Monday, March 1, 2010

NBA MVP: No Contest

After all the questions I've been getting from readers wondering where the hell I've been these past couple weeks, I thought I should offer some sort of explanation. Although Olympic Curling coverage is partially responsible for my absence, the real reason you haven't heard from me is much more pertinent to actual sports. As I was browsing last week, I came across one of the greatest things I've ever seen: Google Motion Charts. You see, I'm a sports fan; but I'm also a stats geek, someone who gets excited over things like APBRMetrics and John Hollinger's PER ratings. So when I came across hoopdata's Motion Charts and the endless potential for analysis and comparison of any NBA players I choose... suffice it to say I had to make a change of clothing.

If you're not familiar with Motion Charts, I certainly recommend checking them out; however, I can understand that not everyone shares my passion for stats, so you may not be as enthusiastic as I was. But anyone with an interest in the NBA would surely find something to be impressed by after playing around with the new hoopdata tool for a few minutes. I tinkered with an endless array of stats and comparisons, and I could hardly give a sufficient representation of how amazing the potential is for illustrating all sorts of statistical nuances, but I thought I'd give a quick look at a very basic implementation of the power of the Motion Charts. Again, to truly see the value of the Motion Charts (and utilize the "Motion" aspect of the tool) you'll have to play with them yourself at

One of the most discussed arguments throughout any NBA season is "Who is this year's MVP?" As someone who believes that this argument is not even close, I looked to see if the charts could support my claim. Let's first look at a representation of the elite players' Usage Rate (horizontal axis) versus their Offensive Rating (vertical axis) for this season:

This chart tells us a number of things. The first thing you'll notice is that it's probably not a good idea to let Gilbert Arenas use so many possessions (and maybe Durant should be using more). We can also see that while Dwyane Wade may not have the best Offensive Rating, he is asked to carry a bigger load for his team than any player in the NBA. On the other hand, Bryant is surrounded by a much better team, and is therefore not required to do as much. You can see on the right that the colors correspond to the players' MPG (basically the same here since all of these players get big minutes) and that the size variable is not being used in this example. Finally, you can see on the bottom right that I have zoomed in on a small part of the NBA to show only the league's elite players. And Arenas.

At this point, you might be asking "What the hell is usage rate?" or "Offensive Rating? What ever happened to real stats, like points per game?" Well, we all know that Lebron leads the NBA in PPG, so let's take a look at the other major statistical categories: assists and rebounds. Here's a look at the NBA's best when we chart Assists Per Game (horizontal axis) versus Rebounds Per Game (vertical axis):

I see two interesting things here: Iguodala's outlier status and Odom's impressive position on this chart despite limited minutes (depicted by his yellow color). Anyway, the point is, Lebron stands far above the other MVP candidates in the Assists + Rebounds category.

One last example: what about defense? While most people don't think too much about defense when it comes to their choice for MVP, it's obviously something that should be considered. Here's a chart of Defensive Rating (horizontal axis) versus Offensive Rating (vertical axis) (the lower the DRtg, the better the defense, so the top left is where you want to be):

Here, the size variable was put to use, showing total minutes played. You can see that while Garnett gets decent MPG, his total minutes were affected by his injury. While you may not agree that Lebron is the clear choice for MVP, at least you now have to admit what I've been claiming for years (and the real subject of my research): Anderson "Wild Thing" Varejao and Chris "Birdman" Anderson are two of the best players in the NBA. Much more on this topic to come. Feel free to share your thoughts.


"Pistol" Clyde Stockton said...

Lebron has won NBA player of the month 4 straight months. For the record, nobody has ever won that award for every month of the entire nba season. but the King has a chance to do so. God speed lebron

Tatum "Left Eye" Fisher said...

Should be noted that it's actually been six straight months dating back to last season. Godspeed indeed.

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