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If I could ecnapsulate the principle that seems to be missing from the analysis, it's this: 100% of shots not taken do not go through the net.


I thought I would comment on Michael Jordan. I just posted a comment at our blog - The Wages of Wins Journal(dberri.wordpress.com) - where I discuss what Wins Produced says about Michael Jordan. The basic argument, Jordan across his career was more productive than Kevin Garnett. For those expecting something contrary to the conventional wisdom, I am sorry to disappoint. For those who still insist that we are saying Dennis Rodman is better than Michael Jordan, please read the book before making such statements. Is it too much to ask that you know what we say before you state you disagree?


A few responses to posts so far:

Shaq may have been the most successful post player of the last decade, but keep in mind he's never not played with an elite level guard. From Penny to Kobe to Wade, he's always been teamed with a superstar ball-handler. Had Shaq been paired with the likes of Troy Hudson and Marko Jaric all those years (as Garnett has), the results would have been quite different. Take, for example, the last few games Shaq played with the Lakers. Kobe deliberately froze him out. In his final game in Los Angeles, I counted how many times Kobe passed Shaq the ball in the post. The total came to zero. Needless to say, Shaq became a non-factor.

NBA big men rely on guards to get them the ball. Shaq has always played with great guards, as has Tim Duncan. The one year Garnett played with a pair of above average guards (a healthy Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell), he lead his team to the Western Conference Finals.

To those who say Garnett's style of play may be detrimental to his teammates, and those who suggest that his numbers would decrease if his team improved: Sam Cassell has been an all-star exactly one time in his career; his only healthy year in Minnesota. Garnett also had the best statistical season of his career that year, and won the NBA MVP.

Because he's a post-player who depends on guards to get him the ball, he naturally had his best year when paired with an elite ball-handler.

And as for compairing the success of Garnett and Tim Duncan: It has nothing to do with their age and value when they first entered the NBA. Remember, the only reason The Spurs were in a position to draft Duncan was because their current superstar, David Robinson, had a season ending injury the year before, plummeting the team to the bottom of the rankings and the top of the lottery. Duncan was drafted by the most effectively run team in the league, with a superstar and solid supporting cast already in place. Garnett was drafted by Minnesota, an expansion team at the time and one of the worst run franchises since.


I think the win shared discussion is misleading because the standard error is small when calculated over teams, it doesn't account for what roles players have with their respective teams. If you build a team with 5 centers you won't win the number of games your win shares would predict. By the same token, if you pass up diffucult shots and leave them for less skilled teammates (like Garnett tends to do) your win share will be high but that of your teammates lower. You need scorers and players who do the dirty work to win; i still think if a team manages to get both iverson and garnett that they would complement each other perfectly. And that team would do a lot better than Garnett with a player similar win shares as iverson but less inclined to shot. For example there is no way Tyson Chandler and Garnett would post the same win shares on the same team since so much of their value is based on rebounding and high shooting percentages. There are only so many rebounds available in a basketball game...


To agree with what Holger said, above, I'm betting that Garnett gets a lot more rebounds playing for the Timberwolves than he would playing for the Heat (next to Shaq) or the Spurs (next to Duncan). Unless the algorithm adjusts for that fact, good forwards on bad rebounding teams -- like Shawn Marion, for example -- are going to be overvalued.

While I'm not a hockey fan, I would like to see their +/- rating implemented for basketball. What's the difference in points-scored vs. points-given-up when Garnett is in the game vs. when he sits? How would his ratio compare to Duncan's? How would Marion compare to Nash?

I do agree that Iverson is incredibly overrated. Shooting percentage is much more important than points scored, which is why the Utah Jazz used to win so many games with such unflashy players. And on-the-ball defense is incredibly important and hard to rate, which is why the Jazz lost to the Bulls both times they made the finals. Jordan and Pippen beat them with defense.


You can futz with numbers until you lose sight of the actual game before your eyes. Let's not do that.
There has never been a more versatile player at both ends of the court than KG (though Lebron is in the process of rebutting that statement). Garnett is the ultimate team player, in that he involves, and relies upon, his teammates more than anyone of comparable ability in the NBA. That is his vice and his virtue. Put him with Ginobili and Parker with Finley and Nazr coming off the bench and he will collect a handful of rings. Put him with nondefending ball hogs like Ricky Davis and nonrebounders like every pivot man in his entire career, and he will post great numbers and flounder by default.

