Basketball IQ

My buddy Chris and I spent most of the 2010-2011 Washington Wizards season in our season ticketholder seats amazed at John Wall, lamenting the Agent 0 trade, blown away by JaVale McGee’s both amazing dunks and stupendously retarded plays.  We’ve been discussing (measurable life qualities and reputation) and have now centered on a new subject:  basketball IQ (BBIQ).  It’s the difference between a pure talented kid with hops but no brains and a seasoned vet who knows how to use old man tricks, draw fouls, and make gamebreaking plays.

With Chris’s permission, here are our email exchanges related to BBIQ.

Chris – April 20

by the way, the knicks and celtics is such an intriguing series. I hate em both regular season, but I can’t help but root for the underdog knicks in the playoffs.

But Amare’s and Melo’s play in the final minutes of both games exemplify why I hate knicks fans. The fans acted like these guys were saviors — real top-tier talent, yet once again, they proved that they can’t win when it matters. Low bbiq or apathy or who knows. Billups is worth more than the two of them combined. The final two minutes of play is what separates a Jordan from a Malone, a Bird from a Barkley. Malone and Barkley were great players but very simple reason why they never won a championship — they couldn’t outplay anyone in the final two minutes of a game. The greats can. There’s a reason beyond luck why Robert Horry collected eight thousand championships — smart fucking player who was at his best in the final two minutes.

If fans can’t realize that, well, then they ain’t very good fans. Trust me, neither of these guys will end their careers in NY unless they get injured. They’ll get burned by the city and by the press for never delivering on their ‘promise’ (because they’re incapable of doing it) and they’ll demand a trade eventually to somewhere warmer, calmer, more accepting, like Phoenix or Portland.


Chris – May 6

Ok, I’ve been thinking about this a ton and still don’t have an answer. It made me realize a couple things:
  1. Advanced stats aren’t very advanced. The majority of advanced stats take the usual metrics (FGA. FTA, A, R, B, TO, Wins, etc) and weigh them according to arbitrary and/or stasticially proven standards. They’re just mashing up the same stats in different ways….for the most part.
  2. So we’re not measuring much of anything new.
  3. What would be a true advanced stat of a player’s capability?
  4. BBIQ would be a component of that. But it wouldn’t be the only thing. The guy with the highest BBIQ in the world might be a fat chain-smoking midget. Kinda useless.
BBIQ + athletic ability (speed, vertical leap, etc) + height/build (no tweeners, guys with long reach)
So how to define BBIQ?
  1. shot selection. Not shots made. Players should take shots that are consistently good shots for them. If a player averages 60% on FGA but routinely takes a shot from a specific spot on the floor that they only shoot 30%, that is stupid (extreme nearly impossible example, but you get the idea). Allen Iverson.
  2. Controlling possessions. You can’t score if you don’t have the ball. Sounds stupid but the obviousness of it makes it overlooked (cept when people are talking about Kevin Love). A:TO doesn’t make much sense (cept for PGs) because one is a measure of facilitating buckets; the other is a measure of lost possession. It’s not an apples to apples comparison. Need a stat that measure gaining (OR) or maintaining (not a TO!) possession versus losing possession (missing the OR, TO, shot clock expiring, ill-advised shot, poor pass that results in ill-advised shot).
  3. Not breaking plays unless the play must be broken. How to measure that? Freestyle players only work if they’re good enough to transcend the system. Kobe Bryant. When they’re not, they’re Stephon Marbury. How do you measure that?
  4. 2nd and 3rd assists. i’ve harped on this before, but Nash is a great example of a guy whose stats aren’t reflected well enough in the box. Time after time he sees the entire play unfolding and will make the pass that will facilitate the pass for the next pass for the bucket.
  5. Wins. If a player consistently wins…they gotta be doing something right, yeah? However, I don’t think the inverse is true. Klove is a very smart player stuck on a historically bad team with a bad coach and bad management. He shouldn’t be penalized for that (I think his MIP award was concurrence of that opinion. Interesting that his MIP could be considered an indictment of the Wolves organization).
What you got? What you think? BBIQ is ultimately measurable. It’s the how and in the beginning it would be a lil arbitrary in how we weigh the different factors, but it would resolve itself in the end.


