Category: NBA


  • These Skills Are Most Valuable According to Analytics

    These Skills Are Most Valuable According to Analytics

    Analytics are imperfect, and we’re all aware of it. Proponents refer to them as ballparking measurements. I’ve used the “one size fits all” sock as an analogy, in which certain metrics tend to “fit” players better or worse depending on things like playstyle and modeling techniques. For my money, they’re pretty decent estimates of player value—good to fill in gaps that our eyes miss when we watch games. The other thing I really like analytics—and specifically impact metrics—for is understanding which types of players provide the most value. Basketball isn’t a clear-cut game. Binary outcomes are fueled by fluid process. We don’t always know where to assign credit. Impact metrics help us fill in those gaps.

    The Goal

    How can we use impact metrics to identify valuable skills and traits? That’s what I’m setting out to learn in this post. To do so, and for the sake of simplicity, I’m consulting the LEBRON metric. (Read LEBRON primer here.) It’s no exception from the myriad of alphabet soup we see in the analytics community today. LEBRON is a catch-all metric that blends statistics and spits out a one-number player rating. The ingredients of LEBRON, which were the focuses of its appeal, are:

      • Traditional counting stats: The box score—points, rebounds, assists, etc. LEBRON adjusts a player’s box score based on how early in the season it is to avoid jumping the gun on streaky performances. (Read about LEBRON’s padding technique here.) The drawbacks include playstyle bias and incomplete tracking.
      • Plus-minus: The top-down approach to analyzing players statistically. This is unbiased toward playstyles and only cares about the scoreboard. The drawbacks include sensitivity to team circumstance and sample size.

    LEBRON has one of the nicest mixtures of statistics as inputs, drawing from the two major types (bottom-up and top-down) of statistics. The other appeal to LEBRON comes with its provider, BBall-Index, which has wonderfully supplemented its LEBRON database with models for “offensive archetype” and “defensive role.” [1] (Read primers on Offensive Archetypes and Defensive Roles here, here.) Here are examples of today’s stars and how they’re categorized:

      • Stephen Curry: Primary Ball-Handler (offense), Low Activity (defense)
      • Kevin Durant: Shot Creator (offense), Helper (defense)
      • Nikola Jokic: Post Scorer (offense), Anchor Big (defense)

    These archetypes and roles—like analytics—are imperfect. For example, we know Nikola Jokic is one of the game’s best playmakers, so calling him a “Post Scorer” is reductive. However, these estimates are still really good, and the “objective” nature of these roles adds to consistency and rigidity when we classify players.

    The Method

    Because it’s a plus-minus-based metric, LEBRON is only available from the 2013-14 season onward. Since then, there have been 2,406 player-seasons with more than 1,000 minutes played in the regular season. What we can do is compile these statistics—offensive archetype, defensive role, and LEBRON—and plot out which roles correlate with the strongest impact on both offense and defense. Based on those plots, we can point out key trends, uncertainties, and hopefully draw rough conclusions about which “skills” (isolation scoring, passing) provide the most value to basketball teams.

    The Results

    Let’s start with O-LEBRON and Offensive Archetypes. Below is a grouped box-plot that illustrates the O-LEBRON distributions for each Offensive Archetype. Underneath are the descriptive statistics of the O-LEBRON distributions, also grouped by Offensive Archetype.

    There’s a mountain of evidence that O-LEBRON views Shot Creators [2] are the most valuable offensive players. They’re worth +1.56 points per 100 possessions on average, and interestingly post the highest standard deviation in its values among all archetypes. Not only do these players tend to provide lots of value, but the best of the best Shot Creators are also able to separate themselves from their peers unlike any archetype. Primary Ball-Handlers are the most similar, with the difference in their archetype being a lower rate of isolation scoring.

    Movement Shooters and Off-Screen Shooters sound similar, yet the latter has a visible advantage. What’s the difference? Movement Shooters are mostly identified by their three-point rate, while Off-Screen Shooters have a higher proportion of scoring coming off screens or hand-offs. Interestingly, Movement Shooters cost their teams 0.3 points per 100 on average, while Off-Screen Shooters add 0.2 points on average.

    Athletic Finishers and Slashers seem to have overlap. Yet, once again, the latter has a visible advantage. So what’s this difference? Athletic Finishers are characterized by their activity on cuts and putbacks, whereas slashers are determined by their three-point rates and drives per possession. Athletic Finishers were the least valuable archetype on average, costing 0.9 points per 100. Slashers, on the other hand, were the fourth-most valuable, adding 0.4 points per 100.

    Post Scorers and Stretch Bigs are on opposite ends of the basketball timeline. The latter is seen as more progressive, yet Post Scorers are still more valuable according to LEBRON. They’re worth about 0.3 points more than Stretch Bigs per 100, and their distribution reaches higher. Meanwhile, Versatile Bigs tend to be more valuable than both! They can post up, shoot threes, roll to the basket, and are supposed to have more well-rounded skill sets.

    Like Shot Creators for offense, Anchor Bigs appear to be the most valuable archetypes on defense. They are seen as less mobile, and tend to drop against shooters to defend the pick-and-roll. They also tend to not have very versatile matchups compared to other archetypes. Basically all of the all-time great defenders in the LEBRON era have been Anchor Bigs. Mobile Bigs trail as the “second-most valuable,” and these players tend to hedge screens and switch more heavily compared to Anchor Bigs. They’re worth 0.6 points per 100 on average.

    POA’s and Wing Stoppers are both perimeter-oriented defenders. POA’s often defend opposing Ball-Handlers, whereas Wing Stoppers defend Shot Creators. POA’s have higher rates of matchup versatility, whereas Wing Stoppers have more responsibilities off-ball, switching, et cetera. Both archetypes are about neutral defenders on average, with the best Wing Stoppers reaching higher than the best POA’s.

    Chasers and Helpers are both archetypes that involves lots of movements and court coverage. Chasers stick to shooters and cutters near the perimeter while Helpers are savvy rotators who provide resistance at the rim. Helpers are observably more valuable on average, and have reached far greater heights than the best Chasers.

    Low Activity defenders are best known for their communication abilities when engaged, but otherwise provide little value in defending actions and matchups. They are, unsurprisingly, almost always value-losses.

    Interpretation

    Based on the differences between Primary Ball-Handlers and Shot Creators, there may be an indicator that (at least, for guards) isolationism is more valuable than pick-and-roll actions. As observed, Primary Ball-Handlers can still be some of the very best offensive players in the league, but the evidence suggests isolation scoring is typically more valuable, and that pick-and-roll ball-handlers likely have to be very, very good at what they do to reach those heights.

    There’s also an absence of the assessment of passing quality in these archetypes. I’m compelled to believe passing bleeds into both of the above archetypes. Isolation scoring on its own is not very “valuable,” since it rarely adds more than 1.1 points per possession on average. For teams to exceed the league average of 1.13 in these years, they need higher-quality shots. As has been observed, isolation scorers who can pass to open teammates provide a dual threat that is unmatched by most any players. Perhaps that is why Primary Ball-Handlers can still reach the top of the O-LEBRON leaderboards. They create a ton of shots at the rim in the pick-and-roll without a massive scoring punch.

