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Layups: 5-Man Unit “Chemistry”

Posted by Neil Paine on July 21, 2010

Here's an extremely interesting study from Jamie Merchant's blog Numeranda, regarding the "chemistry" of a given 5-man unit. Merchant used BasketballValue's 2010 adjusted plus/minus data for both lineups and individuals, and calculated which combinations were literally greater than the sum of their parts:

"Here was my thinking: we have at our fingertips (thanks to Aaron) two measures of APM, an individual measure and a five-man unit measure; is there some way to connect the one with the other? My first instinct would be to simply add the individual APMs together and see how they compare to the five-man unit APM. If player impact works in a simple, additive fashion, the two measures should be roughly equal. Is that the case?"

The usual APM caveats about samples sizes and standard errors apply, but the results are fascinating. For instance, we would expect Houston's Aaron Brooks/Shane Battier/Trevor Ariza/Carl Landry/Luis Scola lineup to be highly negative (-7), but they ended up being average (+0). And at the other end of the spectrum, we would expect Boston's Rajon Rondo/Ray Allen/Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Rasheed Wallace combo to be very good (+8), but instead they were downright bad (-6).

Sometimes the pieces just fit... and sometimes they don't (we've already commented on how Wallace negatively impacted the C's when on the floor last season). This has been a basketball aphorism forever, but now we actually have some data to quantify the phenomenon.

Posted in Layups, Statgeekery | 17 Comments »

How the 1994 Chicago Bulls Won 55 Without MJ

Posted by Neil Paine on July 20, 2010

Just when you thought the offseason chatter was finally going to die down, the most recent salvo in the aftermath of LeBron James' controversial "Decision" was fired by the GOAT himself, Michael Jordan:

"There's no way, with hindsight, I would've ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, 'Hey, look, let's get together and play on one team,'" Jordan said after finishing tied for 22nd in the American Century Championship golf tournament in Stateline, Nev. "But that's ... things are different. I can't say that's a bad thing. It's an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys."

An interesting argument some have raised in response is that as great as Jordan was, his supporting cast was good enough that he didn't really need to "call for help" -- the Bulls actually won 55 games the year after he retired. Think about that: Chicago won 57 games in 1993, lost the greatest player ever (in the middle of his prime), and they declined by all of two wins the following season.

How was that possible?

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Analysis, History | 165 Comments »

Support, Sponsor a Page

Posted by Neil Paine on July 19, 2010

Sponsoring a page is fun, fast, and easy way to support what we're doing here at Basketball-Reference. With a sponsorship, you can:

  • Show your support for your favorite player or team.
  • Drum up traffic for your own site & draw in fans with a common interest.
  • Get some well-deserved recognition for your support of BBR.
  • Make your voice heard by the tens of thousands of people who visit Basketball-Reference every day.

Here's all you have to do to get involved:

  1. Create a membership account.
  2. Find the page(s) you'd like to support, and click "sponsor" (available pages).
  3. If the page you want is already sponsored, click "Alert Me!" to be informed when the current sponsorship expires.
  4. Follow the instructions to create your message and make your payment.
  5. Your message and links will be visible on the page after we approve them (usually in less than 24 hours).

And who knows, if you're clever enough, your message might end up on lists like these.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Support, Sponsor a Page

Facebook Feeds

Posted by Sean Forman on July 19, 2010

If you are a fan of our site on Facebook and check our updates on your mobile device, you probably know that the blog to Facebook conversion mangles our posts, so we've added a secondary summary feed to provide data to Facebook in hopefully a more agreeable format.

Posted in Announcements | Comments Off on Facebook Feeds

Layups: Matt Bonner, Sandwich Hunter

Posted by Neil Paine on July 19, 2010

I've been meaning to link to this for a long time, but I'm just now getting around to it... Apparently Matt Bonner of the Spurs (who recently inked a 4-year extension with San Antone) is, like myself, a bit of a sandwich fan. In fact, he has a blog at called "Matt Bonner, Sandwich Hunter: The Quest for the Hoagie Grail". No kidding. In his travels as an NBA baller, Bonner takes time to hunt down the best sandwiches in each NBA city; his latest entry is #26, D'Angelo Grilled Sandwiches in Boston, where they make one wicked grinder. So go ahead and check out Matt's sandwich blog, and feel free to tell me in the comments section which NBA city makes your favorite sandwich.

