age     Tm     ORtg    %Pos    DRtg
2005-06     19    ATL     108.5    16.5    111.7
2006-07     20    ATL     101.3    19.5    109.5
2007-08        21    ATL    113.1    20.4    106.0

In his rookie year, Williams was not asked to take a big role in the offense and responded with a decent level of efficiency, but when forced to make more plays in his second year, he looked pretty lost out there. This year, though, Williams has made a quantum leap, increasing his offensive role and posting a big leap in efficiency, making him one of the most improved players in the league so far this season.

How has he done it? Well, mainly he’s been more assertive in going to the basket. He’s settling for fewer jumpers, attacking the rim more (his dunks are up as well), and finishing much better inside. Williams’ ballhandling has never been a major strength, but he’s turning the ball over much less despite having the ball in his hands more frequently. He’s also gotten a lot better at taking guys off the dribble, especially when going to his left. As a result, Williams has been drawing fouls at a very high rate and generally feasting at the free throw line, where he’s a career 79% shooter. Any time you can attack the basket and either finish strong or draw a foul, you’re going to be successful on offense, and that’s exactly what Williams is doing more often this year.

Hot Zones:

Defense: Despite his length and athleticism, defense has never been a particular strength for Williams, but you can see his improvement this season when you look at the Hawks’ overall defensive performance, as well as how their defense changes when he’s off the floor. A few years ago, Atlanta was a laughingstock at that end, but they’ve quietly become one of the 10 best defenses in the league so far this year. Williams’ individual improvement may not be apparent from the raw numbers — aside from a slight increase in his steal rate, his box score defensive stats look identical to that of past seasons — but he’s making his biggest impact in ways the box score can’t measure. In the past, Williams’ presence on the floor made a bad defensive team even worse, but this year a decent Atlanta D has been even better with Williams in the game. Now, many of his minutes have come alongside defensive standout Josh Smith and solid rookie Al Horford, but you can’t discount the effect of Williams’ defensive improvement on the Hawks, either. He’s tall and quick enough to guard multiple positions, and his improved understanding of team defensive concepts has really helped the Hawks become a solid defensive team. Remember, Williams would be a senior in college if he had stayed in school, so it’s no surprise that he’s just now coming into his own as a player, especially when it comes to the mental aspects of the game.

Williams may never escape the shadow of the man he was drafted over, Chris Paul — especially since Paul is having an MVP-caliber season in 2007-08 — but he has done a good job of adapting to the NBA game in his third year, and is finally on his way to proving worthy of the hype that surrounded him coming out of North Carolina. If the Hawks do end up stopping their playoff drought this year, it will be because Williams has improved so dramatically over the form he showed in his first two seasons.