The lucky, unlucky Bucks

Check out my recent podcast with David Beckworth, where I discuss one of the most underrated economists of the 20th century.

Most readers will want to skip this wallow in boomer nostalgia, but since my favorite sports team won the title last night I’ll indulge in dredging up some old memories. (Which is fitting, since I’m currently reading In Search of Lost Time.)

First a comment on the post title. I believe the Bucks were a bit lucky in winning the NBA championship this year. But I also think they are a mostly unlucky franchise. They’ve been good enough to win about four titles during their 53 year history, but have only two. (With average luck, they’d have had two in the 70s, one in the 1980s, and one in 2019-21.)

Because of this bad luck, they’ve been on the fringes of the consciousness on most NBA fans, in the shadow of more glamorous franchises. But even a bland midwestern franchise like the Bucks is more interesting than you think.

Two years ago, if Kawhi’s 4 bouncer doesn’t drop in against Philly, the Bucks probably win the title. Even if it does drop in, the Bucks probably win the title if the Bucks go 23/33 at the free line in game three against Toronto, instead of 22/33. The difference between winning and losing is often really close. Think of Ray Allen’s shot that beat the Spurs, or the injuries to Detroit in 1988 that cost them a title and indeed changed the whole narrative of “the 80s”. Or the injury to Chris Paul than kept him out of game 7 of Houston/Golden State.

Entire career reputations rest partly on luck. Kawhi’s a great player, but if that shot didn’t bounce in then his reputation today would be much lower. Giannis is even greater than Kawhi, but if Kevin Durant doesn’t wear oversize sneakers in game 7 against Milwaukee, then Giannis’s reputation is lower today, and Brooklyn or Phoenix would have a title. (Durant wears one size too big, and Brooklyn failed to win game seven as his foot was 1/4 inch over the three point line on the last shot of regulation.)

The Bucks and Phoenix came into the league in 1968, and I’ve followed the Bucks from the beginning. The two teams tied for the worst record, and the Bucks won the famous coin flip for the first pick in the 1969 draft. The Bucks picked Lew Alcindor (now Kareem), who had the most impressive career of any player ever. I’m not saying he was better than Michael or LeBron, as the game is getting more competitive over time. But Kareem had 6 championships and 6 MVPs. Oh, and he scored more points than anyone ever, while also being an excellent rebounder, passer and shot blocker. And he scored the most points despite staying in college for 4 years, where he won 3 national championships. (Freshman did not qualify for varsity teams in those days.) His signature shot would be just as unstoppable today as it was then. He’s also one of the brightest intellectuals ever to play in the NBA, the author of many books. He’s my favorite athlete in any sport.

Lots of NBA fans know about Kareem, but how many know that in the same draft the Bucks picked Hall of Famer Bobby Dandridge in the 4th round! Kareem plus Dandridge was the best single draft in NBA history, even better than Jordan and whoever else they got. Lots of NBA fans know that Kareem and Oscar Robertson won a title in 1971, the third year of the Bucks existence, but how many know that even the 1969-70 Bucks were really, really good, and didn’t even have Oscar? In one year, rookies Kareem and Dandridge took the worst team in the NBA up into the elite.

With average luck, the Bucks would have won another 1970s championship. No luck was involved in 1971 when they rolled over all the opposition, winning the finals in four straight, none of which were close. The next year they faced what was once regarded as the greatest team in NBA history–the 69-win Lakers, which had the famous 33 game winning streak in the regular season. (A streak ended by the Bucks, just as they ended several other famous winning streaks.) But as great as the 1972 Lakers were, the Bucks were just as good—but not as lucky. The Bucks crushed the Lakers by more than 20 points in game one (in LA). The Lakers barely won game two in LA by one point (on a bad call from the referee.) The Lakers barely won game three, and then the Bucks crushed them by more than 25 points in game 4. The Lakers won the series, but the Bucks outscored them by 14 points overall. Bad luck. In 1974, the Bucks lost to the Celtics in 7 games. More bad luck. With average luck they’d have had titles in 1971 and either 1972 or 1974. (Bucks injuries also played a role, especially in 1974.) The Bucks were the first NBA team ever to have three straight 60 win seasons.

Kareem forced a trade to LA, and the Bucks rebuilt under the innovative coach Don Nelson (and later Del Harris) in the 1980s. The 1980s team epitomizes the history of the Bucks, always falling a bit short, always in the shadow of other teams. No “superstars”. They had 7 straight 50 win teams. By 1991, the Bucks were the third winningest team in NBA history (if my memory is correct.)

The year they came closest was 1981, when after the mid-year trade for Bob Lanier they were probably the best team in the NBA. But they lost by one point in game seven to Philly, which had the home court advantage. Philly then lost by one point in game seven to the Celtics, which had the home court advantage. To this day, I think the Bucks were the best of the three on a neutral court. All through the 1980s, things never broke their way. They swept the Celtics 4 straight in 1983, but that was the year when Philly was a juggernaut.

When people think of famous 1980s rivalries, they think Lakers/Celtics or Celtics/Philly. But by far the biggest rivalry was Bucks/Philly:

The Sixers and Bucks met six times in the span of seven postseasons between 1981 and 1987 for a total of 34 games. Philadelphia won four of those series, Milwaukee two. There was even a coda playoff match in 1991 for good measure.

Those other rivalries by comparison:

Sixers versus Celtics had 24 games over four series.

Celtics versus Lakers had 19 games over three series.

Pistons versus Celtics had 22 games over four series.

Sixers versus Lakers had 16 games over three series.

Again, Sixers versus Bucks had 34 games over six series with three of them going to a do-or-die contest.

With average luck, the Bucks might have won one title in the 1980s (probably 1981, but another year if their rivals all had a down years at the same time.) And not only was the team underrated, always in the shadow of other teams, players like Sidney Moncrief were also underrated, in the shadow of players who were flashier (like the Julius Erving of the 1980s) but not any more talented.

There were actually two Bucks 1980s teams. In mid-decade, they traded some older players for younger players like Cummings, Pierce and Hodges, and kept playing at a high level until 1991. That trade was what impressed upon me the importance of age, and it’s why I knew the Nets trade a decade ago would be a disaster.

The 1990s were a down decade. Some younger fans recall the 2001 playoff series with Philly and feel the refs screwed us by suspending a key Bucks player for the final game. But I doubt they would have beaten the Lakers that year, even though the Bucks were 8-0 against the top four Western conference teams during the regular season. So I’d give them at most a 10% chance at the title that year.

I sometimes read commentary on the Bucks in internet forums or at No Tech Ben, and am surprised that all the fans seem so young. I don’t recall a single other fan who followed the team in its first year (before Kareem). (I tried to, but few games were on TV back then, and there were many years (such as 1973-81) when I didn’t even own a TV set.) Still, it’s nice to feel part of a community with shared interests.

Seeing them win the title last night, and then thinking about the person I was back in 1971 when I first saw them win, makes me think about the passage of time. I was 15, now I’m 65. I don’t even feel like I’m the same person. It’s certainly not the same NBA.

The two Bucks championships are like bookends to my life as a sports fan. Fifty years of misery has ended.

PS. Charles Barkley called it.

PPS. Bucks in 6!

PPPS. If only the final score had been 120-104. 🙁

PPPPS. Fifty points and five blocks in a closeout finals game? Don’t think I’ll live to see that one broken. (But we can’t vote for Giannis for MVP because he’s just a regular season player.)

PPPPPS. Winning a title is nice for fans, and even nicer when the key players on the team are likable individuals.


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87 Responses to “The lucky, unlucky Bucks”

  1. Gravatar of blastoise blastoise
    21. July 2021 at 09:04

    Did you see Giannis requested a trade in the post game interview? 🙂

  2. Gravatar of danny danny
    21. July 2021 at 09:19

    Given all of your other eclectic interests I’m surprised you’re a sports fan at all.

  3. Gravatar of Michael S Rulle Michael S Rulle
    21. July 2021 at 09:59

    One of Scott’s greatest attributes is he is a sports fan—-I could not figure out why Mil Bucks—is his favorite team in sports—but —he went to Madison—still–why not Packers—or Brewers—or for that matter the Cowboys?

    I am guessing of course. I do not know where he went to HS—or when he decided to go to Wis/Madison. I am guessing at age 17 it was easy to really like a team with Robertson and Alcindor—(my cousin was drafted by that team and broke his knee 2 weeks in!—gonzo.). I was a Knick and Laker fan those years (Chamberlain and Reed/Frazier). I have rooted for many teams in many sports—-and most of the time I can trace why. So Scott might tell us why.

    The Greek Freak was sensational—-as their coach says the team is extremely coachable—and it definitely cements Antetokounmpo’s rep for all time. Take it from a highly reluctant Net’s fan—-I hate the team I root for—-their coach–a great player (but not truly great—no titles) is a “faculty advisor”. They never should have signed the 3 bigs—I do not like that style of putting teams together—the Bucks are “old school” in that sense.

    Yes Scott is a fan—because like all fans he is completely irrational (hence fan from Fanatic). There are a million pieces of luck in any game—-but in the end—I believe the better team will win- (no, I cannot prove it—certainly not from one season—but 4 in a row to close it out—that seems like less luck—also, Ray Allen is a super star—see–I too am a fanantic.

    Since I am one of those guys who believes that great players need to win Championships (the inverse is not true) to be truly great, I am glad for the Freak–Again–I believe he won because he IS a Champ–Players believe that too.

    But I would still like to know why Scott love the Bucks!

  4. Gravatar of Michael S Rulle Michael S Rulle
    21. July 2021 at 10:07

    One of Scott’s greatest attributes is he is a sports fan—-I cannot figure out why Mil Bucks—is his favorite team in sports—but —he went to Madison—still–why not Packers—or Brewers—or for that matter the Cowboys?

