Category Archives: Sports

Serena Williams and Slap Shot 2: A Lesson in “Fairness”

Recently Serena Williams lost in the US Open finals. Up and comer Naomi Osaka beat the greatest tennis player in what should be a possible passing of the torch in women’s tennis. The story, however, is that Serena Williams was penalized a point, and then later a game for arguing with the umpire. Serena Williams has gone on to claim the umpires are sexist and have a double standard compared to male athletes. I agree. And while I’ve seen some flock around the defense of the umpires “following the rules,” I figured I’d use one of the worst movies ever to make a point about that line of thinking in double standard scenarios.

Slap Shot 2: Dear God, Why did they make this?

Slap Shot 2 is the story about a minor league hockey team in financial trouble (like the original Slap Shot). The team finds itself acquired by an eccentric rich man who wants to put on wholesome hockey for his son. As a result, he creates a Harlem Globetrotter-esque scenario where the Chiefs play the role of the Washington Generals.

However, the Chiefs decide they want to play real hockey. After giving up many goals to their rivals in a game, they start playing for real. They end up winning the game proving a minor league team with former NHL players can indeed win a hockey game against another minor league team. Dear god, why did they make this movie?

One essential part about the pivotal game is that the Chiefs are down many goals (I couldn’t find how many and I refuse to pay for this movie) because like professional wrestling they are scripted to look bad and decide to play for real. When this happens, their coach informs the scorekeepers to reset the score 0-0. And this is important. In an already unbelievable movie — one of the subplots is that Stephen Baldwin was kicked out of the NHL for missing a vital shot in the Finals, which lead some to believe he was paid to throw games — Slap Shot 2 felt it important to stress that even playing good hockey, a team down a lot couldn’t come back in a period.

John McEnroe and “Good” Outbursts

Back to tennis! John McEnroe is a Hall of Fame tennis player. He is a nine-time Grand Slam winner, and depending on which list you use, places top 5 to top 10 in career wins in men’s tennis. That said, McEnroe is more well known for his outbursts and tantrums on the tennis courts. And one way we know this is that McEnroe has capitalized on this.

I found a 2017 commercial where McEnroe references one of his famous outbursts (“You cannot be serious!”)

Even Wimbledon’s own site has this clip fondly.

And for what it’s worth, McEnroe himself agrees there is a double standard in regards to the recent Serena debate. So back to the original debate.

Let’s assume you want to side with the argument – Serena Williams broke the rules and was wrong. And the tennis umpires are right, and regardless of what has happened in the past, they were right here. Even one of the worst sports movies ever understands if you give one side a huge lead and then decide to enforce the rules fairly for both sides, it’s still unfair for the team that’s been having goals scored on it. You cannot forget the years of tennis where the same behavior has been excused or awarded to the men, while chastised to the women. Even one of the worst sports movies ever understood this logic. And here’s hoping that tennis can too. Of course, as of this writing, various umpires are debating whether to boycott Serena’s games, so I won’t hold my breath.

-Dre

Q&A with Professor David Berri: The Fastpitch and the NBA Playoffs

Holy cats, our podcast with Dave Berri returns. For those that don’t know, Wages of Wins founder David Berri writes regularly for Forbes now (forbes.com/sites/davidberri) and he comes on weekly to talk his recent pieces. Since we’re catching up, we cram a lot in.

Sources

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

You can download the show direct here.

Video Show

Dave talks about the National Pro Fastpitch draft, both a preview and a review. As Dave notes, there are five teams, so they drafted pretty well.

Dave also tells an old story about the NFL draft, no one has any idea about how good any QB will be. As Dave notes, this has never been a popular story. People don’t like being told no one knows it seems.

We talk Dave’s article about NCAA “cheating” by paying athletes is a ludicrous idea.

