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A Clarification

Since I'm partially responsible for the confusion, I should say that now having read the whole book, it's true -- The Wages of Wins doesn't argue that Dennis Rodman was better than Michael Jordan. It does argue that Rodman was an underrated player and that, generally speaking, the value of scoring is overstated and the value of rebounding understating. They conclude, however, that the CW on Jordan is more-or-less right. The most controversial Wages claims will probably be the ones about Kevin Garnett, regarding which I'll have more to say later.

June 2, 2006 | Permalink


Doesn't PER really devalue rebounds, and say the most valuable things are field goal percentage, not turning the ball over, and causing turnovers? Which seems to me to be the intuitive answer: posession is nine-tenths of the law game.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Jun 2, 2006 1:19:00 PM

"Doesn't PER really devalue rebounds..."

Compared to the WoW method, yup.

Without having read the book, I think WoW is basically an adjustment of PER to give more weight to rebounding and blocks.

So, of course Garnett is going to lead the WoW stats.

I don't think WoW is any less or more useful than PER, it's just a different perspective on weighting the stats.

However, I do think the claims the WoW people are making for the value of their weighting are beyond silly. Thinking you can make a statistical weighting for hoops that is useful in the way baseball systems can be useful reveals a lack of understanding of hoops.

Posted by: Petey | Jun 2, 2006 1:47:29 PM

Petey is mostly right about the whole WoW project, I think (though I haven't read the book). But it's true that Kevin Garnett is massively underrated. In addition to the crazy offensive numbers (22, 14 and 5 is just silly, like Larry with fewer points and more boards), he's one of the best defensive players in the league. It's just stooopid that he could be left off the all-NBA third team. Would anyone in their right mind really take Carmelo Anthony over Garnett, for a single season?

Posted by: Steve | Jun 2, 2006 1:59:59 PM

Petey, I think you can say that PER, or the WoW formula, is useful. Just that, due to the nature of the game, it is less useful than similar stats for baseball would be. But less useful than for baseball doesn't imply complete uselessness.

Posted by: Al | Jun 2, 2006 2:25:34 PM

Petey, I think you can say that PER, or the WoW formula, is useful. Just that, due to the nature of the game, it is less useful than similar stats for baseball would be. But less useful than for baseball doesn't imply complete uselessness.

I think we've been over this - yes it's not completely useless, but as a comparative metric it's way too context sensitive. For example, if Garnett played with a competent center, (or 3-dimensional wing players - not you Wally and/or Ricky) his Rebs (both overall and per minute) would almost certainly drop. In baseball, similarly context-sentitive stats (think RBI/ERA) are among the first to get chucked when someone is attempting a 'unified theory'.

Posted by: Pooh | Jun 2, 2006 2:32:44 PM

Don't disagree at all, Pooh. Just that the way I read Petey, he seemed to be overstating the case.

BTW, OT, but there was a bit of hating on Popovich 'round these parts over the past month. Perhaps this may shed a little light on the guy's character.

Posted by: Al | Jun 2, 2006 2:38:10 PM


I saw that story. Really cool of Popovich. Which makes this a completely appropriate moment to note that Hitler loved his dog.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jun 2, 2006 2:48:08 PM

Woo hoo. Haven't had a Godwin here in AGES!

Posted by: Al | Jun 2, 2006 2:54:47 PM

Has it already been argued that valuing rebounds is inherently flawed? Garbage rebounds (completely uncontested rebounds on desparation shots) should not be valued as highly as contested rebounds. Rebounds that occur when the score isn't close should not be valued as highly as rebounds that occur in a closely contested game, not just because of their effect on the outcome, but because of the effort level affecting the difficulty of the rebound (not a problem in baseball). The activity causing a rebound often isn't attributed in the rebound statistic (e.g., when Ben Wallace executes a flawless boxout of Shaq and deflects the ball up, resulting in a "rebound" for whoever catches the ball, often Rip Hamilton). On and on this could go. The point is that while activities that create the ability for a team to obtain "rebounds" may be undervalued, the statistic "rebound" may do a poor job of measuring those activities.

