Basketball Prospectus Is Smarter Than I

March 12, 2008 at 1:32 pm | Posted in Basketball, Jackie Manuel | 5 Comments
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I just wanted to get that obvious statement out of the way. John Gasaway has posted a very good article about why Tyler Hansbrough should not be player of the year. This is complicated for me for two reasons.

1. I love North Carolina basketball and can not, under any circumstances, approach this with a veil of ignorance or any objectivity.

2. I am a stat geek (lite), a VORPy, someone who will believe a computer over someone who has played the game.

With all of that confusion cleared up, let us take a look at the argument:

Tyler Hansbrough is in the process of sweeping up every national Player of the Year award worth sweeping up, despite the inconvenient little fact that he doesn’t play the game of basketball as well as Kevin Love does. More on that shortly. First, some good news.

I’m an incurable optimist, so I truly believe 2008 will be the last season when a player so demonstrably not as good as another will win national player of the year. Seriously, I believe that. Here’s my thinking.

Over the past couple seasons I’ve seen a change in how the game is watched, followed and talked about. Actual performance is now a factor. Said performance should never be the unquestioned ruler of these discussions–“actual” performance has context, players have effects on teammates and games that can’t always be captured–but it does need to at least be acknowledged. Call me a dreamer, but from where I sit performance is indeed acknowledged today to a greater extent than at any other time in my memory.

Now if John is going to have more on demonstrably better shortly, I’ll wait too. I do think we’ve seen basketball statistical analysis grow and I’ve even heard a talking head or two mention efficiency. We are no where near having O ratings being used while the player stands on the foul line and clearly Carolina’s defense was seen as much worse than it actually is this season due (although still not as good as the last three seasons) to most hacks having no idea about how pace effects stats like OPPG. I doubt Basketball Prospectus has had it’s last POY arguement.

Nevertheless, we’re about to make Hansbrough the POY. So what? Goodness knows he really does have a motor and, anyway, I swear there’s a fin de siècle feel about this whole exercise. This will be the last Heisman-inflected POY, the last one where exposure so unapologetically nullifies mere performance.

Fin de siecle! Fin de siecle! OK. OK. Whomever you say is POY is POY. (Literally means turn of the century and figuratively he means we are going to start understanding his arguments) Actually, I’m going to attack some of this:

That’s not to say every future national POY will necessarily be the very best player in the country. It’s just that we won’t soon see another situation like this year’s, where all the extraneous variables are so beautifully negated.

With Hansbrough and Love, happenstance has given us an elegantly symmetrical case study where the relative weights of performance and exposure can be pegged with minute precision. Here are two big guys playing in the paint in major conferences with excellent teammates for blue-chip programs that, barring mishap, will receive top seeds. In other words, Hansbrough and Love are virtually identical in their hoops demographics. That leaves performance and exposure as the only independent variables. Love wins on the former metric. Hansbrough, as you may have noticed, fares rather well on the latter.

First, the extraneous variables are not negated. This is one of the problems with basketball statistics, anyways. John and Ken are both well aware of them. In baseball you really can negate things much more easily. Baseball teams share common opponents, most stats involve primarily two players, and the sample size is great. College basketball involves 10 people playing a game, UCLA and UNC played only two common opponents, and 31 games is hardly enough to bring us a signficant p-value. I’m not saying these stats have no value, I’m saying reasonable people can have doubt as to who deserves player of the year based on performance. Second, West Coast Bias I’ll give you.

Let’s be clear: As unavoidable as Hansbrough as been on our flat screens the past few months, he really has had an outstanding season. In fact, it’s not too much to say that he’s been the second-best player in the country this year. No mean feat, that.

Michael Beasley? He’ll be drafted long before either Love or Hansbrough, and he should be. As far as national awards, though, Beasley effectively absented himself from consideration on that fateful day in November 2006 when he announced his intention to play at Kansas State. Having chosen to play for a team that’s decent, but not great, he shouldn’t be surprised to find that said team is now clinging to him on offense like a piece of driftwood.

The qualitative disparity between Beasley (projected to be one of the first two players selected in the NBA draft in June) and his team (projected as an eight-seed in the NCAA tournament) has made him a traveling exhibit, like a player who’s chasing a home run record while playing for a middling team. His points are exuberantly prolific but his efficiency, while undeniably impressive under the circumstances, is a notch below that of Love or Hansbrough. We’ll never know how much better Beasley could have been on a better team. No matter. He’ll be drafted based on the promise of what he can do. That promise is correctly recognized as vast.

The strongest point of this article is that nobody is talking about Kevin Love. John is showing us that Kevin Love is awesome and his point is valid. Still, it is important to remember that the award isn’t supposed to consider how good a team is. I’m also not sure that efficiency can’t be surpassed by someone who carries his team. Both have to be considered. Why wouldn’t Love or Hansbrough have the same problems on Kansas St?