    I am guessing of course. I do not know where he went to HS—or when he decided to go to Wis/Madison. I am guessing at age 17 it was easy to really like a team with Robertson and Alcindor—(my cousin was drafted by that team and broke his knee 2 weeks in!—gonzo.). I was a Knick and Laker fan those years (Chamberlain and Reed/Frazier). I have rooted for many teams in many sports—-and most of the time I can trace why. So Scott might tell us why.

    The Greek Freak was sensational—-as their coach says the team is extremely coachable—and it definitely cements Antetokounmpo’s rep for all time. Take it from a highly reluctant Nets fan—-I hate the team I root for—-their coach–a great player (but not truly great—no titles) is a “faculty advisor”. They never should have signed the 3 bigs—I do not like that style of putting teams together—the Bucks are “old school” in that sense.

    Yes, Scott is a fan—because like all fans he is completely irrational (hence fan from Fanatic). There are a million pieces of luck in any game—-but in the end—I believe the better team will win- (no, I cannot prove it—certainly not from one season—but 4 in a row to close it out—that seems like less luck—also, Ray Allen is a superstar—see–I too am a fanatic).

    Since I am one of those guys who believes that great players need to win Championships (the inverse is not true) to be truly great, I am glad for the Freak–Again–I believe he won because he IS a Champ–Players believe that too.

    But I would still like to know why Scott loves the Bucks!

  5. Gravatar of Michael S Rulle Michael S Rulle
    21. July 2021 at 10:13

    I just noticed—you moderate me? Or all writers?—that is disappointing if it is just me.—since you moderate, I assume this will be erased since I am just asking you a private question. I have never noticed it before—so maybe it is new—or I just never noticed. I hate to exhibit my paranoia. But I just did.

  6. Gravatar of LC LC
    21. July 2021 at 11:22

    Congrats to the Bucks. Giannis was a beast and Suns had no answer. Being a long suffering Suns fan, I can relate to the unlucky breaks. Monty Williams showed a lot of class going over to the Bucks locker room and offered his congratulation. I hope the Suns win a title and break the 53+ year drought.

  7. Gravatar of David R Henderson David R Henderson
    21. July 2021 at 12:30

    Great series.

    I didn’t have a dog in the hunt, but after seeing what scum so many of the Phoenix fans were when Giannis was shooting free throws, I shifted strongly to the Bucks.

    Question: In the last quarter of game 4, the refs did a particularly bad job. They completely missed Booker’s 6th foul about 4 minutes from the end. But also, and no one else has commented on this, didn’t they also miss Jrue Holiday’s travel and then double dribble after his amazing steal from Booker (with less than a minute left)? That’s the play that resulted in that amazing ally-oop to Giannis.

  8. Gravatar of David R Henderson David R Henderson
    21. July 2021 at 12:44

    Oops. My question might have been about game 5. It’s the one with the Jrue steal and the alley-oop.

  9. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    21. July 2021 at 13:21

    I’m so happy for you, Prof.Sumner!

    And I’m so happy for the city of Milwaukee and state of Wisconsin!

    Even though I’m a Rockets fan! And think Kevin Durant (and Hakeem and MJ) are/were so much more beautiful to watch play than Giannis.

    How’s that for a back-handed compliment! LOL

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. July 2021 at 13:43

    Michael, The moderation is automatic, not my decision. Did you use your middle initial in previous posts?

    LC, I like the Suns team, and Monty Williams is probably the classiest guy in the entire NBA. The series could have gone either way.

    David, Yes, the officials miss a number of calls. Some fans worry about it more than I do. I’m just kind of fatalistic about it. The only thing that really annoys me is when they get it wrong after a replay. I also hate when players lean into another player to draw a foul on a three.

    The funny thing about that Booker 6th foul is that it almost looked like an intentional foul. I think each team benefited from iffy calls both ways.

    Travis, Yes, those guys are more aesthetically pleasing. Giannis is actually the most fun to watch on defense. But also on fast breaks, when he can do moves that no other 7 footer in history could do. His agility on spins is insane for a 6’11” guy.

  11. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    21. July 2021 at 15:00

    Interesting observations, as always.

    You left out 1973, so I had to go take a look. How did Milwaukee lose to that Golden State team? Rick Barry got hurt in game 2 (apparently) and only played 140 minutes in the (6 game) series.

    Maybe Jimmy the Gent and Henry Hill were seen around Milwaukee at the time?

    1973 was another chance to win a title for the Bucks nonetheless, they were great that year too.

    It must have been upsetting to people in Wisconsin to wake up one day and find out they were in the (dreary) East and not the (cool) West.

    Maybe the Bucks could have won the title in 2001, but would you really want that? One fun thing about the NBA is that random “okay” teams never win the title, like they do in baseball and football. (Or maybe I should say “have never won the title,” going back 60 years, at least).

    (I do like the way those 8 wins against the top teams in the West function as a chink in a great wall of futility, allowing a gleam of light into the soul of a Bucks fan).

  12. Gravatar of Brian Donohue Brian Donohue
    21. July 2021 at 15:16

    Very good post. Kareem is a fascinating dude. Always had a soft spot for the Bucks myself, good on them.

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. July 2021 at 15:22

    anon/portly, I don’t recall 1973 very well, although I do recall seeing Rick Barry play in Madison.

    We did outscore them by a total of 15 points, losing 4-2.

    In the 1980s, we would have been better off being in the West. Just one great team to get by.

    Thanks Brian.

  14. Gravatar of Student Student
    21. July 2021 at 16:13

    Great series and cool post. Did not know all that about the bucks. While I don’t think they even get back next year, it is scary that Giannis isn’t even all that close to his peak yet.

  15. Gravatar of Todd Ramsey Todd Ramsey
    21. July 2021 at 16:14

    Jabbar, Dandridge…and Flynn Robinson!

  16. Gravatar of bb bb
    21. July 2021 at 16:21

    Scott,
    Happy for you. Great team- Love Jrue and PJ, and obviously Giannis. I’ve also always thought Butenhouser is a great coach. Don’t care about luck, especially not missed free throws or point differentials, and definitely not in the NBA. 82 games, 7 games series- best teams usually win and the Bucks were the best team this year.
    Never reason from a point differential 😉
    Also love Kareem for all the same reasons. As a Wiz fan, love Dandridge too.
    Flat out, this years Bucks were a great team and deserved to win. Let the other 31 teams talk about luck.
    I think Basketball is the best game too, and the NBA championship is the hardest championship to win of the big 4.
    Go bucks!

  17. Gravatar of rwperu34 rwperu34
    21. July 2021 at 17:48

    Good post.

    I’d have to say the Bucks are officially the Suns nemesis. First the coin flip, now this. I’m not an NBA fan, but I was lucky enough to be able to attend Game 5. The last NBA game I attended was a Suns preseason game in 2004.

  18. Gravatar of Mike Weiss Mike Weiss
    21. July 2021 at 18:04

    Congratulations and great post!

    Just for some trivia related to “best single draft in NBA history, even better than Jordan and whoever else they got:”

    The Bulls 1984 10th round pick out of the University of Houston was Carl Lewis. Best single draft of athletic talent?

  19. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    21. July 2021 at 18:59

    Since this is a celebratory post, I’m hoping that Scott comes back to revisit comments for an uncharacteristic third time…
    Since you’re a deep thinker about most things, I thought it was worth asking you the question that Jerry Seinfeld once did: Why do you support a sports team? About the only team I (weakly) support these days is the Indian cricket team, because that’s the country of my birth and I share many physical attributes of the players, which means I outwardly appear to ‘belong’ as their supporter, and growing up in moderately racist Australia in the 1980s, it seemed natural to align myself with my home country’s team. Perhaps that’s not a particularly satisfactory reason, but it’s something.
    But in modern domestic sports like Australian Rules, American NFL, NBA, etc, the players often don’t share any geographical or cultural commonalities. Plus, they move around, often for money. I more-or-less stopped supporting my Aussie Rules team in my teens because I decided that it was crazy to feel miserable for half a day after they lost – something I had no control over. My Aussie Rules-loving friends say “it’s about the jumper”, which is what Seinfeld settled on, “you’re actually rooting for the clothes”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=we-L7w1K5Zo
    Do you have a more profound answer?

  20. Gravatar of Garrett Garrett
    21. July 2021 at 19:01

    Michael,

    Scott’s pretty tall, so when he first blogged about being a basketball and Bucks fan I figured he played as a kid. Not sure if he ever mentioned if he did though.

  21. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    21. July 2021 at 19:25

    @Rajat:

    Love that Seinfeld but, but the answer is fandom is about being in a club/tribe/party with shared memories and goals and jerseys. Often your family (parents) get you on board with their teams, or your friends at school.

    The players matter less than being part of the tribe, you love them on your team and wish them well but stop watching them on other teams. You are a fan of The xxxxxers and you’re in the club.

  22. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    21. July 2021 at 21:14

    “In the 1980s, [Milwaukee] would have been better off being in the West. Just one great team to get by.”

    There’s various contenders, I think, for “best team to never win an NBA title,” but “best team to never make it to the NBA finals” has to be the Nelson Bucks, I would guess. Maybe I’m not thinking of someone. The D’Antoni Suns are the only other team I’d consider.

  23. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    21. July 2021 at 21:20

    Yes, msgkings, I totally get that – in fact, it’s the only possible explanation from what I can tell. But I don’t think I have any group attachments or affiliations (outside of family) that I’ve kept since childhood. Normally, we examine these things as we get older and tend to jettison those that no longer serve a purpose. I accept that if people’s social connections are closely associated with sporting fandom, then the fandom makes sense. But I doubt that would be Scott. I guess ultimately human beings have feelings and many have a need to belong to something. Maybe there’s a gene for this need?

