Friday, May 31, 2013

Unsolved Mysteries: NBA Edition #6

We have been MIA too long!  The NBA playoffs have proven to have its ups and downs but the latest Miami/Indiana saga has been exciting to watch. 

In the spirit of the playoffs, we are going to finish up with Kevin Pelton's 10 questions to solve. 

Question 6: Do per-minute (or per-play) stats translate across changes in playing time?

In my opinion, this is one of the most exciting statistical questions in this list.  Each year we see a new 6th man of the year -- it seems that with more playing time they seem to do better and better (with the exception of JR Smith in the playoffs).  Lance Stephenson has taken the bull by the horns with his increased minutes this year. 

Recently we did a study on a particular Houston Rockets player to measure his per minute stats throughout a game.  Ideally, this player was hoping for more playing time based on particular statistics.  An important aspect was rebounds per minute.  The chart below shows that Houston had more rebounds per minute when this player was off (red line) the court versus when he was on (blue line) the court. 


However, if we put our tunnel vision on, we may fall in to the trap of saying that this player is detrimental to the team in terms of rebounding the ball.  When examining other metrics, we find that Houston has far fewer rebound opportunities when the player is on the court versus off -- thus leading to fewer rebounds per minute.  In addition, field goal attempts were much smaller was well.  Two words - Good Defense. 

Could this type of stat analysis lead to determining more playing for players?  I think so -- it steps outside the bounds of how we normally look at per minute stats.  It would be great to see more research done in this area -- especially its effects come playoff time!