Posted by: Blogsy McBlog | Jun 2, 2006 3:05:29 PM

Why all the hate toward Pop? I'm a Pistons fan, and I can truly say that I didn't mind seeing the Spurs win last year. Plus there's this...


Posted by: Blogsy McBlog | Jun 2, 2006 3:09:35 PM

Given BMB's new information, I retract everything, and believe that the Spurs were cheated out of the series by the refs. Or I would believe that if Avery Johnson weren't African-American, and African-Americans hadn't overwhelmingly voted for goodness and decency in '04. So, in sum: fair series, better team won, but no shame in the Spurs losing, they fought hard, and Pop's back-stabbing of Hill is simply the way of the world.

(I don't think anyone dislikes Pop (or would, even if he were a clear Republican); people dislike the Spurs. Because they are the NBA's Duke.)

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jun 2, 2006 3:16:09 PM

There isn't any hate on Pop. Well, maybe Pooh hates on Pop (or, ahem, perhaps Pooh pooh-poohs Pop), but that seemed more like an institutional thing - hating on Pop because he's a/the face of the Spurs, and he doesn't like what the Spurs represent (other than, you know, excellent management). That said, Pop did do at least one morally shady thing - firing Bob Hill and taking his job; that doesn't make him a bad person anymore than Hitler liking his dog made him a good one. But he still did a bad thing, and it's worth bringing up every once in a while.

Posted by: Quarterican | Jun 2, 2006 3:18:25 PM


I don't think people hate the Spurs, except in that many think they are boring (wrongly I think).

The Spurs aren't Duke. Clearly, the Lakers are (some love them, MANY hate them). And, the last few years notwithstanding, they are usually in the thick of the title hunt. That description fits the Spurs, except for the fact that it's San Antonio, Texas and not L.A.

Posted by: jim | Jun 2, 2006 3:21:18 PM

Everyone knows the Hitler thing and the claim that it was appropriate was a joke, right? In no way is Pop anything like Hitler; given his ethnic background, he is like Stalin.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jun 2, 2006 3:27:57 PM

jim -

I guess that depends on why you hate (or think other people hate) Duke. Certainly there are people who hate Duke because of their persistent success and prominence; I had a roommate in college who hated pretty much every perennial college basketball powerhouse for just this reason (except Syracuse, which he claimed didn't meet his standards of powerhouse, but also happened to be in his backyard).

OTOH, I think a lot of people hate Duke because of the kind of bland professionalism that masks a real smarmy sense of superiority that they read into Coach K and his program. If I were to hate Duke, I'd choose that instead of the success. And the Spurs seem a lot more like *that* than the Lakers do.

Posted by: Quarterican | Jun 2, 2006 3:33:14 PM

That's a good point. I always think of Duke as sort of the "Showtime" team of the NCAA. I don't like them at all (considering they beat my alma mater in two hearbreaking games last year), but they play an up-tempo motion offense, have the most notorious fans and are coached by (arguably) the Phil Jackson of college hoops. That's why I relate them to L.A.

But I can see the other perspective as well.

Posted by: jim | Jun 2, 2006 3:40:10 PM

Duke isn't Showtime. Duke is the 80's Celtics--every bounce, every call, every advantage seems to mysteriously go their way. (This is, of course, unfair to those Celts, who at least had a well-deserved reputation for being hard.) And Phil's sanctimony comes with a sly wink, Coach K's with an extra helping of earnestness.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jun 2, 2006 4:05:57 PM


Re:rebounds -- you might have a point, but only if the guys who get lots of rebounds are *not* the guys who do those other rebounding-type things. I think the 2 correlate pretty well. For example, Ben Wallace -- yeah, he helps his team get lots of rebounds that aren't credited to him, but he's also one of the top rebounders in the league, so you can't really say that rebounding statistics are misleading in his case.
As far as rebounds in a close game being worth more than rebounds in a blowout -- again, if there are "garbage rebounders" who look good on paper but only get the uncontested boards, etc., then you've got a point. But I don't know if there are.
(also, the fact that a rebound is more difficult to get in some situations doesn't mean it's worth more in those situations. Scoring on Steve Nash is easier than scoring on Ron Artest, but they're worth the same)

Posted by: Steve | Jun 2, 2006 4:25:24 PM

On MJ: The only person, IIRC, to win the scoring title, defensive player of the year, and MVP in the same season (though defensive POY has only been awarded sinde 1983 or so).