Yes, Garnett has missed the playoffs the past two years. He also led his team into the playoffs eight years in a row despite having just one all star teammate during that period--Cassell, the year the Wolves went to the Western Conference finals and would have played the Pistons for the championship if Cassell hadn't been injured.

Finally, name me an NBA player, coach or executive who wouldn't want Garnett as a teammate.

The real tragedy is that he turned 30 this week, and, already ranking among the top five active players in minutes played, is past his prime.


Malcolm, though KG is a baller, this year he just wasn't deserving of it. A few people have touched on it already; the MVP is not just about statistical abilities. It has plenty to do with team record as well as image. Charles Barkley wrote a piece in SI a few weeks ago promoting Steve Nash because he makes passing fun and that is, according to him, good for the NBA. Furthermore, Chuck and all other writers are basically making the overall point of who is the MVP of the *league* not the MVP of a team. KG is the MVP of his team, no question, just no the league.

Think about Ron Artest, after the trade was done and he got to the Kings he *instantly* made them better. In only 56 games played he was ranked 11th in steals per turnover, 18th in steals, and second leading scorer on his team. Keep in mind that’s while fitting into a new system and new teammates. He turned a non-playoff team into one that gave the *Spurs* a run for their money, the team that won it all last year. But he has a bad (selfish) image (Part of the reason why people didn’t want to give it to Kobe.)

As far as KG’s image goes, the only real press he got this year is when they were talking about him being traded. And he has been considered for MVP the past four years or so. However, this year, Kobe became the greatest scorer since MJ (Yes I said it), Nash is a fun loving guy who makes the game go 1000mph and is press friendly, James and Wade's court vision is amazing to watch and Dirk is a 7 footer who plays like he is 6'5 AND 7'0. KG is like Dirk or vise versa. But Dirk was on a team with 60+ wins.

This year, his team was not involved in the playoffs; other players had more press clippings and honestly were more exciting to watch. Many people such as Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley think “the NBA is back” because of Steve Nash, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and Dirk Nowitzki. The image of the NBA, as an exciting thing to watch, has been at stake for the past few years and this group helped it--this year--more than KG did.


Great post, Rolf. Basically, who has KG had around him for his 10 years in Minny? Shaq has always had a top-of-the-line 2 guard around him. KG has had Wally. Nice solid player, but not really a great 2nd option, especially in the playoffs-- cause teams would key on him in a 4-7 game series and just smother him & force him to put the ball on the deck. Brandon was solid as well but he was ultimately a jumpshooter. The Wolves were always a strictly jumpshooting team with no one who could slash & get on the foul line, which is usually a major problem in the playoffs. Look what happens the same exact year they bring in Cassell & Sprewell--they get to the West Conf. Finals. Sprewell was the first guy they ever had who could slash during their playoff run & Cassell is as great as anyone creating shots. For all those people who make a big deal about the Wolves never getting out of the 1st round of the playoffs for 7 straight years, people need to carefully sift thru all the data--the Wolves were always the lower seed, besides 2003. And in 2003, they lost to a Lakers' team that was much better than their seed cause Shaq sat out a lot games with injury. All those years, the Wolves should have loss, and they did. Only one year could you say they underachieved--in 2002, they could have won a game or two vs. Dalllas, who swept them 3-0 if my memory serves me right. Also, the earlier post about the theory comparing Duncan vs. Garnett's success to their time of entry, Huh? I don't even know where to start to describe where that theory holds no water. You did not even factor in the fact that KG's contracts have been different from Duncan's cause the change in the CBA in '99. KG's deal has been grandfathered, while Duncan signed his second deal under the new rules where there is a cap on individual deals. Also, another variable that you failed to point out, is the Joe Smith debacle. Also for example, what if Cassell & Sprewell were 5 years younger. More than likely the Wolves try to resign them. And they would have the ability to sign them to the max without being worried about being over the salary cap cause they would hold their Bird rights. Basically, it just comes down to if the owner felt comfortable making that deal or not. Also, look at how the Spurs have faired in the draft--Parker & Manu were steals. As you can see, there are too many variables involved to boil it down to age of entry.


