Mystery Statistics Theater: Small Forward Edition

Welcome to the third edition (click here for the first and second editions) of Mystery Statistics Theater, a new series here at Hardwood Paroxysm. Over the next few days, Conrad Kaczmarek and I (Jared Dubin) will be attempting to do the previously impossible; we’ll be removing all personal bias from our conclusions. Here and in the subsequent editions of this series, this is what you’ll find: a comparison of the per-36 minutes and advanced statistics lines of two different players – one from this season and one from a randomly selected season – with no names attached. Our task was to decide which of the two players was better, or more valuable, or which we’d rather have on our team; whatever you want to call it, we chose between the two players without knowing who they really were. You can see the comparisons, conclusions and corresponding player names below. Enjoy.

(NOTE: We used per-36 minutes rather than per-game stats to marginalize and/or eliminate any differences in playing time. Additionally, we recognize that these comparisons do not account for team context or player roles. Rather, this exercise intends to demonstrate how simply looking at the numbers can lead you to conclusions that may seem counterintuitive, for better or worse, and that surface opinions and bias can lead to drastically different conclusions than simply analyzing the stats. Also, we whited out the player names so you can play along for fun! All stats current through February 16, 2011.)

Mystery #1 – Created by Jared, Analyzed by Conrad

Like always, this is basically a toss-up. The stats are so incredibly similar except that Player B contributes more in the way of assists. It’s not a coincidence that Player B also turns the ball more often. I like my small forwards to be well rounded, but if the player simply isn’t being asked to work as a facilitator on his team, you can’t really fault him for having low assists totals. My assessment is that Player A is doing everything he’s asked to do. He’s scoring significantly more efficiently than Player B and has a lower usage rate. To me, it seems that Player A is playing his role pretty much perfectly in what seems to be an incredibly effective offense. I’ll lean towards Player A.

(Player A – Danilo Gallinari 2011-12, Player B – Paul Pierce 2011-12)

Note: Highlight the line above this to reveal player names

Mystery #2 – Created by Jared, Analyzed by Conrad

Give me Player B. There’s not a ton that stands out here other than the fact that Player B contributes a little bit more across the board. The scoring efficiency is not a big enough margin to really impact my decision. Player B gets it done on the glass and scores almost as well as Player A. I don’t feel strongly about my decision, but I’ll stand by it. Slight edge to Player B.

(Player A – Caron Butler 2011-12, Player B – Shawn Marion 2011-12)

Note: Highlight the line above this to reveal player names

Mystery #3 – Created by Jared, Analyzed by Conrad

Player A, you’re doing too much. With a usage rate of 32.7%, I’d expect phenomenal numbers across the board. You aren’t doing that. It’s possible that Player A is still a better player than Player B, but I don’t need my small forward using that many possessions if he’s going to score inefficiently and turn the ball over that often. Player B does most things efficiently, he just isn’t being asked to do so much. I’ll take Player B because there’s no way I want a guy on my team if he uses a third of our possessions and is shooting less than 40% from the field. And 4.3 threes per 36 minutes while shooting 29.7%? Get that all the way out of here.

(Player A – Carmelo Anthony 2011-12, Player B – Marvin Williams 2011-12)

Note: Highlight the line above this to reveal player names

Mystery #4 – Created by Jared, Analyzed by Conrad

Very similar in basically every category. The only difference that stands out to me is the scoring efficiency (FG%, TS%, eFG%). When two players are essentially equal in counting stats across the board, I’ll take the guy who shoots a better percentage and doesn’t waste as many possessions. That was easy. Give me Player B  — please and thank you.

(Player A – Luol Deng 2011-12, Player B – Gerald Wallace 2011-12)

Note: Highlight the line above this to reveal player names

Mystery #5 – Created by Conrad, Analyzed by Jared

Player A is my guy here. He’s not as good of a rebounder or play-maker and shoots slightly worse from three (not enough for me to really quibble about, 41.2% is really good), but he does just about everything else better. He’s more efficient with his offensive production (see: higher TS%, eFG%, O-Rtg), especially from inside the arc – Player B’s 3P% is higher than his FG% – and while the two players have the exact same defensive rating, Player A gets more steals and blocks. Player A also gets to the line more often and shoots a better percentage when he’s there. His offensive efficiency and defensive counting stats are enough to override the disadvantage in the rebounding and assists department.

(Player A – Nic Batum 2011-12, Player B – Marvin Williams 2011-12)

Note: Highlight the line above this to reveal player names

Mystery #6 – Created by Conrad, Analyzed by Jared

This time I’m going with Player B. His vastly superior defense (99 D-Rtg as opposed to 112 for Player A) pretty much made the decision for me, but there are other things to like here too. He’s got advantages in TS% and eFG%, gets to the line 20% more often and shoots 8% better when he’s there. And then there are those assists; look at that advantage in the play-making department. Player B is so versatile. He scores, rebounds, defends and distributes, and that’s why he’s my pick.

(Player A – Michael Beasley 2010-11, Player B – Paul Pierce 2011-12)

Note: Highlight the line above this to reveal player names

Mystery #7 – Created by Conrad, Analyzed by Jared

I’m going with Player B again. These guys are pretty similar in that their stats are SO close, but Player A’s got the edge in everything except for 2-point field goals. Go through those stats. He’s got the advantage in every single one. He shoots better from three and from the line, rebounds more, gets more assists, steals and blocks, turns it over less and plays better defense. He even fouls less often. Now if we could just get him to work on making shots from inside the arc… Either way, he’s my guy.

(Player A – Luol Deng 2010-11, Luol Deng 2011-12)

Note: Highlight the line above this to reveal player names

Jared Dubin

Jared Dubin is a New York lawyer and writer. He is the co-editor in chief of Hardwood Paroxysm and the HPBasketball Network.