David Berri on Adjusted Plus/Minus

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Way back in 2006, David Berri, Martin Schmidt, and Stacey Brook came out with a book called The Wages of Wins. It was supposed to be Moneyball for sports other than baseball, but for a lot of people, the book read like Moneyball with a serious chip on its shoulder. In a team game with lots of variables, Berri and his co-authors were confident in their regression-based assertions that  there were 90 players more valuable than Allen Iverson during the season that he won MVP, that scoring was vastly overvalued while rebounding was too often neglected, and Ray Allen had been just as good throughout his career as Kobe Bryant. 

The general feeling among a lot of hard-core basketball fans and analysts was that the Wages of Wins system, which relied only on box-score based statistics, couldn’t possibly accurately capture everything that made a player valuable in a five-on-five game. The logical extreme of that philosophy came in the form of Wayne Winston, the former stat guru for the Dallas Mavericks whose brainchild was adjusted plus/minus, which sought to measure a player’s value without using any box-score statistics whatsoever. As it turned out, he had some even more outlandish conclusions than Berri and co. did. He said that the Knicks should never have traded Tim Thomas, that Lamar Odom was better than Kobe Bryant, and that Kevin Durant wasn’t helping the Thunder win. 
After last weekend’s Sloan stats and analytics conference, David Berri has a short post up on adjusted plus/minus. Here’s the crux of Berri’s argument for box-score bases metrics over adjusted plus/minus:
JC Bradbury and I – in a forthcoming article in the Journal of Sports Economics — report that only 7% of a player’s adjusted plus/minus is explained by what a player did the previous season (oddly enough, unadjusted plus/minus has a stronger – albeit still relatively weak – correlation).  In other words, the correlation coefficient for adjusted plus/minus from season-to-season is below 0.30.   And when we look at players who switch teams – as Songaila did – we fail to find a statistically significant relationship. In contrast, any measure (PERs, Wages of Wins measures, NBA Efficiency, Win Shares, etc…) based on the box score will have a correlation coefficient of at least 0.65, and often these marks are above 0.80. 

Berri makes a solid point. He uses Darius Songalia as a case study for how inconsistent adjusted plus/minus can be, but he could easily have used Kevin Durant, who started the season as a posterchild for how plus/minus based stats could contradict box score metrics but is now an example of how elastic adjusted plus/minus can be from season to season. 

I’m a big believer in using advanced stats to gain knowledge about basketball, but it appears that both Berri and Winston have holes in their metrics. Berri’s box-score based metrics don’t necessarily reflect who was doing what helped his team win the game. For example, let’s say Matt Barnes plays great defense on Kobe for 20 seconds and forces him into a tough fadeaway. Dwight Howard then blocks out Pau Gasol and keeps him from getting to the rebound. The ball caroms off the rim and goes to Vince Carter, who collects the easy rebound. In Berri’s system, only Carter gets credit for doing something right on that play. 
Winston’s system would theoretically give Barnes and Howard most of the credit for the play above. However, the issue is that they could have radically different roles on a different team. With another team, Barnes might not be a starter or a perimeter scorer, but a stretch four who provides energy and outside shooting off the bench without giving much on the defensive end. Thus, he could have a radically different value with a different team. 
Advanced statistics in basketball are wonderful, but they are far from airtight. For the foreseeable future, the best approach with advanced statistics will be to use a number of different metrics and see how they inform each other rather than wait for one perfect formula to reduce contributions to a single integer. 

Report: Kyrie Irving ‘very badly’ wants trade to Knicks

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Kyrie Irving, who grew up in New Jersey, listed the Knicks among his preferred destinations in a trade.

Is New York his top choice?

Pablo Torre on ESPN:

I got a phone call, and the voice on the other end of that phone call is a trustworthy person. And he was saying to me that Kyrie Irving very badly wants to be a New York Knick. Kyrie Irving wants to come home.

Irving is less valuable than Kristaps Porzingis and more valuable than Carmelo Anthony, and the Knicks can’t easily bridge either gap. They reportedly won’t trade Porzingis for Irving, a wise move. Anthony – who possesses a no-trade clause – is reportedly set on the Rockets. An Irving trade would almost certainly have to be centered around one of those two players.

Maybe Cleveland can work its way into a multi-team trade with Anthony going to Houston, but it’s unclear where the assets the Cavs are seeking would come from.

When Irving requested a trade, he should have known he’d lose control of the process. Locked up for two more years and without a no-trade clause, Irving has minimal sway. His relationship with the Cavaliers looks increasingly unworkable, but they could deal him anywhere.

That said, I can see why he’d want to go to New York – big market in his home area, a team he could take over. Even as Porzingis grows in stature, he’s not a ball-dominant player who’d step on Irving’s toes.

But this just feels like a Stephon Marbury redux. From owner James Dolan down, the Knicks are poorly run, and their stars – beloved when welcomed – usually leave with their reputations damaged.

By the way, what happened to the Spurs being Irving’s top choice? In a situation like this, sometimes people close to the player have differing preferences and leak accordingly. That could have just been someone near Irving pushing for his or her choice for the guard – and this could be, too.

If players thought this year’s free agent market was tight, next summer could be “nuclear winter”

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Plenty of agents spent this summer trying to explain to their clients that the summer of 2017 was not the summer of 2016 (one I know of even was thanking media members in Las Vegas who wrote about how tight the free agent market had gotten so he could show his clients). Players saw the ridiculous contracts of 2016 — Timofey Mozgov got four-years, $64 million; Bismack Biyombo got four years, almost $70 million; and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, players deep into rosters were overpaid — and thought this summer it would be their turn.