    The differences between Movement and Off-Ball Shooters could be a commentary on “teamwork.” Perhaps the quality of a player’s looks when his teammates are involved in getting him open. Teams employ screens for obvious reasons: to stunt defenders. Players who make timely cuts also exploit defensive inattention. Movement, while it stretches the defense, likely isn’t on its own a large value-add. There needs to be some predication, an action that prohibits defenses from guarding tightly.

    Athletic Finishers are clearly less valuable than Slashers despite similar damage at the rim. There’s something to be said geometrically, where players who pressure the rim with drives rather than scoring on second-chance opportunities are greater advantage creators. They can pass out of these spots, and their on-ball threat to score draws defensive attention in a more looming way than cutters. This is another instance in which the value of the scoring-passing combination seems to bleed through.

    Big who stretch the floor are “less bad” than the worst Post Scorers, but they don’t provide the higher levels of value that the best Post Scorers do. This could have something to do with scoring around the rim, whereas bigs who draw attention to the perimeter are “always” providing a geometric effect that Post Scorers often don’t. But it’s clear that a combination of the two is best, and that bigs pretty much need to score at the rim at a decent clip to ascend offensively.

    Defensively, the value of rim protection is Obvious with a capital “O.” There’s the narrative that shots at the rim are most efficient, so defenders who can not only sway them but deter them are most valuable. This seems true. Bigs who hedge screens may pose the risk of blow-bys and more shots at the rim, which might explain their decrease in value despite a more versatile skill set. Regardless, these defenders can still be really good by fizzling out perimeter actions while providing occasional paint resistance. But rim protection on its own seems to remain the gold standard for best-of-the-best defense.

    Because one-on-one basketball tends to not yield great results, POA defenders aren’t super valuable. (Especially if they don’t provide skills elsewhere in deterring high-quality shots.) It’s the defensive equivalent to decent isolation scorers who can’t pass. Unless they reach a certain threshold for efficiency and passing, they’re not really doing much. Therefore, as the data suggests, there’s more value in defending Shot Creators whose skills demand off-ball awareness. Helping, switching, and resisting on the perimeter are noticeably more valuable.

    Chasers are the antithesis to the “Movement” offensive skill, so it’s no surprise they are rarely positive defenders. (Again, especially if they don’t provide value in other areas.) But there have been some great Helper defenders in recent years. They are paramount paint defenders like bigs, but the positioning and switching that comes with the role does provide ancillary rim protection.

    Footnotes

    [1] Note that offensive archetypes and defensive roles aren’t based on “how well” a player carries out his role, but solely what that role is.

    [2] “Shot Creator: players in this offensive role are non-Bigs that we identify as have high rates of perimeter and interior isolation rates, creating their own shots within the offense as a key skill set. Examples from 2019-20 are Luka Doncic and James Harden” (BBall-Index).


  • MVP Power Rankings | Volume II

    MVP Power Rankings | Volume II
    Premise

    Historically, the MVP has been chosen arbitrarily—a mingling of analysis and intuition. This can be great by promoting varying styles of analysis. Broader conversations can launch new names into conversations. Different ideas challenge norms. For this list, I adhere to a strict criteria I’ve developed over the years—an amalgam of analyzing film, statistics, and value-theory. The overarching question I try to answer with these rankings is how well a player sets up a random team to win the championship. (This approach is derivative of the works of analysts like Seth Partnow and Ben Taylor.)

    This still limits consideration to the regular season. Expectations for Playoff risers and fallers is irrelevant. I solely care about how well a player sets the team up to succeed in the Playoffs (where “things matter most”). This means actual seeding is less important, insofar as home-court advantage doesn’t play a crucial role in later rounds. To balance these factors, I concocted a championship odds calculator that inputs estimates of player value and games played. (The impact estimates are based on analysis and interpretation.)

    The Ladder

    10. Damian Lillard (NR)

    This is dependent on Lillard not being a train wreck on defense, which the impact metrics seem to agree on. His offense has reached the level it once achieved, and his volume combination of scoring and playmaking is matched only by Luka Doncic. Major one-number metrics also seem to think he’s on the level of Curry, Jokic, and the likes.

    9. Donovan Mitchell (-)

    It’s been a few weeks since I’ve watched Cleveland, so I’m banking on a sustainable improvement in his defensive awareness here, which I imagine is feasible based on his situation. His offense is seriously defiant of the vertical nature of the game, though I do wonder a bit about his fairly low rate of scoring around the rim. Will restraint minimize his drive-and-kick playmaking? Not yet, that’s for sure!

    8. Jayson Tatum (-1)

    I don’t have much more to say about Tatum compared to last month. I’d like to see a bit more creation for teammates if I’m going to move him into serious MVP contention. But, wow… His combination of elite scoring and smothering perimeter defense is something you get from no one else on this list.

    7. Giannis Antetokounmpo (-1)

    If anything, I was expecting him to move up! His scoring efficiency has some catching up to do, though the remainder of his offensive skills seem to be on par with previous seasons. To my eye, his defensive awareness is slightly down, though I refrain from settling on that as a real thing since I don’t watch every game. Regardless, it’s hard to surpass an acceptable offensive number-one with Defensive Player of the Year potential.

    6. Anthony Davis (+2)

    This definitely isn’t my most confident pick. Davis is clearly better on both sides of the ball. LeBron James’s dominant style of offense has taken the backseat to Davis’s chops as a finisher and screener, and the result is mind-boggling statistics. His scoring output is at an all-time high. He looks like one of, if not, the best defensive players in the world. He also just looks better moving, manipulating low-post defenders with sly cuts and stampedes.

    5. Joel Embiid (-)

    Embiid is a fantastic two-way star. His scoring is the best it’s ever been and his playmaking is improving. He’s a beast around the rim on both sides of the ball, and his guard-like movements make him one of the most dangerous players in the game. He’s definitely playing like an MVP-level player, and if he were doing this two or three years ago, he might be a clear-cut finalist.

    4. Luka Doncic (-)

    I’m notoriously hesitant about gawking at volume statistics. Doncic is arguably the most prolific scorer and playmaker in the sport. Does that necessarily translate to championship offense when his teams are characterized by lackluster efficiencies and late-game fatigue? That’s why I’m not yet convinced. His defense is slightly improving however, and being one of the four-best players in basketball is nothing to shy away from.

    3. Stephen Curry (-2)

    Two main points move Curry down for me compared to last month: 1) the unsustainability of his finishing, which I explained was the deciding factor in his top spot, and then there’s the increase in competition that rivals his scoring output. If he were a strong defender, he’d possibly have the top spot again. But in this current defensive state with the Warriors, I moved him down until further notice.

    2. Kevin Durant (+1)

    There’s the aforementioned passing improvement from my last post, and his more solid defensive package pushes him over Curry for me. He’s now officially a member of the prestigious “30 points on +10% efficiency” club, and remains one of the three-best scorers and offensive players in the world for me.

