Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It's All About the Numbers?

Do stats really tell the whole story?

NBA legend Oscar Robertson was once asked in an interview whether Wilt Chamberlain was the greatest player ever. The “Big O” responded with four words: “The books don’t lie.”

My response to that statement would be: Yes, Oscar, they don’t. But although the books cannot tell a lie, they do not quantify greatness. Sure, they keep track of points per game, rebounds per game, etc, but they do not keep track of greatness per game.

What Oscar is really saying is that the numbers tell the whole story. Without any disrespect to the Big O, I must say that I could not disagree with him more. This "all about the numbers" blunder, committed ironically by the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double, deserves a special name. I termed it "Oscar's Oversight".

Oscar, The NBA, and the fans praise players for their offensive performances. Wilt's 100-point game in Hershey, Pennsylvania and Kobe's 81-point game against the Raptors two years ago are impressive. But how consequential were they? They were regular season, inconsequential games. Sure, they go in the record books as the two best offensive performances ever.

But let me ask you, Oscar, what if they introduced some new stats into the NBA—some things that though not kept track of, are just as pivotal as the points, rebounds, and assists? I think that the current stat system in the NBA gives everyone a bad case of Oscar's Oversight and should be revised.

Let’s look at NBA under-the-radar defensive specialist Derrick McKey. You will never see a poster of him on a kid’s wall. Why? Because he is not flashy. No, not even his stats back him up. But the impact of "Heavy D" Derrick McKey on the basketball court is enormous. Yet for some head-scratching reason his influence is not recognized on the official stat sheet.

Let’s look at an example. Game 4 of the 1998 NBA Eastern Conference Finals featured the Indiana Pacers hosting the Chicago Bulls. The final score: Indiana 96, Chicago 94. A scan of the game recap and box score would reveal that Reggie Miller hit a game-winning 3-pointer with four-tenths of a second remaining in the game. Without thinking twice the typical fan might conclude that Reggie was the player of the game, or perhaps Rik Smits, who led the Pacers in scoring of 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting.

What were Derrick McKey’s stats? Two-for-six shooting, 1-for-2 on three pointers, 3 assists, 0 steals, 0 rebounds, 0 blocks, 1 turnover, 6 points. Not too impressive of a stat line. Yet Derrick McKey had a number of game changing plays. His tight defense forced Michael Jordan to shoot an airball at the end of the first half. He took a hit to the ground and got up and nailed a three-pointer to give the Pacers their first lead of the second half.

81 points? No, only 6. But Derrick McKey's performance was much more pivotal to his team at the time than Kobe's was to his. Because of McKey, his team tied the playoff series at two games a piece. Clearly, McKey’s 6 point, 3 assist, 0 steal, 0 rebound, and 0 block stat line is not an accurate representation of his game performance. Thus, I am proposing some additional stats be kept:

  • SAPG—shots altered per game—it is not a block, but the defender’s hand is right in the shooter’s line of sight. Perhaps the fingers just graze the ball, or even just the air from the hand whizzing underneath the released any case, the shot does not go in.

  • SSPG—squeaky sneakers per game—the sound of the sneakers squeaking on the wood floor is an indicator that some serious defense is being played.

  • CTPG—charges taken per game—sacrificing a body for the team does not earn any stats, but it should.

  • FBPG—floor burns per game—the idea for keeping track of floor burns came from Ian Eagle in a 2001 regular season game between the Arizona Wildcats and the Oregon Ducks. Ian showed that both teams had 9 floor burns.

  • 2LPG—two-handed layups per game—thank Robert Horry for this one. How often does a 6-foot-10 player all alone going to the basket lay it up with two hands? With Robert Horry, it is an almost nightly occurrence. Apparently, it is paying off; “Big Shot Bob” has 7 rings.

  • IYFDPG—In-your-face D’s per game—please explain to me why they keep no stat for this. Nothing is greater than seeing someone playing his heart out on defense, right in the face of the offensive player.

  • MSPG—motivational speeches per game—sometimes the greatest contributions to a game are not anything actually on the court. It might be a sideline huddle, where the little man with the big mouth (e.g. Avery Johnson) says something to get the team going. This is also a momentum shifter.

  • MSPPG—momentum-shifting plays per game—this could be any play: a block, a fancy pass, a dunk, a big three-pointer…whatever it is, it shifts the momentum meter to the other team. This is not kept track of, which I find puzzling. It is such a critical point in any game, yet it will get no recognition on the official books.

Following are some examples of these critical plays not kept in the current NBA stat system, but were absolutely essential to Indiana's win:

"His Airness" shoots an airball as the clock runs out in the first half. Why? Because of Derrick McKey's heavy, in-your-face D. No credit given on the stat sheet.

With the shot clock winding down, Jalen Rose's pressure in-your-face D forces Michael Jordan to pass the ball to Toni Kukoc, who commits a shotclock violation.

Jalen Rose's pressure defense on Michael Jordan causes Jordan to commit an offensive foul. 1 charge taken.

McKey's heavy D causes Jordan to miss a jumpshot, after which Travis Best runs down the court and drills a three. 5 point turnaround, yet no credit on the books given to Derrick McKey. That was one squeaky sneaker, 1 in-your-face D, and 1 momentum-shifting play.

McKey gets clobbered by teammate Rik Smits, falls down, gets jumped over by Dennis Rodman, gets up, runs down the court, and nails a three to give his team its first lead of the second half. 1 floor burn.

A replay of the previous video.

What can I say more? Derrick McKey and Jalen Rose were the Pacers' catalysts in this game. Give them some credit. If the NBA began keeping these stats, not only will players like Derrick McKey and Jalen Rose get more credit for what they do night-in and night-out, but we will see the NBA players as a whole improve their all-around game. Sometimes players carry the mentality that if it doesn't affect their stat line it doesn't really matter. Well, now it will really matter. The time has come for the unsung heroes to shine. The time has come for the cliche "stats don't tell the whole story" to become obsolete. Stats could tell the whole story if we wanted them to.

True, the game is not determined by which team had more floor burns, or rebounds, or assits; the result of the game is determined by which team had more points. But those points would not be scored if it were not for those floor burns, and that in-your-face defense that caused the missed shot which led to a score on the other end. These unofficial stats are really what the game is all about.

Just ask "Heavy D" Derrick McKey.


bring the painster said...

i think the stat espg - emotional screams per game - should be added. it really pumps up the crowd and intimidates oppenents.

Zach said...

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