Monthly Archives: February 2018

The Charles Babbage Basketball Prediction Problem

Charles Babbage is one of the pioneers of modern-day computing. In the 1800s he came up with the idea for a computer when such a thing was a far-off pipe dream. And as often happens with explaining fancy new future technology, some of the questions he got were odd. One of my favorite quotes about this was:

On two occasions I have been asked, — “Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?” In one case a member of the Upper, and in the other a member of the Lower, House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

Source: Wikiquote

I think about this quote a lot when it comes to sports predictions. As fans of the Boxscore Geeks or Wages of Wins will know, I have slowly adopted Dave Berri’s distaste for preseason predictions, primarily as “proof” of anything. And one of the biggest issues I have is encapsulated in the Babbage quote above. You see, when it comes to preseason prognostications, one can put in the wrong inputs and get the “right” outputs.

For example, when we first started the Boxscore Geeks we took on the audacious task of projecting the entire NBA season. We included our projections for every player’s minutes and performance in the NBA and got a win estimate for every NBA team as a result. And here’s the thing, while that’s a fun exercise, it goes off the rails quickly. Let’s use the current NBA season as an example. Here’s a list of teams that had a significant change to their roster either via injury or player movement. The list is not all-inclusive.

  • The Boston Celtics lost Gordon Hayward for the entire NBA season a mere one game into the season.
  • The Chicago Bulls “stars” Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic got into a fight two days before the NBA season started. Mirotic missed two months with a broken jaw. Portis was out eight games with a suspension. Eventually, the Bulls traded Mirotic at the trade deadline.
  • The Clevland Cavaliers did a complete overhaul of their roster at the trade deadline that saw Dwyane Wade, Channing Frye, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert leave and brought back George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. Additionally, Kevin Love is out six to eight weeks with a broken hand.
  • The Denver Nuggets recently acquired thirty-million dollar a year man Paul Millsap went down in November and will be out until at least March!
  • The Detroit Pistons had a blockbuster trade deadline trade for Blake Griffin.
  • The Los Angeles Clippers traded away Blake Griffin at the trade deadline.
  • The Los Angeles Lakers traded away Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson for Channing Frye and Isaiah Thomas.
  • The Memphis Grizzlies have lost Mike Conley for the season.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks traded Greg Monroe for Eric Bledsoe a month into the season. Additionally, Malcolm Brogdon is out for six to eight weeks with a tendon injury. Jason Kidd was also fired midseason if you believe coaching matters.
  • The New Orleans Pelicans have lost Demarcus Cousins for the season. They also acquired Nikola Mirotic at the trade deadline.
  • The New York Knicks have lost All-Star Kristaps Porzingis for the season with a knee injury.
  • The Oklahoma City Thunder have lost underrated guard Andre Roberson for the season.
  • The Orlando Magic traded Elfrid Payton for a second-round pick at the trade deadline. Also, Aaron Gordon has almost missed twenty games with various injuries.
  • The Philadelphia 76ers number one draft pick Markelle Fultz is out for the season (I believe.)
  • The Phoenix Suns traded Eric Bledsoe for Greg Monroe. They have since waived Greg Monroe. They also acquired Elfrid Payton at the trade deadline.
  • The Sacramento Kings traded away George Hill at the trade deadline.
  • The San Antonio Spurs have been with Kawhi Leonard for most of the season, and his timetable to return is unknown.
  • The Utah Jazz traded Rodney Hood for Jae Crowder and lost Thabo Sefolosha for the season.
  • The Washington Wizards are without All-Star point guard John Wall for six to eight weeks for knee surgery.

I’ve left out unexpected changes in performance, surprising rookie performances, etc. Regardless, this season I count nineteen teams that due to either injury or trade had a significant difference to their roster from the start of the year. And that means whatever inputs any of us had for our projections to the NBA season are now entirely different from what’s going on now. Of course, many of us can be “right” in regards to the outcome at the end of the season. My example, for instance, is one could have predicted Boston would win over 55 games this season and credit Gordon Hayward. They are well on their way to that, but Hayward is not a direct factor.

If we’re honest with ourselves, the prediction we made to start the season was answering an entirely different question. And the critical part of this is that this season isn’t an outlier. Every NBA season there are severe injuries that impact teams. Teams are always allowed to trade and waive players. The NBA is huge in that one or two players can completely change how a team does. It doesn’t mean we should stop trying to predict what’s going to happen. We should just acknowledge that by the time the NBA season wraps up, what we thought to start the season has little to do with what the NBA looks like at the end.

-Dre

The Boxscore Geeks Show: Ripping up my Prediction on the Cavaliers

Wow, another long one! We have to backtrack and explain how the trade deadline immediately made las week’s show obsolete. We talk the Bucks and their analytics squad. And of course we talk more about the Twin Galaxies controversies (and kind of tie it back to sports and esports, I swear!) Tune in!

Hosts

Sources

You can watch us live at twitch.tv/nerdnumbers; we usually go Wednesday at 9:30 pm EST. Follow us on Twitter, and we’ll keep you posted!

Please subscribe to Channel NerdNumbers on YouTube and like us on iTunes!

You can download the show direct here.

Video Show


The NBA transactions at basketball-reference.

An article at the Journal Sentinel about the Bucks and their analytics department.