    1. Nikola Jokic (+1)

    The best offensive player in the world, looking like one of the greatest offensive players of all time. He’s had an argument as basketball’s top scorer and playmaker for over a year now, but this season he’s dialed it up to eleven. There’s more than enough time to wait for his offensive rebounding to catch up. He also finally looks like a neutral defender in impact metrics, which to my eye is more reflective of his actual impact.

    Resources

    [1] Data from Basketball-Reference, DunksAndThrees, Thinking Basketball


  • 2023 All-Star Power Rankings | Volume II

    2023 All-Star Power Rankings | Volume II

    You know the deal: All-Star power rankings. Which players are clear-cut? Which ones perhaps have a little more to prove? Divided among the tiers below are the players I evaluate as worthy of All-Star consideration. Let’s do it.

    Tier 1

    These players are undoubtedly performing at an All-Star level or higher. The gaps in play quality in this tier are the highest of any succeeding tier.

      • Giannis Antetokounmpo (East)
      • Devin Booker (West)
      • Jimmy Butler (East)
      • Stephen Curry (West)
      • Anthony Davis (West)
      • Luka Doncic (West)
      • Kevin Durant (East)
      • Joel Embiid (East)
      • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (West)
      • Tyrese Haliburton (East)
      • James Harden (East)
      • Jaren Jackson Jr. (West)
      • Nikola Jokic (West)
      • Damian Lillard (West)
      • Donovan Mitchell (East)
      • Ja Morant (West)
      • Domantas Sabonis (West)
      • Pascal Siakam (East)
      • Jayson Tatum (East)
      • Karl-Anthony Towns (West)
      • Zion Williamson (West)
    Tier 2

    Either because of talent-scaling (the league is more top-heavy than ever), a higher margin of error associated with an All-Star level of play, or general uncertainty about their game, these players are “doubtedly” All-Stars.

      • Bam Adebayo (East)
      • Jarrett Allen (East)
      • Desmond Bane (West)
      • Jaylen Brown (East)
      • DeMar DeRozan (East)
      • De’Aaron Fox (West)
      • Darius Garland (East)
      • Paul George (West)
      • Rudy Gobert (West)
      • Jrue Holiday (East)
      • Brandon Ingram (West)
      • Kyrie Irving (East)
      • LeBron James (West)
      • Brook Lopez (East)
      • Lauri Markkanen (West)
      • Myles Turner (East)
      • Trae Young (East)
    The Ballot

    You know the rules: 5 starters (2 frontcourt, 3 backcourt); 5 reserves (2 frontcourt, 3 backcourt); and 2 wild cards (position negligible). Rosters for both the Eastern and Western Conference.

    East
      • James Harden
      • Donovan Mitchell
      • Giannis Antetokounmpo
      • Kevin Durant
      • Joel Embiid
      • Darius Garland
      • Tyrese Haliburton
      • Jimmy Butler
      • Pascal Siakam
      • Jayson Tatum
      • Jaylen Brown
      • Jrue Holiday
    West
      • Stephen Curry
      • Luka Doncic
      • Anthony Davis
      • Nikola Jokic
      • Zion Williamson
      • Damian Lillard
      • Ja Morant
      • Jaren Jackson Jr.
      • Domantas Sabonis
      • Karl-Anthony Towns
      • Devin Booker
      • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
    Thoughts

    I’m fairly pleased with how this ballot turned out. The East wild cards were the most difficult to land on (the player pool was the entire second tier), but it’s about time I showed Jaylen Brown some All-Star love. I’m perfectly happy with the West, save for a slight discomfort caused by the strength of the conference’s guards. Devin Booker and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander being wild cards feels unnatural.


  • MVP Power Rankings | Volume I

    MVP Power Rankings | Volume I
    Premise

    Historically, the MVP has been chosen arbitrarily—a mingling of analysis and intuition. This can be great by promoting varying styles of analysis. Broader conversations can launch new names into conversations. Different ideas challenge norms. For this list, I adhere to a strict criteria I’ve developed over the years—an amalgam of analyzing film, statistics, and value-theory. The overarching question I try to answer with these rankings is how well a player sets up a random team to win the championship. (This approach is derivative of the works of analysts like Seth Partnow and Ben Taylor.)

    This still limits consideration to the regular season. Expectations for Playoff risers and fallers is irrelevant. I solely care about how well a player sets the team up to succeed in the Playoffs (where “things matter most”). This means actual seeding is less important, insofar as home-court advantage doesn’t play a crucial role in later rounds. To balance these factors, I concocted a championship odds calculator that inputs estimates of player value and games played. (The impact estimates are based on analysis and interpretation.)

    The Ladder

    10. Ten

    The tenth spot is such a toss-up that I may as well treat it like an Honorable Mentions! Names considered for this spot include, as alphabetized:

      • Devin Booker
      • Jimmy Butler
      • Paul George
      • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
      • James Harden
      • Ja Morant
      • Karl-Anthony Towns

    9. Donovan Mitchell

    Mitchell has upped his offense to a new level. The stylistic aspect of his game is consistent, but its efficiency is unbelievable. He attacks the rim like a madman and creates tons of offense for the corners. (Now we know Gobert wasn’t the problem.) There’s his shooting… my goodness. His defense has also been serviceable too; after multiple seasons of questionable play on that end, his anticipation and ability to clog passing lanes look better than last year. I don’t see evidence that he’s a clear negative.

    8. Anthony Davis

    Anthony Davis is… almost back? Not quite there. He’s somewhat close to his 2020 form, though it’s unlikely he reaches it. Any semblance of a jump shot he had during the bubble has recessed, which diminishes his spacing value. He’s also held back on the passing punch he had a few years ago. Regardless, he’s the Defensive Player of the Year in my eyes. Davis has an unmatched combination of valuable and scalable traits on that end, and… my gosh. Name any defensive skill and he’s got it.

    7. Jayson Tatum

    Tatum is having the most efficient season of his career despite a slight drop in three-point shooting! His shot selection and isolationism are both upgraded from last season. He looks better as an athlete, and that physical aid may help him ascend to “obligatory wing defender in DPOY conversations” territory! (No, seriously, his ball-pressure is some of the most impressive defensive work in the league.) Tatum has a chance to win the actual award because he plays for the game’s best team. On my list, he lands seventh.

    6. Giannis Antetokounmpo

    This is… weird. He’s still a prolific scorer and playmaker with Defensive Player of the Year chops on the other end. Those things alone make him a mainstay on the upper end of a list like this. However… his offense has come with a lot of opportunity cost so far. Antetokounmpo’s shot outside the paint is lagging hard to start the season, and it drags his overall efficiency below the league average. That’s enough for the major impact metrics to peg him in this range rather than finalist territory.

    5. Joel Embiid

    Embiid is probably not in the uppermost echelon of scorers in my book. (Even though he’s an incomprehensible isolation scorer.) But as his passing ability trickles in from more opportunities to create, his overall offense looks stronger. He’s not what I’d consider a really “good” passer, but he has enough range on his deliveries to be the primary force on a contending offense. Embiid is still a monster rebounder and low-post defender whose skills check more boxes than most other players in the world.

