NBA Stats Are Meaningless

van smack

The popular sports blog DEADSPIN hasn’t just gotten better since it added writer Tommy Craggs – it’s gotten a LOT better. This guy is a freaking genius and he just rolled out one of his best stories yet.

Seems that T. Craggs has his hands on a rogue ex-NBA scorekeeper who’s ready and willing to spill the beans on how absurd the official statistics-collection practices of the league are.

Short version: Home teams routinely, consistently inflate their players stats, sometimes to an egregious degree. Terrible teams will even inflate the opponents’ stats to give themselves the Sportscenter spotlight (if only as the asskickee). The Clippers are even worse than we thought, if that’s possible, and they deflate their players’ stats…because they’re bound and determined to be the most horrible franchise ever.

The article also contains an awesome story about how a bitter Alex (that’s the guy’s name) decided to gift Nick Van Exel with an inhuman number of assists, just to throw a middle finger up to the world:

A little more than a year later, with Nick Van Exel and the Lakers in town, Alex decided to act out. “I was sort of disgruntled,” he says. “I loved the game. I don’t want the numbers to be meaningless, and I felt they were becoming meaningless because of how stats were kept. So I decided, I’m gonna do this totally immature thing and see what happens. It was childish. The Lakers are in town. We’re gonna lose. Fuck it. He’s getting a shitload of assists.” If you were to watch the game today, you’d see some “comically bad assists.” Alex’s fingerprints are all over the box score. He gave Van Exel everything. “Van Exel would pass from the top of the three-point line to someone on the wing who’d hold the ball for five seconds, dribble, then make a move to the basket. Assist, Van Exel.”

No one noticed. From his chair, Alex could hear the legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn calling the game. Van Exel’s having a great game! He’s moving the ball exceptionally well! And in the next day’s writeups, Van Exel was of course the hero. Alex thought, What the fuck?

“This is a bad analogy, but it’s like a husband cheating on a wife in such a way as to guarantee he’s going to be caught,” Alex says. “There’s nothing to justify it. It was stupid. And there were no consequences.” He figured he’d at least get scolded. He wasn’t. In fact, a management guy congratulated him. The game was sure to get on SportsCenter now.

Bill Simmons has done some good writing on the state of NBA statistics lately; there is work being done to develop new, cutting-edge stats that will more accurately portray the skills of players, but it’s being done behind closed doors in NBA offices. Unlike baseball, which has seen the development of advanced stats in the open, to be dissected by all, basketball’s VORP or OPS+ is something top-secret that none of us know about.

But when the core statistics themselves are a collection of exaggerated falsehoods, can ANY NBA stat be trusted?

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