A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

A 33 point method FAQ!

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I realize that while the talent grading system I’ve used since last year makes straight forward and undeniable sense to me, I may not always explain it well. Here I will answer a number of questions I imagine some may ask:

Q: You don’t talk about rebounding much. Isn’t this a major part of the game?

Rebounding is tricky because it arguably involves of physical talents, skill and instincts – as well as motor, which I do not include as a talent in this system. Thus while I’m confident my categories cover all talents leading to rebounding, the distribution between the categories isn’t consistent enough for me to speak with confidence which players will be great or weak rebounders. The talents leading to Javale McGee rebounding well, is different from Kevin Love doing so – with the former primarily using athletic talents and the latter instincts.

I try to evaluate where a player’s physical tools or instincts project them as an impact rebounder, on a case by case basis. But one reason rebounding does not take center stage, is the tools leading to it, shows itself in other ways. For example I already give Kevin Love a perfect grade or close to it in instincts/feel for the game for reasons unrelated to his rebounding, he makes it evident enough in his offensive game, craftiness and vision for a PF. Likewise Javale McGee’s physical impact on the game shows up in ways like attacking the basket and shotblocking, that it’s enough to get an elite score in the category before accounting for rebounding. As a result Love’s instincts or McGee’s physical talents are already accounted for and giving them credit on the glass in those categories, doesn’t change their talent grade.

Finally I admit, one reason I shy away from a huge focus on rebounding, is I see individual defensive rebounds as the game’s most overrated statistic. I see offensive rebounding as individually based, but defensive rebounding as a team skill, with all 5 players working together to box out the other team and prevent an offensive rebounding. The more physical impact and feel for the game friendly players a team has, the more likely they are to rebound well, in my opinion.

Q: What about defense? It seems you’re mainly judging offense

I find defensive talent to be relatively simple to grade. It is a combination of physical impact talent and feel for the game. The former a combination of physical talents through athleticism/mobility, length, size, the latter how instinctually intelligent and aware players they are on the defensive end.

Paul George is a unique case in that I am not entirely impressed by how well he “physically impacts” the game on the offensive end, as he is not a high end slasher – but due to his immense length, his physical tools shine on the defensive end – and when added to his elite feel for the game, make him a tremendous talent on that end. George’s length thus improves his physical impact grade, to impressive but not elite levels – but when added to great perimeter skills and elite feel for the game, makes him a tremendous talent.

Q: What you say physical “impact” and skill “impact”, what does that mean?

My best way to describe the difference between “physical impact” and generic “physical talent”, is to see from a team perspective. Think about how a team becomes more “physically dominant”. What comes to mind is teams who attack the rim and put relentless pressure on the defense, run teams off the court in transition, block shots, attack teams with superior athleticism and size defensively and on the glass, etc. I’ve used the example a few times of Gerald Green and Wes Johnson, two players who are technically athletic but do not physically impact the game. From a team perspective this is easy to understand, as their function in the offense is to stand at the 3 point line and take open shots – which without the ability to attack the dribble or put pressure on the defense, is not physically impacting the game very much.

“Skill impact” likewise has a more precise meaning than generic “skill”. Again, seeing it from a team perspective is helpful. What makes a team feel like they’re making more “skill plays”? Perimeter range and the quantity of 3 point shooters is essential. Having perimeter players who create their own jumpshots off the dribble. A standout passer on the wing, helps the skill, especially in that it helps create open 3 point shots. A team having standout post skills especially from its bigs, makes them seem more skilled. Bigs who shoot the ball even if they don’t have 3pt range, likewise increase their team’s skill impact. For the most part, skill impact can be boiled down to perimeter plays made by shooting/passing, or post play.

Q: You keep talking about “feel for the game.” I don’t see it?

At this point feel for the game is so obvious and easy to spot for players and teams – it literally jumps off the screen as much as a player’s athleticism does to me, an essential and impossible to ignore feature that makes up a large part of everyone’s game.

But it occurs to me this wasn’t always the case. I had enjoyed basketball for a half lifetime without even considering the term feel for the game. Perhaps one has to be “looking for it”, or it just clicks in. The biggest tell is the smoothness of players. I recommend when watching games or clips, watching which players make the game look smooth, easy, natural and as if the game moves slower for them. On the other hand, players with a poor feel play as if they are moving too fast and out of control for the court. Their games are un-aesthetically pleasing. There is a naturalness and ease to the way a Chris Paul or Tim Duncan play and a robotic stiffness to JR Smith and Anthony Randolph.

Or just connect it to basketball IQ, which everyone accounts for. I’ve made a point to not use the term bball IQ because I see it as affected by context like experience in the league, nerves, whether a player guns for their own stats, etc. that to me, are outside of pure talent level. Instincts and feel for the game are terms I feel has a closer relationship to talent and innate ability. With that said, the vast majority of players who are classified as strong or poor basketball IQ, will have feel for the game/instincts matching that.