  24. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    21. July 2021 at 21:49

    “Since I am one of those guys who believes that great players need to win Championships (the inverse is not true) to be truly great, I am glad for the Freak–Again–I believe he won because he IS a Champ–Players believe that too.”

    Kind of curious what the inverse of this formulation would be, but in any case this strikes me as both inaccurate and unimaginative – but I realize this is the way many people think.

    I don’t think Michael Jordan was any better because the Bulls drafted Pippin. I don’t think Kareem was any better because the Lakers got Magic. I don’t Olajuwon was any better because the Rockets came out of the West in the two Jordan interregnum years and not in two Jordan years. Minnesota and Boston can’t work out the Garnett deal? Garnett’s still every bit as good. Walton injures his foot 365 or even 300 days earlier? He’s still just as good.

    As I said above, I love that NBA champs are always good, which is why I find the idea of the 2001 Bucks winning a title kind of ugh. (George Karl can’t get the Kemp/Payton Sonics past the Campbell/Van Exel Lakers and he’s not only going to get the Allen/Robinson/Cassell Bucks past the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, he’s going to get *them* past the one indisputably great Shaq/Kobe Laker team? Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh!). But many teams that don’t win a title are really good too, and sometimes just unlucky.

    (The Karl point may be annoying, but simply has to be said, I’m sorry).

  25. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    22. July 2021 at 05:39

    (no Mid initial—-:-))

    My HS was in the same group of Catholic School leagues as Power Memorial——Lew Alcindor was so great his games were televised (local WOR) when he was a Freshman in HS. Needless to say, I was a big Alcindor fan——and of course a big Kareem fan. I used Alcindor in my comment because he won the Championship in 71 with the big O when he was still calling himself Lew Alcindor.

    And of course, I always referred to him as Kareem Abdul Jabbar after 1971.

  26. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    22. July 2021 at 05:49

    To Anon

    Chill guy. Maybe my English is bad——by inverse I meant that just because you win a championship does not mean you are great. I think that is correct usage but am glad to be corrected—-perhaps you can help.

    Fans opinions are irrelevant—-including mine and yours. They are opinions. They are not provable or falsifiable——but they still can be right—or wrong. We will just never know. However, if you do not think Kareem was better as a function of Robertson and Magic I could not disagree more. It implies players cannot make other players on their team more effective——which is the opposite of what every Basketball coach in history believes. Especially the ones who win

    Cannot prove it——or disprove it. One of the cool things about sports.

  27. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    22. July 2021 at 06:25

    PS—-Anon/portly

    Kareem also made Magic and the Big O more effective——I do not believe in the additive principle in Basketball (X+X = 2x)——I believe in the compound principle——X times X= X squared. The latter is learned—-and is hard. The former is what we call today ISO (isolation) ball—-a losers way to play

  28. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    22. July 2021 at 08:35

    Don’t follow NBA basketball, haven’t for decades, but glad to see my fellow countryman Γιάννης Σίνα-Ούγκο Αντετοκούνμπο did well. The power of diversity, of immigration, but keep in mind in Greece he got very little state help (but what can you expect from a country of only 10M people mired in bureaucracy). More important to me is that NBC is to broadcast the World championship chess match this November–will Scott tune in? A brainy guy like him must like chess?

  29. Gravatar of rayward rayward
    22. July 2021 at 09:55

    Ending the NBA season in July is absurd. The reason isn’t the number of regular season games (it’s been 82 for years), it’s the number of teams that make the playoffs, 16. Back in the day when the season ended in the spring, only eight teams made the playoffs. The NBA has become the NHL.

  30. Gravatar of bb bb
    22. July 2021 at 10:33

    Fandom is easy to explain. It’s just another form of identity. And identity usually leads to dogma. I think sports is a great place to put your dogma, because it’s much less likely than political party or ideology dogma to do significant harm. We’d be better off if the folks who stormed the capital stormed the court instead. And to be fair, we’d also be better off if folks on the left put more of their emotions into sports instead of politics.
    Plus it’s more fun.

  31. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    22. July 2021 at 10:36

    I’m not sure from the way you wrote the sentence but are you claiming that Sidney Moncrief was an equivalent talent to Dr. J. or are you saying simply that like Dr. J. he was overshadowed unfairly? If you’re making the claim that he was as talented as Dr. J., then I have to call you on some blatant homerism. Just take a look at their career Player Efficiency Rating numbers. Moncrief is sandwiched between Andrei Kirilenko and Sam Jones. Dr. J. is sandwiched between Hakeem and Bird.
    https://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/per_career.html

  32. Gravatar of henry henry
    22. July 2021 at 11:05

    It’s a bit strange that you are nostalgic for the more egalitarian and optimistic 1970’s, when your backward policies take us further away from that society.

    For over thirty years, you’ve sent Wisconsin’s good paying jobs to Xinjiang, where thousands of Muslims work in internment camps. – That’s also where the bigoted Ben and Jerry’s get’s their supplies. But I’m happy you enjoyed the game. Wisconsin’s couldn’t, since they are more worried about how to pay for food and water.

    I can hear the reply already:

    “But they can code, right?” Actually no, those jobs are being outsourced too.

    “But surely, they can be truck drivers and/or work in grocery stores?” No, those jobs are being automated.

    Instead of promoting Ricardian trade theory, which only focuses on efficiency, you might actually want to listen to the workers and the Entrepreneurs! ​

    Tariffs save jobs, lower profit margins, reduce the gap between the rich and poor, and permit mom and pops to compete. If you combine Tariffs with tax reform: that is, removing the double Irish and the double dutch, then you might actually level the playing field.

    But no, Sumner would rather force us to pay 70% of our taxes to the government, so that Billy Bob Joe can survive on DOLE. At some point, there won’t be any small businesses left to pay Billy Bob Joe! And the MNC’s Double Irish with the Dutch sandwich won’t be contributing to tax revenue.

    Welcome to Greece!

  33. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. July 2021 at 11:30

    Todd, I forgot that he was in that draft.

    bb, Agree that basketball is the best game. Much more entertaining to watch than football or especially baseball.

    Mike, I forgot they had a 10th round.

    Rajat, I find the games entertaining to watch. Obviously the choice of team is arbitrary, when I was young we typically chose the home team because that was the one could could watch on TV. When I moved to Boston in 1982, I was already fully invested in the Don Nelson Bucks.

    It’s like if someone is born in Saudi Arabia they probably become a Muslim. If then then move to France, they often remain a Muslim.

    Garrett, When they chose sides in gym class, I was the last picked despite being the tallest. Odd.

    Ray, You asked:

    “More important to me is that NBC is to broadcast the World championship chess match this November–will Scott tune in?”

    Perhaps if there is no “watching paint dry” show on an alternative channel.

    Carl, I said the Moncrief was as good as the Erving of the 1980s. Moncrief’s numbers are probably dragged down by the injuries which slowed him late in his career. But 1980-85 he was pretty great. Do those ratings show defense, which was his forte?

    Or maybe I’m just a homer, as you say. Checking the numbers it does look like Erving was better even in the early 1980s. For some reason I had wrongly thought that Erving was better in the 1970s.

    Henry, You said:

    “For over thirty years, you’ve sent Wisconsin’s good paying jobs to Xinjiang, where thousands of Muslims work in internment camps.”

    LOL!!

  34. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    22. July 2021 at 11:47

    “Fans opinions are irrelevant—-including mine and yours. They are opinions. They are not provable or falsifiable——but they still can be right—or wrong. We will just never know. However, if you do not think Kareem was better as a function of Robertson and Magic I could not disagree more. It implies players cannot make other players on their team more effective——which is the opposite of what every Basketball coach in history believes. Especially the ones who win[.]”

    After the “opinions are irrelevent” and “just never know” preamble, the preamble is implicitly disagreed with because actual arguments are made in the support of an idea. If opinions are irrelevant, why make an argument, at all? If we’ll just never know, what’s the point of making an argument?

    Anyway, I think it’s a good argument, not irrelevant and I agree with it and think a lot of data could be mustered in support of it, so not something we’ll “just never know” at all.

    Players do make other players better, in the “team” sense, for sure. Sometimes two great players complement each other and sometimes they don’t.

    But if a great player happens not to be paired with other players who don’t complement him or who he doesn’t complement, that doesn’t make him any less great (with the caveat that of course being able to fit with diverse types of players and lineups is itself an important facet of greatness).

    If you actually want to disagree with my argument, then make a specific argument of the type “I would say X was a great player if they’d won a championship, but since they didn’t, I say they weren’t truly great.” Or “I think Y was a truly great player, but if they’d never won a title I would not think was true.” Name an X and a Y.

  35. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    22. July 2021 at 12:54

    Maybe a better response to MR would be just to quote SS here:

    “Two years ago, if Kawhi’s 4 bouncer doesn’t drop in against Philly, the Bucks probably win the title. Even if it does drop in, the Bucks probably win the title if the Bucks go 23/33 at the free line in game three against Toronto, instead of 22/33. The difference between winning and losing is often really close. Think of Ray Allen’s shot that beat the Spurs, or the injuries to Detroit in 1988 that cost them a title and indeed changed the whole narrative of “the 80s”. Or the injury to Chris Paul than kept him out of game 7 of Houston/Golden State.”

    This to me is total wisdom. I actually think of it somewhat differently; to me the key thing with Milwaukee in 2019 is that they were clearly more than good enough to win a title in a normal year; of course that wasn’t ostensibly a normal year since the Curry/Durant Warriors were still together, but it became a normal one when the Warriors got hurt.