The fact that three players from the Memphis Grizzles (Eddie Jones, Mike Miller and Shane Battier) are on the list of most underrated makes me wonder how much a coache's systems play a factor in how the Win Score reflects an the capabilities of an individual player.

Paul Singh

I am a diehard Wolves fan and have been a KG fan since he first arrived here in Minnesota as a skinny high school kid. Although he is my favorite player, I believe the tragedy of Kevin Garnett is Kevin Garnett. Yes, he is the best all around player in the NBA. Nobody can do all the things he does, which is why he is so great statistically. However, you have to go beyond the numbers. The great ones can take over a game when the team needs him to. Dirk's 50 point perfomance is a great example. KG has never been a guy that can take over a game. That was okay when he had guys like Cassell and Sprewell willing and able to take over in the 4th quarter, but it's not anymore. The team needed him this season, and I can't count
the number of times he just faded in the fourth quarter. Another flaw in his game, which is a big reason why he fades, is he is so afraid of contact. The Wolves have been trying to get him to draw contact and play more inside for years, but he just won't do it. He's content to shoot that 10-15 foot fade away, which doesn't endere him to the refs in the 4th quarter.

KG will always be one of the best all around players, but he never will be a dominant "go to guy". He's a Pippen, not a Jordan. A McHale, not a Bird. The MVP isn't about stats, it's about leading your team and doing everything it takes to win. KG just hasn't done that, and by now, it's doubtful he ever will.


In response to the poster who wanted to see +/- stats, I'm surprised no one has posted about the existence of www.82games.com, which indeed offers that very stat. And in fact, Garnett had a very good +/- rating even this season (far better than any of his teammates) and always has had one.


This is sort of off the subject, but I saw Malcolm speak at the Omega Holistic Institue conference in NYC and he was awesome. Two different women asked to marry him. Make sure to see him live if you get a chance.

Matt G

Dear Mr. Sailer,

In a recent post on this message board, you claimed that this Slate article - http://www.slate.com/id/2143226/?nav=tap3 - uses "some fairly sophisticated statistical analysis to make the point that the truly great players have to be a little selfish."

As anyone who clicked on that link knows, that article is to fairly sophisticated statistical analysis what Taco Bell is to fairly sophisticated international cuisine.

As such, I would recommend a six-month probationary period during which you are not allowed to use the phrase "slapdash use of statistics." If you can refrain from deceitful use of statistics to further your cause during that period, then your rights to viciously attack Mr. Gladwell will be fully reinstated.


Jeremiah, thanks for the link.


I'm not here to support or defend the authors as I have not read their book. What I will support is there effort to try and better quantify what we see when we watch basketball. I am a follower and believer of the value of sabermetrics for baseball analysis and similar to the resistance there, some people here seem to be dismissing this argument (although very respectfully which is refreshing) based solely on their observation regardless of what a more scientific approach suggests. If you don't agree with this particular method of evaluation players that's fine but to answer with statements like "Garnett doesn't take over games in the 4th quarter" does nothing to refute what the authors have done. How hasn't he? What data do you have that suggests he hasn't? In baseball, while defensive metrics are admittedly weak and fairly new, all of them suggest that Derek Jeter is at best an average defensive SS. If you feel otherwise great but prove it or at least try to somehow quantify your argument. Otherwise, we are speaking two different languages.


For how much shit Kevin gets from everyone i would just loose it

he has proven himself the top elite players to come out of high school
he has the press makeing him look like just a normal player
hes carrying a team on his back
yet he still gets MVP

because hes giving up the hard shots..
naw because he is having the ball passed to him every time up the floor
i mean he wins almost all of their games and if he doesnt have the great of a game they lose
while shaq can sit on his ass the whole game and they can still win

one thing they need to do:
trade kevin
or get some damn players


re: Garnet on this years playoff teams.

If Garnett were switched with marion, the suns would have run away with the title. Garnett has never played with the type of distributor that nash is, and marions statistics (much as i like him) are inflated by the suns up-tempo philosophy.

when you push the ball so much that your team gets severall extra posessions per game there are more rebounds to grab, more shots to take. and with someone like nash passing the ball, everyone gets open shots.

about nowitzky, in many ways they are close, but garnets ability to play the 3, and his athleticism and defensive abilities might have been enough too push dallas over the top.

