A simple response to Mr. Silver

Posted on 01/16/2011 by


Nate Silver is one of my personal heroes. He’s a statistical rockstar. The work he’s done in baseball and in politics is truly amazing and an inspiration. I’ve been reading his stuff for years.

I really can’t believe I’m about to take the piss at Nate Silver. But politely disagreeing with a fellow stats person is fine I guess (and I won’t even bring up anyone’s mother). But I disagree with Mr. Silver, and think he got it wrong.

But I’m skipping the lead. How did I get here? First off there’s this piece:

The Nets and Knicks May Be Better Off Without ‘Melo.

In it Jared Diamond of the Wall street Journal (with an able assist from our own Prof. Berri) debunks some of the hype surrounding an old favorite, Carmelo Anthony (did you hear he might be traded?).

Sorry Kobe, no love for you today

The relevant bulletpoints from the Professor:

  • The latest rumored New Jersey deal (Derrick Favors and Devin Harris to Denver, The Nets get Chauncey Billups and Rip on top of Melo) would only make the Nets a 30 win team.
  • If the Knicks give the Nuggets what they want (Fields, Chandler and picks) for Melo they would win roughly 29 games over a full year (and I would laugh myself sick ).

And I agree with both of these assessments. As you might imagine, a lot of people do not.

One such person is the aforementioned Mr. Silver in this lovely piece:

Why Carmelo Anthony Is the Ultimate Team Player (and What ‘Advanced’ Stats Miss About Him)

His claim is simple. Advanced stats such as Wins Produced (see here for the Basics) miss the true value of Carmelo Anthony as a player. To quote:

In taking all of those shots, however, Anthony has also done something else: he’s made his teammates much more efficient offensive players.

And because he makes his teammates more efficient by being inefficient himself, Melo is more valuable than he appears.  Now Mr. Silver does prove his first point but as we shall see his second point fails when tested. Let’s talk data.

I went through the trouble of pulling every single game for the nuggets for the past two years (see here ). I then divided all the games into games where Carmelo played and games where he did not. Finally I worked out Points generated per shot for each scenario. The results are here:

You can see that Mr. Silver is right. Melo’s teammates are more efficient with him on the floor . But only slightly (.9% this year and .1% last year). The problem though is that as a Team they are more efficient with him off it. Because Melo is inefficient and he takes a lot of shots which more than eat up the marginal gains in offensive efficiency he get’s his teammates. In Melo’s defense his team is better off with him on the court (but that has to do with other stats and who his replacement is).

Melo is a good but not even close to great player but the appearance and not the substance game makes him seem like more than he is. So much so that even those who should know better are beguiled and bewitched to defend him. Anyone who’s thinking of buying what Denver is selling needs to remember the numbers and beware of his eyes leading him astray.



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