    Instead of thinking about the 4 bounces and the free throws in some game, they way I think about it is that in many years, Milwaukee in 2019 was good enough to get to the finals without much incident, but this was a year with two very good teams in the East and maybe Toronto got hot (see: Van Vleet, Fred) and Milwaukee got a little off at just the right time. Or maybe it was really a 50/50 (or 40/60 or 60/40, whatever) series and one team was going to win, this time it was Toronto.

    The 2019 Bucks are probably a better team than many teams that have won titles, going 60-22 plus 10-5 and leading the league in point differential.

  36. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    22. July 2021 at 13:42

    Milwaukee drafted Ray Allen in 1997. In Allen’s 3rd year, George Karl was added as coach for a 5-year run with records of 28-22, 42-40, 52-30, 41-41 and 42-40.

    For most of this time the key players stayed the same: Allen, Robinson, Cassell, Tim Thomas, Ervin Johnson.

    In the fourth of those five years, they added 35 year old Anthony Mason and 34 year old Greg Anthony to the mix, no doubt indulging George Karl’s preference for vets. (They seem to have had a real GM, since during his tenure there I don’t think they indulged much his other marked preference, scapegoats). They missed the playoffs.

    In the fifth year they were 27-26 and then traded (for reasons that Scott Sumner may remember; I don’t) Ray Allen for the much older Gary Payton, plus the maybe-promising (it turned out not so much) Desmond Mason. (Sonic fans hated to see Payton go but the age difference was kind of an obvious plus).

    After yet another .500-ish season and first-round playoff exit, Karl was either shown the door, pushed his way out or something (it doesn’t matter).

    Final Karl-years playoff record: 14-18. Number of playoff series won: 2! Number of series won against good teams: 0!

    Yet the idea is floated of this outfit beating the 2001 Lakers, fresh off sweeps of San Antonio (2 years removed from a title in both directions) and Sacramento (a mm or two from a title the following year).

    Conclusion: Scott Sumner doesn’t believe in the Basketball Gods, up in Basketball Valhalla. I can’t even imagine an idea that would be more offensive to Them. Oh well.

  37. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    22. July 2021 at 13:58

    One of the knocks against PER ratings is that it overemphasizes offensive production. It includes blocks and steals but that’s about all for defense. But if you look at career defensive rating, Dr. J has the edge there as well:https://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/def_rtg_career.html. The numbers hold up pretty well for the first few years of the 80’s too.

  38. Gravatar of copans copans
    22. July 2021 at 16:05

    The mention of Kareem inspires me to points out (once again) at one time he was first alphabetically of all NBA-ABA basketball players and was the all-time leader in points. In baseball, the all-time leader in RBIs was also first alphabetically for an overlapping period (Henry Aaron, who also had beginnings in Milwaukee). Both have been supplanted alphabetically.

    Side note: And Gary Ablett, Jr is a great Australian Rules Football player and so was his father.

  39. Gravatar of steve steve
    23. July 2021 at 02:34

    Moved around a bit but mostly lived in Milwaukee and small towns in Indiana. At 17 joined the Navy and got sent to Philly where I eventually became a Sixers fan.

    I think the roles of Lucius Allen and Jon McGlocklin are under appreciated. McGlocklin was a heck of a shooter. Allen hadn’t peaked yet but brought real athleticism to the team. I would agree it was bad luck that kept that team from winning another championship. From the POV of a then Sixers fan I think it was more of a rivalry from the Bucks POV. The goal was to beat the Celtics.

    I will disagree a bit about 2109 and 2020. The Bucks only win a championship in those years if they get lucky. You really need that 3rd star to win. You can win with 2 real superstars and some luck, but while Giannis fits the bill Middleton is too inconsistent. He can play at superstar level intermittently but not consistently. They needed Jrue.

    Totally agree it was great to see a class act like Giannis win. Now for a repeat. Wonder if Holiday will be too old. Maybe Dante makes up for it?

    Steve

  40. Gravatar of bb bb
    23. July 2021 at 06:44

    @Steve,
    You are 100% right. I don’t see the Bucks winning without Jrue. In fact I don’t see them winning without PJ Tucker, who defended KD and got in his head through out that series.

  41. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    23. July 2021 at 07:38

    Anon/portly

    I enjoy our little discussion. When I said “opinions are Irrelevant”–I meant in the “scientific sense” of proof. But I might need to back off on that a little bit. The gamblings’ spreads are very hard to beat—on average over time—The more one bets the spread, gradually over time you approach the vig—and lose.

    But just because I have an opinion I believe is correct (e.g., my analogy of compound versus additive)—and I can cherry pick why they are correct (to be clear—I do believe in my opinions) does not mean I am right, wrong or random. I can definitely say our opinions are irrelevant in the “proof” sense—-but that does NOT mean one’s opinions cannot be right—in the objective sense—it is just hard to prove. I have backed off from impossible to prove—because of the difficulty of beating spreads—We can do some kind of multiple comparison tests—and maybe some can prove (in the p-value sense) their opinions are correct. But opinions are hard to define—you and I have been discussing ideas about why teams win—not that they win—-

    Sports are fun. I love stats in sports—although they are very hard to use effectively. Baseball has gone to the extreme in “Iso”–even though it is the most ISO sport naturally. I have come to believe the following—players are more athletic, stronger, faster–etc—but they do not know how to play baseball—-they have gone iso extreme.

    But perhaps

  42. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    23. July 2021 at 08:17

    Anon/portly

    RE: your X Y question.

    I keep saying I have an opinion about certain things that are not provable or falsifiable—so I can give an answer to your question but it is just a plug–it shows nothing—-because my evidence is my premise—which of course is absurd. But I will still give it a try. Given my premise, your X and Y are the same things.

    I have already stated Truly Great players must win championships—that is a premise–in your example neither X and Y won. So let me give an interesting answer which almost addresses your question.

    You first need to know who Tex Winter is. I definitely believed in real-time, before Winter/Jackson showed up with the Bulls, that Jordon was great–but not truly great (meaning no championships). My opinion is (“opinion”) he would have been Karl Malone or George Gervin without Tex an Phil.

    After Tex and Phi arrived—-the high coachable Jordon began to win–every year. He became great because of the compound effect (okay–let’s just say it—the triangle offence) of MJ and the Triangle made him truly great.

    Without them, he would have not been who he has become—Opinion—but at least I had that view in real time

  43. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. July 2021 at 09:39

    anon/portly OK. less than 10%. Maybe an injury to Shaq or Kobe?

    Carl, OK, you may be right. BTW, is that the rating that overrates big men?

    copans, Now that’s trivia!

    Steve, Yes, and McGlocklin shot lots of “threes” that counted as two back then. And he still was a 50% shooter!

    Disagree about 2019. The Bucks were just as good as Toronto, and that team also lacked a third superstar. The Bucks probably had a 50% chance of a title once the Warriors were hit by injuries.

    People tend to ignore the role of luck, and retroactively decide that Kawhi is “clutch” and Giannis is not. Does Fred Van Vleet hitting an insane number of threes make Kawhi clutch?

    bb, Sure, this year they needed Jrue, but in 2019 the team was far deeper. Overall, I’d say the 2019 team was better. And Bledsoe was also a great defensive guard with an inconsistent shot. Jrue’s clearly better, but elsewhere the Bucks were stronger in 2019. Jrue was essentially their only playable guard (PJ was their “shooting” guard–imagine that!), whereas the 2019 team had Brogdan and a George Hill who was still pretty good.

  44. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    23. July 2021 at 14:57

    From, https://www.basketball-reference.com/about/ratings.html,

    Out of necessity (owing to a lack of defensive data in the basic boxscore), individual Defensive Ratings are heavily influenced by the team’s defensive efficiency. They assume that all teammates are equally good (per minute) at forcing non-steal turnovers and non-block misses, as well as assuming that all teammates face the same number of total possessions per minute.

    Perhaps as a byproduct, big men tend to have the best Defensive Ratings (although Oliver notes that history’s best defensive teams were generally anchored by dominant defensive big men, suggesting that those types of players are the most important to a team’s defensive success). A corollary to this is that excellent perimeter defenders who don’t steal the ball a lot — for instance, Joe Dumars or Doug Christie — are underrated defensively by DRtg, and are prone to look only as good as their team’s overall defense performs.

    Eyeballing the list, it does seem strongly weighted towards bigs. For example, Marcus Camby comes in a full 42 rankings above Kawhi. But that may make it all the more noteworthy that Dr. J comes in at 31.

  45. Gravatar of nick nick
    23. July 2021 at 15:53

    The name of the “Woke” Jew Hater at Ben & Jerry’s is “Anuradha Mittal”.

    She’s the radical leftist behind their bigoted boycott.

    Unfortunately for the bigots, and fortunately for the sane and reasonable, that boycott is unconstitutional. Not only will it be struck down, but the radical third-rate ice-cream manufacturer will have to compensate their supply chain contracts.

    Woke = Broke.

  46. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    23. July 2021 at 16:22

    “anon/portly OK. less than 10%. Maybe an injury to Shaq or Kobe?”

    I admit, it’s really the George Karl thing that motivated my stupid comment. After coaching the Sonics to two of the greatest upsets in NBA playoff history (maybe the two greatest, actually), he’s going pull of a third one, and now in the other direction?

    I actually think the Shaq/Kobe Lakers are a little overrated, they got lucky to win three straight, maybe. But that year they were 11-0 coming into the finals. Against the teams ranked 1, 2 and 5 in point differential that year. #3, 4 and 6 – the Lakers – were also in the West that year, and teams in the West averaged 44.5 wins. (I.e. 17.5 – 10.5 vs. the East).

