Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Value of an NBA Lottery Pick

Earlier this week over at ESPN Insider I took a look at the average career value produced by each of the top 14 NBA draft picks (i.e., the lottery picks).

You have to be an Insider in order to read that piece, so let me briefly summarize what I did in order to get a career value for each player:

  1. A player’s season value is equal to his regular season win shares plus his postseason win shares.
  2. The player’s season values are ordered from best (highest) to worst (lowest).
  3. The player’s career value is equal to 100 percent of his best season, plus 95 percent of his second-best season, plus 90 percent of his third-best season, etc.

In the Insider column I went on to give the average value for each of the lottery picks as well as the top three players and bottom three players for each slot.

In today’s post I’m going to expand on that idea a bit by building a model to figure out the expected value for each lottery pick*, then use that model to find some of the best and worst draft picks since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976.

* From here on out I will use the term “lottery pick” to refer to a top 14 pick even though the draft lottery did not start until the 1985 NBA Draft, not to mention that not all top 14 picks were technically lottery picks.

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The Biggest Fluke Seasons in NBA History

The other day I was glancing through a list of players who had won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award and it struck me that many of the winners were not able to sustain their success after their award-winning season.

In other words, these were just cases of players having fluke seasons, statistical anomalies in otherwise ordinary careers. That led me to the question that motivated today’s post: What were the biggest fluke seasons in NBA history?

I used a couple of formulas to help me along the way, but in the end this more art than science. When making the selections I eliminated cases where an established star was having his peak season. For example, Tracy McGrady’s 2002-03 season stands out in his career line, but it’s hard to call it a fluke given that McGrady was a seven-time All-NBA selection.

Here are my choices for the six biggest fluke seasons in NBA history, presented in chronological order. Please feel free to agree or disagree in the comments, and let me know if you feel that I’ve missed someone.

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The Miami Heat Franchise In a Box

My favorite contemporary writer, the incomparable Bill James, has used the “In a Box” concept in several of his books. Basically what James does is choose a topic (e.g., a baseball manager) and then makes an idiosyncratic list of the topic’s defining features. I think the format works well for a blog post, so today I would like to put the Miami Heat franchise “In a Box”.

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Pythagoras of the Hardwood

As with many things in sports analytics, it started with Bill James.

James was looking for a way to translate a baseball team’s runs scored and runs allowed into wins and losses. He noticed that the relationship could be expressed as follows:

(W / L) = (RS2 / RA2)

The above could then be used to express a team’s won-lost percentage as a function of runs scored and runs allowed:

WL% = RS2 / (RS2 + RA2))

Because of the squared terms in the equation above, James chose to dub this the Pythagorean formula. James found that when he used this formula to try to predict a team’s win total given its runs scored and runs allowed, he would usually get within plus or minus four wins of the team’s actual win total.

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The NBA Rookie of the Year Award In a Box

My favorite contemporary writer, the incomparable Bill James, has used the “In a Box” concept in several of his books. Basically what James does is choose a topic (e.g., a baseball manager) and then makes an idiosyncratic list of the topic’s defining features. I think the format works well for a blog post, so today I would like to put the NBA Rookie of the Year award winners “In a Box”.

Continue reading The NBA Rookie of the Year Award In a Box

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