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Layups: Yahoo! Sports Has an NBA Preview Magazine

Posted by Neil Paine on September 21, 2009

If you're anything like me (and if so, god help you), you love this time of year because it's NBA Preview season -- magazines, books, online articles, Hollinger training-camp pieces at ESPN, etc. I'm such an NBA preview addict that one magazine per season is never enough; I usually grab all of them and read every last one cover to cover in the month-plus between publication and preseason tip-off. Now, I usually don't throw all of my support behind any single magazine, because each has their strengths and weaknesses, but I'm wholeheartedly advocating the Yahoo! Sports preview this season. Why? Because many of the same cast of characters that run Yahoo's excellent Ball Don't Lie blog are responsible for the content in the preview, including one of my absolute favorite NBA writers, Kelly Dwyer. KD has written the majority of the team previews, and I can't tell you how refreshing it is to have an NBA preseason  magazine penned by someone as knowledgeable (and, may I add, stat-friendly) as he is. So if you're buying only one NBA magazine this season, seek out and find this one, because it's head and shoulders above the rest. (No, offense, Lindy's! And Athlon! And TSN! I mean, you're good too!)

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11 Responses to “Layups: Yahoo! Sports Has an NBA Preview Magazine”

  1. Caleb Says:

    I agree. Dwyer is excellent.

  2. Jason J Says:

    Second. Loved Dwyer at SI.

  3. khandor Says:

    Neil,

    Please take these questions in the right way.

    1. In your opinion, does "being stat-friendly" mean that someone understands how the NBA game works in a better [i.e. more authentic] way than "not being stats-friendly"?

    2. In your opinion, does understanding how "advanced stats" work increase/improve a person's ability to ascertain with accuracy the specific reasons behind the Lakers' NBA championship last season, or the Celtics the year before? [as just two examples]

    Neither question is meant to be an attack on you personally. I'm sincerely interested in hearing the perspective of someone like yourself who seems to have a high regard for this type of in-depth statistical analysis of the game.

    Therefore, if you could please provide the rationale behind your "yes" [or "no"], it would be sincerely appreciated.

  4. Neil Paine Says:

    I'll answer both at once, because both answers are "Yes". In my opinion, having a basic understanding of the game without ever having heard of advanced stats is the default position for analysis... It's where we all were years ago, either because we were young or APBRmetrics was, or both. So a grasp of the fundamentals (and more) without regard to anything beyond traditional numbers is the prerequisite, at least from my perspective as someone who didn't know about anything APBRmetric until after my high-school career was over (I first read Hollinger the summer before college). That's the state of being "non-stats-friendly" -- you either don't know, or don't care about advanced metrics, but you still care about the game. Then you start learning about the numbers, finding out which parts of that conventional wisdom you grew up on match the evidence, and discarding the parts that don't. You refine your original knowledge of the game with the statistical approach, and in the process grow that knowledge. At the same time, the parts of your old "non-stats" knowledge that were valid grow as well, because you dive into coaching perspectives, Xs and Os, studying how the numbers can be applied to that side of the game as well. It's a constant process that will never end, but in the process you have made an honest commitment to learn more about the sport through all available means. That's what I see in Kelly: a guy who didn't necessarily have that statistical knowledge at first, but one who saw the inherent logic, didn't let his biases blind him, and pursued a genuine, deeper understanding of the game. Those who refuse to supplement their "non-stats" knowledge with the numbers are arrogant and I question their love for the game because they have placed a limitation on their commitment to learning about it. I'm constantly learning things statistical and non-statistical, and anyone who isn't doing both isn't trying hard enough.

    As far as the reasons for winning go, of course the numbers enhance your ability to understand why teams were successful. From Dean Oliver's four factors to individual stats and more, everything we do is about ascertaining with accuracy the specific reasons why certain teams won and others lost. That's the entire point of legitimate basketball analysis, period. The answer that your eyes tell you may not be supported by the numbers, because observation isn't perfect. Conversely, the numbers have to be viewed with context in mind, because nothing happens in a vacuum. The perfect marriage of conventional and statistical knowledge is the ultimate goal of APBRmetrics, and the fact that almost every team has adopted a stats-based viewpoint as part of their organizational strategy proves that it takes a commitment to both conventional and cutting-edge analysis to win in today's NBA.

