Attacking the Center: Ari Caroline Reveals the NBA’s Blind Spot

We’re happy to have more amazing work from Ari Caroline (@aricaroline), Director of Quantitative Analysis and Strategic Initiatives at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Today he’s bringing his awesome expertise to show the NBA’s blindside when it comes to centers.

As it should be! via Keith Coward

We love to criticize front offices, players, coaches, etc. around here. Understand we do this as hyper-critical fans. Ari Caroline has been using the data to do some great work. One of his key points — for the most part teams play the right players! That’s good news (well for teams other than the Nuggets) However, teams do make mistakes and Ari wanted to shed some light on that.

First, let’s check out how NBA teams allocate minutes for centers.

2012 NBA Center Distribution. Click for larger image.

Drilling down into the individual position of center we see that the same trend we saw league wide. With statistical certainty, if you’re a better center according to Wins Produced, you’re likely to get more minutes. In the lockout shortened season it works out such that each increase in WP48 of around 0.010 gains you an extra 189 minutes. Go NBA, right? Ari decided to highlight something important though.

The highlighted players are really good or really bad centers that break the mold. In essence, they should be getting more or fewer minutes and they’re not! (Seriously, this is one of the coolest images I’ve ever seen!) In case you didn’t click on the image, the players are

Editor’s note: I’m content to say Varejao (injury) and Ben Wallace (age) may be acceptable. However, there’s no real excuse for the rest of the names on the list.
That’s the NBA’s blind spot for centers, right there! These are the players that every NBA should be looking at (to play much more or bench permanently) Doing so can change a team’s fortune. It has a noticeable effect in fact.

Removing our outliers changes the trend. It still stays significant, and we can still give our NBA teams a pat on the back. Instead of 189 minutes per 0.010 WP48 it now jumps to 350 minutes per 0.010 WP48! The NBA could shut down a lot of criticism by just realizing they’re messing up on 5-10 players (if you believe a few names above have justifiable reasons for their low or high minutes)

Of course, there’s more than one position and thus more than one area to improve. Don’t worry! Ari promises he has more coming and I can’t wait.



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