Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Shane Battier - The No Stats All Star

The New York Times Sunday Magazine recently published a great article by Michael Lewis, the financial writer who brought the sports world the insightful (and best-selling) Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game. The focus of the article is Shane Battier, the Houston Rockets forward who is considered an excellent NBA player, despite the fact that he rarely scores, and does not put up impressive rebounding numbers.

Much like Moneyball, "The No Stats All Star" doesn't really tell the serious fan very much information they didn't already know. But, (hopefully) also like Moneyball, Lewis' article will enormously popularize advanced statistical analysis. Hopefully it will stir debate about the best method of analyzing basketball players - the answer, of course, is some balance between quantitative analysis and traditional, subjective scouting, but where exactly that line gets drawn remains to be seen.

I found the article particularly interesting because I've always been a fan of Shane Battier's game. One thing the article doesn't really mention is that Battier was an outstanding offensive player in high school and college, and, as an NBA rookie, showed signs that he could be, if not a high scorer in the NBA, then at least the third scoring option on a good team. Instead, he has chosen to focus on his current game, the best attributes of which are his position defense, hustle plays and stand-still 3-point shooting. In that sense, Battier is, along with New Orleans' James Posey, the best of a particular class of NBA forward that includes, among others, San Antonio's Bruce Bowen and numerous lesser lights, such as Chicago's Thabo Sefalosha and Minnesota's Corey Brewer. Dallas' Josh Howard and Detroit's Tayshaun Prince are higher-scoring versions of the same basic type of player. Since none of these players put up impressive statistics in the traditional categories of points, rebounds, and assists, and since they are all valuagle pieces of winning teams, having a method of comparing them against each other, and against players with more traditionally impressive statistics, is very important. I'm interested in seeing where this sort of research leads.

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