David Thorpe – of ESPN.com – recently wrote a column comparing Kevin Durant to Carmelo Anthony (insider access required). Thorpe’s analysis considered a host of factors including shooting, scoring, making teammates better, on-the-ball defense, secondary defender, rebounding, and intangibles. For each category the players were graded on a 10 point scale, and the player with the most points was…
Wait, before I get to Thorpe’s answer, let me comment on the word “intangible.” This word means “not tangible” or something that we cannot discern or measure. And yet, Thorpe is able to tell us that Durant offers more “intangibles” than Melo (by a score of 7 to 5). So we can’t measure “intangibles” but we know Durant offers more?
Thorpe argues that Durant’s value – according to Thorpe’s scoring system – is 48 while Melo scores a 44. So ½ of the difference between Durant and Anthony can be linked to something that – by definition – cannot be measured. Thorpe is not the only person to abuse the word “intangible”. But it’s odd to see someone assign a number to something that by definition, isn’t tangible.
Okay, let’s take a more tangible approach. We begin with Durant. Table One reports what Durant – and his teammates with the Oklahoma City Thunder – have produced after 60 games in the 2009-10 season.
As one can see, Durant leads the Thunder in Wins Produced. Of the team’s 36 wins, 13.3 can be linked back to Durant.
Moving away from the subject of Durant for a moment… one can see that the Thunder are led by a collection of young players. Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka are all younger than 22 years of age. And this quartet are on pace to produce 36 wins this season. As has been noted in the past, young players (younger than 24 or 25) tend to get better (so although Thabo Sefolosha is already quite good, he is not likely to get much better). This means that prospects for Durant and the Thunder are extremely bright.
Now let’s turn to Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets. This team already is quite good. But as Table Two indicates, Denver’s success is not really about Melo.
Of Denver’s 40 wins, only 4.7 can be tied to the production of Anthony. And four players – Chauncey Billups, Nene, Chris Andersen, and Kenyon Martin – have done more for the Nuggets this season.
Now we “know” what Thorpe said (remember he favored Durant over Melo) and what we learn from this analysis must be wrong. On Wednesday night, Anthony and the Nuggets crushed Durant and the Thunder. And when we turn to the box score, we see that Melo posted a 16.5 Win Score. Meanwhile, Durant only posted a 1.5 mark. So there you have it. Melo is clearly better than Durant.
Okay, obviously one game is not much of a sample. Let’s look at Table Three, where what Durant and Anthony have done with respect to all the box score statistics across the entire season is noted.
When we look at the entire season we see – as we saw when we looked at Wins Produced – that Durant has done more. Durant is currently offering more with respect to shooting efficiency, rebounds, blocked shots, and personal fouls. consequently, we shouldn’t be surprised that Durant is producing so many more wins than Melo.
When we focus strictly on Anthony we see that he definitely scores points in large quantities. But his shooting efficiency is only average. So yes, he is above average (because he rebounds and gets to the free throw line). But Anthony is not quite as valuable as his scoring average suggests.
Let me close by once again noting how far Durant has come. Despite being named Rookie of the Year, Durant had a disastrous rookie season. Last year, though, his production was above average. And now – at the age of 21 – he is a star. If he continues to improve – and the same happens with his young teammates – Oklahoma City is going to be a dominant team in the NBA for many years to come. So although the Thunder were crushed on Wednesday, the Thunder will be more like to be the crushers – as opposed to the crushees (crushees???) in the future. And that outcome should be quite tangible.
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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:
Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.