A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Introducing my “33 pt method” for NBA talent evaluation

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Some time ago I started looking at basketball players as if their talent level was split up into one third physical talent, one third skill talent and one third feel for the game/basketball IQ. I did this because I consider the 3 categories as the separating grounds for talent level. If a player doesn’t stand out above his peers in any of the 3 areas, what does he have going for them? I have also felt for a long time that many NBA Draft mistakes are made by overvaluing athletic tools in evaluating raw talent and underrating skill and understanding of the court. My hypothesis is that when media outlets and teams talk about talent, physical tools take a 70% weight. My system weights physical tools as 33%.

What I was led to, is giving players a score out of 11 in each category, making a max of 33. I used these numbers because it leads to a scale similar to PER, which generally rates a score of 30 as MVP caliber, 25 as superstar caliber, 20 as all-star caliber, 15 as an average player, and 10 as a player barely getting minutes. The benchmarks for a player’s value according to my system are nearly identical. I found using 11 as the maximum instead of 10 fit this scale a bit more. For example Lebron James is a player who deserves a perfect score in physical and feel for the game, but is a notch below perfection at his position for skill (Larry Bird, for example, would have a perfect score in skill for a SF). Thus with a max of 11 he ends up with a score of 31 or 32 out of 33 on my metric, while with maxes of 10 he’d end up with 28 or 29, unable to hit 30 without a perfect score in skill.

What really convinced me about this method is how well it tested for every player. Every score seemed to “fit”. I intend to show this by listing all the players alphabetically and my scores for them, which I will start in the next post. I will hope that those who read this will see how consistently well these scores add up to a range where the player should be.

Detractors of a method like this may say that the “total I’m looking for” guides my scores. I believe this is untrue and that it is relatively simple to identify the range of where a player’s score should be. Someone may feel a player deserves a 6 or 7 in a category when I give them an 8, but ultimately the system will likely still work with their lower score, unless they believe I am too high or too low in all 3 categories, or drastically off in a category.

For some people it may be impossible to convince that the totals did not influence my scoring. That is fine, but I promise my evaluation is an attempt at an honest metric in each area. To partly show this, take the example of how I realized I would only use this method to evaluate talent, not production. I originally thought the natural way to adjust for players who’s production has dropped because of age would be to take points off their physical impact (just leaving the skill and feel for the game they retained), while rookies and sophmores who haven’t hit their prime yet, would be undeveloped in skill and feel for the game. This didn’t work. To use an example that stuck out the most, take Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady as examples, two players who had among the greatest feel for the games we’ve seen for a SG/SF (so an 11 in that area) and extremely high skill levels (say, a 10). Thus even if they both now score a 1 in physical talent, they’d still be at 22, which is all-star level and above their actual current ability. Just about every older player who had a high skill level and feel for the game in their prime, had too high a score for what their physical decline had actually done to them. As for rookies, the question came down to just how much feel for the game or skill would have to drop. For example, my talent score for Kyrie Irving is Physical – 8, Skill – 10, Feel for the Game 10 = 28 total and for Kawhi Leonard it is Physical – 8, Skill – 4, Feel for the Game – 9, Total: 21. Would Kyrie Irving have to be given a score of 5 or less for Feel for the Game for his number to look “right” for how strong he is as a rookie, even though he played a smooth game even as a rookie? Would Kawhi Leonard need a score of 4 or 5 as well, despite the fact that his basketball IQ was precisely one of the reasons he was so good as a rookie? Both seemed intellectually dishonest. Finally, one more example to show myself “catching” a wrong score, is that I originally thought I could actually use a player’s PER as a starting point, then divide it exactly into the 3 categories. For many this fit seemingly well, but not for everyone. An example that stuck out is Javale McGee’s near 20 PER last season. My score for Javale is he’s a 10 in physical, a 3 in skill and a 2 in feel for the game, for a total score of 15. Of course if I wanted the score to get to 20 to match his PER would’ve taken some serious stretching by giving him 10 combined points in skill and feel that he simply doesn’t deserve. Thus like the previous examples, this is something I couldn’t sit with, and I had to adjust my system. What worked was when I decided to just restrict the scores to “talent level”, or what a player should approximately do in his prime. The results of this has been shocking consistent, with anything resembling the “off” scores in the previous examples.
Here is some explanation of what goes into each score. Picture it in terms of an Olympic judge for a sport like diving or figure skating where they have recorded specifically what they are looking for, which guides their score. I tend these explanations to show there is a clear cut grounding to my scores in each of the 3 categories:

Physical talent

Guards: The two key areas for a perimeter player offensively to get a high score here, are speed and power/strength. Speed helps a player drive into the paint, power helps him score points at the basket and force fouls.

The lowest type of scoring player here, is a strictly jumpshot orientated perimeter player, who doesn’t have the speed to get in the paint or size to finish. OJ Mayo is an example of a very low scoring player in this area offensively.