    4. Luka Doncic

    Doncic is probably (?) the favorite to win the award, so this may be a surprising placement. I’m not sold on “Luka-Ball” as the next model for great offense. The term “heliocentrism” is thrown around like pennies into a wishing well, but Doncic’s role in the current Mavericks roster demonstrates a drawback. Dallas tends to wear down late in games. Doncic is the most prolific decision-maker in the league, and it seems his relative lack of conditioning weakens the entire attack down the stretch. Regardless, he’s still fourth for me due to an unheralded mix of volume scoring and creation for teammates.

    3. Kevin Durant

    Durant’s relative True Shooting percentage is 7.7% ahead of the league; once his three-point percentage is up to speed, that number is going to skyrocket his name into contention for the best overall scoring numbers in the league. His un-guardable jump shot is still intact. He’s having the best passing season of his career to my eye—slicing out holes in perimeter coverages with more anticipation and stronger deliveries than ever. Add that to a positive defensive package, and you’ve got a strong MVP candidate.

    2. Nikola Jokic

    Jokic was the clear-cut MVP of the last two years. His scoring volume isn’t quite up to par yet, and voter fatigue is due to trickle in from the public and voters alike. That’s my estimation as to why he isn’t seen as an obvious finalist. Jokic is the most efficient of the game’s volume scorers, and he’s the best passer on the planet. He’s arguably the most complete offensive player in history. His rim protection as Denver’s primary backline defender still lags behind, which is the only thing holding him back from the top.

    1. Stephen Curry

    My, oh my… Where to start? Curry is “re-peaking” as the league’s top scorer and shooter, with more than a little airspace above the contenders. His leading spot is probably dependent on a permanent upgrade in his scoring around the rim, where he’s converting at a 76% rate. He has the craft and guile, but likely not the durability and positive aging signals to maintain it for long. (But I’m partial to streakier two-point than three-point improvements.) He’s otherwise Curry doing Curry things, and he’s at the top of virtually every major one-number metric.

    Resources

    [1] Data from Basketball-Reference, BBall-Index, Thinking Basketball


  • The Lauri Markkanen Corollary

    The Lauri Markkanen Corollary

    The Utah Jazz have received a lot of press in these past four weeks. The most surprising team to start the season, are they not? Perhaps. They are (as of the time of this writing) the fourth seed in the West with a positive point differential—worth a double take considering they were seen as a contender to land Victor Wembanyama. “But what does this have to do with Lauri Markkanen?” you ask. That’s a decent question—and the answer has everything to do with All-Star voting! Let’s take a dive into what in the Julius Randle is going on.

    The Premise

    Historically, All-Stars are selected through a mingling of their performances and their teams’ standings. This is great news for Lauri Markkanen. Why? Let me begin with an assertion—Lauri Markkanen is not an All-Star-level player, but… because of the Jazz’s record and preseason expectations, he might stand a chance to make the All-Star Game. “But… but…” you ask, “if Lauri Markkanen isn’t an All-Star-level player, why does he deserve to make the All-Star Game?”

    I’m so glad you asked.

    From the perspective that players should be rewarded for their ability or skill, the boost that some receive from being in the right situation is stupid. I’ve already fleshed this out (read here) so I won’t belabor any points. How this is relevant has lots to do with Lauri Markkanen’s case because, like I said, he doesn’t demonstrate All-Star skill but his name is littered in All-Star conversations. This was obvious when I published my first All-Star ballot of the season. My omission of Markkanen from either tier of All-Star consideration implied I did not consider him an All-Star-level player. This is correct. Resisting comments were quick to defend Markkanen’s case:

    I clearly disagree with this, don’t I? And what’s the best way to further a point in a caring and considerable manner?—Making the opposing argument as strong as could possibly be.

    To the best of my ability, I am going to lay out Lauri Markkanen’s All-Star case—but with a twist. I still only care about his efficacy as a player. Team, teammates, and attributes of the Utah Jazz’s system are irrelevant. I believe All-Stars deserve their recognition for playing like All-Stars, and Markkanen won’t receive a special treatment. So let’s get into it!

    Scouting Report

    Markkanen has demonstrated solid three-point shooting during his career. His three-point percentage of 36.5% is unspectacular, and right in line with his career average of 36.4%. To me, he provides value as a shooter away from the ball—a stretch four who can catch and shoot at an above-average clip (40.2%), mostly in pick-and-pop situations. On the other hand, he’s an infrequent and inefficient pull-up shooter—a skill crucial to a player’s ability to create offense for teammates in a spaced-out offense. The Jazz have methodically had him work from the corners, spots (in which his three-point percentage is 45.8%) that are valuable real estate. The corners are also outlets for his attacks to the paint.

    Markkanen is tall, strong, and sturdy with a fine-tuning of footwork that creates separation between defenders in the paint. He has spins, twists, and twirls that carve out floater-range shots. (Markkanen’s percentage of attempts that are floaters had nearly doubled from its previous high.) Farther downhill, he’s a solid finisher who can draw fouls and convert at high rates—driving about five times per game and finishing at a 76% rate. Markkanen does require “assistance” from teammates’ passes at times; he has burst as a big man, but not enough to get to the rim at will. (He often picks up his dribble only a few steps into the paint.) His bruising and jostling allows him to contend with formidable big men like Bam Adebayo and Anthony Davis close to the basket.

    This is where his All-Star case becomes tricky. His scoring punch has been good—not great, for all intents and purposes—without a strong isolation package or slashing ability. His style is suited to play alongside a more demanding offensive force, a truer “number one” who can leverage the pick-and-pop and make timely passes when Markkanen cuts baseline. That’s a pretty good scoring package, but where it falls short is in its ability to boost the value of his lackluster passing. He’s had flashes of range and accuracy, but nothing that—when sifted through—indicates he’s growing into the role of a playmaker. (For instance, the percentage of Markkanen’s assists that end in layups is 21% below the league average.)

    His defensive skills are slightly fuzzier to me. Markkanen defends a fair amount of shots at the rim, inducing misses without a high block rate. But any skills he has a rim protector have yet to translate to latent value, such as deterring shots at the rim. Teams are content to attack the rim with Markkanen on the floor, which could be a problem due to his nonexistent presence as a perimeter defender. He exemplifies the Jazz’s inconsistent switch tactics, so he doesn’t content many threes nor is he an avid helper. Without brushing up on his defensive range—which seems unlikely to happen in Utah—Markkanen’s argument as a clearly positive to strong defender seems weak.

    The Jazz offense is a suitable place for him to mimic his ideal offensive role: a pick-and-pop, bruising, floater-range specialist who can score at two levels. In Utah, he’s a semi-frequent but undesirable pick-and-roll ball-handler, which is an action teams would want to avoid to build a strong offense. Paired with weak passing, I see Markkanen as a solid third-to-fourth option on a contending offense. Defensively, he’s going to need backline help from a stronger, rangier rim protector; and if he’s the primary rim protector, his team will need to bank on strong defensive play from guards to prevent open three-pointers.

