If a point guard had these averages after his name (3.6 PPG, 1.9 APG), most people wouldn’t think much of him. But if you change them to 21.3 and 11.3, that’s a different story. These stats are actually for the same player during the same timeframe. They show Jeremy Lin’s production in his first nine games this season before he saw regular action and exploded on the scene. The second set of numbers reveal Lin’s numbers per 36 minutes of game action. He began his strong performance before Linsanity, although few noticed.
Once some ideas become entrenched in sports, it’s difficult to change. I have no idea why basketball started using per game statistics, but it’s time to stop. NBA players – even those that we call regulars – vary widely in minutes played per game. We already saw how useless they are for bench players. Per game stats cause misconceptions about performance, and hamper the ability to identify breakout players. We should evaluate players per minute or, better yet, per possession. But the latter concept is too great a leap for the mainstream.
In the meantime, here’s an alternative to points per game. True Scoring Rate (TSR) is simply a player’s points scored per 36 minutes. Why 36 minutes? That’s the approximate average for a top NBA starter. This way we find out who scores at the greatest rate, something points per game has never done.
Points per game shortchanges players like Kyrie Irving, who had played just 31 minutes per game (through February 23). Irving ranked 23rd in points per game (18.1), but his 21.1 TSR placed 15th, ahead of point guards Tony Parker (20.3) and Chris Paul (19.1). Both surpassed him in points per game, largely because they saw more minutes.
True Scoring Rate is not really new, just a way of simplifying per minute rates. It’s easy to understand and calculate. Most importantly, it adjusts for the large discrepancies in playing time.
The next Jeremy Lin might be sitting on an NBA bench right now, and TSR can help find him.