I used to hate Duke back when Laettner and Hurley played for them, mainly because they were whiney bitches (or at least looked like it on TV) and kept UNLV from the title and the Fab Five from winning it the next year. Now, not so much. Speaking of that Duke UNLV game, at the time a huge (or relatively huge) upset, but who had the better pro careers? Hurley/Laettner/Hill or Johnson/Augmon/Anthony? I'd say its at least a toss-up, leaning toward the former.

Posted by: Ugh | Jun 2, 2006 4:49:21 PM

Ugh -

I agree with you that it's close, because Augmon and Anthony both had steadily productive careers and Johnson had something like stardom (I mean, he had the endorsements and all, but he wasn't *that* great). But the only reason it's close is because of Hurley's car accident and Hill's myriad injury issues. I can't really speak to what Hurley could've been, but we saw what Hill was, and his ability at the NBA level far outstripped any of the other guys you mentioned.

Posted by: Quarterican | Jun 2, 2006 5:01:10 PM

"you might have a point, but only if the guys who get lots of rebounds are *not* the guys who do those other rebounding-type things" One of that type of guys was (is?) Cliff Robinson. Centers who played next to him (including Ben Wallace) usually had their best rebounding season, because Cliff did a good job boxing out but was an especially awful rebounder.

Posted by: Carlos | Jun 2, 2006 5:09:13 PM


LJ had comparable numbers to Hill at equivalent points in their careers (rookies. LJ hurt his back after his second year in the NBA, and was never the same player again. Laettner was widely regarded as a locker room cancer. And if Hurley hadn't been hurt, the Duke trio would look worse, because we would have seen him embarrassed night in and night out. It's only LJ's injury and Hill's later greatness that makes this even an issue.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jun 2, 2006 6:02:09 PM


I don't hate (or Pooh-pooh...that's a new one...no really say it again...) Pop, I just always want it remembered how he stabbed Bob Hill in the back to get the job and suddenly became 'genius' for leading the Spurs to a huge turnaround (of course aided by the fact that he added Duncan & Robinson, essentially from the previous year...)

And I think you are underselling the greatness of LJ before he hurt his knees/back and lost his explosiveness - he was a legit 20/10 guy for a very intriguing young Charlotte team that imploded right around that time.

Posted by: Pooh | Jun 2, 2006 6:12:14 PM


Fair enough, although I thought I remembered reading about Hurley impressing the guys on the original Dream Team during practice scrimmages, so I would've assumed he had the potential to become something really special. You (and Pooh) are probably right that I'm underselling what LJ's potential pre-injuries was as well. My opinion is probably overly colored by his tenure with the Knicks. Here's where I plead youth; none of these players were on *my* map when they were in college; prior to the assembly of the Dream Team, I wouldn't have recognized all its players. I started having actual impressions of the game that I can remember around 1994, so there's probably a whole bunch of players who I caught after injury/age had lessened their abilities, and whose careers I therefore sell short, but feel like I've got a legit opinion on them because "I saw them play".

Posted by: Quarterican | Jun 2, 2006 7:35:20 PM

Hill's 6 good years (with DET) are far superior to LJ's 5 good years (with CHA). I don't think it's even close. For example, Hill had 5 years with 20+ PER, while LJ never had a 20+ PER season. LJ was always more hype (esp from the Grandmama commericals) than a good player.

That being said - how has Stacy Augmon held on to a job for so long? He has scored more than 6 points a game since 1996! I haven't seen him enough to know whether his defense is still all that, but I'm impressed.

Posted by: Al | Jun 2, 2006 8:38:55 PM

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