    Here are Markkanen’s ranks in high-level impact metrics [1]:

      • Backpicks BPM +2.6 (48th)
      • Basketball-Reference BPM +2.8 (36th)
      • Box RAPTOR +1.7 (80th)
      • EPM +4.7 (23rd)
    The Strongest Case

    What is Markkanen’s upper bound?—the highest extent to which I can evaluate his impact. If that estimate doesn’t match All-Star level, by the rules of this exercise, Markkanen has no case to be an All-Star. I’ll view each of skills through the rosiest of glasses, give him the benefit of the doubt in all reasonable areas (considering the trade-offs between skill interactions). To start, here are Markkanen’s strengths as a player, by my scouting report:

      • Floater-range footwork
      • Bullying in the paint
      • C&S and screening at the corners
      • Complementary rim protection

    I can’t reasonably upgrade his passing, nor is his off-ball package enough for me to say he’d be a “number two” on a contending offense. For that, he’d need rangy, connective passing to and from his corner spots. (In theory, these could lead to more layup passes.) His footwork and physical attributes can dismiss the notion that his scoring near the basket “will eventually cool down.” This version of his scoring—high volume on high efficiency—could be here to stay.

    Defensively, I’m still convinced he needs backline help. His opponents are finishing at a low clip when he defends at the hoop, but it doesn’t justify Markkanen’s sedentary defensive role. He could probably help keep a poorer defensive afloat—but without a flank of perimeter defenders or a better rim protector as a failsafe, Markkanen’s defensive package is neither good nor bad. This all goes to say I see a limited ceiling on how highly I can evaluate his defense.

    Markkanen’s impact metrics are inconclusive. EPM, which includes tracking data and plus-minus, pegs him at an All-Star level. But RAPTOR also includes these parts (in a varied fashion) and indicates he’s not close to contention! The box-score metrics both agree he’s outside contention. These metrics, in which force-fits to team performance can overstate players on teams that are greater than the sum of their parts (the Jazz), are reluctant to launch Markkanen into All-Star territory. This signal works against his “strongest” case.

    Conclusion

    Markkanen is not an All-Star.

    Returning to the article’s title—what is the Lauri Markkanen Corollary? To my estimation, it’s when a team (the Jazz) jumps out with unexpected success. That team, whoever it may be (the Jazz), plays an egalitarian style, and its success is the function of many contributions from solid or good players, rather than fewer contributions from great players. But this explanation is unsatisfying—it’s too long, takes up too much headspace to put all the pieces together. Thus, the instinct is to look to one player (Markkanen) for the majority or all of his team’s success—the Lauri Markkanen Corollary.

    Footnotes

    [1] Box RAPTOR is my preferred variant of RAPTOR for all players. Especially early in the season, the plus-minus component is unstable. Markkanen ranks 66th in total RAPTOR.

    [2] Data collected from Backpicks, Basketball-Reference, BBall-Index, DunksAndThrees, FiveThirtyEight, NBA, PBPStats.


  • 2023 NBA Power Rankings | Volume II

    2023 NBA Power Rankings | Volume II

    Every few weeks, I power rank teams based on their likelihood to win the 2023 championship, as decided by me! Last month’s edition was a success by my standards considering I didn’t lose sleep over it. But a lot has changed in the NBA landscape. A lot. Listed alongside each team is its change in rankings from the preseason edition. (NB: The gaps between teams means less in the lower ranks. After the “Good” teams, all odds are essentially zero.)

    Let’s Not Talk About It
    30. San Antonio Spurs (-3)

    Already forgot them.

    29. Houston Rockets (-)
    28. Detroit Pistons (-3)
    27. Orlando Magic (-4)

    Weird aesthetics.

    26. Charlotte Hornets (-5)
    25. Oklahoma City Thunder (+3)

    Giddy for Giddey.

    Average-ish
    24. New York Knicks (-4)

    Greek Yogurt.

    23. Washington Wizards (-1)
    22. Chicago Bulls (-3)

    Prototypically average.

    21. Utah Jazz (+10)

    They have a “salty” flavor to them.

    20. Atlanta Hawks (-2)
    19. Brooklyn Nets (-9)
    18. Los Angeles Lakers (-3)

    Deepest of the deepest sleepers.

    17. Portland Trail Blazers (+1)

    Called it I guess…

    Good
    16. Indiana Pacers (+10)
    15. Minnesota Timberwolves (-3)
    14. Miami Heat (-7)
    13. Sacramento Kings (+11)

    LOLOLOLOLOLOL.

    12. Toronto Raptors (+1)
    Pretenders
    11. Memphis Grizzlies (+3)
    10. Denver Nuggets (-2)

    Eh.

    9. New Orleans Pelicans (+7)

    Wow! Cool!

    8. Dallas Mavericks (+3)

    Strange. Very strange…

    7. Philadelphia 76ers (-1)
    6. LA Clippers (-2)

    They might be a contender. Kawhi. I don’t know.

    Contenders
    5. Cleveland Cavaliers (+6)
    4. Golden State Warriors (-3)

    Don’t ask.

    3. Phoenix Suns (+3)
    2. Milwaukee Bucks ()

    Two of arguably the three strongest DPOY candidates (Antetokounmpo, Lopez) defending the backline; and that doesn’t even begin to scrape Holiday’s defensive impact. The offense will hopefully stop lagging when All-Star Khris Middleton returns.

    1. Boston Celtics (+2)

    The best offensive team in the NBA designed for repetition and sustainability, poised for even greater success when all the elements of their defensive core return from injury. The clear-cut frontrunner for the 2023 NBA championship in my book.

    Nice job?


  • 2023 All-Star Power Rankings | Volume I

    2023 All-Star Power Rankings | Volume I

    Monthly data from the NBA begets the fruitless (and slightly masochistic) tradition of ranking players. This post won’t rank players in the typical sense—in, say, an ordered list. Rather, I’m continuing a series I’ve done each of the past two seasons in which I update my All-Star ballot continuously throughout the season. (Read introductory editions for 2021 and 2022 for list structure.) Now, with 13-16 games under the healthy stars’ belts, I’m slightly comfortable indulging myself in this kind of thing. Leave your criticisms in the comments!

    Tier 1

    Regardless of positional constraints, these players are performing at All-Star levels. (The lower bound of their estimated value matches or exceeds All-Star “level.”) To argue otherwise may earn you the label of a basketball heretic.

    • Giannis Antetokounmpo (East)
    • Devin Booker (West)
    • Jimmy Butler (East)
    • Stephen Curry (West)
    • Anthony Davis (West)
    • Luka Doncic (West)
    • Kevin Durant (East)
    • Joel Embiid (East)
    • De’Aaron Fox (West)
    • Paul George (West)
    • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (West)
    • Tyrese Haliburton (East)
    • James Harden (East)
    • LeBron James (West)
    • Nikola Jokic (West)
    • Damian Lillard (West)
    • Donovan Mitchell (East)
    • Ja Morant (West)
    • Pascal Siakam (East)
    • Jayson Tatum (East)
    • Karl-Anthony Towns (West)
    • Myles Turner (East)
    Tier 2

    These players have a larger margin of error associated with their status as All-Star performers. I’d consider these guys to be strong candidates. Whether or not they make the ballot is, in large part, determined by the NBA’s talent distribution at the top and positional constraints.

