Bucks Diary

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

How basketball eyes can fool you

Bill James, the noted baseball sabermetrician, once wrote that in baseball "your eyes can sometimes fool you". I would argue there is no sport where your eyes are more susceptible to deception than basketball.

Quick anecdote to illustrate my point. I was up in Minnesota for the Badger-Gopher game in November, and afterward I took in the Twolves-Hornets game at the Target Center with my brother. (After which I got lost in the Target Center parking ramp and almost went crazy listening to the thunderously loud banging of heavy machinery coming from the construction of the Twins Ballpark right outside the ramp. Have you ever heard what it sounds like when heavy metal hits heavy metal? It should be considered a form of torture. But that's a story for another day.)

Watching Timberwolves PG Sebastian Telfair play that night, I was very "eyeball impressed". He seemed lightning quick, he had very nice rotation on his jumpshot, he could handle the basketball well, and he seemed quite capable of penetrating the lane. If I was a scout, and you asked me afterward what I thought of him, I'd have said he was a player.

Two months later I'm doing a statistical analysis of the win production of each of the starting point guards in the NBA... I'm half way through the association and Telfair is decisively below average. In fact, his numbers are poor for a backup, let alone a starter. My eyeballs fooled me badly.

Second example: Twolves SG Rashad McCants. Now, I knew this guy was below par. He takes... maybe... the worst selection of shots in the NBA. I'd say he's all about getting his own. At one point... I swear to you... he pump faked four times trying to free himself from a double team before he finally passed laterally to a teammate. He is a very selfish player and unproductive player. A shooter who can't shoot, but doesn't want to stop trying. As my brother said "He thinks he's Michael Redd and he isn't."

Anyway, despite all that, the one thing that sticks in my memory when I think about that game was a monstrous lefthanded jam McCants executed over the top of the Hornets excellent C Tyson Chandler. I can't remember much else about the game to be honest. It was an astonishing athletic play.

The point is, if I only paid casual attention to the NBA, and only half-cared about the Bucks, and you told me today that the Bucks traded for Rashad McCants, I'd probably remember back to that dunk and think "Wow, they got a good player" when in fact they would have traded for -- statistically -- one of the worst starters in all of the NBA. His numbers are so far below average, he is actually scuttling the Timberwolves whenever he steps on the floor.

Don't always trust your basketball eyes.


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