How Advanced Statistics Have Shaped The Way Fans Watch Basketball

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How Advanced Statistics Have Shaped The Way Fans Watch Basketball
Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE

Generally baseball is the sport that blows our minds with incredibly advanced stat-tracking, but over the last 10 to 15 years, basketball savants have added new statistics to measure greatness, efficiency and futility.

As these statistics are embedded into our basketball consciousness, we can find ourselves calculating these advanced stats as we watch games, or follow our favorite teams through the season.

Perhaps the most famous and respected contemporary stat is the PER (Player Efficiency Rating). It was created by John Hollinger of ESPN, and it is designed to measure a player's overall efficiency for a season.

The PER ideally takes into account all of the positive and negative actions from a player. It weighs each statistic and action according to the graded importance. From there, it produces a number rating for us to throw around to prove our points.

Hollinger set the average grade at 15, but the higher the rating, the better. SportsCharts.com lists this table to help make sense of what the number grades mean:

  • All-time great season: 35+
  • Hands-down MVP: 30-35
  • Strong MVP candidate: 27.5-30
  • Long-shot MVP candidate: 25-27.5
  • Definite All-Star: 22.5-25
  • Borderline All-Star: 20-22.5
  • Second offensive option: 18-20
  • Third offensive option: 16.5-18
  • Slightly above-average player: 15-16.5
  • Rotation player: 13-15
  • Non-rotation player: 11-13
  • Fringe roster player: 9-11
  • Player who won't stick in the league: 5-9

The formula is quite intimidating to see in print, but for the sake of being thorough, I'll place it here, also from (SportsCharts.com):

uPER = (1 / MP) * [ 3P + (2/3) * AST + (2 - factor * (team_AST / team_FG)) * FG + (FT *0.5 * (1 + (1 - (team_AST / team_FG)) + (2/3) * (team_AST / team_FG))) - VOP * TOV - VOP * DRB% * (FGA - FG) - VOP * 0.44 * (0.44 + (0.56 * DRB%)) * (FTA - FT) + VOP * (1 - DRB%) * (TRB - ORB) + VOP * DRB% * ORB + VOP * STL + VOP * DRB% * BLK - PF * ((lg_FT / lg_PF) - 0.44 * (lg_FTA / lg_PF) * VOP)]

It is hard to dispute the accuracy of PER, as it does appear to align with overall individual excellence in every NBA season.

If you take a look at the highest PERs for the last nine years, it has been very consistent with the players that have won the MVP award—or were at least in the running.

Here are the PER leaders from the last nine NBA seasons, per Basketball Reference, with their placement in the MVP voting in bold.

2011-12
NBA
LeBron James 1st
30.74
MIA
2010-11
NBA
LeBron James 3rd
27.27
MIA
2009-10
NBA
LeBron James 1st
31.11
CLE
2008-09
NBA
LeBron James 1st
31.67
CLE
2007-08
NBA
LeBron James 4th
29.14
CLE
2006-07
NBA
Dwyane Wade T-12
28.91
MIA
2005-06
NBA
Dirk Nowitzki 3rd
28.06
DAL
2004-05
NBA
Kevin Garnett 11th
28.20
MIN
2003-04
NBA
Kevin Garnett 1st
29.44
MIN

With four of the last nine MVP winners also recording the highest PER, I'd say that the formula not only accurately rates individual excellence, but it also shows how a high PER rating is a driver for team success.

We all know players don't normally win the MVP if they play on bad teams. The players that had the highest PER ratings played on teams with enough success to place them in the running for the award.

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

The only times in the last nine years that a PER leader didn't finish in the top 10 of the MVP voting was in 2004-05 and 2006-07. Both Garnett and Wade's teams were 44-38; Garnett's team didn't make the playoffs, but Wade's Heat won the division.

It wasn't an especially good year for the team, though. They were coming off an NBA championship the previous season and they drastically underachieved. It is likely that affected the MVP voting that season.

The Heat were subsequently swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Chicago Bulls.

Still, I feel Wade was slighted in the voting by finishing tied for 12th. Maybe he didn't deserve to win the award, but there weren't 11 players more valuable than Wade in 2006-07.

Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

This statistic also brings about the debate on MVP vs. MOP (Most Outstanding Player).