Hansbrough and Love, on the other hand, are blessed with the supporting casts that Beasley lacks. Hansbrough is a savvy, indefatigable and, not least, lethally efficient scoring specialist who both earns and makes free throws with machine-like regularity. Past that? He’s an adequate defensive rebounder, he never blocks shots (ten the entire year) and rarely records assists (28).

As for Love, by way of introduction let us note that it’s taken Hansbrough three seasons to become the weapon on offense that Love already is:

Hansbrough and Love

                     Off.                          Def.        Off.
                     Rtng.    FTRate   eFG pct.  Reb. Pct.   Reb. Pct.    %Poss.
Hansbrough 06        118.7     72.5      57.3      14.9        13.9        26.6
Hansbrough 07        119.8     72.6      52.6      16.9        11.9        26.2
Hansbrough 08        127.8     80.9      55.2      20.5        12.8        26.9

Kevin Love 08        126.5     72.5      60.3      30.6        17.0        27.9

While playing as large a role within his own offense as Hansbrough does in his, Love is the better shooter from the field. He doesn’t get to the line quite as often, but he’s a better offensive rebounder. The largest difference between the two players, however, is that Love’s defensive rebounding is simply on another planet. In addition, he blocks a few shots and records a modest number of assists.

Damning stats for sure. Still, this comparison isn’t taking place in a vacuum. Remember that thing that Pomeroy and Gasaway have hit over the head with over and over again? Remember pace? Well, it just so happens that North Carolina doesn’t crash the boards like UCLA does. We look to run and win games with one of the fastest offenses in the country. The Bruins set basketball back 25 years with their ridiculously good defense and slow pace (opinion alert). Of course Kevin Love has a better defensive rebounding rate than Tyler Hansbrough. If I say Tyler only averages only .4 rebounds less per game than Love and 8 more points per game….he’d call me on it for not considering pace. I think it is only fair to consider the full effects of that. Also while Tyler should not get the award for being a junior, he shouldn’t not get the award because he is a junior.

It’s beyond odd to be speaking of a UCLA player in revelatory tones more appropriate for an affronted underdog from the mid-major side of the tracks. Keep in mind this is no Nick Fazekas I’m introducing here. This is no boutique efficiency marvel teleported in from a below-radar league. This is Kevin Love. His mug graced magazine covers in November. He plays a featured role in the offense for a Final Four contender in the Pac-10.

True, on Hansbrough’s behalf it is said that he carried his team while Ty Lawson was hurt. Darn right he did. Is that admirable? Of course it is. By all means, give Hansbrough an admirable behavior award. Call it the Gutsy, call it the Irving Thalberg Award, call it anything you want. Only please don’t call it the Player of the Year award.

No. No. No. Call it efficient. While Tywon Lawson was out Psycho’s numbers where unreal. Not his behavior. Not his guts. Not his boy wonderness. HIS PERFORMANCE! Punch that into the computer and then tell me Kevin Love is better than Tyler was when we needed him.

The Player of the Year award rightly belongs to the player who’s as good as Hansbrough on offense, but vastly superior to Hansbrough on defense. It rightly belongs to Kevin Love.

He won’t get it, of course, but that’s OK. Love will cry all the way to a handshake with David Stern in June. Hansbrough is a solid number two. Besides, he’s used to the exposure.

He’s certainly made a good argument. Love should certainly be in the discussion for POY in 07-08. I don’t think Love is as good on offense as Tyler. Tyler’s ability to get to the line is absolutely a key in how the Heels play. You may not believe performance in those 7 games should earn him the nod but I think it at least puts him in the analytical discussion. I get that most who vote in this are taking the easy way out. Some are voting for Tyler because he’s white, some because he’s been around three years, and some because he is ESPN’s current mascot. Getting past all of that, some of us just think his performance this season is deserving.


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  1. And Hansbrough doesn’t have an uncle that’s responsible for this:


    I do love the Beach Boys, but Mike Love is a tool.

  2. Not even Gasaway can argue with that.

  3. Mike Love looks like the kind of guy who has said “Do you know who I am?” more than once in his life.

  4. […] won’t go into a full statistical rebuttal, as others have done this, but I will reiterate that while Gasaway makes some good points on behalf of Love, ultimately, his […]

  5. The POY debate is getting old. Psycho T has had the best season. Carolina is ranked #1 because of him. We played a tough schedule, and we won every away game we had this season. Granted, Tyler is not the most gifted player but that is not what the POY award is about. This award goes to the player who has had the best season. Think back to 2002. Juan Dixon won ACC player of the year, but Jay Williams won NCAA player of the year. Go figure. Redick and Morrison were not the best players in 2006. Glenn Robinson beat out Grant Hill in 1994. The list goes on and on pertaining to players who were more talented than the actual individual who was crowned POY. Get over it, already. Tyler has had a great season. And, if you wanna play the race card, I’m black and I know that Mike Beasley is a better all-around player. But, can he do what Tyler Hansbrough does? No.

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