I was scanning through TrueHoop two days ago when I saw something that appaled me:
“Amare Stoudemire’s claim to MVP status can be supported by points per possession. He’s very close to 1.2 PPP, which is right there among the best rates ever recorded. And, as much as he says no one is mentioning him as a candidate, check this out: the blogosphere had your back last week, Mr. Stoudemire.”
If you read the article that Henry Abbott linked to (at section F sports) you’ll notice it dismisses Stoudemire’s weak defensive play as something that could potentially derail his MVP case. In my opinion, this is completely ridiculous. The REASON the Suns have yet to make it out of the Western Conference finals during the Steve Nash era, is because they struggle defending the low post in slow-paced, half-court, playoff games. The whole reason Steve Kerr decided to uproot the run-and-gun model that had won the Suns an average of 59 games over the previous three years and trade for Shaquille O’Neal was presicely because he believed that to get over the final hump he needed that interior presence. It’s impossible to view Stoudemire as an MVP candidate, let alone the team MVP, when his biggest weakness is the reason for the team’s struggles and restructuring. Still, Stoudemire’s resume, according to Section F, can be made with the following statistical analysis.
– 3rd in PER (behind James and Paul)
– 2nd in the league according to Yahoo’s fantasy stats
– 4th according to ESPN’s fantasy player rater (doesn’t include turnovers)
– 3rd in points per 48 minutes (6th overall)
– 4th in field goal percentage
– 6th in blocks per game (as mentioned above)
– 1st in efficiency rating per 48 minutes (3rd overall)
Sure this is an impressive list. But it takes just one stat to dispel some of the value in Stoudemire’s rankings in these categories. Pace. The Pace statistic is defined differently if you look at Basketball-Reference and Hollinger’s Team Stats (you need to be an ESPN insider for some of these Hollinger links), but nevertheless it’s a measure of how many possessions a team uses. Lo and behold, the Suns have the fourth highest Pace in the NBA. So, it should come as no surprise – because remember, even though he is no MVP candidate, he still is a good player – that Amare is the benieficiary of high fantasy stats, and many points per 48 minuts. According to Hollinger, the Suns get 99.5 possessions per game. This is nearly eight more possessions than Chris Paul’s Hornets and seven more than Lebron James’ Cavs have – two true MVP candidates, respectively. Please don’t argue that Stoudemire is one of the reasons his team has so many additional possessions because he is in fact only a statistically avererage offensive rebounder at best for a big man in the NBA, so he is not responsible. Finally, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Amare’s FG% is so high, after all, he has Nash feeding him inside for easy buckets off of the pick-and-roll and in transition.
Speaking of Hollinger, you’ll notice his PER is mentioned often on ESPN.com and in throughout the web in evaluating players. I side with Dave Berri of the Wages of Wins Journal in saying that PER is not a good measure. Berri’s reasoning can be found in the previous link, but a simple explanation is that players can raise their Player Efficiency Rating by scoring a lot of points without shooting a particularly high percentage. Thus, should Rajon Rondo start hoisting up jumpers and hitting at a 40% rate, he would begin to improve his PER even though he is only scoring more because he is shooting more. These additional shots would actually hurt the Celtics, because he would be taking shots that would normally go to more efficient scorers such as KG, Pierce and Allen. This obviously does not affect Amare because he is such a high percentage shooter, but the fact that PER can rank him ahead of clearly superior talents, Duncan and KG, big men that obviously contribute more to their team’s winning cause, lets me know that PER is practically worth dumping.
Almost 700 words in, I’m not first going to fully examine sports history in this post. The reason I posted this in Stutter Step, a blog whose stated goal is to look at current events through the lens of history, is the to examine the importance of statistics. Obviously, it’s an easy way to evaluate a player, and especially one that you’ve never seen play, but it is crucial that we look at the right statistics and keep them in perspectives. For example, when I look at basketball players I make sure that after points, assists and rebounds, I take a look at turnovers, offensive rebounding, and steals. These stats help measure how a player affected the number of possessions his team had, and more possessions lead to more opportunities to score. I also like shooting percentages because they help determine whether a player is using these possessions efficiently. If a player takes 30 shots to score 25 points, he was probably better off passing to teammates or finding other ways to help his team win.
Finally, I like to take a look at the league the player was playing in and the teammates with whom he played. For example, Oscar Robertson’s famed 1961-62 season where he averaged a triple-double is EXTREMELY impressive, but keep in mind that shooting percentages were abysmal in that era, but the pace was faster and so accumulating points, rebounds and assists was somewhat easier (teams averaged about 5000 missed shots over the course of the season, whereas today that number is cut in half). On the other hand, Joe Morgan’s 27 jacks in 1976 don’t seem so amazing now, but check out how many HRs other second basemen hit during that era, and it’s easier to see how amazing that season was without even mentioning the .444 OBP, 111 RBIs or the 60 steals he gathered. That’s why as a sports fan you have to love the availability of sites like Basketball-Reference.com and Baseball-Reference.com.