    • Bam Adebayo (East)
    • Jarrett Allen (East)
    • Jaylen Brown (East)
    • DeMar DeRozan (East)
    • Darius Garland (East)
    • Rudy Gobert (West)
    • Draymond Green (West)
    • Jrue Holiday (East)
    • Brandon Ingram (West)
    • Kyrie Irving (East)
    • Brook Lopez (East)
    • Chris Paul (West)
    • Domantas Sabonis (West)
    • Zion Williamson (West)
    • Trae Young (East)
    The Ballot

    You know the rules: 5 starters (2 frontcourt, 3 backcourt); 5 reserves (2 frontcourt, 3 backcourt); and 2 wild cards (position negligible). Rosters for both the Eastern and Western Conference.

    Eastern Conference
    • James Harden
    • Donovan Mitchell
    • Giannis Antetokounmpo
    • Kevin Durant
    • Joel Embiid

     

    • Darius Garland
    • Tyrese Haliburton
    • Jimmy Butler
    • Pascal Siakam
    • Jayson Tatum

     

    • Kyrie Irving
    • Myles Turner
    Western Conference
    • Stephen Curry
    • Luka Doncic
    • Anthony Davis
    • Nikola Jokic
    • Karl-Anthony Towns

     

    • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
    • Ja Morant
    • Paul George
    • LeBron James
    • Domantas Sabonis

     

    • Devin Booker
    • De’Aaron Fox
    Thoughts

    The NBA’s talent distribution makes it increasingly harder to choose All-Stars in its current roster format. Before, I’ve done up to 4 tiers of players to be considered for All-Star, in which the gaps among tiers were fairly recognizable. But this year, I somehow managed to fill 37 spots in 2 tiers. (Hence, I omit the last 2 tiers.) Stat “inflation” is one thing to consider in which the values of counting statistics like points and assists are lower than in seasons past. But there’s also a clear distinction between current and previous talent distributions. Thus, it may be worth revising the definition of an All-Star. (For example, expanding the number of roster spots to 15.)

    This season has legitimately been a fever dream. The Kings and Pacers have 2 All-Stars each (according to me). Brook Lopez and Myles Turner are officially on my agenda. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander might be the box-score MVP if not for an impromptu Stephen Curry mega-explosion. (Curry is currently my MVP frontrunner.) At the end of the day, I’m glad doing this didn’t worsen my tension headache. Please leave criticisms below! I don’t watch every game or look at every stat.


  • 2022 NBA Preview | Win Predictions & Power Rankings

    2022 NBA Preview | Win Predictions & Power Rankings

    (Picture via NBA)

    I typically don’t do things like this (because I think they’re pointless), but this season is as good as any for the masochistic practice of predictions! Yes, these will, in part, be your typical run-of-the-mill record predictions, but I’ll also throw in some power rankings to spice it up. Let me start by differentiating between those two things: 1) The win predictions are, shockingly, the number of games I estimate a team to win in 2023. By no means are they accurate or reliable, but they serve as ballparking values for more-or-less how I’m feeling about a team right now. 2) The power rankings, or the actual order in which teams are ranked, are based on the likelihood that I think each team will win the title. These are what I’d consider my actual “ranking” of each team. That means I may project a higher win total in the regular season for a team whose championship odds are superseded by another. With that wrapped up, let’s get into the nitty-gritty!

    (NB: I don’t end up predicting wins. Fairly self-explanatory.)

    “Just wait and see, five years from now…”

    30. Utah Jazz

    Yikes.

    29. Houston Rockets

    Jalen Green could drop 20 a game. Looking out for him to blossom into a real offensive threat in the near future.

    28. Oklahoma City Thunder

    27. San Antonio Spurs

    Sometimes I forget they exist.

    26. Indiana Pacers

    25. Detroit Pistons

    Minefield of young talent. Not nearly fleshed out enough to make a push for anything, but I am eager to explore the synergies between their rookies and sophomores.

    24. Sacramento Kings

    Mike Brown as HC will make them an interesting watch. Preseason has shown us some gritty, switch-heavy defense, although the Kings have been treating the preseason like it’s the NBA Finals. They have an interesting assortment of players who are worth the view.

    23. Orlando Magic

    Average

    22. Washington Wizards

    I am oddly intrigued by this team. Not because I think they’ll be good, but because Beal-Porzingis will be an interesting offensive combo spread over time. Would tune into several of their games for Deni Avdija alone.

    21. Charlotte Hornets

    20. New York Knicks

    19. Chicago Bulls

    18. Portland Trail Blazers

    Hmm…

    17. Atlanta Hawks

    16. New Orleans Pelicans

    Looking like they could ascend to “good” in the near future if the indicators show up. Throwing Zion into Ingram-McCollum offenses could be dangerous (for the opponents). But they did lose Tony Snell. Probably near the top of my watchlist. Basically tied with next team.

    15. Los Angeles Lakers

    Darwin Ham might be a basketball genius. Anthony Davis’s health is obviously key if they want to come close to contending. LeBron will probably still receive soft MVP consideration. Austin Reaves will manhandle your favorite backcourt. But the Westbrook signals don’t look great so far, especially on defense. If that domino doesn’t fall, I don’t see a spectacular ceiling for this team.

    Good

    14. Memphis Grizzlies

    13. Toronto Raptors

    Canadians are too defensive of their basketball team for me to risk ranking them any lower. But seriously, the Raptors are looking like they’ll be a good team. They’re young and complement each other well enough, so some upside is feasible. Not quite past that play-in level. Not quite average.

    12. Minnesota Timberwolves

    I don’t know.

    11. Cleveland Cavaliers

    10. Brooklyn Nets

    By now, I’m just playing Russian Roulette trying to get this right.

    Pretenders

    9. Dallas Mavericks

    8. Denver Nuggets

    Lots of offense! Lots of offense! Jokic-MPJ-Murray lineups, in the spirit of throwing out predictions, will produce the highest offensive ratings in history this season. That’s it. Keep Murray healthy. Don’t let Michael Porter Jr. handle the basketball. Jokic. Defensive questions.

    7. Miami Heat

    6. Phoenix Suns

    No, I don’t think this team fell off a cliff. Well-coached, Devin Booker is a legitimate primary offender (get it?) at this point, so Chris Paul’s aging curve at least has a failsafe. Losing JaVale McGee is only a minor tragedy. Not sure if this is going to be a team that runs away with another top seed, though.

    Contenders

    5. Philadelphia 76ers

    De’Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker are sneaky good pieces. Harden and Embiid shared minutes will produce some of the highest offensive ratings in the league, and they’re looking like a contender for one of the league’s best defenses too. Montrezl Harrell? I really don’t know.

