If you haven’t checked out the NBA Geek recently, you should! Patrick’s made some great looking changes. Recently he also put up an amazing post: On the Value of Shots Taken. We have gotten into the usage argument more than a few times around here. Our basic point is pretty simple. The scoreboard does not care WHY a player misses. And Patrick summarizes that perfectly
Then, of course, we need big samples. As I said, bad shots go in sometimes, good shots sometimes don’t. But over time, if a player is consistently scoring more points than FGAs, he is, for all intents and purposes, shooting good shots. Essentially, Wins Produced assumes that a player who shoots below this average is “not good” at shooting, and players that shoot above this average are “good” at shooting. Let me re-emphazise that the model does not explain (or care) why. A player can be an inefficient scorer because they take bad shots or because he can’t hit the broad side of the barn even when they are open; the model will treat both players the same. It’s up to coaches, scouts, and others to determine the reasons and make adjustments if they can. In other words, you do not get any bonus points for talent. Many a coach (and organization) has lost a lot of games by trying to get talent to meet expecatation (we’re looking at you, Michael Beasley).
But one thing is clear, to me at least: just because a player has great talent and is clearly capable of creating easy scoring opportunities, this does not make their bad shots “valuable”. The simple fact is, Carmelo Anthony would be a more productive player if he simply stopped taking shit shots; so would Russell Westbrook. The idea that the bad shots that these players take create value for their team has no basis in evidence at all (nor is there any evidence that these players are reluctant shooters who are shooting so much because “someone has to take the shots”). You can choose to disagree with me on that, but it’s rather like disagreeing with me about evolution and creationism — as far as I’m concerned, prove it or move it.
It’s a great post that is worth a read. As a book end, I have been reading a lot of books lately about how people handle mistakes and being wrong (currently I’m on Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)) One of the key problems that crops up over and over is starting with an answer. It turns out that as soon as we have an explanation we like, we will stick with it. The research of how people rationalize, cherry pick, and ignore counter-evidence is frightening. Many have started with the assumption that shots are valuable and as we’ve seen, the amount of justification on this is staggering. Taking a step back though, the evidence is pretty solid. Misses are bad! Digging into the data to show taking a lot of shots impacts player efficiency also doesn’t turn up much. The key in all of this is to remove preconceptions. Before calling Monta Ellis or Carmelo Anthony a good player, first define what good means. Then judge. Or as Patrick more eloquently states: “Prove it or move it”