Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
Hyperbole? Perhaps. But check this out:
In fact, don’t be shocked if the Bulls win the seven-game series with the Celtics.
Because while Boston might be the No. 1 seed in the East this year, they’re the worst top seed in the history of the NBA.
questions have begun surfacing about whether or not the Celtics have that “second gear” of talent that great playoff teams are always able to get to. According to Colin Cowherd, who has watched a lot of the Celtics this season, they do not
(yeah, I’ll bet Cowherd’s watched “a lot” of the Celtics–if “a lot” means “caught a few highlights on SportsCenter while I was doing something else.”)
The Celtics are on pace for 53 wins, but own an underwhelming (for a top team) average point-differential of plus-2.7 and a net rating of plus-3.1 per 100 possessions. Those numbers usually reflect the performance of a team in the high 40s, not in the mid-50s
And so on and so forth.
NB: I provided links to the source material because we believe in proper attribution here at Red’s Army. However, please do not do any of these sites the courtesy of even a single click on what are, as I’m about to demonstrate, examples of what happens when someone who doesn’t really understand statistical methods relies on statistics.
OK, so here’s what you do when some yutz starts to talk about Boston’s ‘point differential’.
The first thing you do is ask if that data has been corrected to eliminate statistical outliers. Why? Because there is little effective difference between winning by, say, 10 points and winning by 15 or 20.
However, large margins of victory percolate back through and skew points per 100 possession data.
Odds are the person will have no idea what you’re talking about (probability is closest to 1 if they are going on and on about this statistic while being paid to talk about the Celtics).
You may also run across impressive sounding statements like this:
And while point differential or net rating aren’t perfect arbiters, there is a strong correlation between them and the strength of a team — much like run differential is for baseball teams.
I love this. What I love about this is that the person who wrote this does not know the R value of that correlation. He’s repeating something that he read somewhere else, and he probably has no idea what ‘correlation’ means.
Not to mention the fact that he wouldn’t even begin to know how to do a two or three factor multiple regression test.
What’s a multiple regression test?
It’s when you take, say, the point differential and combine it with one or more additional statistics (i.e. 4th quarter point differential, opponent’s winning percentage, games missed due to injury/illness, etc.) and see if the correlation still holds.
If Boston is a statistical outlier when looked at through the lens of point differential, you can either be lazy/uninformed, and say, ‘well, it doesn’t matter, because this is a good predictor’, or you can perform a multiple regression test and see if Boston is still an outlier. You may discover, after including more variables, that their performance becomes less exceptional. The lesson is that outliers require closer analysis, not hand-waving dismissal.
And that, ultimately, is what I mean by the abuse of statistics.
Statistics exist to enable partial comparisons of complex and dynamic systems using a necessarily limited set of criteria.
You are going about the whole process backwards if you take some statistical result and use it to make a categorical pronouncement about an entire system (unless we’re talking very simple systems like pots of boiling water, etc.)
PS: Don’t get me started on what 538 is doing with the ELO formula.
Page 2: The tl;dr summary of the previous
If you are using statistics to support sweeping generalizations, then you do not understand statistics.
Page 3: Where Jay King does a better job looking at the numbers
For evidence, please take a look at Boston’s most-used three-man lineups. You’ll note that all of them feature some combination of the team’s best players. You’ll also note that most of them have performed much better than the Celtics’ average net rating:
Basically, the Celtics have been really good with their best players on the floor. That seems pretty intuitive, but the gap between the starters and bench has been huge, especially lately. Since the All-Star break, the four subs with the most minutes (Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Kelly Olynyk and Terry Rozier) all have negative net ratings (a measurement of how the team has performed with each player on the court). Among regular reserves, only Jonas Jerebko escaped the the red numbers.
What does that mean? Well, depth no longer counts as one of the Celtics’ strengths. When people call the team #blowoutaverse (shout out to @dangercart, the originator of that hashtag), it’s partly because bench units have not been good enough to hold leads or build on leads.
With the requisite caveat that you can only extrapolate so much value from three-man lineups in a game that is played five-on-five, Jay here does something that is necessary whenever you are looking at statistics…
He contextualizes the numbers.