    There have been some years where two teams have met in the Finals with a quality differential like the Milwaukee/LA one in 2001, and maybe it’s true that the weaker team in reality has a 5-10% chance of winning the series, but it’s notable that so far not has one pulled off the upset. I don’t think one has even made the series competitive.

  47. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    23. July 2021 at 16:25

    The sign that an NBA fan is not a dilettante or poseur is that they occasionally mention what a travesty it is that Seattle doesn’t have a team.

    https://twitter.com/mtaibbi/status/1418653014240411649

  48. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    23. July 2021 at 16:56

    “After Tex and Phi arrived—-the high coachable Jord[a]n began to win–every year. He became great because of the compound effect (okay–let’s just say it—the triangle offence) of MJ and the Triangle made him truly great.”

    This is actually a different point than the “name X and Y challenge” point, unless you’re saying that if he’d never won a title, MJ would not have been truly great.

    In a counterfactual where they don’t hire Phil and Tex, it is certainly possible to imagine that MJ might never have won a title.

    Is it thus possible that MJ – despite averaging 35 a game over the three years before they arrived – would have not been “truly great?”

  49. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    23. July 2021 at 16:57

    “In a counterfactual where they don’t hire Phil and Tex, it is certainly possible to imagine that MJ might never have won a title.”

    Maybe they hire George Karl instead!

  50. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. July 2021 at 17:04

    Carl, I used to wonder if the pro-big bias reflected the fact that some entry passes to bigs are almost like shots. If the big catches it near the basket it’s a very high percentage shot, if it doesn’t get through to him then the guard gets credited with a turnover.

    Early in the playoffs, Ayton was shooting close to 90% in some games. But that wasn’t scalable in the way it would be for a guard.

    anon/portly. My memory is fuzzy on all that. I sort of recall LA being lucky against Portland, and also Sacramento–perhaps two different years, but presumably not 2001.

    I wasn’t a knowledgable fan back then, and I might have been unduly influenced by the Bucks beating LA in both regular season games. I do sort of think the Bucks were better than their 52-30 record. That team had a lot of offensive talent, but could be lazy at times. (Not like the current Bucks.) But they could beat good teams when they put their mind to it. People forget that even Tim Thomas was really good for a brief period. I recall him once hitting 8 three pointers in a half, and Ray Allen once said Thomas could be the best player in the league if he wanted to.

    Alas, he didn’t.

    Of course Kevin Garnett once said Thon Maker was a future MVP. LOL. The Milwaukee fan base figured out Maker was three years older just days after the draft—why couldn’t the team have known that?

    Agree about Seattle. How crazy is it that a couple years after moving they had three future MVPs on OKC at the same time. If that team could have stuck together . . .

  51. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    23. July 2021 at 17:06

    “Maybe they hire George Karl instead!”

    After a disastrous first-round playoff exit in 1990 to Milwaukee, George blames the loss on Pippen, who is then traded straight up for Dale Ellis.

  52. Gravatar of John S John S
    24. July 2021 at 08:39

    Your main point that short-term randomness disproportionately affects our evaluations of players and franchises is certainly valid. But I believe that type of bias is already at its lowest ebb ever, and it will continue to recede as sports analytics insights diffuse through the general fan population.

    The heart of your criticism is a restatement of a concept poker players have known for a long time: “Avoid results-oriented thinking.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if your all-in bet gets called by a massive underdog that spikes a winner on the final card. That’s just random luck. Instead, the correct way to evaluate one’s play is to examine your expected value (EV), based on the probable ranges of cards held by you and your opponent, at the moment all the money went in. The actual results (short-term variance) are merely speed bumps on the path of long-run EV.

    In the nearly two decades since Moneyball, EV-oriented thinking has permeated every corner of advanced sports analysis and even the actual construction and running of teams. Cy Young Award voters don’t care about wins anymore (e.g. In 2019 deGrom, with an 11-8 record, got 99% of all possible votes). Hitters don’t care about strikeouts and swing all-out nearly every time, confident that exit velocity and launch angle will generate optimal long-term results. And of course NBA teams continue to aggressively push the high-variance (but +EV) long-ball strategy to its limits (nearly 40% of all FG attempts were threes this year — another all-time high).

    In terms of winner/ring/luck bias, I assure you that all of today’s bball cognoscenti (Nate Duncan, John Hollinger, Danny Leroux, Ben Taylor, Ben Falk, et al.) are well aware of the problem. In fact, a college student has recently created a site that charts the EV of each shot based on 90 variables including location, player skill, type of shot (catch & shoot, pull-up, floater, etc), and defender closeout. The model claims to be 90% accurate at predicting actual wins/losses when a team’s ShotQuality EV margin exceeds 15 points. (Incidentally, the model shows that the Bucks already had an EV advantage starting from Game 2).

    https://shotquality.com/stats-explained

    Regardless of how many rings he wins, by the time Giannis is elected to the Hall of Fame I believe he will be considered at minimum a top-five player with perhaps a 10% chance of being considered the GOAT. In terms of his peak I’d say that he’s already in the top six with Jordan-Lebron-Kareem, Hakeem, and Curry** with a good chance of ranking fourth in the next few years. So I think you can rest easy about his reputation.

    The people who matter and are capable of understanding your point about luck and legacy — analysts, voters, and GMs — have already internalized it. (Heck, even “old school” indie analysts like Bill Simmons are already about 80% up to speed on analytics.) So the only ones left are “the masses” and blowhards who cater to them like ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. But who cares about them?

    ** The notable omission is Shaq. I think he ranks just outside this group because, for better or worse, the “skill” of flopping has improved dramatically in the last 20 years and the effectiveness of his bruising interior play would be heavily blunted today.

  53. Gravatar of John S John S
    24. July 2021 at 08:50

    Btw, the most unlucky player this year was clearly Durant: Harden injury, Kyrie (freak accident), toe on the line, and Jeff Green’s foot injury (his floor spacing and a normal level of mobility would like have tipped it to the Nets).

  54. Gravatar of steve steve
    24. July 2021 at 08:59

    Spent some time looking for teams that might have had a better draft than Kareem/Dandridge. The only one I think that was clearly better was 56 Celtics, and for that you have to include a trade with or for a draft choice, Bill Russell in that case. Maybe the 86 Cavaliers since people forget about Price. With Kareem as one of the coaches it is hard to compete.

    Steve

  55. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. July 2021 at 10:24

    John, Interesting that Curry rates above KD. Is that the general view? I don’t know enough to comment on the comparison.

    I have always thought that Jordon-LeBron-Kareem were the top three, so I’m glad to see you have them there.

    Steve, I’m not even sure that’s the best Cleveland draft. I think I’d prefer Lebron plus a 90-year person in a wheelchair. 🙂

  56. Gravatar of John S John S
    24. July 2021 at 15:25

    I think the general consensus is that Curry’s supernova peak from around 2014-17 is better than Durant’s peaks (MVP in 2014 and first couple GS seasons). However, in the 2019 playoffs before his injury, Durant dominated the offense (34 ppg to Curry’s 24, on better shooting splits with more FTs) while providing key rim protection and help defense (over 1 block & steal per game). At that moment, just about all the analysts had him as the #1 player in world.

    So it’s tough to say. Also, as we just saw, Durant may have another peak run in him (and Curry might, too). Career-wise, the next three years will likely decide it.

    Re: one number metrics, PER is regarded as quite outdated since it gives too much weight to inefficient, high-volume shooting. In 2020, Basketball Referenced revamped its Box Plus-Minus (BPM 2.0) with lots of new data (for context, Lg. Avg. = 0.0, MVP = 8.0, peak Jordan/Lebron = 10.0+). BPM is a rate stat (per 100 team possessions), and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) combines BPM and playing time to estimate value over a season.

    Of course this isn’t the end-all-be-all metric (defense, as always, is hazy), but according to these metrics Moncrief played at a high all-star level (4.5 BPM, 18.4 VORP) compared to Erving’s near-MVP level (6.9 BPM, 24.2 VORP, 1 MVP in ’81) from 1980-84. So while it’s fair to say that Moncrief was underrated by casual fans, it’s really not accurate to say he was just as talented, esp. since he was 7 years younger. (The yearly VORP gap is less than the BPM gap b/c Moncrief played more minutes as Erving aged, but that reflects more work, not equal talent.)

    https://www.basketball-reference.com/about/bpm2.html

  57. Gravatar of John S John S
    24. July 2021 at 15:54

    I also think you are underrating Kawhi by quite a lot. Yes, I know the 4-bouncer and VanVleet’s 7/9 on threes (albeit on 7/13 overall shooting) make a nice story, but Kawhi actually had the game-high BPM of 19.2 compared to VanVleet’s 10.9 in Game 5 (Kawhi also played slightly more minutes, 40 to 37). So it’s not like Kawhi did nothing that game or in the next (and he was the best player vs. both PHI and MIL).

    Kawhi has really had some monstrous playoff runs. He owns 3 of the top-30 playoff run BPMs of all time… not including 2019 (which ranks 40th). His 2017 run (BPM 14.25) ranks 4th all-time — many have already forgotten that the Spurs were up by 21 with 8:00 left in the 3rd in Game 1 vs. the Super-Warriors before Kawhi was taken out by Zaza’s dirty play (GS went on to win by just two). Talk about unlucky! He probably had a 50/50 shot at taking out the most infamous team of all time and would have been an even bigger legend.

    https://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/bpm_season_p.html

  58. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. July 2021 at 08:41

    John, I wasn’t trying to downgrade Kawhi, rather merely pointing to how reputations among casual fans often hinge on small differences (even if those reputations are undeserved, either too high or too low.) If the 4 bouncer doesn’t go in, then he doesn’t get to shine in the rest of the playoffs. Fans then remember his mediocre performance next year for the Clippers. (And the injury this year.)