  5. khandor Says:

    Neil,

    Thanks for taking the time to provide your rationale. As I said before, it's very much appreciated by me.

    If I may, please allow me to offer you a different perspective, by focusing just on the last part of what you said above.

    ------------------
    re: As far as the reasons for winning go, of course the numbers enhance your ability to understand why teams were successful. From Dean Oliver's four factors to individual stats and more, everything we do is about ascertaining with accuracy the specific reasons why certain teams won and others lost. That's the entire point of legitimate basketball analysis, period.
    ------------------

    IMO, statistical averages of all sorts do not and cannot tell you with any meaningful degree of accuracy the actual reason[s] one team won and the other lost a specific basketball game. Statistical relationships do not function in this way.

    ------------------
    re: The answer that your eyes tell you may not be supported by the numbers, because observation isn't perfect.
    ------------------

    This is what you wrote about what someone's eyes may have to tell them about the game, in opposition to the numbers.

    What would then seem to be the logical extension of that, pertaining to what the numbers have to tell someone about the game, in opposition to their eyes, is something along the following lines:

    "The answer that the numbers tell you may not be supported by your eyes, because the numbers aren't perfect."

    Yet, for some reason, this is not what you said.

    What you said, instead, is this:

    "Conversely, the numbers have to be viewed with context in mind, because nothing happens in a vacuum."

    Do you see how you are treating what the numbers mean in a different way than what the eyes of a well-trained observer might have to say?

    -------------------
    re: The perfect marriage of conventional and statistical knowledge is the ultimate goal of APBRmetrics, and the fact that almost every team has adopted a stats-based viewpoint as part of their organizational strategy proves that it takes a commitment to both conventional and cutting-edge analysis to win in today's NBA.
    -------------------

    From a purely logical perspective the two separate parts to this sentence do not stand on their individual merit.

    Part I
    The goal of APBRmetrics is not to explain clearly what the well-trained eye can see in the first place.

    The goal of APBRmetrics is to explain clearly what the eye which is not well-trained in the first place fails to see at all.

    Part II
    If every team in the league is using this means of analysis then it isn't the determining factor at all in deciding which team wins the championship, or not.

    i.e. If there was only 1 or 2 teams following this practice and one of those teams was to win the NBA title, then, there would be some valid reason to investigate whether this was a key ingredient, or not, towards the winning of that championship.

    On the other hand ... what my experience tells me is that the team which wins the championship in this league actually does some different things from everybody else, and that those things cannot be appraised accurately with a statistical-based measure.

    Winning and losing is highly specific within the NBA environment.

    Food For Thought ... from a slightly different perspective than yours.

  6. Tsunami Says:

    As a longtime NBA fan, there is a distinct cultural difference between the NBA and (MLB/NFL) which creates a negative attitude surrounding a stats-based approach to analyzing the game.

    Basketball, particularly the NBA, is culturally stylized. In no other sport is the brand name on your sneaker more important. In no other sport is how you LOOK often more important than RESULTS - at least in the eyes of fans. In no other sport are there derivative sports (AND-1, Globetrotters) that are completely and totally about style and not substance). You just don't see this anywhere else. Take baseball - no one cares what a player's swing or delivery looks like - they care about the bottom line - their stats, and how those stats translate into winning. It's why Ichiro is a superstar and Shawn Marion felt he was not getting enough "love" in Phoenix. You will never hear a CY Young argument about "killer instinct". You will never hear someone argue for an MVP with the phrase "who would you want at the dish, bottom of the 9th, two outs, down a run, runner on first?" It's why everyone hates DUKE and loves NC. If Tim Duncan played baseball, he'd be the most popular player of the last decade. And Manu Ginobili would be a perennial all-star and would have a salary much more closely resembling the Kobe Bryant's of the world.

