Thursday, September 16, 2010

Opportunity and Statistics

Most sports statistics – especially the ones that get attention in the mainstream media – are opportunity based. Other metrics filter out opportunity, and they carry tremendous comparative value.

Many still fixate on per game numbers, and they don’t begin to tell the story for players like DeJuan Blair. His 7.8 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game in 2009-10 look pedestrian. However, Blair posted these numbers in limited opportunities – playing just 18.2 minutes per contest.

Rebounds per 48 minutes is not impacted by how much players see action. Among NBA players with at least 750 minutes played, Blair ranked sixth in rebounds per 48 minutes (16.9). He topped all NBA players in offensive rebounds per 48 minutes (6.43), and remember that he was a 20-year-old rookie!

Even the offensive rebounds per 48 minutes statistic gets impacted by opportunity. Some teams play at a faster pace than others, and some miss more shots. Their players have more opportunities to grab offensive boards. The Spurs played at a slower pace than most teams and had the NBA’s sixth-highest shooting percentage. So these factors hurt Blair, yet he still out-rebounded everybody at the offensive end.

The best metric to show Blair’s rebounding excellence is rebound rate, John Hollinger’s measurement for the percentage of missed shots that a player rebounds when he’s on the court. Blair had a 16.0 offensive rebound rate last season. To put that in perspective, NBA teams grab 26-27 percent of available offensive boards on average. The Golden State Warriors had an offensive rebound rate of 20.9. Blair fell just 4.9 short of that figure, by himself.

While playing his final season at Pittsburgh, Blair put up unbelievable stats in this category. Despite playing in the rugged Big East, his 23.6 offensive rebound rate topped the nation’s next closest player by 5.0. Blair even surpassed the team figure for six Division I colleges.

So how did a player – who can out-rebound an entire team – last until the 37th pick of the 2009 NBA Draft? It’s hard to say. Blair’s 2008-09 rebounds per game figure (12.3) looked good but unspectacular, which may have been a factor. Of course, he played only 27.3 minutes per game on a very slow-paced team. Only adjusting his numbers for opportunity made Blair stand out.

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