Posted in Just For Fun, Layups, No Math Required | 9 Comments »

Layups: Kevin Pelton on the Perils of Long-Term Contracts

Posted by Neil Paine on July 16, 2010

Basketball Prospectus' Kevin Pelton has done some great research on the problems with handing out long-term contracts in the NBA:

"...It's not even the high cost of mediocrity that kills teams--it's the duration of it.

This jumped out at me over the course of compiling my position-by-position rankings of free agents. Sprinkled throughout these lists are players who have long since ceased to have any value to their team and have hung around solely because of their contract. [...] Often, like Antonio Daniels or the more extreme case of Cuttino Mobley, injury is a culprit. Sometimes, the player just aged. And occasionally, as in the case of Trenton Hassell, the contract was simply a mistake from day one.

...I see the takeaway as how teams can get themselves in trouble with the lengths of the contracts they offer as much as the yearly salary."

This is definitely true, and it's something the stats community has argued for a long time. True superstar free agent deals (Michael Jordan re-signing with Chicago in '96/97, Shaquille O'Neal signing with L.A. in '96, Kevin Garnett re-signing with Minnesota in '97, Tim Duncan re-signing with San Antonio in 2000, etc.) have largely been worth it. Likewise, low-cost players at the other end of the free agent spectrum invariably produce a good return on the investment: they come at no risk, and they’re usually just short-term deals, so if they flop, there are no long-term repercussions.

The middle class, however, is where ugly contracts are born. GMs have a long history of ignoring obvious warning signs when going after middle-class “established veterans”, which is why using the mid-level exception is usually a detriment to teams, not an advantage. The moral of the story is this: go all-in with your superstars, but when filling the rest of your roster, stick to the low-budget model of building through the draft and signing useful low-priced FA’s. And whatever you do, don't give long-term deals to middling players, because you will get burned.

Posted in Layups, Offseason | 13 Comments »

Layups: Akron Woman Bought $10,000 LeBron Pendant at Yard Sale for $5

Posted by Neil Paine on July 16, 2010

From FOX Sports:

"An Ohio woman who paid $5 at a yard sale for a LeBron James pendant she thought was costume jewelry has found out it's worth nearly $10,000.

Vaneisha Robinson, 20, says she used to wear the basketball jersey-shaped pendant to high school when she didn't know its value. Then she had it appraised."

Good to know there's at least one person from Ohio who's still able to derive some benefit from James...

EDIT: ...Or not.

Posted in Just For Fun, Layups | 6 Comments »

How Many Titles Should the Cleveland Cavaliers Have Won During the LeBron Era?

Posted by Neil Paine on July 15, 2010

One common media refrain when criticizing LeBron James' decision to "take his talents to South Beach" has been the idea that he left behind unfinished business in Cleveland. He and the Cavs posted consecutive 60+ win seasons in 2009 & 2010, each time securing the #1 record (and top playoff seed) in the Eastern Conference, but in both years Cleveland flamed out early. Many have used this as supposed "proof" of some character flaw on the part of James and his teammates, but what was the probability that this could have simply happened due to random chance alone?

To answer this question, I set up a very basic Monte Carlo simulation using the regular-season winning percentages of all playoff teams since the Cavs' first playoff appearance of the James era (2006). 10,000 times, I simulated the playoffs for each season, taking into account the postseason bracket & home-court advantage effects, and I recorded the team that won the Finals in each simulation. Here's how it broke down for each season:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Analysis, Playoffs, Statgeekery, What If... | 117 Comments »

Layups: Interview on The Pulse Network

Posted by Neil Paine on July 14, 2010

After my LeBron Rant last week, Butch Stearns of The Pulse Network contacted me and asked me to be a guest on his program, The Sports Buzz:

Watch live streaming video from thepulsenetwork at

We covered the main thesis of the post, as well as some additional LeBron talk. Thanks again to Butch for having me on as a guest!

Posted in Layups, Offseason | 4 Comments »

Layups: The Origins and Advertising Implications of “The Decision”

Posted by Neil Paine on July 12, 2010

The hour-long LeBron James "Decision" last Thursday was a made-for-TV spectacle that left myself and almost every other sports fan on the planet feeling depressed and disgusted. But according to Advertising Age's Rich Thomaselli, James' indulgent hour not only made a metric ton of money for its advertisers, but it also may have ushered in a new paradigm in advertiser-funded programming. Plus, find out how and when the seeds were planted for the LBJ decision TV special (Jim Gray!)...

Posted in Layups | 6 Comments »