January 27, 2008, Magic vs. Celtics: an off-balance three-pointer at the buzzer to give Orlando the victory over the eventual NBA Champions.
April 26, 2009, Magic vs. Sixers, Game 4: a buzzer-beating three to give Orlando the win over Philly, evening the series that Orlando would eventually win.
May 22, 2009, Magic vs. Cavaliers, Game 2: a 12-footer in the lane with exactly one second left, to make a 2-0 series lead imminent — though LeBron James would spoil that plan.
The game-winner is the the ultimate coup. The signature of the superstar. It's where amazing happens. The stuff we've come to expect of LeBron or Kobe — or Michael or Magic or Larry.
But there's a new kid in town. The league has found its new last-second warrior in Hedo Turkoglu — so why don't we put him in the same breath as King James and the Black Mamba?
Because he's boring.
The NBA's reigning Most Boring Player is, and has been for some time, Tim Duncan. San Antonio's frigid, stoic center has leveraged his stark efficiency into four championships, boring legions of fans year after year with his solid fundamentals and absolute dearth of emotion.
Nobody's going to argue that Duncan isn't a great player. But, given the option, nobody's going to choose to watch him play either.
And now he's got wobbly knees. He's getting old. He sat a few games this year, paving the way for Turkoglu to steal his place in the anti-spotlight as the league's MBP.
Turkoglu's qualifications aren't too shabby. His towering achievement has been becoming a clutch, 4th-quarter titan while still staying almost entirely out of the national limelight.
He's not as expressionless as Duncan, who has only one recorded instance of showing emotion (after hitting the overtime-causing three-pointer last year against Phoenix), but he doesn't overflow with personality either.
Then it complicates things that he's foreign. Here's a guy whose real first name is Hidayet, who came to the U.S. from a place called Gaziosmanpaşa.
Being from Turkey, he doesn't even have a standard stereotype for us to fit him into - like the Ivan-Drago-in-Rocky-IV harshness of the Russian Andre Kirilenko, or the I'm-from-another-country-but-it-really-makes-no-difference likeability of Dirk Nowitzki. Without a stereotype, we can't even assign him a personality.
So, is there something besides the lack of emotional response that makes a player boring to watch?
Statistics suggest there is. Consistency.
To determine the consistency of a given player, I've taken the standard deviation of their points per game (because scoring is the most exciting thing to watch), over the course of the entire '08-'09 season (excluding games in which they did not play). The standard deviation is a measure of variability - if the points in the data set tend to be close to the mean, the SD will be low, but if they vary widely the SD will be higher. To refer to scoring, I've adopted the abbreviation "SSD" to represent "Scoring Standard Deviation."
In simpler terms, if a player consistently scores about the same number of points every night, their SSD will be low — but if a player can score either 4 or 40 on any given night, their SSD will be higher. Low number means boring, high means exciting.
While the SSD is certainly not the only measure of how exciting a player is to watch, since personality plays such a big role, it's a statistical measure that at least reflects why we prefer certain players.
It makes sense, after all. Who would you rather watch, a player who will reliably put in 15 points per game, or the player who could explode for 60?
As you might expect, the most dynamic players in the NBA have the highest SSD values. LeBron James tops the list, at 9.29, followed by D-Wade at 8.87 and Kobe Bryant at 8.55.
To try to top those numbers, I tried plugging in the most erratic scorers I could think of - but they all came out in the middle, including J.R. Smith at 8.27, Josh Smith at 8.25, and Ben Gordon at 7.65.
It makes sense that the higher-scoring James, Wade, and Kobe have higher SSD values because their ceiling is that much higher for points per game. An outlier like scoring 61 points at MSG definitely inflates your SSD (assuming you don't score 61 every night).
So where do Turkoglu and Duncan weigh in? 5.94 and 6.02, respectively. That means that Turkoglu's 16.8 PPG and Duncan's 19.3 — no more, no less — are almost a foregone conclusion every night. They're some of the most consistent players in the NBA.
Duncan's SSD is lower than Turkoglu's, indicating that he's still more consistent — but Turkoglu, with his late-game heroics barely raising his profile at all, takes this year's trophy home.
Call it consistent, call it predictable. Call it boring.
Honorable mention goes to Yao Ming, who had the actual lowest SSD I found in the league, weighing in at 5.86. Yao does not qualify for the Most Boring Player award, though, because he's just too likeable. Can you argue with that smile?
Here's a short list of players sampled. There is a general trend to have big guys at the bottom, which makes sense — though it's not without exceptions.
LeBron James - 9.29
Dwyane Wade - 8.87
Kobe Bryant - 8.55
J.R. Smith - 8.27
Josh Smith - 8.25
Dirk Nowitzki - 8.21
Carmelo Anthony - 8.00
Kevin Durant - 7.87
Ben Gordon - 7.65
Brandon Roy - 7.62
Gerald Wallace - 7.54
Dwight Howard - 7.42
Allen Iverson - 7.32
Pau Gasol - 6.30
Hedo Turkoglu - 6.02
Tim Duncan - 5.94
Yao Ming - 5.86
Ultimately, there's no way to quantify excitement, or what makes some players more interesting to watch than others.
But one thing's for sure — I know who I'm watching.
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