Rather than dismiss the Celtics’ outlier status as irrelevant because point differential is a better predictor ‘most of the time’, Jay actually does some heavy lifting and looks for an explanation for Boston’s unexpected win total. He finds a possible, if not probable, cause in an unexpectedly less productive bench–something which is less of a concern in the playoffs than it is in the regular season.
Now, granted, Jay probably can’t perform a multiple regression test in a rigorous fashion, but what he did by introducing additional variables even if only in an informal discussion is exactly what a responsible person should do with a surprising statistical result. Look for context. Try to understand why the statistical measure failed instead of assuming the measure is infallible and that the system being measured is flawed.
Page 4: Where Avery is a mensch
People have a lot of different opinions about Rondo, but Bradley considers the guard one of his close friends.
“He was at my wedding,” Bradley said earlier this season. “I consider him family.”
“It was hard hearing all the negative things about him,” Bradley added after practice Friday, two days before Game 1 of a first-round series against Rondo’s Bulls. “But I just prayed for him. I wished him well. I would send him texts every now and then like, ‘Bro, it doesn’t matter. We’ve all been there before.’ He’s been the underdog before. And he came into the NBA, people not thinking he could play. Everybody’s been there. It’s just their job to continue to work and prove people wrong. I feel like every year he’s been trying to do that.”
In those days, Bradley learned a lot from his older teammate.
“I grew as a player and as a man,” Bradley said about his time with Rondo. “He’s helped me out in a lot of different ways. And I appreciate him. All his time here I feel like he was one of the best teammates that I’ve had. And he was a true competitor, one of the hardest-playing teammate I played with. His desire to win, I don’t know that many people (like that). He’s so competitive. It doesn’t matter what we’re playing. If we’re playing tic-tac-toe he wants to win every single game. So I respect that about him.”
He’s been injured a lot this season, and I think he’s the most likely Celtic guard to be traded. But that’s just stuff between the lines. When he’s not playing basketball, Bradley has been a solid, solid citizen.
Finally: Phil says the Knicks can’t win with Carmelo.
I remember telling Carmelo last July in Las Vegas at the U.S. Olympic training camp that he was being set up as the fall guy.
“I’ve been around a while,” Carmelo said, smiling. “I know what’s coming.”
But I’m not sure Carmelo ever thought Phil would be this mean-spirited and classless. Jackson started his passive aggressive campaign by taking pot shots at Anthony in December. And if that wasn’t enough Jackson had his hit men in the media carry continue the assault.
“We’ve not been able to win with (Anthony) on the court at this time,” Jackson said, conveniently misremembering that Anthony, unlike Phil, has proven that he can win in New York in his current role. The historic losing started once Jackson arrived.
“I think the direction with our team is that he’s a player that would be better off somewhere else and using his talent somewhere where he can win or chase that championship,” Jackson added.
I have a container of spaghetti squash in the very back of my fridge.
I know it’s there because I remember putting it there. I also know that it’s been back there so long that I’ll probably have to throw out the container along with the horrifying mass of mold and liquefied vegetable matter in it.
But I haven’t done that yet. Mostly because I can’t see it when I open the fridge. But there it is. Lurking. And eventually I’ll have to deal with it, because it’s not going to deal with itself, and it’s not going to get better.
Ladies and gentlemen, Phil Jackson is that spaghetti squash.
Sure, there was a time when he was at his peak, in control of his surroundings and able to turn fortunes and change attitudes with cryptic remarks.
But he’s been sitting in the back of the fridge too long.
He has nothing of value to offer the Knicks, and the longer they keep him around, the worse he’s going to get. There’s no switch to flip here. There’s no change in staff, in situation, in compensation, in personnel, that will turn PJ into a productive basketball executive. That time is past. He’s the banana you should’ve eaten yesterday. The avocado your forgot about at the bottom of the bowl. The milk that you thought would make it past the expiration date, but didn’t.
And the thing is, if they keep him around, he may end up turning Kristaps Porzingis into the next Boogie Cousins.
The rest of the links
Boston Globe: Bradley braces for duel with Rondo
ESPN Boston: Celtics fully expect to face ‘National TV Rondo’
Des Moines Register: Ex-Iowa State star Abdel-Nader named D-League rookie of the year