    Basketball is all about look. If a player LOOKS good, he must BE good - even if the stats prove otherwise. Even NBA referees and subject to this phenomenon. How many times have we seen Chris Paul carry the ball and get away with it? Or D Wade's 3 step spin move? They look SO GOOD doing those moves that refs swallow the whistle. But if Erick Dampier, DeSagana Diop, or Zydrunas Illgauskas try to put the ball on the floor and do something shifty - you can bet ur life someone is getting called for traveling.

    In my opinion, delving into the stats provides a more in-depth look at the beauty of the game. It shows the most efficient ways to win. It's why I've always been a huge fan of LeBron James and of the San Antonio Spurs. They do exactly what it takes to win - and understand that unselfishness is extremely important in the NBA.

    Another problem for the NBA - is that most people that get into stats at all are only concerned with per game stats, with no regard for pace or efficiency. It's why a Jason Kidd triple double (10-10-10) in a shoot out is more highly touted than a Brandon Roy 25-8-4 night when the score is 88-84.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Part II
    If every team in the league is using this means of analysis then it isn't the determining factor at all in deciding which team wins the championship, or not.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    This is like saying just because every team stretches before a game doesn't make it a determining factor. If every team does it, then you HAVE to stretch if you want to stay loose and have a chance to compete. No one wins a championship with stiff legs, so for fans to ignore the importance is errant.

    And the NBA wasn't always this way. But the 2004 Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs of the last decade proved that unsexy, highly efficient teams win championships.

  7. Neil Paine Says:

    "Do you see how you are treating what the numbers mean in a different way than what the eyes of a well-trained observer might have to say?"

    This was by design... When the objective facts and someone's subjective opinions differ, the burden of proof weighs heavily on the subjective observer to prove that the numbers are wrong. Because (in a perfect world, at least) the numbers are bias-free -- decidedly unlike the subjective viewer -- they are assumed correct until proven otherwise.

    "From a purely logical perspective the two separate parts to this sentence do not stand on their individual merit.

    Part I
    The goal of APBRmetrics is not to explain clearly what the well-trained eye can see in the first place.

    The goal of APBRmetrics is to explain clearly what the eye which is not well-trained in the first place fails to see at all."

    The goal of APBRmetrics is... get ready for it... both!

    "If every team in the league is using this means of analysis then it isn't the determining factor at all in deciding which team wins the championship, or not."

    Every team in the league is using every possible tactic at their disposal to win more games, statistical and non-statistical (although I didn't say how good each club was at it). Every team does advance scouting, too... Does this mean scouting isn't the determining factor in who wins the championship? Of course it isn't the single determining factor, any more than statistical analysis is, because there is no one determining factor (other than luck, perhaps).

    Frankly, I'm not sure what your point is, except to spark some kind of argument against the use of statistics in basketball -- that somehow they add nothing to one's understanding of the game. Well, think what you want, you're entitled to your opinion, but the revolution has gone too far for anyone to stop it now. You might as well just accept it and learn to live with it.

    Food For Thought ... from a slightly different perspective than yours.

  8. khandor Says:

    Neil,

    I'm not attempting to start a fire-storm where none exists. I'm just dialoguing with you about our different perspectives on the value of certain uses for statistics in the game of basketball. Isn't this type of discussion what you were looking for when you decided to make a post concerning the ideas of Kelly Dwyer and other like-minded basketball analysts?

    If not, I apologize for misconstruing your intentions concerning the merits of being "stats-friendly".

    -------------------
    re: This was by design... When the objective facts and someone's subjective opinions differ, the burden of proof weighs heavily on the subjective observer to prove that the numbers are wrong. Because (in a perfect world, at least) the numbers are bias-free -- decidedly unlike the subjective viewer -- they are assumed correct until proven otherwise.
    -------------------

    1. Are you sure that what you've written there actually conforms with the way that science seeks to operate in the world today, regarding such concepts as the "null hypothesis" and "statistical significance"?