We talk a fair bit about the NBA and NBA Playoffs. Dave put up his first round predictions and got 7 of 8 correctly. It turns out in the NBA picking the better team to win is often a good strategy. We may get a post out of his second round projections. Dave did post his projections for the series before they started:

Do want to throw out one of my old pieces on how the Mavericks 2011 Finals win wasn’t about clever lineup schemes as much as Dwyane Wade getting injured at a pivotal time.

We ask an important question: Has Carmelo Anthony read and used the Wages of Wins as a model for how to maximize his career earnings.

Fun Easter egg, our internet connection failed in the middle of the recording, so I had to cut out some dead space, see if you can find where! (It’s pretty obvious)

Follow Dave

Dave’s Forbes’ site is: forbes.com/sites/davidberri

Dave’s Twitter is: @wagesofwins

Dave’s textbook ” Sports Economics” has its own blog: https://community.macmillan.com/people/david.berri/content

-Dre

The Boxscore Geeks Show: Should Lonzo Ball win Rookie of the Year over Donovan Mitchell?

Penultimate Lakers fan Chris Yeh returns to discuss Lonzo Ball’s excellent rookie performance and why the Lakers are in a fantastic spot. We also randomly discuss NBA players out of time in their eras. 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


Show Notes

Chris Yeh is an Angel Investor in Silicon Valley with years of experience in the tech scene. He’s co-author of the New York Times bestseller “The Alliance,” which I argue every NBA GM should have on their bookshelf. His new book “Blitzscaling” comes out in October, and you can already preorder it!

Ethan Strauss named the “Yay! Points!” thesis almost eight years ago. Donovan Mitchell is proof it’s alive and well. Chris elaborates that iso jump shooting is overrated as an NBA skill.

Lonzo Ball was already a better rookie than LeBron James early in the season. He’s only improved since then!

This may now be the most “popular” Tweet I’ve ever written that is liked by one of the athletes it is about.

Something we should stress: the goal of professional athletes is to make a living playing sport. As Jalen Rose noted: “give the people what they want!” (h/t Chris for that reference) Donovan Mitchell knows scoring will get him paid. So while we might be critical of his production, we can’t fault what he’s doing from an economic standpoint.

The NBA landscape is changing, with a premium being given for three-point shooters. We can’t help but think of players from other eras that would be completely different in the modern NBA. Chris brings up Drazen Petrovic. I’ve already talked the Dallas Mavericks with Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki. And, of course, John Stockton could have been Curry but with better defense!

Chris shouts out the incredible “Lakers Film Room” YouTube channel, which provides excellent analysis of the Lakers.

A sports metaphor that comes up on this show I love: Chris Paul is the Rickie Henderson of the NBA.

We talk how the Lakers have a fantastic young core (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma) ready for two max contract players, which they have space for this upcoming offseason. Our suggestion? LeBron James and DeAndre Jordan.

Remember when the Knicks signed Amare Stoudemire to try and entice LeBron James to join them? Here’s hoping the Lakers do better!

We talk Gasol vs. Gasol! Shockingly even at this age, Pau is still the better one.

Chris gives a fun tank throwback to Mark Madsen with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Tune in for all that and more! Chris is one of the most knowledgeable Lakers fans you’ll ever hear, so it’s worth your time.

Seeya next week!

-Dre

Is “Major League” the best “Based on a True Story” Movie?

I’m a huge fan of sports movies. And, of course, many sports movies take their cue from reality. One of the most infamous types is the “Based on a True Story.” Of course, how accurate any of these vary. And regardless of how true the story is, many edit or inflate the story to add dramatization. There is one movie, that is “pure fiction” though that has so many true to life elements, I just had to talk about it. That movie, as you know from the title, is “Major League.” Major League tells the story of the Cleveland [Seriously it’s been 20 years they’re still called this?] baseball team and their owner Rachel Phelps. Here are three ways Rachel Phelps is “Based on a True Story.”

