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Behind the Box Score, because the box score is full of crap

Hat tip to Ball Don't Lie for the title (Please don't sue me for copyright infringement)

I was totally prepared to let last night's game go without any additional review.  Dex nailed it on the head with his post-game report.  This game was unwatchable.  It's not worth reviewing.  It was a terribly ugly game which the Lakers would have lost if the other team didn't suck last night.  Fortunately for L.A., suck is exactly what Houston did.  I could talk about Drew's good game, Lamar's great game, Artest's rusty game, and Kobe's bad game, but, well, I just did.  Trust me when I say the details aren't really worth it this time around.

So, like I said, I was ready to let this game pass into the nether without addressing it any further.  Then I saw the box score.  After the jump, let's take a look at it together.



Ron Artest, SF 33 3-11 1-3 0-0 3 4 7 0 1 1 4 3 +5 7
Lamar Odom, PF 39 7-10 0-1 3-3 5 14 19 9 0 1 1 3 +5 17
Andrew Bynum, C 38 10-16 0-0 4-7 3 5 8 1 2 1 3 4 +16 24
Kobe Bryant, SG 43 9-23 1-1 3-4 0 3 3 3 1 1 4 4 +14 22
Derek Fisher, PG 26 1-4 0-2 2-2 0 2 2 2 0 0 0 1 +19 4
Josh Powell, C 15 1-4 0-0 2-2 0 3 3 2 0 0 3 2 -3 4
Shannon Brown, PG 16 1-2 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 0 1 0 1 1 +4 2
Sasha Vujacic, SG 7 0-1 0-1 0-0 2 3 5 0 1 0 0 2 -3 0
D.J. Mbenga, C 3 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 0 0
Jordan Farmar, PG 20 4-8 0-2 0-0 0 1 1 3 0 1 2 4 -12 8

36-79 2-10 14-18 13 37 50 20 6 5 20 25   88

45.6% 20.0% 77.8%


Have you ever seen a more perfect example of why +/- can be a horribly misleading stat? 

  • Derek Fisher brought almost nothing to the table last night.  He didn't shoot the ball well, he didn't shoot the ball much, he didn't create shots, he didn't turn the ball over.  He was a non entity on offense.  On defense, he didn't get crushed like we would have expected Aaron Brooks to do, but he's still Derek Fisher.  His reward for a mediocre and irrelevant night?  +19, highest on the team.
  • Lamar Odom brought everything to the table last night (even a flu bug that nobody wanted).  17 pts, 19 rebounds, 9 assists, he was clearly the player of the game.  Without him, the Rockets out board L.A. by infinity.  He was effective and efficient with the ball (7-10 shooting and 9 assists).  What was his reward for being the best player on the court, despite fighting off a stomach bug?  A tidy little +5
  • Jordan Farmar didn't have what you would call a great game, especially after Jordan showed us what a great game is for him against Dallas, but he was definitely the best player off the bench.  In the 1st half, he carried the 2nd unit, providing enough spark to prevent the bench from giving back all of the lead that the starters provided.  He didn't provide any spark in the 2nd half, but then again, nobody from either team did.  He scored more than half the bench's points, and did so on a mildly efficient 50% shooting in 20 foul plagued minutes.  So, of course, he was -12, by far the worst on the team.
  • Josh Powell, on the other hand, provided a pretty horrific display of suck.  In 15 minutes, he missed 3 of 4 shots, and that required him to take 4 shots he shouldn't have been taking.  He also turned the ball over 3 times.  There are more than a few Laker fans who will agree with me when I say that I don't want Josh Powell touching the ball 7 times in a game, because this is exactly what happens.  And yet, Powell escaped with a pedestrian -3

Let's review:  A slightly below average performance from our starting point guard nets the best +/- ratio on the team, while a slightly above average performance from our backup point guard nets the worst.  The best player on the team nets a pedestrian +5 while the worst player on the team nets an equally pedestrian -3. 

I know it's just one game.  I know it's a small sample size.  And I know that nobody actually utilizes raw +/-.  I'm sure adjusted +/- might have corrected some of these numbers a bit.  But I highly doubt that level of adjustment will be able to deal with the fact that Farmar brought more value to the team than Fisher did.  In fact, I'd be highly surprised if the adjustment would even account for the fact that Fisher brought less value to the team than LO did, and the gap between those two players last night was like the Grand Canyon.

I bring this up, in part, because of the latest installment of "WTF", brought to you by adjusted +/- champion Wayne Winston.  (I'm having trouble with my web browser, otherwise I would have linked it).  Most of it is harmless drivel, but it wouldn't be WW unless he really jumped off the deep end at one point.  In this case, when asked who the MVP was, his answer was "Dirk Nowitzki, clearly".  He also listed Luol Deng as a prime candidate.  These are two truly laughable assumptions, both apparently justified by adjusted +/-. 

But that wasn't even my favorite part of his interview.  My favorite part was when he talked about Kevin Durant, the same Kevin Durant he said he wouldn't take for free at the start of this season.  Now, he says Kevin Durant is 1st or 2nd team All NBA, and says that Durant has displayed the most impressive improvement Winston has ever seen.  Really?  Durant goes from not even worth having to 1st or 2nd team All NBA in your system, and so you think that's actually what happened?  I know that KD is young and still evolving as a player, but does anyone think he's playing THAT much better?  No, because nobody besides Winston thought KD wasn't spectacular to begin with.  It couldn't possibly be that Adjusted +/- has enough random variation in it that it really isn't all that useful a tool for evaluation of a player after all.  If a player's value changes THAT much in your system, the system is flawed.

At what point do you stop trying to make adjustments to correct a flawed system and just admit that it's flawed?  I'm sure adjusted +/- can often help to identify players who do things that don't show up in the box score.  I know that defensive contributions are difficult to measure.  I would imagine players like Shane Battier are more properly evaluated by APM than by traditional stats.  But guess what?  You can also properly evaluate those players by WATCHING THE DAMN GAMES.  Noone who watches basketball doesn't think Battier is a good player, especially on defense. 

And watching the game will also allow you to avoid misconceptions like "Kevin Durant sucks" and "Jordan Farmar was the worst Laker on the court last night".  Because KD certainly doesn't (and never did), and Farmar certainly wasn't.

[Ed. Note:  I couldn't agree more with Chris. The term I use to describe this is the Laugh Factor. Fisher was better than Farmar and Odom? Luol Deng is more MVP worthy than Kobe, through 34 games? Sorry, these don't pass the Laugh Test. Of course, the stat-heads will reply that a one-game sample size is not just slightly meaningless, but completely meaningless. As Gils_Keloids says, garbage in, garbage out.]

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