Give me the rock Part 1: The Paradox of Melo

Posted on 10/28/2010 by

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Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.  ~Albert Einstein

A while back, I gave you, my readers,  homework with the implicit understanding that there would be a reckoning. A reckoning that takes the form of my next series. Hopefully, it’ll live up to it’s predecessors. So get ready, because here comes the intro.

I aim high with sequels

The genesis of this series came from an article on Carmelo Anthony by Jeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company:

The motivation behind this piece is that the author, cannot believe the premise that Carmelo Anthony is inefficient. While he admits that he in most cases believes in statistics, in this case the statistics do not match his conclusions drawn from direct observation.  Faced with this quandry, he decided that he was going to take a look at the numbers himself.

We here at Arturo's Silly Little Stats applaud the use of the scientific method (Image courtesy of xkcd.com)

While I admire his efforts I have some issue with the conclusions drawn (and we shall see that I’m not the only one). Carmelo may be one of the leading scorers in the NBA but we as we shall see volume does not equal quantity or efficiency.

His data sample was as follows:

  • Looked at Six Players:
  1. Carmelo Anthony
  2. LeBron James
  3. Kevin Durant
  4. Dwyane Wade
  5. Kobe Bryant
  6. Kevin Martin
  • Take a representative sample of 10 games consisting of :
    • 2 playoff games
    • 3 post all-star break games
    • 5 pre all-star break games.

He looked at every shot and determined whether it was open or contested and if it was made or not. The results look like this:

So Melo is the worst at getting open looks (although he’s the best at converting them, useful skill if he took more open shots, wait…). He’s also 4th in this group at converting contested shots. The last column I added and it shows Melo at 5th out of the 6 at converting shots into buckets (not a surprise to WP devotes who know that Martin had an of year last year).  So given the data set the conclusion that Melo while talented at converting open j is  prone to making bad basketball decisions and that dooms him to be an inefficient scorer seems totally inevitable right? Not quite. I quote:

“In conclusion, the opportunity for Carmelo to become a more efficient scorer is there for the taking.  I think the fact that he settles for so many contested shots does provide the bridge between the beautiful offensive game we see night in and night out and the harsh reality of statistical analysis.

Whether Melo ever becomes more efficient or not, I think there is room for both the subjective admiration of the beauty of Carmelo’s offensive game, while acknowledging his objective shortcomings.  Carmelo may never prove to be able to overcome his score at will alpha dog mindset I believe clouds his decision making and shot selection, however, his skill level is truly that of an elite player and I think it is appropriate to marvel at his abilities at the same time we are frustrated by his willingness to go about his business in an inefficient way.”

The potential argument. Carmelo could be a more efficient scorer. Here’s the problem with this argument: He hasn’t been, he isn’t and the weight of historical evidence suggest he never will be.

I wasn’t the only one who noted this article. WOW network member Nerdnumbers (Andres Alvarez) said very eloquently in response:

A subject I’ve addressed a few times (see here, here, and here) I can not tell you how much I love this analysis. Essentially it boils down like this

1)      Melo is very good at making open shots (the horse argument)

2)      Melo doesn’t take a lot of open shots

3)      Therefore Melo is not an efficient scorer by “conventional metrics”

4)      BUT Melo is still an Elite Player because he has the SKILL to be amazing (e.g. if he took the shots Durant or Lebron took his offense would be off the charts)

Man I was sold until point four. I felt reaffirmed by this post by the way. ….

…..The net effect of Melo is that he is not actually a good shooter. Of course my biggest issue was point four. When you have a rookie making very little (even #1 picks only have to earn around 3 wins to be worth it and of course their contracts are set so that it’s easy to drop them after two years) and they have potential then point four is great. When you have a seven year veteran that is in the middle of a max contract asking for another max contract then this point should be thrown out the window. The issue isn’t that a better coach or team couldn’t make Melo better. The point is that the risk and cost isn’t worth it. Melo will cost 1/3 of your cap space (possible more depending on the new CBA).”

I also loved the research and the method and I decided I was going to take it a bit further (I know shocker right). There is an inneffable calculus that makes a person an efficient generator of offense. The end goal is simple, the player needs to find the best possible look or find the man that has it and get him the ball without turning it over. The details, is he open, is it a three, will he get an and 1, etc., are not so simple. If the player is successful his team scores. The needs of the many do indeed outweigh the needs of the few or the one.

I’m going to attempt to quantify this very simply. My method will be as follows:

  • Look at all the data for the 2008, 2009 & 2010 for every player and get:
  • Player Position
  • Minutes Played (and eliminate all players with less than 1200 Minutes Played which leaves 383 players)
  • Pts48 (points per 48 minutes)
  • FGA48 (field goal attempts per 48 minutes)
  • Pts per Attempt (pts per attempt = pts48/fga48)
  • AST48 (assists per 48 minutes)
  • TO48 (turnovers per 48 minutes)
  • Offensive possesions used per 48 (FGA48+AST48+TO48 this is the possesions spent by the player)
  • Offense Generated (Pts +Asst *2.68) per 48. The 2.68 is the average points generated per FGA for 2008 thru 2010
  • Offense generated per possesion used. This is the key measure as it reflects how many points the team generates when the player in question gets the rock.
  • Offense Generated at 30 possesions used. Here I’m just projecting every player at an even number of posessions.

How does this look? Let’s look at the players from the above example:


Given the same number of possessions to spend Melo is tied for the least efficient of the group. Durant who’s tied with him improved dramatically over the course of 2010 (as would be expected from a young player). Melo only ranks 235 amongst the players in the data set. To be fair that has something to do with his position.

And we’ll get into it.

In future installments.

Addemdum (10/29/2010): My readers are fantastic. Two of them recommended an upgrade to the metric. The comments were :

some dude:

you include FT into points in points per possession, but does a shooting foul for 2 or 3 shots equate to a possession in the possession part of the equation?

if not, there’s a piece missing. You’re adding in points for a possession while not counting the poss

Man of Steele:

Arturo, I’m inclined to agree with you in thinking of FTs as the result of good choices made by the player. It seems unavoidable, though, that you may have to adjust this theory in some instances. It is not a smart choice for Shaq to get to the free throw line. In fact, more often than not he misses at least one of two free throws, after which the other teams often regains possession. In effect, it is quite possible that a poor free throw shooter is utilizing resources (possessions) without producing any profit (points).

Of course, this caveat really only applies for small percentage of the population. Most players shoot free throws well enough that it is a good idea to get to the line.

They’re right of course. As I said, my readers equal fantastic. So we are going to add a .44 *FTA48 term (an approximation for possessions used thru  Free Throws from Prof. Berri) an call it the SD-MOS hack-a-shaq correction. The numbers now look like:

Carmelo is tied with Durant at the rear of the group (Durant is young and improving however).

And everybody on the list ends up doing worse. Live and learn. Point Guards are coming next.

Part 2 (PG) is here.

Part 3 (SG) is here

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