Imagine a lineup of terry-howard-garnett at the 1, 2 and 3, with both diop and dampier down low, playing the 4 and 5. terry and howard can get to the rim and hit open shots, while the two big brutes lock down shaq... that lineup lets those four guys play to their strengths, and then you can throw in garnet.


I appreciate your use of full URLs rather than a href links. Makes your links easier to email around.


The MVP the last two years has not gone to the best player on the best team, it has gone to the player most valuable to his respective team. They pretty much measured to see which team lost the most with it's star out. Calculate that....Steve Nash wins.


A case can be made that the Timberwolves are the most poorly run franchise in the last 25 years (that includes the knicks, clippers and hawks). They have drafted 2 quality NBA players in teh last 11 years.

T Fergusen

I think its statistically legit to ignore KG in the MVP balloting, while at the same time trusting win shares as the best method of evaluating a player's ability. You have to consider how the marginal value of each win changes as your team goes from average to good. I mean that each win is not worth the same "value". As your winning percentage gets higher, the value of each added win gets higher because our sports culture values greatness and is indifferent to everything else.

Lets say your team goes from a 35 win season to a 45 win season. Youve gone from low-mediocre to high-mediocre. Now pretend your team goes from a 63 win season to a 73 win season. You've gone from very good to the greatest team of all time. Just look at all that value, yet some guys assume that each additional 10 wins is worth the same.

Maybe KG is the best player in the league, but as long as he's playing with losers, he simply can't add that much value to his squad. All he can do is take them from forgettable to forgettable. I guess I'm just trying to translate that old standard of "best player on the best team" into the language of dork.

Paul Singh

Here are some stats supporting the KG "4th quarter fade" argument:

During clutch minutes (4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left,neither team ahead by more than 5 points) KG's FG percentage drops from .526 overall to .420.

In those clutch minutes, 72 percent of his shots are jump shots, which he shoots at a 41 percent clip.

His "win percentage" drops from 49 percent to 42.6 percent.

He was 5/21 on game winning shots (.238)

Wally Szczerbiak averaged more points for the Wolves in the 4th than KG.

He averages 4.2 rebounds in the first quarter and 2.7 in the 4th.


I'm coming in a bit late, so I wonder if anyone will see this. Anyway, I think there are two points which have been overlooked.

First, KG is not a winner. No statistical analysis can show team chemistry. Yes, "chemistry" is a disfavored term among those seeking objective qualifiers, but it exists. A better example is Steph Marbury. Can anyone truly say that he is not a more talented, athletic, and all-around better basketball player than Steve Nash or an older Jason Kidd? No. He is a freakish offensive player and a decent defender. However, he is a cancer is the locker room and a team chemistry killer. This cannot be quantified. My argument here is similar to something stated before regarding Nash, except that I even think Nash is a better ball player because of his personality.

My second point is to question the validity of statistical data in general. I crunch numbers all day long in order to review the employment practices of large corporations. For example, I look at the statistical probability that they only hired 4 Asians out of 600 candidates, considering the consistency of the current workforce, the qualified surrounding population, and other relevant factors. Boring, yes I know. But, these analyses reveal undetected and "invisible" impediments to the work progress of women and minorities. They reveal any disparate impact on minorities or females. The classic example is the reading test for Southern laborers back when Blacks couldn't read so well. It is a facially neutral test, but it has a disparate impact on minorities. Thus, statistical analyses allow us to see what we either ignore, don't pick up on, or try to hide. Same does for the WinShares formula. It's intended to illuminate hidden qualities in NBA players. However, statistics are based on probabilities. My statistical analyses on the workforce which show an improbable rate of poor minority hiring are often explained by an oddly large pool of unqualified minority applicants - not discrimination either intended or unintended. Applying this experience to WinShares, I warn everyone to appreciate the sheer volume of false triggers stats can have. They are predictors, not final judgment. As stated before, KG plays with a bad team, thus he will dominate more games. Moreover, KG has traditionally played in a weak conference with high-scoring teams and porous defenses. So, does the fact that KG creates more wins for his team as a proportion of their wins mean that he's a better player than everyone else? I say no. He has bad teammates because no one wants to play on his team with him, he shoots an inordinate amount of shots for his team, and he plays against weak defenses. Could I be wrong? Yes, but these are my thoughts.

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