I was reading some so-called "expert" take on an NBA team's potential for the upcoming season, and his "analysis" -- which is not analysis, but opinion -- rested on some claim about the points-per-game production of a few of the team's players.
And I laughed. At him.
I laughed because this expert appears to be functionally illiterate as it relates to quantitative analysis in the NBA -- or basketball more generally.
I'm not suggesting that stats supersede other forms of enjoying the game -- Free Darko's "stylistic" formulations or Simmons' homespun sense or Slam's earnest boosterism.
What I am suggesting is this: A little bit of deeper understanding of some of the (relatively) new quantitative methodologies for examining basketball will infinitely increase your pleasure and understanding of the game, no matter what angle you approach your NBA fandom.
Such as: Points per game is pretty useless. If you are looking for some form of "per" comparison, ____ per possession is a great place to start.
I learned that by being an avid fan of Pro Basketball Prospectus, run by Kevin Pelton and Brad Doolittle (a sibling to College Basketball Prospectus, run by John Gasaway and Ken Pomeroy).
Pelton and Doolittle have just published their first "Pro Basketball Prospectus" annual for the 2009-2010 season, and I highly recommend it. It offers an overview of their statistical worldview -- introduced by Rockets GM Daryl Morey, naturally -- then team-by-team and player-by-player breakdowns, based on this worldview.
And, again, it's not going to -- or meant to -- replace all the other things you want to be reading to prep for the season. But it will enhance it.
My favorite part of the book is the way they present statistical comparables for every player, no matter how obscure. (Take, for example, my Wizards: Antawn Jamison as... Tom Chambers! Mike Miller as... Rick Fox! Andray Blatche as... Jon Koncak! Seriously: I think I read through every one for every player in the league. Where else can I get my Derrick Chievous fix?)
Remember that quote from earlier this week from Malcolm Gladwell about how he wouldn't go to journalism grad school, but instead study stats, then apply that to his interests?
Pro Basketball Prospectus allows you to do that, with a very limited investment of your time and money -- I reviewed the available PDF version of the book and found it to be as easy to read as a hard copy. (Click on that link to check out some sample chapters.)
You don't have to be an expert -- but you should WANT to be even a little more literate about the quantitative revolution going on in the NBA... in this case, applied in a way to make the 2009-2010 season that much more interesting to follow.
The season starts next week -- here's a chance to be ready for it, in a new and fascinating way. (And if you're already inclined to follow or appreciate new methodologies of basketball analysis, this book should already be on your radar -- or, at least, something you'd want to have.)