Comparable Careers By Quality and Shape
Posted by Neil Paine on February 18, 2010
Two summers ago, Doug made a great post over at PFR that asked a simple question: Who is the current Dave Duerson? If you don't know who Duerson was, he was a good (4-time Pro Bowl) but not great (he won't make the Hall of Fame) safety for the Bears in the mid-1980s; seeing as I was born in December '85, I only know who he was because I've watched tapes of the 1985 Patriots and he was one of the Chicago defenders in that regrettable game that ended the Patties' season. Anyway, the point of the question was to find a bridge that related Doug's frame of reference (he was a huge sports fan by the time '85 rolled around) to that of someone my age who didn't compulsively watch old Patriots tapes and therefore wouldn't have any way of knowing who a semi-notable SS from 1985 was.
To that end, Doug built a simple similarity system using Approximate Value that would find players with careers of similar shape and quality -- this wouldn't find players who played a similar style to Duerson, of course, but it could give you a broad idea of how good Duerson was and how he fit in the world of football in 1985 by finding players who were basically as good as Duerson that you have actually heard of. So for someone my age, Duerson is Merton Hanks, he's Mike Brown, he's Blaine Bishop -- guys who made a couple pro Bowls, pretty good players but not all-timers. And as a result, everyone now has a common frame of reference.
It's a terrific concept, and it's easy to pull off in any sport that has an all-in-one, single-number value type of metric. Luckily for us at BBR, we happen to have just such a metric: Win Shares. Now, in Doug's method he started with 100 "similarity points" and subtracted one similarity point for each point of difference between 2 players' best-season AVs, .95 of a similarity point for each point of difference in their second-best-season AVs, .90 of a similarity point for each point of difference in their third-best-season AVs, and so on, which has the effect of really emphasizing that 2 players have peaks of similar quality. But I want to find players whose entire careers look the same year-by-year -- their first seasons are similar, their 5th seasons are similar, their 12th seasons are similar, etc. To accomplish this, I used least squares to measure how similar a player's WS were to another at every season of their careers, and minimized the sum of squared errors. Here's an example, Kobe Bryant through 14 NBA seasons (2010 WS were pro-rated to 82 games):
So among guards (or G-F), whose careers end up looking similar to Kobe's through 14 pro seasons?
Here are Bryant and Payton side-by-side:
Yes, the numbers came at different ages, and Bryant is clearly better, but it does give a nice idea of how the two fit together in the history of the NBA -- you could explain to someone who didn't know GP in his prime that Payton was to PGs what a slightly lesser version of Kobe Bryant would be to SGs.
It's even more useful for past players you may not know... for instance, who was Guy Rodgers?
|Win Shares by Season#|
Rodgers was Greg Anthony; Kevin Porter; Gerald Wilkins; Voshon Lenard. And now everyone has a frame of reference.
Here are some other older players and their more modern equivalents:
Calvin Murphy = Andre Miller, Stephon Marbury
Darrall Imhoff = Will Perdue, Aaron Williams
Willie Naulls = Antoine Walker, Ken Norman
Phil Jackson = Malik Rose, Luc Longley
Dan Roundfield = Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Corey Maggette
Don Buse = Vinnie Johnson, David Wesley
Marques Johnson = Andrei Kirilenko, Anfernee Hardaway
Bob McAdoo = Grant Hill, Yao Ming
Sam Jones = Glen Rice, Jason Terry
Joe Caldwell = Travis Best, Bobby Jackson
I can do this for any player in NBA history, so let me know in the comments who you want to see the equivalents for, and I'll post them below...
February 18th, 2010 at 4:23 pm
ANTOINE WALKER!!!! (And Shane Battier, Eddie House, Brad Miller.)
February 18th, 2010 at 4:40 pm
I'm curious about old-time Knicks who scored 50 points at MSG who were before my time:
February 18th, 2010 at 4:44 pm
Antoine = Willie Naulls, Cliff Levingston, Morris Peterson, Bill Bradley (now there's a comp), Tom Van Arsdale, Tom Gugliotta
Battier (thru 9 seasons) = Tommy Heinsohn, Dan Majerle, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Jack Marin, Jack Twyman, Michael Finley
House (thru 10 seasons) = Anthony Johnson, Keyon Dooling, Keith Erickson, Jud Buechler, Jaren Jackson, Tyronn Lue
Miller (thru 12 seasons) = Bill Bridges, Jerome Kersey, Happy Hairston, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Shawn Kemp, Billy Cunningham
Because, hey, who makes you think "Shawn Kemp" more than Brad Miller?
February 18th, 2010 at 4:51 pm
Guerin = Larry Costello, Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, Dick Barnett, World B. Free, Jack Marin
Reed = Chris Bosh, Calvin Natt, Shane Battier, Rudy Tomjanovich, Larry Foust, Billy Cunningham
King = Alvan Adams, Danny Ainge, Bryon Russell, Dan Majerle, Grant Long, Chris Mullin
February 18th, 2010 at 5:29 pm
It's funny to see complete opposites that have a similar career in terms of shape and value. Dan Roundfield and Corey Maggette. Don Buse and Vinnie Johnson. Shane Battier and Jack Twyman.