    What do the metrics say about Carmelo Anthony? He’s always seemed overrated to me.

    I think we were out-coached in the Toronto series. But coaching is a part of the game, so Toronto deserved to win the series.

  59. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    25. July 2021 at 10:29

    “I sort of recall LA being lucky against Portland, and also Sacramento–perhaps two different years, but presumably not 2001.”

    2000 Western Conference finals Lakers in game 7 were down by 13 to Portland entering the 4th quarter; 2002 Western Conference finals game 7 had the “Big Shot Bob” 3-pointer at the buzzer (off a long rebound/loose ball scramble – similar to Ray Allen shot vs. Spurs) to send game to OT.

  60. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. July 2021 at 10:33

    They would have been down 16 if Brian Shaw hadn’t banked in a 3 pointer at the end of the third quarter. Pippen should have 7 titles.

  61. Gravatar of John S John S
    25. July 2021 at 15:41

    (To clarify, don’t take any of this personally. Just pretend this is bullshit chit-chat at a pub.)

    I guess I’m just confused about why you even care about what casual fans think about Kawhi or Giannis’ “clutch” reputations.

    In the original post, you said “most NBA fans”. But do you literally mean the middle two-thirds of the distribution? I kid you not — for this group, the NBA and pro wrestling are perfect substitutes. Maybe you really do mean this group, but it seems so incongruous on this blog. It would be like if in one of your film posts you wrote, “Most moviegoers think Fast and Furious 11 is better than Transformers 6, but that’s absolutely not the case.” What would be the point?

    I’m assuming you would classify yourself as an upper middlebrow viewer, so the true highbrow analysts (not me –- I just consume highbrow content) would presumably already understand your point about luck and reputation.

    So by process of elimination, I’m guessing you mean the group of fans from around the 85-98th percentile, centered around 90. Bill Simmons territory. (Btw, Simmons’ “Book of Basketball” is the Platonic ideal of middlebrow bball analysis. Some good stuff –- he got me to look up clips of David Thompson, imo the first modern attacking guard and a walking “Say No to Drugs” ad –- but with massive dollops of homerism and the ludicrous assertion that if Isiah Thomas had come up today, he would easily add a 3-pt shot to his game. How someone could believe this, yet still have the business acumen to accumulate $100MM, gives me more doubts about the soundness of our economic system than any number of Marxist or MMT tracts.)

    So which group are you referring to: the true casuals or the middlebrows?

    Also, what’s your personal opinion: Is Kawhi a clutch player or not? In my opinion, he definitely is — two great Finals performances early in his career, plus he completely dominated both the PHI and MIL series in 2019 (34.7 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 4 apg, .634 True shooting% and 29.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, 2.2 spg, .574 TS% while defending Giannis from Game 3, if I recall correctly). Kawhi wasn’t really that much of a beneficiary of luck, either: in PHI Game 7, his teammates shot 5-21 on threes (.238 3 pt%); MIL Game 3 (OT), VanVleet and Danny Green combined for 2-14 (.143); MIL Game 5, excluding Kawhi’s own 5-8, his teammates shot .371 from three, not far off the team’s normal average. (I guess you could say that Kawhi was lucky to hit 5-8, but it seems unfair to penalize a player for his own good shooting.)

    “If the 4 bouncer doesn’t go in, then he doesn’t get to shine in the rest of the playoffs.”

    Technically, not true. The Raptors would have been favored at home in overtime, and he would have had at least a 55-60% chance to advance.

    As for Carmelo, what can I say? He’s the poster child for analytics hate: 4.0 BPM (mainly due to horrible defense) over best 5-year stretch, so low All-Star consideration. He’s had a nice little comeback in Portland, however, so I’m happy for him –- 40% 3pt shooting in the last two years. Still terrible on defense, but he has to be commended for accepting a bit role after years of superstar treatment.

  62. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. July 2021 at 16:14

    John, You said:

    “I guess I’m just confused about why you even care about what casual fans think about Kawhi or Giannis’ “clutch” reputations.”

    I don’t.

    Readers of this blog cover a wide distribution. Most know little about sports, at least compared to you and anon/portly and Carl.

    I forgot the Kawhi shot was a two, for some reason I thought it was a three. And yes, I think he’s a clutch player. I really like his game.

  63. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    25. July 2021 at 16:16

    I’m not SS (obviously) but I’ll throw in my response to the KL/GA query:

    I would have said the big Kawhi/Giannis difference is Kawhi is more of a conventional type of player, with conventional strengths, whereas Giannis is more “freakish.”

    All great players in all sports are “clutch,” by any meaningful definition of the word. So the question might really be how great Giannis really is – maybe his skill set works better in the regular season but good teams can slow him down in the postseason, maybe? (As was maybe somewhat true of Shaq, at least until Kobe developed into a star).

    Anyway I haven’t been following GA’s career at all closely but he seems pretty great….

  64. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    25. July 2021 at 16:23

    “I have always thought that Jordon-LeBron-Kareem were the top three, so I’m glad to see you have them there.”

    This page on the “Box Plus/Minus” (BPM) stat that John S references is fun:

    https://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/bpm_progress.html

    The stat begins in 1974. Kareem has the record for best single-season BPM from 1974 to 1986. Then Jordan breaks it and holds it through 2008. Then LeBron breaks it and holds it through now. So only those three have held the record.

  65. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    25. July 2021 at 16:32

    Also on the BPM stat it’s kind of amazing that from 1974 to 2002 – 29 years – only 6 players led the league. Kareem (6 years), Erving (3), Bird (4), Jordan (9), Robinson (3) and Shaq (4). And all consecutively, except Robinson takes over the 2 years Jordan is away.

    https://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/bpm_yearly.html

    With a composite stat, you’d expect more “churn,” I would think. This guy or that guy throwing up the one odd year. More like the last 19 years, with 10 different leaders.

  66. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. July 2021 at 16:51

    Anon/portly, Those seasonal BPMs seem to correlate better with recent MVPs than I would have expected. I recall how the Westbrook MVP was criticized (but not by me).

    I don’t quite understand how they are computed. For instance, if you look at Lebron’s stats, 2009 doesn’t seem like a special year by his standards. But his BPM for 2009 is really high.

    O’Neal must feel he’s owed some MVPs.

    Giannis is such an unusual player that he’s hard to rate. I think we need a few more seasons to get a good sense of where he stands relative to other great players. Obviously he just put to rest concerns about his playoff performance (and not just the finals–he was pretty great throughout the playoffs.)

    He might still have some upside, as his recent free throw struggles were kind of a fluke–he’s actually not that bad a shooter when his head is in the right place. Heck, he shot 35% from three as a rookie.

    Next year will be interesting, as the pressure will much less.

  67. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. July 2021 at 16:56

    Giannis is kind of like a 6’11 Westbrook—a great basketball player who plays really hard all the time but can’t shoot that well.

    You can also think of him as the most athletic big man that’s ever lived on this planet. Even KD is nowhere near as athletic.

    His rookie year I kept thinking he was out of control at various times, and then I gradually realized that even when it looked like he was out of control, he usually was not.

  68. Gravatar of John S John S
    26. July 2021 at 05:04

    ssumner,

    That clears things up, thanks.

    As for Lebron’s 2008-09, I’m not sure — all I can eyeball is that his TS% was notably higher than before, with better 3 and FT%s. (He also played fewer min/game than the prev year, which would affect his per possession productivity). There’s a complex interplay among box score stats, team results, and league environment that I don’t understand. At best, I think BPM ranges should be used to put players/seasons into buckets rather than for precise rankings (e.g. Player A is better than B b/c his BPM is 0.2 better).

    anon,

    Interesting points abt the history of BPM. Like I said, it’s not the holy grail, but I think it’s the best publicly available one number metric (there are several proprietary ones).

    I wasn’t explicitly comparing Kawhi to Giannis; I was just trying to distinguish Scott’s opinions on what the masses think abt Kawhi’s clutch reputation from his personal opinion (and how luck/randomness plays into both).

    But if I were to compare them, I’d say that the current version of Giannis (specifically post-Nets series) is more valuable and impactful than any version of Kawhi, and Giannis’ physical gifts and development path give him a small shot at becoming the GOAT (which Kawhi does not have).

    The one thing which is really unconventional abt Kawhi is his own development path. I can’t think of a single player who established himself for several years as a role player (3-and-D) and then so radically and successfully transformed himself into a primary initiator/offensive hub. I certainly was shocked on opening night of 2016-17 vs. the SuperWarriors when Kawhi suddenly looked like Kobe Bryant with an airtight handle and an unguardable mid-range game. (If you can think of anyone else like this, let me know; Pippen comes to mind, but it’s not nearly as dramatic).

    Kawhi’s main limiting factor is of course his weird quad tendinopathy which has limited his playing time and probably caused other repetitive use injuries. Fortunately, he has already put together a HoF career and avoided the tragedy of a Penny Hardaway outcome.

  69. Gravatar of John S John S
    26. July 2021 at 05:22

    Random thoughts on luck and legacy:

    I think the biggest impact of luck comes in the form of one’s draft position. All rookies are locked into one team for at least a few years, and the contract extension rules pretty much guarantee that they have to stay there (or else sacrifice tens of millions). This helps the bad teams, but it can keep great players in hell (Garnett) or at least purgatory (Luka) for a long time.

    I also think the “rings or bust” mentality is very bad for player evaluation. Now Chris Paul will never be considered on par with Isiah Thomas, even though CP3 totally outclasses Isiah in shooting, defense, assist:TO ratio, and longevity. (You also get the absurdity of ppl seriously discussing whether Horry should be in the HoF.)