    2. Is it not accepted by those who believe in the merits of stats like you seem to that the world, as is, happens not to be a "perfect" place?

    -------------------
    re: Frankly, I'm not sure what your point is, except to spark some kind of argument against the use of statistics in basketball -- that somehow they add nothing to one's understanding of the game. Well, think what you want, you're entitled to your opinion, but the revolution has gone too far for anyone to stop it now. You might as well just accept it and learn to live with it.
    -------------------

    Interesting that you should bring up the social concept of a "revolution" here.

    As way of an analogy:

    Would you say that the Bolsheviks, who initiated the Russian Revolution, on Nov 6, 1917, and eventually came to power in the subsequent Communist Regime, ever thought that what they'd first begun that day would ... by the year 2009 ... result in the state of modern-day Russia?

    It is always interesting when I read something along the lines of what you've written here.

    The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! ... Best just accept it, because it's the way [and the wave] of the future.

    Somehow, I think real life is filled with twists and turns and doesn't operate according to strictly linear equations.

  9. Jason J Says:

    Neil, that was an excellent answer.

    The little blurb in contention - "The answer that your eyes tell you may not be supported by the numbers, because observation isn't perfect. Conversely, the numbers have to be viewed with context in mind, because nothing happens in a vacuum." - is particularly insightful.

    Therein lies the middle ground between the curmudgeons who know what they saw and ain't buying none of this fancy statisticawhatsit mumbojumbo and the professor basketballensteins who divorce themselves from how the numbers they rely on are accrued.

  10. Neil Paine Says:

    Well, I wasn't really looking for an ideological discussion, I was just trying to throw some well-deserved attention to Kelly. I would be a fan even if he wasn't stat-friendly, but like I said, being stat-friendly is an indicator that you're willing to admit that there's a lot left to learn about this game, and that you value rationality and enlightened thought.

    As for hypothesis testing, I think I spelled it out pretty clearly: the null hypothesis is our initial (non-stats) knowledge of the game. Then we run statistical tests on whether the null hypothesis actually holds true or not. If the numbers agree, we keep that piece of conventional wisdom; if not, we toss it out and accept the alternative hypothesis. But that was in the early stages; by now, APBRmetrics has been around long enough to have our own conventional wisdom. That's what I mean when I say the pendulum has swung, that the burden of proof has shifted to non-stats wisdom to prove their case. Just like the initial null hypothesis was that the Earth was flat, science tested and invalidated that claim, establishing the alternative that the Earth is an oblong spheroid... Now that's the new conventional wisdom, the new null hypothesis, and the burden of proof is on alternative claims to make their case.

    And if we're comparing the sabermetric/ABPRmetric revolution to social movements, you could just as easily arbitrarily compare to it to the Enlightenment, which revolutionized the world by ushering in an age of reason and science. While the government set up by the Bolsheviks has evaporated, the reign of science is as strong as ever, despite what certain relativists would say.

  11. khandor Says:

    Neil,

    My appreciation for KD's work and talent is rooted more in his literary abilities than his penchant for particularly accurate or insightful basketball analysis.

    re: the null hypothesis

    I'm not sure that it's completely accurate to assert that what the well-trained eye sees when it watches all facets of the game at once is actually the equivalent of the null hypothesis in a scientific sense, i.e. no meaningful relationship exists to begin with.

    Neither am I sure that the proof of the earth's spherical nature was ultimately found in the mathematical computations made by certain members of the intelligentsia of the day, upon its initial discovery ... versus, say, the tangible proof that was finally brought to bear on the lively debate that still existed when specific men were first known far and wide to have personally circumnavigated the globe.

    re: the enlightement

    Who were really more "enlightened" ... the Frenchmen and the Englishmen whose ideas ruled the the European continent during the 18th century, or any other human civilization in the prior history of the world that was able to constructed the other Wonders of the World which have stood the test of time, until present day?

    IMO, as you stated clearly above ... the correct answer might well be, "both".

    Keep On Truck'n