Basketball Statistics – What’s Out There?

I read a lot.

For those who know me, this isn’t a crazy statement.  As a reader, writers who discuss unique concepts without any context or background annoy me.  A lot of my reading involves sports articles (RIP Grantland) that involve advanced statistics.  So instead of writing a post that uses these stats to answer a mystifying problem, I thought it best to take a step back and review these stats.  Hopefully, you won’t find me annoying.

Like humans (except for my mother), none of these stats are perfect.  However, despite their limitations, they all advance our understanding of basketball and how to value different players and the traits they possess.  Hopefully, this gives you a better understanding of these advanced stats and prevents you from cursing at smug writers out of frustration.  Also, if you don’t actually want to read this (if your answer is yes, that’s the wrong answer and I may curse you) and just want to look at a glossary, you can check this out.

  • Player Efficiency Rating (PER): Developed by John Hollinger, PER is an overall metric that measures all aspects of a player’s performance. The rating is a composite stat of a player’s box sore statistics that is adjusted for pace of play and calibrated to league average.  League average PER in any given year is 15.0 on the dot.  The player with the highest PER during the 2016-2017 season was Russell Westbrook, not too surprisingly.  Below is a reference guide to understand PER with some helpful definitions from Wikipedia and (not so helpful definitions) from yours truly.

  • Box Plus/Minus (BPM): BPM measures a player’s performance using box score statistics relative to the league average per 100 possessions. That is, if a player’s BPM is 10, the player is 10 points better than a league average player (who has a BPM of 0).  Just to be clear, a BPM of 10 is otherworldly.  It’s less likely than Phil Mickelson wearing an appropriately sized polo or the Browns winning the Super Bowl with Brock Osweiler as their quarterback.  Since BPM is a function of box score stats, it is fairly imprecise in measuring defensive ability.  BPM only includes quantifiable defensive efforts (blocks, steals, and rebounds) and ignores non-quantifiable examples of defensive prowess.  The regular season leader among players still alive?  James Harden, sandwiched between The Brodie and the point guard who thought going to the worst franchise in basketball history would lead him to playoff success.
  • Real Plus/Minus (RPM): Even though they share two letters, RPM is very different than BPM. It is the adjusted form of one stat on the box score – plus/minus.  RPM isolates how much of a player’s plus/minus is due to the player’s actions on the court.  This way the guy standing in the corner doesn’t receive credit for literally standing in place when Russell Westbrook drives to the hoop.  Shockingly, this is one of the few stats that The Brodie does not own.  Rather, Chris Paul takes the honors followed by a relatively unknown player, someone called LeBron James.  I believe it’s pronounced LEE-BROWN and the J makes an H sound.
  • Value Over Replacement Player (VORP): VORP is a function of BPM and measures the number of points a player produces per 100 possessions over a replacement player. One of the issues with BPM is that it does not take into account the number of minutes played.  That is, a player who plays 100 minutes and generates a BPM of 5is not as valuable as a player who plays 120 minutes with a BPM of 6.  Unlike BPM, VORP adjusts for minutes played over the course of the season.  The value of a “replacement player” is -2, which means anything above that is above a replacement player.  Westbrook blows everyone else out of the water here.  His 2016-2017 VORP (12.9) is 38% higher than the next highest VORP (9.0), which belongs to this James fellow.
  • Wins Over Replacement Player (WORP): WORP is VORP multiplied by 2.7. It measures the amount of wins a player is worth over the course of the season, shockingly, over a replacement player.  It’s fairly similar to WAR (wins above replacement), a baseball stat.  Additionally, fivethirtyeight.com has its own version of WAR that follows more generally with the traditional understanding of WAR.
  • Win Shares (WS): Win shares estimates the amount of a player’s team’s wins that are attributable to that player. The formula uses an individual player’s, teams’ and league statistics to derive the win shares for each player.  After running the numbers, the win shares allocated to the players on each team is roughly equal to the number of games that team actually won.  For example, the mismanaged Nets won 20 games this past year and had total win shares of 21.1 (including -0.8 by Isaiah Whitehead).  Yes, you can have negative win shares, which means a team would have been better off never letting that player out of the locker room on game day.  Seven players had negative win shares last season, including Rodney Stuckey who the Pacers paid $7 million to make their team worse.
  • Usage Percentage: This measures the percent of team possessions that a player uses. There is a lot of debate on this one.  Apparently, there are three different usage stats that are commonly used.  I’m not trying to get in the middle of this nerd fight and I’d rather stay away from the politics of it all so I’ll leave you with one piece of advice: read this column from Bill Simmons.
  • True Shooting Percentage: This is probably my favorite stat and is quite unlike the others. True shooting percentage measures shooting efficiency by combining a player’s free throw percentage, two point field goal percentage, and three point field goal percentage (indirectly).  In addition to true shooting percentage, we also have a true rebounding percentage and a true assist percentage (sidenote: if these are all true percentages, does this make any other shooting percentage stat fake news?).  The leaders in true shooting percentage are usually post players (since they take most of their shots close to the rim) who can make free throws.  The 2016-2017 leader is a veteran center making way too much money on the team who traded away Isaiah Thomas to make BRANDON KNIGHT their point guard of the future.  Ok, tirade over.  The player is Tyson Chandler.  Got a little sidetracked with how stupid Ryan McDonough can be, though I respect him for at least admitting his stupidity.

Hopefully, this sheds more light on some of the terms that basketball analysts like to throw around like five pound weights on leg day.  Keep in mind that this isn’t a full list of advanced basketball statistics.  There are plenty more out there but these are some of the most prevalent, in my opinion.  If you think I missed any worth noting, let me know!

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