    Finally, certain players are unlucky for being ahead of their time. He wouldn’t have been an all-time great of course, but I could see multiple all-star selections for Christian Laettner if he had entered in the post-Dirk era (instead of having to grind it out at center for several years b/c of his height).

  70. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. July 2021 at 08:27

    John, You said:

    “all I can eyeball is that his TS% was notably higher than before”

    But notably lower than what came after, right?

    (This is a minor complaint, as he was clearly the best player of the past couple decades.)

    You said:

    “The one thing which is really unconventional abt Kawhi is his own development path. I can’t think of a single player who established himself for several years as a role player (3-and-D) and then so radically and successfully transformed himself into a primary initiator/offensive hub. I certainly was shocked on opening night of 2016-17 vs. the SuperWarriors when Kawhi suddenly looked like Kobe Bryant with an airtight handle and an unguardable mid-range game. (If you can think of anyone else like this, let me know; Pippen comes to mind, but it’s not nearly as dramatic).”

    Do you think the Spurs could have won that series if Kawhi had not gotten injured?

    BTW, I recall a moment around his third or fourth year when Jason Kidd suddenly made Giannis a point guard for a while. That probably helped his game. He has a surprisingly good handle for a big.

    As far as CP3, the Bucks picked Bogut over him. I think Atlanta picked Marvin Williams. I had a long debate a few years back where I argued that teams often pick bigs too high. Recall Ayton/Bagley over Doncic/Young. Lots of other examples.

  71. Gravatar of steve steve
    26. July 2021 at 10:17

    I think Giannis has potential to get better, plus lengthen his career. Look at Dr J. When he came into the league he wasn’t that much different than Giannis, except Giannis is bigger and a better defensive player. Dr J couldnt shoot that well. He talked about all the work he put into his shooting, especially developing a decent bank shot around the hoop. It made him a better player and extended his career. If Giannis continues to work on his shooting, and I think a lot of it is confidence, so he can hit those 5-12 foot shots when he cant quite make it to the rim, he is really a beast. I think that is a lot of what he did there in Game 6. Imagine a Kevin McHale with athleticism.

    “That probably helped his game. He has a surprisingly good handle for a big.”

    May have also helped his passing. Jokic gets press for his passing, and he should, but Giannis is underrated in this area I think. Not just his kickouts for 3s but also his interior passing.

    Steve

  72. Gravatar of John S John S
    26. July 2021 at 12:06

    Ok, I **think** I figured out the BPM thing.

    If you look at Lebron’s peak year, it’s slightly better than the years on either side in a few categories: Tot Reb%, TOV% (lowest), and esp BLK% (the model apparently likes perimeter player blocks a lot; I guess it correlates well with Real-Adj Plus-Minus [RAPM] def data). There are other small differences: the latter two seasons with the rel. high TS% are both better than the first season. So these various differences account for a bit of the difference.

    But I think the main adjustment depends on the team’s Net Rating and Offensive Rating in those years. If I’m reading the explanation right, the model first calculates a player’s raw BPM (based on box score stats, which are weighted based on correlations with Real-Adjusted Plus-Minus data), and then a team’s players’ individual raw BPMs are adjusted in a way so that they sum up to reflect the team’s overall Net Rating.

    Here’s the key point — empirically, teams in the lead play worse (per possession). To quote from B-Ref: “The team in the lead plays about 0.35 pts/100 possessions worse for every point of lead.”

    So let’s say Players A and B have the same raw BPM, but Player A’s team is a top contender, while B’s team just missed the playoffs. We can’t assign equal BPMs to both players because Player A’s team had the lead more often (and was thus subject to the “playing with the lead” downward pressure on stats). So a small upward adjustment is made to Player A’s final BPM to reflect the “true” value of his box score stats (i.e. if he was on a league avg team). [Btw, the page doesn’t say how players perform when down, or in garbage time — everyone knows abt garbage time, so I’m guessing it’s accounted for, but who knows.]

    Bottom line: In Lebron’s peak year, the Cav’s NetRtg was +10, next year, +7 — but in the previous year (with the lowest BPM), the Cavs only had a -0.4 Net Rating, and thus he was not influenced by the lead effect. So in short, good production on a great team is weighted a little bit more than the same production on an avg/bad team.

  73. Gravatar of John S John S
    26. July 2021 at 12:21

    As for Kawhi and the Spurs, I played around with an ELO calculator. I’ll spare you the details, but I looked up the ELO ratings for both teams on 538, estimated an adjustment if the Spurs had won Game 1 (1697 SAS vs 1808 GSW), then plugged in #’s for a 7-game series (assuming Spurs 1-0 lead). The calculator spit out a 35% win probability for the Spurs.

    Since Game 7 would be at GS, let’s knock that down 5-10%. So (in a super, super quick-and-dirty estimate) the Spurs had maybe a 25-30% chance to win the series. Considering how legendary that upset would be, however, losing out on 25-30% of that much “legacy equity” was a pretty big loss for Kawhi.

    Doesn’t matter in the end, of course. But fun to think about.

    https://wismuth.com/elo/calculator.html#system=tennis-men&score=1-0&best_of=7&formula=normal&elo_diff=-111

  74. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. July 2021 at 13:40

    Steve, I agree.

    Sean, Interesting on the lead factor. I loved those Spurs teams of the mid-2010s.

  75. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    26. July 2021 at 15:38

    On the LBJ peak year, first of all BPM = OBPM + DBPM.

    In the peak year (08/09) it was O = 9.5 and D = 3.7 for a combined 13.2. That was his high for all three.

    But he was very close in OBPM the following year (9.1) and again in 12/13 (9.3).

    Since BPM is “a box score estimate of the points per 100 possessions that a player contributed above a league-average player, translated to an average team,” and 08/09 was Lebron’s career high in points per 100 possessions (40.8), wouldn’t that be a large part of it?

    In 12/13, he only scored 37.5 per 100 possessions, so maybe there’s just a “volume” effect that outweighs the efficiency effect of the better shooting in 12/13. (Also assists were slightly higher and offensive boards higher in 08/09, though turnovers slightly higher also).

    I’m not saying John S’s explanation is wrong, just throwing this out there. It looks like the computation is pretty complicated….

    Final note: Offensive Win Shares has 12/13 as the best LBJ season and 08/09 as number 2. Both also have 09/10 as #3 and then a larger gap between 3 and 4 than between 1 and 2 or 2 and 3. And Defensive Win Shares agrees with DBPM that 08/09 was his best D year.

  76. Gravatar of John S John S
    26. July 2021 at 16:28

    “It looks like the computation is pretty complicated…”

    This is the right answer. And I’ve seen criticisms here and there about how the BPM coefficients overrate perimeter defense (vs. big man impact). It’s still not an exact science.

    You might enjoy Ben Taylor’s GOAT Top 40 list (last updated in 2019). He’s got detailed scouting reports based on hundreds of hours of film study and hand-tracked stats. He also has a great Youtube series on the greatest peaks (search “Thinking Basketball Greatest Peaks”). It’s quite entertaining.

    https://backpicks.com/2017/12/11/the-backpicks-goat-the-40-best-careers-in-nba-history/

  77. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    27. July 2021 at 08:55

    Thanks Anon/portly.

    John, Those run into the issue of how to account for changes in the talent level of the NBA over time. (Mikan, Russell, West, etc, wouldn’t do quite as well today, although they’d still be excellent.

    I don’t see any good way of handling that. A purely absolute comparison seems wrong, but a purely relative ranking also seems wrong. Intuitively, something in between seems right.

  78. Gravatar of John S John S
    27. July 2021 at 11:53

    I don’t think it’s possible to make one definitive GOAT list; you have to precisely define what you’re trying to find. But in general, I think barstool GOAT lists fall into three main buckets:

    1. Relative to one’s era

    2. Picking a team to play for your life in a best-of-7 (under modern rules — that’s usually what most ppl mean)

    3. What if? i.e. “How would the greats from the past do today?” (with modern nutrition, training, and skill development)

    The first, a purely relative ranking, is the most important b/c (1) it ensures that the great players of the past get their due and (2) it is by far the most tractable problem since it avoids the difficulties of inter-era comparisons.

    Lists #2 and #3 seem similar, but they’re really quite different. For List #2, you’d be crazy to pick anyone who retired before 1980, and your list would be heavily weighted towards more recent players since they are “proven commodities” who have risen to the top of the deepest talent pools.

    List #3 seems to be the most popular in actual barroom discussions, but it really is little more than wild speculation. How could we possibly project how players from other eras would do in today’s NBA if they were born in 1995? I mean, teams still make first round draft mistakes all the time in spite of access to more scouting data and tools than ever.

    So Ben’s approach sensibly focuses on the first, trying to estimate how much each player would impact a random team’s chances of winning a championship **in his own era**. (E.g. Jordan, might have about a 40% chance of winning a title if placed on an avg team during his career.) The only inter-era comparison is determining which players had the greatest “Championship Odds over Replacement Player” effect.

    https://fansided.com/2017/10/19/nylon-calculus-championship-odds-short-lived-megastars-corp/

  79. Gravatar of John S John S
    27. July 2021 at 12:02

    He uses some quite ingenious statistical methods, such as “With or Without You” (WOWY). It looks at how game-to-game lineup changes affect a team’s performance. The ideal situation is to see how the team does when the player in question is out of the lineup (due to trades or injury). However, that’s not always possible with durable players who weren’t traded. But the ingenious thing about WOWY is that it can use the absences of **other** players to infer the value of the player in question. Here’s Ben:

    “There is indirect evidence for a player when his **teammates** leave the lineup. Let’s say we wanted to know how much Scottie Pippen contributed to the Bulls +9 point-differential in the early ’90’s. In 1994, when Michael Jordan left the Bulls, we could infer something about **Pippen** based on the change caused by Jordan’s absence. How?