Finally, I also recommend looking for feel for the game in other sports, as it shows up in every one. Roger Federer is probably the best example of feel for the game in all of sports, he’s made a career out of playing at a smoother, easier and instinctually superior game to his peers and it jumps off the screen. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are have incredible feel for the game for NFL QBs. I barely know anything about soccer, but Lionel Messi seems like a transcendent example of feel for the game, soccer’s Federer in his ease and natural talent. Finally if you’re a hockey fan, feel for the game means more in that sport than everything else combined as at the incredible speed it’s played at and premium on decision making, smoothness and reactionary awareness is everything. Wayne Gretzky is the all-time example of feel for the game in it (if not all of sports), while in modern day players like Nick Lidstrom or Sidney Crosby can dominate largely off that superiority.

Q: How do you account for development of players?

Remember, I am trying to grade pure talent. It is true that players can make a leap in skills such as shooting or ballhandler, which would change their grades. That is why my grades are guesses for their talent level. I am not saying my talent grades are infallible way to judge players for this reason. I have complete confidence in the framework of my system, but my grades can be wrong. I graded Damian Lillard wrongly before last year’s draft in part due to seeing so little quality Weber State footage, his feel for the game and shooting ability proved better than I projected. I now grade him as the 3rd perennial all-star caliber talent in the draft with Anthony Davis and Jeremy Lamb, to my lukewarm grade for him before. Likewise Andre Drummond is a player I was lukewarm on, because I underestimated his respectable skill impact (due to finishing around the rim) and better feel for the game than I had thought. While not spectacular in either skill or feel, average in both categories is enough to make Drummond a star with a perfect physical impact talent.

With that said, while development occurs, for the most part I believe most talents are there in college. By that I mean the players who are the most skilled or have the best feel for the game in the high school and college classes, are likely to be the standout players for their peer group in skill and feel at the NBA level as well. The more natural a player looks in the areas of skill impact or feel for the game, are likely to have the easiest time transitioning to the next level. I believe the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of judging skill and feel for the game talents by how much they show by college.

Q: What happens when a prospect is caught between positions? ie. a combo guard, or a PF/C? Wouldn’t they grade differently at each position?

Yes and this is a monkeywrench to get around. For the most part, I try to use my grades to determine which position they will perform best at. For combo guards, I believe the biggest determiner of which position they will play is feel for the game and instincts – which is where a player gets the vision and pacing needed to play the 1. Trading size for PG for speed the 2, is close to an even trade-off anyways in most situations. Likewise a player may gain speed moving from a big SF to a small PF or from a big PF to a small C, but lack size at the latter position to give some of that value back. The transition from PF to C is unique in that a player is less likely to score in the post if scoring against bigger Cs instead of smaller PFs, which hurts their skill impact. But this is counteracted by the standards for skill at C being lower than at PF. Respectable finishing around the rim and a little range, is enough for a good to great skill impact score at C, but average at PF.

Q: What’s the top 10/20 ranking players of all time by this method?

I’ve tried to make a top 20 of all time and I struggle justifying it as meaningful, just because the scores are too close. My system is not about comparing players with a score of 32 to one with a score of 30 and acting like it’s meaningful the former is ahead. By that range the players are so easily superstars, that there are better ways to pick hairs and separate careers.

Furthermore a problem with ranking the best of the best in regards to historical players, is what to do with 11. Similar to the “A+ or A?” question, too many of the highest scores would be determined by how easily 11 is given out. For example, if Michael Jordan is more physically dominant than Dwyane Wade and Larry Bird has a greater skill impact than Kevin Durant, should Wade and Durant be denied 11s in those categories even if they are transcendent in those areas? Or should 11s include anyone within the range of the best of the best in a category.

Finally, the other problem is 11 in each category is an arbitrary cap. To give a player like Wilt Chamberlain “only” 11 in physical impact may be unfair, as hypothetically there is no limit to how talented a player can be in each category. Once again this is a reason why categorizing talents into tiers means more to me, than judging closely ranked players against each other.

I can tell you this, the only player who has a perfect score of 33? Who else, Michael Jordan. Jordan is an easy 11 in physical impact and feel for the game as the undisputed class of his position in those categories, historically. The only place he can be conceivably dinged is skill impact, as he’s not the best 3 point shooter ever. However his skill impact inside the arc is the greatest ever for his position, due to his transcendent midrange shooting and post scoring ability for a 2 guard. It’s enough for me to give him a perfect grade in skill impact as well, for the perfect 33.

Q: Anything else to say?

The 33pt method is NOT a statistic. The only thing it has in common with statistics is numbers. It is a grade, which has an entirely different meaning. I repeat, it is NOT a statistic.

SUBJECTIVITY is the point. Grades are subjectively applied, but can be reliably and consistently. The irony of statistics versus grades is that the former claims objectivity and the latter subjectivity – yet most people who use stats have a nasty habit of making their studies subjective and biased, while most of the well known examples of grading such as academia, Olympics/other world sporting competitions, licensing, etc., goes out of its way to make the grades rigorously objective. I respect statistics and I will be debuting my own productivity statistic sometime this summer, but there is as much value in grading in my opinion, if done objectively and reliably.

If you have any other questions, ask them in the comment box and I’ll answer them!

Written by jr.

March 21, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

Tagged with ,

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