Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Durant / James MVP Race

Thanks to some ridiculous shooting in 2014, Kevin Durant has emerged as the odds on favorite to win the NBA MVP title (literally so, according to betfair).  If we use Win Probability Added (WPA) as a proxy for MVP-worthiness, then the stats agree. As of March 22, Kevin Durant leads the league in Win Probability Added, with a season total of 11.76, a good two games ahead of his closest competition, Lebron James.

There are few things more tiresome than semantic debates about what "Most Valuable Player" actually means, so I'm not wading into that morass. But if we assume for the moment that MVP=WPA, then the Durant/James MVP race has been fairly close for much of the season. The chart below summarizes Kevin Durant and Lebron James cumulative WPA totals for the season.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Measuring Clutch Play in the NBA

In this post I will lay out an approach for measuring clutch play in the NBA, using my win probability model as the underlying framework.

Clutch play, much like the hot hand or momentum, is something that many casual fans and color commentators assume is real, but the typical "stat geek" (for lack of a better term) may regard with skepticism or outright derision. Peter Keating addressed the topic of clutch play in a recent article for ESPN Insider. The piece was also included in ESPN The Magazine's March "Analytics Issue", which I still can't believe is an actual thing. Keating attempts to bridge the gap between the traditionalist view of clutch play and the stathead view, with sound advice for both sides.

For the traditionalists, Keating recommends:
Go right ahead and appreciate game-changing plays. But define your terms so that clutch doesn't mean one thing on Monday and another on Thursday just so you can defend your favorite player. Likewise, measure clutch performance with smart tools like Win Probability Added, but don't expect to predict it.
For the stat geeks among us:
Respect clutch achievement, even if it's not predictable. Don't be killjoys. 
With that in mind, I come here not to bury clutch play, but to measure it.

Using the Win Probability Model to Measure "Clutch"

NBA.com has a "Player Clutch" section in which they define clutch as the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is 5 or less. While this is a straightforward and reasonable definition of clutch situations, it can clearly be improved. A three point basket with your team down by two and five seconds to play is far more clutch than a two pointer with 3:50 on the clock and up by three.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Take Buffett's Billion

In a recent two part post, I estimated the probability of picking a "perfect" March Madness bracket. Using my ranking methodology as a proxy for a well-informed bracketologist, I found that the probability of perfection is about 1 in 50 billion if you know a thing or two about college basketball.

As you may have heard already, Quicken Loans is offering a $1 Billion prize to anyone that can beat those odds (with Warren Buffett providing the financial backing). Rising to this challenge is the team at Take Buffetts Billion, a crowd sourcing-based attempt to win that billion dollars for a good cause. The general idea is to coordinate a large group of people (thousands, tens of thousands, or even more) and submit as many quasi-optimal, distinct brackets as possible in an effort to maximize the odds of winning. The website has more details and background.

Take Buffett's Billion has partnered with Immunity Project and Habitat for Humanity to give participants an opportunity to donate some or all of any potential winnings to these worthy causes.

For my own part, I will be loaning out my ranking methodology to the team at Take Buffett's Billion for the purpose of creating as many "good" brackets as possible for submission (other ranking methodologies may be used as well). So be sure to sign up and submit a bracket (signup with Quicken Loans starts on March 3). And feel free to use your special, unique snowflake of a bracket for your office pool as well.

If we get enough participation, we can take those odds of winning from astronomical to, well, still astronomical (there's a reason Buffett doesn't seem too worried about losing his billion). But regardless, it should be fun.