    If Jordan left and the team remained a +9 team, then it would be fairly safe to infer that Jordan was not the reason the Bulls were +9…which tells us that key remaining players on the team, like Pippen and Horace Grant, were the ones responsible for the large point differential.

    Conversely, if Jordan left the Bulls and they unraveled into a -5 team, not only does that say amazing things about MJ but it would mean that the players left behind, like Pippen and Grant, weren’t integral to that +9 differential…. So while Bill Russell didn’t miss as much time as Jerry West, there’s a bevy of evidence about Russell left by his teammates and all of the time that they miss over the years.”

    https://backpicks.com/2016/09/06/ii-historical-impact-introducing-wowyr/

    Anyway, I think the most important thing about these kinds of lists isn’t the exact ranking — I mean all of these guys are definitely all-time greats. It’s just interesting as a fan to learn the specifics of **why** these guys were so good in their own particular way (e.g. I was blown away by Walton hitting cutters and KG’s help defense) and even what their weaknesses were.

  80. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    27. July 2021 at 13:45

    “And I’ve seen criticisms here and there about how the BPM coefficients overrate perimeter defense (vs. big man impact).”

    Now I’m very confused. How do you get “perimeter defense” info for a player out of the data in a box score? Here’s what it says in the “about BPM” thing:

    “It is based only on the information in the traditional basketball box score … BPM uses a player’s box score information, position, and the team’s overall performance to estimate the player’s contribution in points above league average per 100 possessions played.”

  81. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. July 2021 at 07:57

    John, Very good comments. I seem to recall that Cleveland completely collapsed the first time Lebron left. Maybe the second as well.

  82. Gravatar of John S John S
    28. July 2021 at 08:11

    ssumner,

    Thanks, I find his work to be fascinating overall.

    anon,

    “How do you get “perimeter defense” info for a player out of the data in a box score?”

    [**Key point**: DBPM is simply BPM – OBPM. There is no explicit calculation for DBPM. I’ll come back to this point in a bit.]

    To answer your question, we have to take a quick look at where BPM came from. The starting point was Simple Plus-Minus, i.e. the difference in the score while a player is on the floor. (Ex: Nikola Jokic starts a game, then comes out after the 1st quarter when the Nuggets are up by 6. His simple +/- is +6.)

    There are two main problems: 1) If your teammates are great (2017 GSW), the fifth guy could be a scrub and still look great; and 2) It doesn’t take into account the quality of the opposing players (e.g. bench guys vs. starters, weak/strong teams).

    So to correct for this and other factors (garbage time, etc), a guy named Dan Rosenbaum came up with the idea of “stints” — a period of play in which there are no substitutions for either team — and used linear regression to figure out how much each player contributed to the change in score (i.e. “margin”) during each stint (the initial work looked at 60,000 stints over two years).

    In the following equation, home players (P1-P5) are assigned a value of pos. 1, and away players (P6-P10) are assigned -1. b0 is the y-int (home court advantage, roughly 3.5 pts/100 poss). Rosenbaum used linear regression to calculate the value of the coefficients (b1-b10) to estimate the partial contribution of each player to the changes in margin (per 100 poss).

    Margin = b₀ + b₁P₁ + b₂P₂ + b₃P₃ + b₄P₄ + b₅P₅ + b₆P₆ + b₇P₇ + b₈P₈ + b₉P₉ + b₁₀P₁₀

    This and other adjustments corrected some of the flaws of simple +/-, giving birth to Adj +/- (APM). However, there were still problems due to outsized coefficients for some players with limited playing time. A new metric, Regularized Adj P-M (RAPM), was devised which uses ridge regression to correct for these outliers and improve APM’s predictive power.

    Notice that box stats haven’t entered the picture at all. A key benefit of RAPM is that we can finally start to get a hint of how players can influence changes in team scores in ways that are **not** reflected in box stats (e.g. screen setting or Draymond-style def quarterbacking).

    More here (a great explainer): https://basketballstat.home.blog/2019/08/14/regularized-adjusted-plus-minus-rapm/

  83. Gravatar of John S John S
    28. July 2021 at 08:19

    However, there’s another big problem: RAPM data only goes back to the mid-90s. How can we estimate the RAPM’s of players who came before?

    To attack this problem, another bball statistician (Dan Meyers) used linear regression to create a new metric. But this time, instead of finding the partial contribution of each player to changes in margin, Meyers solved for the coefficients of various box score stats (namely those available from 1974 on) to estimate each stat’s partial contribution to changes in RAPM.

    This new metric –- Box Plus-Minus –- takes a player’s box score stats and converts them into a pseudo-Plus/Minus number which estimates that player’s impact on team score per 100/poss (e.g. Lebron’s +13.2 in ’08-09).

    Ok, to get back to the original point about DBPM: the final step is to perform the same regression (relating box score stats to RAPM), but this time for offensive impact only. The resulting metric, OBPM, is subtracted from BPM to yield DBPM. To quote from Bball-Ref:

    “To split BPM into offensive and defensive components, the same style of regression is used. It outputs offensive BPM, and defensive BPM is simply calculated as Total BPM – Offensive BPM. The regression coefficients were developed to maximize the fit for both offense and defense concurrently.

    The Offense/Defense regression uses the same variables as full BPM, just with different coefficients.”

    So why are some people claiming that BPM 2.0 (which includes a new wrinkle, positional adjustments) overrates perimeter defense over interior defense? It comes down to the coefficients assigned to box score stats generated by players at different positions. As you can see on the first table of coefficients at Bball-Ref’s BPM 2.0 explainer, steals for PGs are given a coefficient of 1.369, while steals for a Center only have a coeff of 1.008 (for blocks, it’s a more extreme difference: 1.327 vs .703).

    Since DBPM equals BPM – OBPM, the higher valuation given to PG def box score stats (and, to a lesser degree, other perimeter players) can lead to some weird results. Looking at the top 10 DBPM seasons of all time, Nate McMillan is at spots 1 and 10, while Michael Jordan is at no. 9. While I’m sure that McMillan and Jordan were both excellent defenders, does it really pass the smell test to say that either was more valuable on defense than Olajuwon was in any of his best seasons?

    Meyers himself acknowledges this weakness of DBPM. He writes:

    “Box Plus/Minus is a very good offensive metric, but it struggles some with defense. As mentioned before, when all you have is a box score, you cannot estimate defense very well. Not including minutes per game in the regression also hampers the accuracy of the defensive estimates. In other words–take DBPM with a spoonful of salt.”

    Again, another great explainer: https://basketballstat.home.blog/2019/08/27/box-plus-minus-bpm/

  84. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. July 2021 at 12:40

    John, One problem that doesn’t have an obvious solution is that some players are better in some systems. Thus PJ Tucker helped Milwaukee against Brooklyn (perhaps), but he might not have helped Brooklyn against Milwaukee.

  85. Gravatar of John S John S
    1. August 2021 at 07:27

    Good point — system and fit have an especially large impact on role players. Ultimately, film is the only way to even begin answering these sorts of player/context-specific questions and hypotheticals.

    But I think there is a path forward for analytics to partially answer broader questions of this type. A lot of the groundwork is being laid at Bball-index (dot) com. This site has classified every NBA player into 12 offensive archetypes (e.g. shot creator, slasher [driver], stationary shooter, movement shooter, roll & cut big) and 7 defensive roles (point-of-attack, wing stopper, anchor [drop] big, etc). (Ex: Tucker would broadly fit into “stationary shooter” and “wing stopper”.)

    https://www.bball-index.com/offensive-archetypes/

    Bball-index also has data on player lineups, and these lineups are rated on various dimensions (e.g. spacing, playmaking, finishing) relative to league averages. So the next step might be to identify various off/def **team** archetypes (as proxies for systems) such as “beautiful game” (UTA), “pnr-centric” (ATL), and “iso-heavy” (BKN) on offense and “drop” (reg. season MIL) and “switch” (GSW, LAC) on defense. Then historical trends might emerge that highlight which sorts of off/def player types and combos fit best in which schemes.

  86. Gravatar of John S John S
    1. August 2021 at 07:36

    Obviously, there’s going to be far too much noise to be able to say with certainty that “Player X would be 13% more valuable in System Y,” but it could help settle certain debates. For example, there’s a mini-war going on in the analytics community now about whether drop-based defenses can succeed in the playoffs, and Gobert in particular has come under a lot of criticism. So a few more years of analysis in the vein I mentioned above might reveal that drop coverages can work when complemented by certain defensive player types. Or it might say that drop is a dead end, and some type of switch-heavy scheme is the most game-theoretically optimal defense.

    (My guess is that front offices have already made more progress in this area than independent outfits like Bball-index. The recent surprising selection of Scottie Barnes, a 6’8” defensive specialist, over Jalen Suggs, a more polished, hard-nosed 6’4” PG, in the draft could be evidence that some teams have concluded that it’s more efficient to stockpile switchable defenders than it is to try to find elite, massive paint protectors like Gobert or Lopez.)

    Anyway, it will be interesting to see what lineup analysis has to say about “fit” in the next five years or so.

  87. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. August 2021 at 10:43

    John, Good point. BTW, regarding Gobert, I recall one regular season game a year or two ago when Giannis was destroying Gobert. It was so embarrassing that Gobert had to be removed from the game.

    I realize he’s a great defensive player, but he does seem to have some gaps in his defense. Giannis’s quickness was just too much for him. Lopez also looks great on defense in some games and unplayable in others.

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