Medium scoring players may include types who have size but not speed, or speed but not size. Jarrett Jack is a very well built guard who can finish around the rim, who is not incredibly explosive athletically. Jerryd Bayless is an extremely fast guard who doesn’t have the size to consistently finish.

A high scoring player has a combination of speed and power. Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook have perfect scores in this category for having this combination.

A perimeter player can gain points on the defensive end for their athletic tools and rebounding. Defense is as much covered in the feel for the game area as the physical tools one for guards, however. Small forwards carry a greater weight in physical tools defensively than guards, their size can help them impact the game more physically on that end.

Big men: Shotblocking and rebounding are strong sources of points for big men due to the importance of defensive physical talents. Offensively strength/power around the rim to finish well is key, as is the speed to get by defenders. Andrea Bargnani is an example of a very weakly scoring big man in physical tools, as he cannot block shots or rebound and provides no interior power and does not attack the rim much. Al Horford and Chris Bosh have medium scores in physical tools. Horford has solid strength around the rim and defensively but lacks truly overpowering tools, Bosh has an elite first step but loses a lot of points for lacking physical presence on the defensive end. Dwight Howard has a perfect score in physical impact for his combination of shotblocking, rebounding, speed crashing the rim and power/strength.

Skill talent

The word talent is ambiguous in this category because while the ability to learn some skills are innate, some players can make big leaps in areas if they learn correctly. I’m of the opinion that the ability for prospects to drastically change their skillset after getting drafted is slightly overrated and that many players are showing their future skill capacity in college, none the less the category is the easiest of the 3 for a player to drastically change in

Perimeter players: Whatever is “finesse” scoring fits under skill categories. Shots off the dribble, spot up shooting, ballhandling, post play, passing skill all fit into this category. On that note, physical tools like may play a part in why these skill games are able to got off (for example, Kevin Durant’s height), but for the purposes of this project, it’s the ends that matters. A jumpshot goes into the skill points category, as does a slick post move.

Tony Allen is a player with a weak skill level for a perimeter player, as his shooting and ballhandling is poor. JJ Redick has a solid middling skill level with elite spot up shooting ability, but not great skill on the ball. Steve Nash has a perfect score in skill due to his combination of elite shooting, ballhandling and passing ability.

Big men: Once again, the ability to put the ball in the basket through means other than brute force, is key. Great hands and touch is extremely important, as is post moves, a jumpshot if the big has it and the ability to hit FTs, ballhandling. Kendrick Perkins has a very weak skill level score for a big. Dwight Howard has a middling skill level, he is proficient at putting the ball in close to the basket with hook shots and so forth, but lacks range or FTs and versatility offensively. Dirk Nowitzki has a perfect skill score for a big due to his all time great perimeter skills for a 7 footer.

Feel for the Game

This is the category with the least tangible things to point to, but the rule I usually look for in feel for the game is this: Are they making the game look easy? Is it coming naturally and unforced to them? Does the game look like it’s moving “slower” for them than everyone else? Another word to describe this phenomenon is “spatial awareness” and “court vision”. It is the ability to play with an awareness of where all the other players on the court are. Most basketball fans can understand what feel for the game is and know what it is when they see it.

Perimeter players: A player with great feel for the game can often be called someone who’s “crafty” off the dribble. This usually means that they are in control and can make decisions on the fly while driving to the basket, thanks to their feel. Great on the ball creators usually have strong feel for the game. Court vision and playmaking vision also fit into the category. Defensive intelligence can also be attributed to feel for the game. Jerryd Bayless is a player with very poor feel for the game, as it always seems like he is playing too fast to make decisions accurately. Russell Westbrook has middling feel for the game, he does play at a very fast pace and can be out of control at times, but also sees the court well enough to create for teammates and produce well overall. Chris Paul has a perfect score in feel for the game as he has an unbelievable sense of timing and craftiness and where everyone is on the floor.

Big men: Defensive intelligence and awareness takes a greater weight for big men, as it is so key for a big man to accurately rotate on help defense, as he is the last line of defense and if he makes a mistake, there’s no-one to cover for him. Feel for the game offensively still exists however and once again, a player who looks natural scoring inside or outside tends to have this. There are examples of bigs who have elite feel for the game offensively but bad awareness defensively. For this reason, to score a big’s feel for the game, I give them a score in each category and then average them. For example, David Lee has a very good offensive feel, say an 8, and a very poor defensive feel, say a 2. His averaged score is thus 5. Anthony Randolph is a player who has very weak feel for the game and always seems in a rush on both ends. David Lee has middling feel for the game for the reasons I listed. Tim Duncan has a perfect score in feel for the game due to his extremely high IQ and decision making on both ends.

In my next post I will start by showing my scores for players with the last name A. I intend to go through the entire alphabet of relevant rotation players last season or otherwise recently, as well as my scores for relevant hall of fame players.

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Written by jr.

August 14, 2012 at 5:32 pm

One Response

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  1. […] is my first attempt to use the 33pt method to evaluate teams. I don’t trust this nearly as much as the player evaluations, but I’ll give […]


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