Except it wasn’t. In 2016 the salary cap spiked from $70 million to $94 million and that meant 27 teams entered free agency under the cap (and the teams over it spent big to re-sign their own), and $5 billion in contracts were handed out. This summer, 14 teams were under the $99 million cap and about $3 billion was handed out — and once the stars such as James Harden got paid big, the market dried up and players got less than expected. Four-time All-Star and elite defender Paul Millsap would have been a clear max a year ago, he could “only” get three years (at age 31) at $4 million less than his max. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would have been a lock max in 2016, he signed a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million this summer. And further down the list guys like Rajon Rondo are signing team-friendly deals.

And next summer is going to be a far tighter market. As Tim MacMahon and Bobby Marks of ESPN point out, the free agent class of 2018 is going to pay for the excess of 2016.

The early projections for 2018-19: nine teams with cap space, and potentially 10 teams paying luxury tax.

“The real story is the nuclear winter for free agents coming next year,” one team executive with authority to make personnel decisions told ESPN. “Teams planned the last two summers for the cap to be much higher. The fact that it went way down from the projections crushed teams.”

Another general manager put it this way to ESPN:

“What I see all the time is players not understanding why, ‘This player got this, but I get that?’ They want it to make sense and it just doesn’t make sense. I think you’ll see a lot of agents get fired.

“The top guys will always feed first and then the year of the cap spike, there was a lot left for everybody else to feed. Next year, the top players will still get theirs, and then there will be not much left.”

NBA teams are not going to negotiate deals off the mistakes of 2016, they see that as the outlier to be ignored.

The Summer of 2018 is loaded with top free agents who are going to get max contract offers from their own teams and those with enough cap space to try and poach them — LeBron James, Kevin Durant (he will re-sign with Warriors), Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins, plus restricted guys who could see max deals such as Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. There’s even a second tier of guys who will be maxed out or close to it — Andrew Wiggins (extension eligible right now), DeAndre Jordan, Isaiah Thomas, and others.

But that next tier down? How much will teams pay for Robert Covington? Aaron Gordon? Clint Capela? Kentavious Caldwell-Pope? Danny Green? And for guys counting on the one-year deals they signed this summer to boost their stock — we can use Derrick Rose as an example — even if they play well they may not see the money they expect.

The league and owners had wanted to smooth in the salary cap spike of 2016, raising it fair amount over three or five years to avoid the spending spree, but the players’ union rejected that idea. For the free agents in the summer of 2016 that worked out well. For the ones in the 2018… not so much.

Why a trade probably won’t alone cost Kyrie Irving a super-max extension

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Kyrie Irving getting his wish of being traded from the Cavaliers would immediately render him ineligible to receive a super-max contract – reducing his projected max on his next deal by $24 million over five years.

It probably won’t matter.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for designated-veteran-player contracts only to players with their original team or who changed teams only via trade in their first four seasons. So, Irving, entering his seventh season, could no longer qualify if dealt.

But to receive a designated-veteran-player extension next summer, Irving would also have to make an All-NBA team or win Defensive Player of the Year or MVP this season. To receive a designated-veteran-player contract in 2019 free agency, Irving would have to make All-NBA or win Defensive Player of the Year in 2018-19 or win MVP in either 2017-18 or 2018-19.

That’s unlikely.

For all his accomplishments – Rookie of the Year, four All-Star appearances, the game-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals – Irving has made only one All-NBA team, the third team in 2015.

Five other players have made precisely one All-NBA team in their first six seasons since the league added an All-NBA third team in 1989: Marc Gasol, Derrick Rose, Chris Bosh, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson. Only one – Gasol – reached another All-NBA team. That’s a small sample, but indicative of how Irving’s lone All-NBA selection doesn’t make repeated All-NBA inclusion inevitable.

The league’s current crop of guards doesn’t help, either. At least 11 players on this list must fall short for Irving to make All-NBA:

The competition could be even stronger if Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler and/or Gordon Hayward qualify as guards.

It’s obviously far from impossible for Irving to make All-NBA if he remains in Cleveland. Irving is a star whose biggest strength – scoring – earns the most accolades.

His All-NBA chances are obviously worth discussing. Nobody mentioned Ricky Rubio losing his chance at a designated-veteran-player deal when the Timberwolves traded him to the Jazz.

But it’s also worth noting that the odds are against Irving making an All-NBA team the next two years if he remains in Cleveland. That calculus surely factors into his trade request.

Lamar Odom opens up about cocaine addiction

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Lamar Odom has discussed his cocaine addiction before – how it derailed his NBA career, marriage to Khloe Kardashian, his life. Never detailed like this, though.

Odom in The Players’ Tribune:

With cocaine especially, there’s a high, and then an emotional low. So it’s like a roller coaster. You go high, and then you go low. High, low, high, low. After you do it, you feel shame. You think about all the reasons why you shouldn’t have done it. Then the cycle starts again.

That’s the thing people don’t understand. Anybody who’s lived a complicated, drug-infused life like I’ve lived knows the cycle — with women, cheating on my wife, shit like that. Nights when I should have been asleep. Nights when I stayed up sniffing coke. Lot of those nights. When your heart is beating fast. When you should know better. When you’re just riding that roller coaster, man.

You think I wasn’t feeling shame? You think I was blind to what I was doing?

Nah, I wasn’t blind to it. Shame … pain. It’s part of the whole cycle. My brain was broken. As the years went on, and I got into my 30s, my career was winding down, and things just got out of control.

When I was like 32, 33 … I just wanted to get high all the time. That’s it, just get high. And things got dark as hell.

One of the darkest places I’ve ever been was when I was in a motel room, getting high with this chick, and my wife (at the time) walked in. That probably was like rock bottom.

I recommend reading all of Odom’s powerful essay, in which he explains the personal struggles that contributed to his drug use.