Why measuring player development’s easier than developing players

DipoDunk

Where did Victor Oladipo’s 2013 came from? (Yes, this was a miss. Still.)

In the coming days I’ll post a piece at ESPN.com that purports to rank major-conference coaches on how well they’ve performed in terms of player development over the last eight years.

This might therefore be an appropriate moment to offer the following disclaimer: I’m not really sure to what extent, in the most literal and causal sense, coaches develop players.

More importantly, no one, to my knowledge, is sure on that score. I suppose what we mean by a seemingly benign and straightforward compound noun like “player development” is actually something more like “developing your players’ naturally increasing ability to score and prevent points even faster than opposing coaches do.” That’s quite different than young players merely improving measurable NBA combine-variety skills.

The analytic nut to be cracked is that all college players get better at combine-variety skills. These are athletes between the ages of 18 and 20-something, they’re going to improve naturally and at a fast rate. You did slash are doing so too at that age. Continue reading

What we talk about when we talk about “major” conferences

AZ

Major-conference status is subject to change, but not merely on the basis of one really good, or really bad, tournament. (AP/Otto Kitsinger)

If you see someone say or write “power 5” in a basketball context, it means they’re not actually talking or writing in a basketball context. Excluding one of the six major conferences — the one that’s won two of the last three national titles, no less — just because it doesn’t play FBS football is, in basketball terms, problematic.

In other nomenclature news, there are still, by my lights, six major conferences.

Let’s look at the contenders for this label starting with the 2014 season, when conference memberships assumed more or less their current form.

1. Tournament wins
Congratulations, ACC. It’s been an impressive five years in the tournament, even allowing for the fact that you have 15 teams with which to flood that zone while other majors have just 10.

NCAA tournament wins, 2014-18

Based on current memberships
              Total wins    Per team-season
1. ACC            69             0.92
2. Big 12         41             0.82
3. Big Ten        47             0.69
4. Big East       31             0.62
5. SEC            40             0.57
6. Pac-12         31             0.52
7. American       18             0.33       

Continue reading

The cumulative game

EP

There’s something to be said for combining a very low turnover rate with normal (or even below-average) offensive rebounding, a la Villanova. Conversely, other teams may be underperforming by four or even five points per game due to a sheer lack of scoring chances. (Bill Streicher, USA Today Sports)

Over the past couple years, I’ve started wondering whether the manner in which our brains are hard-wired is conspiring with the inherent nature of basketball to keep us from recognizing how important it is to generate a lot of shot attempts.

Consider the Premier League. A proper appreciation of shots that had a chance to go in but didn’t for Arsenal or Chelsea constitutes a rudimentary level of “well, duh” analysis. In that setting, shots on goal are a really big deal. They’re tracked closely and dissected individually by the studio talent after the match.

In basketball, however, attempted shots are the fabric of the game itself. Attempts in this sport are numerous, unremarkable in isolation, and, indeed, most of them (56 percent, give or take) are misses. Shots that don’t go in aren’t exciting visually, they’re never featured in highlights, and each miss represents a failure, of sorts. Continue reading

RPI, fatally flawed metric, finally dead at 38

ncaanews

NCAA newsletter, 1981

The Ratings Percentage Index, a misbegotten multi-sport statistic that mistakenly became an object of misplaced obsession for everyone connected with men’s college basketball, died Wednesday at the age of 38. The death was announced by the metric’s lone sponsor and last surviving adherent, the NCAA.

No official cause of death had been announced by Wednesday afternoon, though the RPI had long suffered from complications associated with chronic analytic confusion.

When the RPI was born in the fall of 1980 (no definitive birth date has ever been established), college basketball games were only sporadically televised, the NCAA tournament field consisted of 48 teams, and the men’s basketball committee had little or no reliable data with which to support its selection and seeding decisions. Continue reading

Prepare for (by far) the most perimeter-oriented first round ever

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Even Robert Williams attempted 12 three-pointers last season. (Don’t ask how many he made.)

The 2018 NBA draft is now just hours away, and it’s already a virtual certainty that the 30 players selected in the first round will be far and away the most perimeter-oriented such group we’ve ever seen.

Just how different is this 2018 bunch? Here’s a handy graphic representation…

first_round_threes

Behold, seven years of first-round picks. I’ve even thrown in a special bonus surprise in the form of the 2018 first round. No, it hasn’t happened yet, but I trust a fair portion of these players will in fact hear their names called. (I’ve used Jonathan Givony’s projected order of selection.) Continue reading

If lottery selections just parrot earlier high school rankings, does the NBA really need one-and-done?

Ayton

(Kevin Jairaj, USA Today)

One fascinating aspect of one-and-done has always been that, at least in theory, it has no logical basis for existence. Recall that the rule was instituted on July 29, 2005, in part, to give NBA franchises additional and badly needed information on draft prospects. There were to be no more Kwame Browns.

An understandable wish, surely, but one that affords an exceedingly odd occasion for a proscriptive rule. After all, in a world where high school graduates are immediately draft-eligible, why would you need to make this a rule in the first place? If a front office feels insufficiently confident to draft a player right out of high school, they can just pass. No one’s holding a gun to their head and saying they must draft an enigma.

If you’re more confident using a draft pick on a player who’s been in college for one season, fine, draft a freshman. Make one-and-done the “rule” for your franchise. It’s a free country.

Or so it would seem, based on how markets are supposed to work in a classical model. Then again, that’s not how professional basketball functions. Indeed, the NBA tried that very system 20-some years ago, and, eventually, found it wanting. Continue reading

The log cabin ate my homework

WHH

With apologies to Daniel Feller.

This is an essay about when and why many historians came to believe that, in the presidential election of 1840, Whigs said that their candidate, William Henry Harrison, lived in a log cabin.

The received history turns out, in this instance, to be incorrect. The Whigs did not say Harrison lived in a log cabin, so the fact that such an error occurred and indeed endured for so long (it is repeated to this day) makes for an illustrative story.

Early- and mid-20th century scholars writing about the Jacksonian era made a collective methodological misstep on this discrete question. The historians placed their faith in easily accessed reminiscences written decades after the fact instead of in more elusive yet more credible primary sources from 1840 itself.

It might be expected in the ordinary course of events that later writers would have set the record straight. Alas, presidential elections from long ago form a curious topical case, serially invoked yet seldom investigated. The locus classicus on the “log cabin and hard cider campaign” was published in 1957. And, notwithstanding Gail Collins’ deft and discerning extended essay on Harrison from 2012, the standard full-length biography of the ninth president dates from 1939.

In other words, the log cabin error was brought about originally by commission, and has remained in place ever since due to simple omission. The resulting irony, wherein 21st century writers adopt an authoritative tone of voice to lament how badly misinformed voters were in 1840, is rich, but it’s also instructive and cautionary. The secondary literature failed these writers. Perhaps it’s failing us too, on other topics and in other ways we don’t yet suspect.  Continue reading