Ben – May 9

Hmm, I think BBIQ is most easily detected on defense, because a lot of the stats are missing for that side of the game.  Defense is only quantified through RBD, ST, BS.  I know that the Mavs started measuring deflections and stuff like that.  Maybe you could measure how much time an opposing team takes to make a shot (e.g. did that possession result in 0secs left on shot clocks, for a TO?).  For BBIQ you could probably qualitatively come up with a good list.  For example, JaVale is automatically cut for either 1) that ridiculous dunk attempt from the FT line at the end of the game or 2) having a Twitter account where he refers to himself as Pierre.  DQs could also be for missing an easy layup, dunk, or even a FT.  Are there high BBIQ players that have low FT%?  Guessing not too much, but maybe there are some randoms.

So what if you started measuring things like pick/screen-assists, given to people who got a shooter free?  What about measuring successful boxouts limiting big rebounders?  Altered shots?  Battier-type stats.  Drawn charges.  Weakside blocks.  Double-team steals.  Those hustle plays.  Those things to me mean BBIQ.  But they could also be hustle.  I guess it’d have to be carefully broken down.

What about those players who are just kind of magic?  You know it when you see it.  The ones who somehow do something amazing, and make a great pass or shot when nothing was there…not lucky, but that extra spin or fake that makes it all work.  The ones who are always involved even if they’re not the ones scoring.  They have that intangibleness that immediately makes a team tougher.  Kind of like Chandler?  Or Ibaka on paint defense?


Chris – May 24

So, hear me out. Critics of Dave Berri say he overvalues rebounding.  Dave Berri says everyone else overvalues scoring (and he illustrates this by using WP to show that if most team’s top scorer was replaced by the same position average WP player, no chance in overall W/L). I think the truth is Dave Berri does not overvalue rebounding but still undervalues scoring.

Why? No matter what advanced stats show, all that matters in the end is who scores more. Who rebounding more? Doesn’t matter. Who had more assists? TOs? Shot a better FG? Doesn’t matter. The winner is decided only by score. It is the most important stat. So here’s how I’m starting to break it down.

A team has to maintain/gain possession AND capitalize on a possession (ie score) while denying the other team from doing the same. This is why Kevin Love is overrated in most advanced stats scoring. He rebounds like a motherfucker (maintain/gain possession) but he does not always capitalize on a possession. So stats that capitalize on a possession should be weighted more than those that don’t. So

  • maintain/gain possession
  • positive column
  • OR, DR, steal, Block, drawn charges
  • negative column
  • errant pass, stolen ball, missed rebound from poor positioning

Capitalize on a possession (*1.3?)

  • positive column
  • FGM (!), assists, 2/3rd assists
  • negative column
  • BA, FG missed

We gotta break down turnovers — are they turnovers that changed possession, e.g, a steal, OR turnovers that prevented a score and changed possession, ie a block (so yes, a block is much more valuable than a steal)? We also gotta break down fouls. This is important. A good sign of BBIQ would be a ratio of fouls committed to how many fouls the player causes their opponents to commit. Great players minimize their own fouls while forcing their opponent to sit on the bench. Moreover, did those fouls change possession OR resulted in free throws? A foul that results in free throws capitalizes on possession, ie it’s more valuable than a foul that simply changes/maintains possession, but yet we count all fouls the same right now.

So somewhere in all this would be my formula for a one be-all number — some ratio of how well a player maintains/gains possession, capitalizes on possession (all stats herein weighted arbitrarily higher than maintaining possession) versus how well they keep their opponent from doing the same.

Also, random thought — I was thinking about using FT% as an indicator of work ethic. Subjective? Yeah, but I bet most players who shoot over 85% work pretty hard on all aspects of their game, and again, most important thing to do is score while preventing your opponent from scoring. Would be interesting to check the stats of good FT shooters.


Ben – May 29

Okay, BBIQ.  Definitely free-throw shooting seems to be highly correlated with high BBIQ.  Also, I think a lot of stats are useless because as we both know, many games actually go down to the last 3 minutes, where they’re settled.  That’s when coaching, time management, running plays, execution, all make the difference between close wins or close losses.  How many games are blowouts?  Also, I think you could just do a crude add-up of high BBIQ or low BBIQ plays to get a rough idea of who to even consider for having any IQ at all.  Drawn charges, jumping into a defender to draw a foul.  On the bad side, getting a ticky tack and 1 foul on a layup where he should’ve let the ball handler just go.  Or getting 2 fouls early in the 1st quarter.  Shit like that.

