Monday, June 6, 2011

Better Sports Statistics and Missed Opportunities

Moving beyond core statistics has immense benefits for anybody associated with or interested in sports. Advanced metrics – or even relatively simple per minute stats – bring greater insight and understanding.

It takes a look inside the numbers to see the value of players like Joel Anthony. The ABC announcers missed a great chance to do so in Game Two of the NBA Finals. When Anthony made an amazing block, commentator Jeff Van Gundy joked that play-by-play man Mike Breen would have been far more expressive had LeBron James made the play. Did anybody on the broadcast realize that Anthony is the second-greatest shot blocker in Miami Heat history? Don’t the viewers deserve such insight?

Among Heat players with 1000 career minutes played, only Alonzo Mourning (3.67) blocked more shots per 40 minutes than Anthony (3.01). They rank one-two in block percentage as well, which estimates the percentage of opposing two-point shots a player swats while on the court. Unfortunately, that’s not the type of information provided during telecasts, at least not yet.

Anthony is so good defensively that it enables him to contribute despite obvious shortcomings in his game. According to’s Tom Haberstroh, the Heat outscored their opponents by over 19 points per 100 possessions during the regular season when Anthony played with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. With this sensational shot blocker positioned down low, the Heat can play tight defense on the perimeter and force turnovers.

Anthony has increased his blocks per 40 minutes figure during the playoffs (2.85 through June 6) compared to the regular season (2.54). He also had Miami’s best postseason plus/minus figure (+88).

As detailed in a recent post, analytics tell a great story. None of these statistics are confusing or difficult to explain, and they show the impact Anthony has on the game.

Agents and clubs officials see the value of advanced metrics, and use them because they increase bargaining power and influence lucrative contracts. It will take some time before sports analytics has a major presence on game broadcasts, stadium and arena video boards, and sports talk radio. But it will arrive, and it won’t be long.

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