3.) Rachel Phelps is Billy Beane … a decade early

Alright, Billy Beane didn’t become general manager of the Oakland Athletics until 1998 and Major League came out in 1989. So, it’s hard to say it was based on reality. That said the plot of the two is very similar. A team in a depressed market struggles to compete against teams with larger payrolls. By acquiring undervalued assets that don’t look like conventional players, somehow a scrappy team is able to compete, but sadly unable to win in the playoffs. And, it turns out this was actually the “original script” to Major League. The plot we are given is that owner Rachel Phelps plans to tank the Cleveland season for nefarious reasons — we’ll get back to that shortly. However, that’s just a line she feeds the boardroom. Her team is actually cash-strapped, so the only way to compete is to look for undervalued players. There was a scene originally in the movie about this, but it didn’t screen well with audiences so it was cut.

Speaking of that scene

2.) Rachel Phelps is Herb Brooks

Another one of my favorite “Based on a True Story” movies is “Miracle. We’re told the thrilling tale of how the 1980s US Hockey team defeated the unbeatable Soviets. Part of the story is that the US players have a lot of animosity towards each other as many are from rival colleges. Of course, the US is also having a lot of strife at the time, so it’s hard to get the players to gel. US coach Herb Brooks decides the best way for his team to get along is to have a common enemy — him! He is cold and distant to the players, and sometimes sadistic, including making them do sprints after a disappointing exhibition game. Rachel Phelps, who we already know is on the team’s side, is the same way. She’s overtly antagonistic to the team. She seemingly does spiteful things like restricting access to the team plane and take away equipment. The team unites around proving Phelps wrong, so the plan works! The scene showing how this works doesn’t age well though …

1.) Rachel Phelps is Clay Bennett

Admitted this is the weirdest entry. As mentioned, the original ending to Major League was changed after test screenings. As such the plot we’re given is Rachel Phelps inherits a team in a market she doesn’t like. She plans to tank the season so bad that a clause in her contract allows her to relocate the team to Miami. As this was a feel-good movie, of course, that doesn’t happen. Reality can be much crueler. Clay Bennett acquired the Seattle Supersonics and said he planned to keep them in Seattle. However, he then traded away their good pieces and demanded stadium renovations from Seattle. When, shockingly, Seattle didn’t want to pay money for a bad team, Clay relocated the team to his home state of Oklahoma. And oddly, Clay’s real-world story starts drifting into Major League’s universe even more. In Major League II, despite being a contender, Cleveland’s money woes cause them to lose one of their stars. Because Bennett relocated to OKC, he ended up letting James Harden go over money. At least both Cleveland and OKC did make the finals once in their respective universes.

Did Major League Predict the future?

When I set about to write this piece my thesis was of course how much Major League copied reality. Of course, date checking everything shows it’s the other way around. I guess I’ll go rewatch the movie to see what else I should expect! Anyway, until next time.

-Dre

The Boxscore Geeks Show: Another MIT Sloan Analytics in the Tank.

Wow, another long one! We talk my time at the 2018 MIT Sloan Analytics Conference, tanking in the NBA, the NCAA controversy (the most recent one, maybe?), and some around the NBA team talk.

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


Show Notes

I attended the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference and had some thoughts, tune in to hear. If you want another fantastic analyst’s thoughts on the state of Sloan, check out Cleaning the Glass’ write up here.

I’m pretty proud that this happened.

Brian notes that sadly, Hinkie is likely not going to be back in the NBA anytime soon.

The NBA is warning teams against tanking. Any fan of behavioral psychology probably has some bad news for them.

We talk about the most recent NCAA scandal. Lots of people agree the notion that paying athletes is fine. We review Stan Van Gundy’s take.

As Shaun King notes, no joke, the NCAA has basically compared “student-athletes” to prison labor.

We discuss a few teams in the NBA including the Wizards, Nuggets, and Bucks.

Seeya next week!