I agree that scoring is overrated.  Once scorers go cold, the entire offense goes cold.  It’s easy to look like you’re good when you just make shots.  Maybe calculate easy scores off extra passes, or scores in the paint.  That’s why I’m worried about the Mavs vs. the Heat, because if Dirk is shut down or has off-par games, then the Mavs can’t win.  The Heat will go on fast break off misses and do well.  I was surprised the Bulls interior D didn’t do better against the Heat.  Anyway, I think the core metric for basketball is not scoring (Suns always sucked in crunchtime, while some teams like to win in low-scoring affairs), or possessions (any team v. the Suns could have higher possessions than average).  I’m not sure what that core metric is.  I would tend to err on the side of fundamentals — good FT, assists, ball movement will save a lot of headaches later.  I think there’s an added component to rebounding too by the way.  Rebounding has a psychological drain on your opponent.  If you keep getting rebounds, it really throws off the other team’s ability to run a fast break, and they will wonder if their hard work to stop a possession will be worth it if you keep getting the ball back.



HBO's Hard Knocks

HD NFL football on a big screen is amazing, and far more exciting than being at the actual game.  But the most interesting thing about football for me is the anthropology behind it, and this aspect is best documented in HBO’s annual mini-series, Hard Knocks:  Training Camp.  It’s a 5ish episode-long series that covers a different NFL team every pre-season training camp; this year they covered the Cincinnati Bengals, last year they covered the Dallas Cowboys.

I don’t talk about television much, but if I see some niche show that doesn’t get play or explanation, then I’ll get curious and write about it, like I did with the Japanese show VIKING:  The Ultimate Obstacle Course Challenge, whose genre has now grown into the Ultimate Ninja Warrior etc. shows you see on G4TV (right now there’s a series for picking the next UNW from the US).

The Hard Knocks annual series is short, but it shows rookies, veterans, and superstars as they prepare to leave for camp, as they get acclimated to the daily grind of training, and as they fight through scrimmages and become a team.  In it you see glimpses of the goofing off, the strange vocabulary used to describe different plays (that players must be able to recall within seconds or else they’ll get burned on the play), the hazing of rookies, the disparity of treatment of rookies and superstars, and the lives of kids barely out of high school thrusted into the limelight with million dollar salaries.

I started watching during the first season Hard Knocks aired (2001) when they covered the Ravens; the best moments were when Tony Siragusa, a veteran, locked the rookies in a trailer, and when they showed Shannon Sharpe’s (veteran) ridiculously tenacious training regimen.

The Cowboys series had this gem, when Roy Williams makes fun of Terrell Owens running on the beach:

The Bengals episodes also document the “Oklahoma drill”, a football drill that pits linemen against each other in a brief, explosive brawl:

This year’s Bengals season shows Chad Ochocinco, a great showman, dealing with a capricious NFL that curbs Twitter and Ustream, the two sites he uses to reach out and interact with his fans directly.

This is where it gets frustrating.  The NFL is doing this, while the NBA is doing things like fining rookie Brandon Jennings for twittering.  Needless to say (and from my own experiences getting in trouble for blogging/using social media), big organizations still don’t understand how their customers prefer to enjoy the experience they create.

Social media is one thing, but what’s inexcusable in the case of Hard Knocks is that HBO and the NFL don’t even make the Hard Knocks series available on DVD or online, once the episodes have aired on HBO and the NFL Network!  In other words, if I wanted to purchase Hard Knocks or rent it, I wouldn’t be able to unless I caught it on TV.  Sort of a live performance type of experience.

This makes no sense.  It makes me ask one of my personal “Rules of Running Successful Business” questions:  I want to give you money!  Why are you making it so hard for me to give you money?

The Wikipedia page of course has more info on it than the actual site.  And it’s likely that even the YouTube videos I post here will stop working once HBO or the NFL catches wind of them.  Why do companies do this?  Why do they need to control distribution even at the threat of losing their own word of mouth force multiplier?  How can they make money with such bad operating practices?

It’s really a shame, because the NFL is sitting on a massive goldmine with letting people see behind the gridiron and into the business, training, and raising of NFL athletes and organizations.  Hard Knocks is just a little taste of what the NFL is really like, and what we end up seeing every weekend is just a facade; in fact it took the recent policy shift from the NFL on treating NFL players’ concussions with more gravity to show that the game is less like a video game with faceless players and more of one where kids start off playing peewee football, train their entire school careers, and then cash in in the NFL, only to become feebled old hobbling elderly men.

Hard Knocks shows the humanity of the game, and I’d argue the NFL could use more of it.