I've always been a proponent of acknowledging both, because they aren't always one in the same. Much like Michael Jordan was through the 1990s, LeBron James is the best player in the NBA every season. 

He has been since the 2006-07 season, and probably will be for the next five years. He should get recognition for that—regardless of how much success his team—he isn't the only factor involved in the team's bottom line.

The MVP should always carry more prestige, but the MOP is significant as well.

Perhaps the PER is best used as a barometer for the latter. Some of the criticisms of the original PER formula is that it doesn't take defense into a high enough account.

SportsCharts.com wrote:

"The one major weakness in the original PER concept is lack of consideration for defense. Yes, there are blocked shots and steals, but the formula doesn't account in any way for guys who play great individual or team defense."

This is definitely a valid criticism, but because of that and basketball fan's relative buy-in to the original concept, the formula has been built upon.

Another great basketball reference site called 82Games.com started looking at the PER of the player's defensive assignment to measure their defensive effectiveness.

Whatever the version you subscribe to, the existence of PER has added a new element to the way we evaluate players.

 

Trying My Hand

I'm an admitted basketball savant, and I also readily admit being inspired by formulas like PER.

Because of PER—and countless "greatest ever" basketball debates I've engaged in over the years—I created the FPVR (Franchise Player Value Rating).

The FPVR is designed to measure a player's overall value to a franchise over his career. It takes into account tenure, individual statistical excellence, awards and contribution to team success.

Each accomplishment was given a point value, and thus each player can be given a separate rating for every team they have ever played for.

I created a three-year rule which basically means a player has to have played three seasons with a franchise to be eligible for consideration with that organization.

The FPVR doesn't carry a formula quite as sophisticated as PER, but here it is nonetheless:

• Years of Service: 3 points
• Scoring Average: Face value (31 points per game equals 31 points)
• Rebounding Average: Face value
• Assists Average: Face value
• Steals Average: Face value (Stats for steals not kept until 1973-1974 season)
• Blocks Average: Face value (Stats for blocks not kept until 1973-1974 season)
• Championship Rings: 3 points
• Playoff Appearances: 1 point
• Conference Finals Appearances: 1.5 points
• NBA Finals Appearances: 2 points
• NBA All-Star Appearances: 5 points
• NBA All-Star Game MVP: 0.5 points
• NBA MVP Awards: 10 points
• NBA Finals MVP: 10 points
• All-NBA 1st Team: 8 points; 2nd Team: 5 points; 3rd Team: 3 points
• Rookie of the Year: 3 points
• Defensive Player of the Year: 3 points (Award not created until 1982-83 season)
• Sixth Man of the Year: 3 points (Award not created until 1982-83 season)
• All-Defensive 1st Team: 2 points; 2nd Team: 1 point; 3rd Team: 0.5 points

The standings for each franchise can be updated at the conclusion of every season. I'm putting the final touches on the totals from last season.

Here is a link to the article that covers the top 10 players for each franchise as of the end of the 2010-11 season. Remember, per the three-year rule, LeBron isn't eligible for Miami Heat consideration until the end of the 2012-2013 season.

Do you believe that a rating or formula can ever tell the true worth of a player or team?

Submit Vote vote to see results

There are a few areas that can be attacked in the FPVR. Some of the categories/accomplishments weren't tabulated before the 1982-83 or 1973-74 NBA seasons. It could be argued that this puts players from the past at a disadvantage.

To combat that, I awarded players a default point value of one for blocks and steals to regulate that inconsistency. In addition to that, players from the past played in smaller leagues where reaching the postseason was a bit easier.

This could possibly skew the postseason point values in favor of players that played before the NBA expanded to well over 20 teams. These factors actually seem to balance out the results to a degree.

As you can tell by the top five players listed, the players leading the way in FPVR aren't implausible. The results speak to the validity of the concept.

During the process of putting this formula together, I realized that there is no perfect stat or rating. Many of them shed more light on the objective, or serve as basis or reference for debate. Hopefully, the FPVR can find it's place in that regard.

Anyway you look at it, these statistics change fan's perspective of the game—whether you agree with the fabric of the formulas or not.

 

Follow Brian Mazique and Franchiseplay on YouTube and Twitter for reactions, analysis and news from the world of sports and sports video games

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