    4. LA Clippers

    Literally flipped a coin to choose between them and Philly. No, I’m not kidding! I know that sounds like a joke, but it’s not.

    3. Boston Celtics

    This team got better on paper, but… Until they demonstrate in the regular season that the off-court predicaments are going to bleed into the on-court stuff to a “significant” level, I’m riding with the talent. Malcolm Brogdon is such a savvy addition to this roster, brings the pick-and-roll chops their offense would have thrived with last year. Timelord’s knee and the other stuff likely will cost them several games in the regular season, so let’s hope for them that home-court advantage falls their way (even if it’s not crucial).

    2. Milwaukee Bucks

    The Bucks added Joe Ingles! Let us fall to our knees and rejoice in this miracle! But seriously, that was quite the player to bring in during an offseason in which they lost no rotational pieces. Milwaukee underperformed in the regular season last year and lost a cutthroat semis that was decided by Grant Williams’s hot hand. This team is legitimately great and there should be no surprises if they capture their second title in three seasons next June.

    1. Golden State Warriors

    I’m liking Golden State to repeat for the championship this year. (Not particularly worried about the Draymond situation yet.) Donte DiVincenzo looks to be a prototypical Warrior, passing to cutters with solid perimeter defense off the bench. But Gary Payton II will be sorely missed at the point-of-attack. That dude was legitimately a monster and his contributions will never be fully appreciated. JaMychal Green also has some passing chops apparently, is a nice movement shooter you can stick in the corner and pull defenses. James Wiseman is not a finished product, but he’s big (even if his handle is vulnerable), incredible lateral quickness for his size, with a wide dunk radius that adds some versatility to the Warriors’ passing targets with lob finishing. Poole continues to grow, Curry (no explanation needed), and Draymond doesn’t fall off a cliff, and this team is a sure contender.

    Time to roast me in the comments!


  • My Tentative Process of Ranking NBA Players

    Ranking players, especially in the widespread arbitrary sense by which most instances occur, essentially has no practical value. But that’s because “player ranking” is often treated as a self-contained thing that looks inward of the result, disregards the implications value-systems have on the processes of team-building and assigning market values. Therefore, while the “result” (a list) of player ranking doesn’t matter for any reason which concerns the on-court product of a basketball game, it serves as an infamous source of entertainment value. Player ranking allows people on the internet to gain or lose their self-esteem vicariously through the quality of their basketball opinions, and thus the human instinct makes the performances all the more memorable.

    The “Non-Ideal” Theory of Player Ranking

    Basketball does not occur in a vacuum, nor should it as the product of systems within systems. However, the systems of the game impose more boundaries; if the ideal benchmark of a player’s value is his “intersystemic” efficacy, that is what he provides across a variety of systems, there is little room for an intelligible process. Thus, ranking players in this fashion involves to some degree the need to play god, to transpose instances upon others with limited bites of data. Namely, our ideas concern the “non-ideal” axioms we may invoke to provide rigidity in the process, to avoid incoherence. Perhaps there is meaning in working with such limited measuring sticks, encouraging collaboration and the expansion of our worldviews. So, in this post, let us set up a version of a player ranking process that emphasizes a player’s intersystemic value.

    The actions of players (parts), in conjunction with decision-making from non-player members of an NBA franchise, positively affect the team (system) by contributing toward the underlying mechanism that wins basketball games: scoring as many points as possible on offense and saving as many points as possible on defense within the time/space constraints of a typical game. The intrinsic difficulty in untangling the process of possessions stems from the degree to which actions are intertwined and indistinguishable among parts, meaning to continue with the task requires an observable number of finite dimensions in which decisions and the ensuing actions occur. From such emerges the models of possessions and practical applications of playbooks, which exist as sets of premeditated actions that describe patterns in players’ actions and their interactions with other players. (Major signs of caution are advised to remain aware of whether or not we censor certain information.)

    To estimate the manners in which players contribute to the process of possessions by proxy of his impact on a finite number of models of possessions, we employ a bottom-up approach that evaluates the consistency and efficacy of a player’s actions (in most cases, “skills”) based on varieties of qualitative and quantitative data and data points. Those initial “player profiles” which are intrinsically bound by their intrasystemic natures are then transposed onto intersystemic principles that similarly evaluate changes in consistency and efficacy, which is achieved through generalized pattern recognition of 1) how players of similar profiles tend to change through systems and 2) how varieties of teammates typically change based on their tendencies. The “end result,” the data point estimation which sorts the rankings, is a proxy for a player’s intersystemic value by estimation of how he fuels the successes and failures of possible systems.

    Knowledge Through Impartiality

    Film study is the most important part of our process, the fundamental “visual” tool which is falsely contrasted with analytics or statistics, the “numerical” tools. The visual aspect takes precedence because of the degree to which it constrains our interpretations of its data; statistics are represented on a far more rigid surface than are observations from tape, which can extend past the crude data point to qualitative analysis. We can observe the minutiae of what constitutes, for example, a play type on NBA.com.  A “post up” is a generalization, a short-hand with which inferences can be made quicker, but not necessarily more effectively. This is why the process requires diligence, a hyperactive form of analysis that trades off between pitfalls and follows the route which will (hopefully) lead us to the “best” possible decision.

    Pushing back against generalization is a broader theme in film study. When we search for something, the other things are filtered out in what we may ascribe to noise. But the censoring of information is not necessarily the most desirable course. Remember, we’re looking to emulate the bottom-up approach of how parts interact within systems, so to flow with the process organically will broaden our worldview of what considers contributions and what doesn’t. The resulting observations about interactions and synergies, which are selected to cover wide areas of possible circumstances, are condensed into “tendencies” by which players impact systems.

    Statistics aren’t omitted from the process and exemplify a trade-off between bias and variance (analogous to forms of regression modeling) shared with film. Statistics are shorthands that account for a player’s entire time on the court during a given season, Playoffs, career, et cetera, but the tools are biased toward the measurements that are decided upon. Meanwhile, film has the potential for the reduction of bias based on the viewer, but the length of seasons and typical thresholds that decrease the variance of observations would presumably require an inhuman amount of time and energy to overcome. Not all statistics are “good,” as has been proven many times. How many points a player scores per 75 possessions or his relative True Shooting percentage likely isn’t that “important” in this process, especially as self-contained objects. For this process, the most “important” statistics are “tracking” (non-traditional, non-box counting) stats and lineup stats, for their abilities to shed light on tendencies which may be less prone to variation among systems and synergies among parts (WOWY, assist networks).

    While on the topic of analytics, there surely must be some mention of “impact” (composite, one-number) metrics! Without them, we’d have virtually no idea the degree to which a player can impact the game outside of an arbitrary, dissonant mental estimate. Though it is important to continually be mindful of their weak spots and how certain modeling techniques may capture one player’s intrasystemic value fairly well, but not another. These are ideally the concluding steps in the process, a crude benchmark that offers strong, rigid methods with which we can connect the actions a player performs with the underlying “impact” on the successes and failures of the systems. 