Are video game records broken?

-Dre

p.s. We’ll talk more about this next week I’m sure, but as we recorded the show, Jokic recorded the fastest triple-double in NBA history, which I’m preemptively calling the boxscore of the year.

Should the Mavericks have won the 2003 NBA Finals?

In 1979 the NBA introduced the three-point line. Almost 40 years later, teams have finally realized it’s a good thing. Modern teams are raining down threes, and the best offenses in the league are built around layups and threes (or as we affectionally call it “Moreyball”). And that can’t help make you think of historical players (John Stockton anyone?) and teams.

In 2002-2003 the Mavericks had a 28-year-old Steve Nash and a 24-year-old Dirk Nowitzki on a team together. And this team went on to a 60 win record. They lead the league in Offensive Rating (how many points they scored per 100 possessions). And I think they vastly underperformed what they could have done. That season the Mavericks were second in the NBA in three-point attempts per game at 20.3. Dirk and Steve only combined for 8.2 of them. In the modern NBA, the lowest number of three-point attempts for an NBA team is the Knicks at 22.2. The second place team, the Brooklyn Nets, takes 34.2 three-pointers a game.

And you can’t help but wonder if the Mavericks had embraced Moreyball in 2002-2003, what it would have looked like. Here’s a rundown of the firepower the Mavericks had in 2003.

  • Dirk Nowitzki – 4.9 3PA/G, 38.4% career three-point shooter.
  • Mike Finley – 4.7 3PA/G, 37.5% career three-point shooter
  • Nick Van Exel – 4.3 3PA/G,  35.7% career three-point shooter
  • Steve Nash – 3.3 3PA/G, 42.8% career three-point shooter
  • Walt Williams – 2.6 3PA/G, career 37.9% three-point shooter

As mentioned the Mavs finished the season tied for the best record. But due to the stupid playoff seeding rules, they nabbed the 3rd seed! As a result in the first round of the playoffs, they had to play the six-seeded Blazers, who were a 50 win team and took them to seven games. While they got home court, they had to face the 59 win Sacramento Kings in the second round, who also took them to seven games. It turns out home court didn’t matter in their six-game loss to the Spurs. That said, you can’t help what wonder what a more relaxed schedule in the playoffs and an offense based on three-point shooting would have done against the Spurs.

Notoriously, Mark Cuban relented why Steve Nash couldn’t have played like an MVP in Dallas. Of course, we’d argue that he did, but regardless, the major change to Steve Nash was playing under D’Antoni. And one thing D’Antoni did was increase the number of threes the Suns took and then the number of threes that Steve Nash took. We often talk hypotheticals, and it’s hard to know if a player on a different team (for instance, what if Shaq had stayed in Orlando. What if Denver had won the 2003 draft lottery?), but most have too many variables to know anything. But it just feels slightly more certain in the land of absurd speculations, that had D’Antoni taken over the 2003 Mavericks, they’ve have had a much better shot at a title.

-Dre

p.s. Day three of daily posting Monday-Thursday continues! I’ll try and do better at posting in the morning, but I’ll still count today, even though it was “after business hours.”

 

 

LeBron James and LaMarcus Aldridge Lead the Game Changers!

A quick reminder on the “Game Changer” metric. The Wins Produced formula estimates a player’s contribution in regards to how many wins they earn a team over the course of the season. We can translate this into point margin (the Points over Par metric), as in, how many points did they help their team outscore (or get outscored by) their opponent. If we compare their Points over Par (PoP) for a given game to the actual score, we can ask an important question: if you replaced them with an average player, would the outcome have changed? Here’s a fun down of the top ten game changers this season by net wins and net losses.

Player Game Changer  Wins Game Changer Losses
LeBron James 17 6
LaMarcus Aldridge 11 2
Anthony Davis 10 2
James Harden 9 2
Stephen Curry 11 4
Kevin Love 10 3
Klay Thompson 9 3
Clint Capela 5 0
Giannis Antetokounmpo 8 3
Victor Oladipo 9 4

In a revelation that will shock no one, LeBron James has been clutch this season. The Cavs needed his performance for seventeen of their thirty-three wins. Let that sink in. Admittedly he has aged, a little, and cost them a few games too. Our only “perfect” player in the top ten is Clint Capela, our darkhorse MVP candidate. Let’s also give a shout out to Kevin Love as well, who has been key to Cavs this season and will hopefully be back healthy for the playoffs.

A short post for today, but that’s how it goes sometimes! See you tomorrow!

-Dre

The Boxscore Geeks Show: the Anti-Speed Run

Wow, a long one! We talk the Super Bowl, the horrendous Cavs, various NBA trades, Forbes NBA values, and videogame record scandals.

Hosts

Sources

You can watch us live at twitch.tv/nerdnumbers; we usually go Wednesday at 9:30 pm EST. Follow us on Twitter, and we’ll keep you posted!

Please subscribe to Channel NerdNumbers on YouTube and like us on iTunes!

You can download the show direct here.

Video Show


As noted, I’m planning on returning to “daily” postings (Monday-Thursday). I’m starting on a “Friday” with today’s post, and admittedly the show notes will be sparse or rather non-existent today. That said, tune into nerdnumbers.com regularly for blogs, and boxscoregeeks.com for stats and tools.

-Dre