-Dre

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

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

Why it’s difficult to tell Steve Nash was much better than Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash

In the 1996 draft, two future MVP players entered the league. Kobe Bryant was a promising high school recruit drafted in the lottery. He only went as low as 13th because he made it clear he only wanted to play for Los Angeles. Steve Nash was a fringe player selected by the Suns. Both players would go on to define their franchises, but in different ways. Kobe would be the staple of the Lakers. Through good times and bad, Kobe was there scoring points. Nash would bounce around until becoming an MVP player on the Suns.

To start their careers, Nash didn’t look like he’d become much while Kobe definitely showed promise. By the time their careers were fleshed out though, Steve Nash was one of the greatest players to grace the game. Kobe Bryant was, well, an all-time player but not an elite player at the level of Nash.

Now, when I say this, people fight back quickly. They forget that Kobe’s rings came with giant Shaq and Pau Gasol sized strings attached. They ignore that most of Kobe’s shooting is average and his clutch ability, despite its massive reputation, is virtually non-existent. They don’t realize that Steve Nash is one of the most efficient players to ever shoot the ball and that Kobe is often the textbook definition of a chucker. But, the reality is it’s easy to see why it’s so hard to tell that Nash is much better than Kobe. The difference is in the details, and, as they say, the devil’s in the details.

Compared to Average

Something baseball has understood for a while is the importance of comparing a player to their respective position. The Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric does just this. First basemen are compared to first basemen, shortstops to shortstops, etc. In basketball, this is equally important. The Wins Produced formula does this. Many of the older conventional metrics (PER, Win Shares) don’t.

Let’s add a little more perspective. Basketball is a game of possessions. A possession starts when a team gets the ball. This happens either by a steal, rebound, or inbounding the ball after the other team makes a basket. A possession ends when a team takes a shot, turns the ball over, or a foul happens. The average game has around two hundred possessions (these are evenly split amongst the teams, so roughly a hundred possessions per game per team). Even without timeouts and commercial breaks, the average NBA game is close to an hour in length. That means; an astute fan has to keep track of lots of possessions over a long period and somehow be able to make a judgment on that.

With that in mind, let’s unravel Kobe and Nash.

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant vs. Average

Let’s examine Kobe Bryant’s game to an average shooting guard. Above is how Kobe’s per-game numbers in the major stats compare with an average shooting guard. As an example, during Kobe’s career an average shooting guard took 3.6 three-point attempts (P3A) per 48 minutes. Kobe Bryant, however, took 5.2 three-pointers per 48 minutes. Kobe Bryant played roughly 36.6 minutes a game. So if we take the difference between what an average player would have done in 36.6 minutes and what Kobe did, we get the difference: Kobe took 1.2 more three-point attempts per game. One last note, in regards to Personal Fouls and Turnovers I have swapped the value. As in, if a player gets more turnovers than average, I show it negative, not positive on the scale.

Kobe’s shooting stats are the most obvious ones, and even those are a small part of the game. Kobe took almost five more shots a game than an average shooting guard. That’s only 5% of the Lakers offense and less than three percent of the total game! His free throws, which are where he truly excelled, boil down to two trips to the line a game. This is not to denigrate Kobe. It’s more to point out, even the most significant difference in his game amount to a few possessions.

In fact, areas Kobe did excel are not scoring. He’s actually been pretty good at passing. He’s an excellent rebounder. He doesn’t foul. Yet, even looking at these, it’s hard to notice. Kobe dished the ball out 1.1 more times a game than the standard guard. He got 1.2 more rebounds. This is part of why Kobe was a good player. Yet, can you tell me you noticed in a given game that extra rebound Kobe got in the second quarter on a routine play is why he’s a good player? In fact, barring Kobe’s shooting stats, the difference in most of Kobe’s game can be counted on one finger. One or fewer possessions a game decided that Kobe played well or didn’t. I’m willing to bet most fans didn’t notice.