    The Interpretation of Player Rankings

    By “ranking” players and devising lists, the purpose is not to create a perfect representation of reality or estimate within some strict interval the degree to which the process produces plausible results. Player rankings are not intended to be a reflection of how one interprets the process of possessions (the higher-dimensional, purely intersystemic basketball), but rather the entertainment-based alternate process by which one can estimate such a reality with a finite number of parameters, all of which are prone to human error, misinterpretation, and reduction. Ranking players is a social experiment, so let us treat it as such!


  • The Consequences of “Knowing” Individual Scoring

    “All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.”

    Basketball is not the study of individuals, but rather the study of the interactions among parts which form wholes. The conditions of the sport make it so, repressing individuality, providing one-dimensional views of the ways in which parts adapt to and interact in systems. This leaves us, as evaluators of basketball, in a constant state of Epoché whose curtains deflect approximations of intersystemic truth, guided by logic and pattern recognition. But those mimicries of knowledge emphasize the ultimate pitfalls of intersystemic thinking: perceiving data for one thing and allowing the underlying motivations to narrow the descriptive power, the resulting knowledge.

    Possessions as a Process

    Scoring is perennially misrepresented as an individual skill, a sound heuristic on which to form judgments and construct an individual by his abilities. But this, of course, assumes that the priorities of the evaluator are in line with understanding the processes by which systems produce results, by which systems succeed or fail. To entertain the attribution of scoring to “putting the ball in the basket” in such a context would be a blasphemous reduction of the self-imposed heuristic. The process produces the results, but the latter does not describe the former, merely functions as a false indicator by other self-imposed heuristics.

    Points ascribed to individuals are the pyrite in the muddy solution to the complex question, one which has already been reduced to fit into the narrowing worldview that seeks knowledge. They encourage the interpretation of the result as the whole fruit rather than its outermost layer which conceals the seeds which had been planted to instigate the process. Measures have been derived from points as data points for players to attempt context, yet still ignore the underlying functions of the process, namely, a “shot quality” metric. Such presentation may encourage the idea of scoring as a measure of points relative to expectation, which remains a result-oriented approach.

    Yet, scoring remains a process which spins webs between individuals that conceal intersystemic phenomena in the guise of individuals making shots. The concepts of individual scoring, of shot quality, and of additional context attributed to the moment of a shot, serve as psychological safety nets against the masses of tangible and intangibles processes at work during possessions, processes within processes. To understand the extent to which data accumulates, let us tentatively outline a fundamental, ecological process of offensive possessions.

    The Pick-and-Roll

    Perhaps the most widespread tactical approach in basketball’s collective knowledge: the pick-and-roll, and any variation on which the “roller” (if not multiple) will typically relocate to a higher space on the court. Such plays are instinctually recognized as processes, either premeditated or an impromptu one whose execution is predetermined. A common goal of basketball offenses is to convert on the “best” shot possible, the one which will maximize their output in the limited space and time which they receive. They are shots that exist as possibilities and ranges; they are conditional and require recognition of what can be instead of merely what is, and sometimes are never found.

    Shots are not free, bound by the limited space and time of possessions but also by the alternatives by which the team might have scored. All shots have costs. (This is why the notion that “efficiency” does not matter is often disregarded.) Sometimes that cost, that next-best alternative, is more than the actual result (team fails to convert on “best” shot possible) and sometimes is it less (team succeeds to convert on “best” shot possible). The pick-and-roll illustrates how this phenomenon relates to the process of scoring, the manners in which teams seek the “best” shot possible and how the process influences the ability to seek, the trade-offs involved in a multi-dimensional scoring process.

    Let us conceptually omit the variance in remaining teammates and opponents, coaching staffs, and any parts which influence the happenings on the court during an offensive possession. During the pick-and-roll, there exist a Ball-Handler and a Roller, the former designated with the initiation of optimizing the “goal” (to find the “best” shot possible) with the ball in his hands while the latter encourages this by setting a screen. The two-man interaction between the Ball-Handler the Roller can be viewed as cyclical, an interdependent process by which both parts attempt to optimize the goal by improving each other’s shot quality.

    A “traditional” pick-and-roll would ideally result in a field-goal attempt at the rim for the Roller, as such shots (on average) garner the highest expected point-values and taller, sturdier bigs who set screens are less prone to physical resistance in the key. A manner in which the Handler can improve the Roller’s shot quality is by preoccupying defenders, as more space to operate will increase the shot quality of the Roller because he has less physical resistance against his shot. To act out such a thing, the Handler must communicate to the defense a reason for which he must receive an “extra” amount of attention, to open space for the Roller or instigate a chain-reaction of help defense which could improve shot quality for teammates. (Although we solely focus on the Roller in this instance.)

    To receive that extra attention is to possess a threat by which the Handler could score with the ball to a degree that exceeds the concerns of his teammates. Thus, the Handler must possess what is colloquially known as a “scoring threat” to improve the Roller’s shot quality in the manner expressed earlier. To do so he must previously score through ways which threaten the defense (processes within processes) and predispose the defense to cautionary measures in following possessions. If the Handler is successful in this regard, he may successfully contribute to the shot quality improvement at the moment of the Roller’s attempt and contribute to the process of scoring.

    So why don’t teams employ this two-man game in every possession if they will consistently maximize the difference between their shot quality and the opportunity cost? Because observed repetition refines cautionary measures, and the play is designed to exploit cautionary measures. A team’s shot quality would trend downward because the interaction between the Handler and Roller changed significantly; the further removed a defense is from observing the Handler’s scoring threat, the less likely they are to instigate the cautionary measure which allows for the play in the first place. Therefore, the Handler must recognize the trade-off, revert to earlier habits of attack to keep opponents on their toes and create a possession of possibilities, thereby allowing the process to continue.

    Simultaneously, the Roller may continue to garner defensive attention due to the shift toward his scoring threat. The defense would expect him to shoot more frequently and more efficiently, and thus alter their cautionary measures to account for more of his shooting attempts. The result would draw a discrete amount of attention away from the Handler, thus allowing for more opportunities for the Handler to score frequently and more efficiently, the precedence by which the Handler can then influence the Roller’s ability to score frequently and more efficiently. Thus, the process is cyclical, one which evaluates trade-offs and alters the roles of the parts within the system to interdependently optimize its goals.

    The Quasi-Existence of Individual Scoring

    Points and efficiency, although functional as crude data points of the results of a player’s shots, shed minimal light on the processes by which teams score under the principles of intersystemic thinking. Because the processes often involve trade-offs, the selections of attacks which repress individual talent and independent decision-making, the concept of individual scoring is intertwined in an elegant, endless system from which the concept cannot be unraveled. So why do we so often prescribe such incomplete data to the questions that arise?

    People’s predisposition to default to digestible, if-incomplete measuring tools breeds the ground for selectivity, taps into our insatiable need to quantify and rank our self-imposed classifications that narrow our worldviews and set the stage for unknowing, the consequence to the tactics of pattern recognition and the reconfirmation of our heuristics. Scoring as the main principle of basketball understands this, exists as a thing born out of many but is often reduced to the one, and urges us to reconsider the manners in which we observe and judge.