Friday, December 01, 2006

Is Craig Smith the NBA's Best Rookie?
(Related: Could I Really Be Right? Wow.)

Friday Quickie! | CFB/BCS Mania! | NFL Picks!

One of the hottest blog-feuds going right now is between Dave Berri and's John Hollinger, two of the leading voices in the world of statistical analysis in the NBA, which only in the last season or two has really gotten the pub it deserves. (See TrueHoop for a good recap.)

Berri has a really interesting book, The Wages of Wins, that you might have heard of (Malcolm Gladwell has praised it) and that I definitely recommend as one of the more fascinating -- and controversial -- reads from 2006.

Berri also has a blog, which regularly has some pretty interesting arguments and analysis, which brings me to this post: Berri had a post casting some statistical skepticism that Adam Morrison is truly the leading candidate for NBA Rookie of the Year after the first month.

This was of particular interest to me, because in yesterday's A.M. Quickie post, I handed out my first-month NBA Awards and gave Rookie of the Year to Craig Smith. His stats were pretty good for a rookie, but what swayed me was that of the group of ROY contenders, Smith was the only one from the second round – there's got to be a bonus for exceeding expectations. After all, Top 10 picks are SUPPOSED to contribute. But my analysis was highly qualitative.

I emailed Berri today asking him if I was on to something with my pick, and he replied that, in fact, yes: Craig Smith is the most productive rookie using his Win Score per-minute statistic (adjusting for position played). Here are the top six in that category:

1. Craig Smith
2. Paul Millsap
3. Kyle Lowry
4. Ronnie Brewer
5. Shelden Williams
6. LaMarcus Aldridge

Here's what I (Dan) find fascinating: Millsap was ALSO a second-round pick, which to me speaks volumes about the inexact science of the NBA Draft, as well as the opportunities for recognizing inefficiencies in the marketplace.

In the case of Smith and Millsap, two undersized power forwards, there was/is an obvious draft obsession these days with "length," which undoubtedly placed a discount on Smith and Millsap's talent based on their physical measurements alone.

Does this marks a watershed moment for the stereotypical college hoops "tweener?" More likely, they are two exceptional players who ended up in particularly good contexts to maximize their potential.

With thanks to Dave Berri, I now have some quantitative muscle to back up my qualitative arguments. And anytime I can bolster one of my wilder theories, it's a good day.

-- D.S.


Brian in Oxford said...

Dan, better question....

Jack McCallum (SI's NBA guy since at least when I was a teenager) is going to be at the next Varsity Letters next week, and no mention?

Did you completely drop out of that, turning it over to that other guy listed on its blogspot page?

Sheldiz said...

had to stop back to say that i absolutely love Kyle Lowry. He's scrappy and has a lot of heart. But he's not QUITE rookie of the year material... although i do like the Win-score premise.

Anonymous said...

His stats were pretty good for a rookie, but what swayed me was that of the group of ROY contenders, Smith was the only one from the second round – there's got to be a bonus for exceeding expectations. After all, Top 10 picks are SUPPOSED to contribute.

Dan, you pulled this same thing with your Frank Thomas-for-MVP idea. "Expectations" have nothing to do with handing out awards.

BLUE said...

Dan, Dan,'s a popularity contest for awards. And Morrison is his teams main option, that's not expected of many "normal" rookies. It's one thing to be efficient and a totally different thing to be effective. As Hollinger's efficiency ratings don't have anything to do with who has the greatest impact on the game.

BLUE said...

And on a side note about 2nd rounders, they typically seem to be able to contribute more right away if they were college seniors, because of the maturity and experience factor. Too many "projects" get selected in the 1st round of the NBA draft.

Trayton Otto said...

Just an off-the-cuff first thought: don't second rounders usually come off the bench and therefore have fewer minutes, so they make the most of their opportunities. First rounders play more of the game (unless your name is Darko) and have to struggle through ball hog teammates (here's to you, Michael Redd).

Kevin said...

I think the fact that the top two were 2nd-rounders says more about the small sample size than anything else...we'll see if it's still that way at the end of the year...

Anonymous said...

I encourage anyone here to read Malcolm Gladwell if you haven't before. He writes on some really interesting implications of statistics and psychology, with the literary appeal that most scholars can't reach.

He has a blog, which I don't feel like linking to, where his focus right now seems to be on sports stats.

Anonymous said...

M4Att, we went like 20 posts on Kobe vs. Wilt on yesterday's Daily Quickie.

Like it or not, Dan and some of his fans care about the NBA. If you don't like the posts, just skip them.

I have no opinion about Kyle and Craig, or I would have chimed in earlier.

With Stern, Simmons, Cuban, Barkley, Isaiah Thomas, Don Nelson and "random criminal act of the week", the NBA offers way more entertainment than any other sport. It's basically Premier League and NBA.

Things haven't even heated up yet and already we have the NBA getting sued, Cuban on a silence strike (like anyone minds) and the new ball getting pub.

I'm a Bills fan and the Sunday game is blacked out. Do you really think I want to read about the NFL right now? Maybe I don't care about some random NBA rookie. But whether kobe is better than Wilt, why the American team won't win a B-ball title again, whether Zeke will get fired before the All-Star break, and If the Atlantic division is REALLY the worst division in all of sports history? That's fascinating stuff.

As for the NFL, here are 3 mildly interesting things: If Peyton wins a Super Bowl THIS year, isn't he the most dominant player ever? Can Andy Reid win with Garcia, or was Garcia's big talent just a result of throwing to TO? When will Romo screw up?

Between the steroid stuff, the predictability and the painful stubbornness of its best players/coaches, the NFL is driving me crazy. And now that we're in the ridiculousness of the bowl season, NCAA football is off my radar. I'm going to stop ranting about it now. The NBA has moved to the front burner until NFL playoffs at least.