Steve Nash

Steve Nash vs. Average Numbers

Nash is more subtle than Kobe. Most of his stats were within two of an average guard. Nash played fewer minutes per game; so this does impact that. Nash’s major contribution came in two areas. His assists were absurd. Additionally, his three point shooting was great, both in attempts and makes.

In regards to offense, Nash essentially took the same number of shots and free throws as compared to an average point guard. Except, Nash took a higher rate of three-pointers and passed a ton. Kobe, by contrast, took more twos. The rest of Nash’s stats follwed the same trend. He was better in some areas – defensive rebounds and personal fouls. He was worse in others – he didn’t get a ton of steals and turns the ball over. But, none of these even hit one a game. It takes analyzing many games of stats to see the difference. And, it’s worth noting, Nash slowly improved most of his stats over his career. It’s tough to notice, but it’s mattered a ton.

Kobe vs. Nash

Kobe vs. Nash

Let’s get to the showdown. If we compare Nash to Kobe, how does he stack up. If we take the level Nash exceeds (or misses) the average point guard and then subtract the level Kobe exceeds or misses the average shooting guard, how does it look?

Only one area cracks four a game, and that’s two-point shot attempts. We’ll get back there shortly. Nash “crushes” Kobe in two spots. First, he made 0.4 more three-pointers a game relative to his position. This is particularly impressive as he only took 0.1 more three-pointer attempts than he’d be expected to versus Kobe. He also got 1.4 more assists per game than Kobe. Remember, this is giving Kobe the benefit of being a shooting guard and not even being expected to pass as much. Nash also beats Kobe in regards to turnovers. Barring personal fouls, Kobe is better than Nash at the rest of the game. Of course, the difference doesn’t match the value of Nash’s assists and threes. Let’s examine Nash’s three-point shooting a bit more.

Kobe Bryant vs. Nash Net Points

The biggest difference between Nash and Kobe is shot attempts. Kobe’s shot level far exceeds Nash. But does this matter? A test I use is net points. If we compare the points from a shot and factor in the shot attempts, we can see how many points a shot nets. We can then compare how well our player shoots vs. an average player. This lets us know how much their shooting is helping or hurting their team.

The good news is both Kobe and Nash helped their team by shooting. The issue is how. Kobe’s two pointers and three pointers were actually negative relative to an average shooting guard. He simply did not shoot that efficiently. However, he is amazing in regards to free throws. He both gets to the line more than average and shoots better once there.

Nash though, is a killer. A majority of Nash’s damage came from three. That said, he was still efficient from two. Finally, while he didn’t get to the line often, his efficiency there still keeps him better than the average point guard. In the end, Nash has been around 35% better at scoring — in regards to helping his team — as compared to Kobe. As a reminder, this is factoring in their different positions and difference in minutes per game.

Conclusion

It’s easy to notice large changes. When a player goes from scoring ten points to scoring twenty points, we notice. But it’s really hard to notice little changes. Yet, these little changes are what can turn a good player into an all-time great. A small tweak in turnovers or shooting efficiency is virtually undetectable in a single game. But over an 82 game season or a twenty-year career it can amount to a huge difference. And Steve Nash is the epitome of this. When we compare him to Kobe, a lot of their stats are close. Nash’s assists, turnovers, and three-pointer attempts put him over against Kobe. But on a per game level, this is almost impossible to notice. Their shooting efficiency gets even worse. Nash’s two-point shooting has been around three percent better than Kobe’s. Even his amazing three-point shooting only amounts to around half a three point shot a game! But this efficiency is what separates the good from the great.

Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash were drafted with different expectations. The were given different roles. And over the past twenty years they’ve provided an amazing natural experiment. They’ve shown how hard it is to notice small differences between great players. Over his career, the small differences in Nash’s game have made him a much better player than Kobe. But without looking closely, most people would never guess this. And, as we repeatedly see, most people won’t look this closely. But for those of us that do dig deep into the stats, it’s easy to say Nash is one of the most amazing players ever to play.