Commentary: PER Underrates Kobe Bryant, Part II

Nate SmithCorrespondent IFebruary 29, 2008

There comes a time in every would be journalists life where he makes a critique that happens to be unfounded.

When this happens, you can either run, hide and pretend it never happened or you can man up and admit you were wrong.

Well this journalist knows when to admit he's mistaken.

I still think the Player Efficiency Rating underrates Kobe Bryant as a player vis-a-vis other players. PER doesn't do a good job taking into account Bryant's defensive prowess or leadership or other qualities that make Bryant one of the top two players in the league. But PER doesn't do that for any of the players. PER is designed to give fans and analysts a general idea of how effective a player is while he is on the court. Sometimes I have to remind myself that even though PER doesn't take into account Tim Duncan's or Bryant's defense and leadership, it is perhaps the most objective single statistic available. Just because a statistic doesn't validate our subjective biases doesn't mean it is flawed. With that in mind a statistical genius gave me an in-depth look at how pace, PER and Kobe Bryant all relate to one another.  

My argument in part I was that PER underrates Kobe because he's spent so much time on the bench while the second unit plays at a higher pace than the first unit. Thus, my argument went, PER's adjustment for pace starts to work against Bryant in a way it does not for other players. While plausible theoretically, the argument probably isn't accurate practically.

Indeed, the second unit of the Lakers would have to be the fastest paced team of all time for it to have any meaningful impact on Bryant's Player Efficiency Rating. That means Jordan Farmar, Ronny Turiaf, Sasha Vujacic and company need to play at a pace higher than the Westhead-era Nuggets of the early '90s. Needless to say, Kobe's PER is probably accurate.  

Once the math was done, my theory was shot down in a flame of blazing glory. I had challenged PER and failed. What's more I had put my mistake in writing. I had criticized John Hollinger for failing to put PER and its limitations into context, but he didn't need to. It was I who created a limitation and took his statistic out of context. It was a mistake; it happens.

So Manu, you are a superstar and while no statistic will ever get me to believe you are on Bryant's level, there's at least an argument to be made.