February 18th, 2010 at 5:46 pm
"King = Alvan Adams, Danny Ainge, Bryon Russell, Dan Majerle, Grant Long, Chris Mullin"
Does this mean Bernard King played like a "white guy"?
More seriously, what about the best of the best from the 50's and 60's?
February 18th, 2010 at 5:50 pm
Umm, is it too much to ask for everyone? :) Seriously, it would be great if this could be an added feature at the bottom of every player profile. But if we're only taking requests, how about Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood, Michael Ruffin and Charles Jones (who used to man the center position for the Bullets)?
February 18th, 2010 at 6:13 pm
"Does this mean Bernard King played like a "white guy"?"
Ha, well, remember, these players are similar in production only, so there's absolutely no guarantee of stylistic similarity. It just means King was injured a lot and peaked early -- just like Alvan Adams.
Russell = Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dan Issel, Kevin McHale, Shaq, Dolph Schayes
Baylor = Wes Unseld, Jack Sikma, Bobby Jones, Cedric Maxwell, Cliff Hagan, Bob Dandridge
Robertson = Charles Barkley, Jerry West, Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Dirk Nowtizki
West = Barkley, Adrian Dantley, Erving, Kobe, Ray Allen, Magic
Pettit = Bailey Howell, McHale, Jerry Lucas, Shawn Marion, Elvin Hayes, Bill Laimbeer
Cousy (remember, Cooz had no WS as a rookie b/c they didn't keep minutes) = Steve Smith, Dennis Johnson, Mo Cheeks, Rolando Blackman, Dan Majerle, Fred Brown
Arizin = Shawn Marion, Kevin Johnson, Walt Frazier, Cedric Maxwell, Rudy T., Dandridge
Schayes = Patrick Ewing, Laimbeer, McHale, Anthony Mason, Alex English, Glen Rice
Arenas (thru 9 seasons) = Reggie Lewis, Archie Clark, Andre Iguodala, Doc Rivers, Scott Wedman, Phil Chenier
Haywood (thru 9 seasons) = Ed Pinckney, Larry Smith, Mark Olberding, Joe Smith, Sam Mitchell, Ruben Patterson
Ruffin = Jawann Oldham, Calvin Booth, Greg Foster, Greg Dreiling, Malik Allen, Marc Iavaroni
Jones = Tom McMillen, John Tresvant, Joe Kleine, Barry Clemens, Harvey Catchings, Sidney Green
February 18th, 2010 at 6:15 pm
You know, I think I might try a more ambitious version tomorrow that uses ages instead of seasons in the league, and tries to match offensive & defensive WS for a better stylistic comparison...
February 18th, 2010 at 6:16 pm
Also, I need to pro-rate pre-1968 guys to an 82-game season, because I think this method is shortchanging some of the older guys.
February 18th, 2010 at 6:27 pm
February 18th, 2010 at 7:35 pm
Neil, your comment about old-timers getting short changed due to shorter seasons brings up a pet peeve of mine; why do we always see total win-shares used rather than WS per game, or per minute?
Nobody thinks Kareem is the best scorer ever because he's the all-time leader in points; we all know points per game is a better measure, and consider MJ the best scorer ever accordingly (putting aside the importance of shooting percentages). Even in baseball, they finally realize per-game stats are better than totals.
Anyway, I would love to see WS per 82 games, and WS per 36 min on the leader page.
PS Can anyone explain to me why advanced stats underrate Larry Bird so much; how is it that Reggie Miller rates as a better offensive player? WS seem to both underrate Bird on offense and overrate him on D.
February 18th, 2010 at 11:09 pm
I'd love to see comparisons for some of my favorites:
February 18th, 2010 at 11:45 pm
February 19th, 2010 at 12:12 am
February 19th, 2010 at 2:40 am
February 19th, 2010 at 8:56 am
Scott Wedman, Otis Birdsong and Phil Ford.
February 19th, 2010 at 10:47 am
Yeah, I'm definitely going to work on a follow-up this afternoon that gets all of these requests. In fact, hopefully I can make a table that literally has comps for everyone, or Justin can make an app that lets you search for comps, or something -- somehow we'll figure it out.
February 19th, 2010 at 2:43 pm
February 20th, 2010 at 7:50 pm
Gary Payton's 1999 season was abbreviated (for obvious reasons). Not that it throws a monkey wrench into the observation, but he'd look slightly better with another 10 to 11 WS season in his column, and bring him marginally closer to Bryant.
February 19th, 2011 at 8:58 am
Win Shares are highly dependent on the team a player is with, so it's really just a randomizing factor here.
As such, you'll get opposite types like Heinsohn and Battier, rather than actually similar players.