The era of advanced basketball metrics has added a rich layer to the discussion of NBA basketball. Sites like Basketball-Reference, HoopData, and The NBA Geek are loaded with stats that help us better understand the game. However, with every new metric, the challenge is creating a common understanding of good and bad. Think about baseball. Fans understands the rule of thumb that .300 is great batting average, .280 is pretty good and below .250 is pretty bad. But when SABRmetrics became popular, fans started scratching their heads on the relative goodness of a .130 ISO or a .334 wOBA. This is where acceptance of advanced metrics eventually breaks down. But acceptance is crucial to understanding, so we need to try a new approach.
If you understand what each stat is supposed to tell you, then the specific number is less important than a general knowledge that a player and/or team is good at that stat. Visualization can help we this. I created a scorecard template to add meaning to common advanced metrics. Let’s look at Tayshaun Prince this season and break it down.
An explanation of each stat can be found here. The key thing to emphasize is that we are trying to capture an understanding of a player’s performance based on metrics. The top sections emphasize the overall player. The bottom left focuses on offense, the bottom middle shows the Four Factors for an individual player and the bottom right focuses on defense.
Other than PER and WS/48, we don’t actually show any numbers. Instead, we color code by percentile. What is displayed is where a player fits in each stat compared to other players in the same season. So, when Tayshaun has dark green in the 3 pt shooting zone, that means his .419 3pt% puts him in the top 20% of the league. If he has one red basketball in steals, his 0.5 STL percentage puts him in the bottom 20% of the league. His yellow usage puts Tayshaun right in the 41-60% range of the league. See the color key below.
There are limitations with this method. 1.) Percentiles don’t line up with averages. For example, the upper thresholds of the 60th percentile for PER and WS/48 tends to hover around 15 and 0.100 respectively, but these are actually the accepted average of these metrics. 2.) There is no breakdown by position. I am comparing Tayshaun’s rebounding to point guards, centers and everyone else, not just other small forwards. 3.) Without the numbers we don’t know if a player is barely in the percentile or on the upper end of it.
Nevertheless, we can tell a lot about Tayshaun quickly from this scorecard. Overall, he seems to be an average player. At this point in his career, his value on offense exceeds his value on defense. His greatest strengths are outside shooting and not turning the ball over. His greatest limitation is his ability to create turnovers on defense. Try to pull all of that out of the numbers in the table below.
Visual scorecards are not perfect, but they are an additional tool that will aid our understanding of players through the use of analytics.