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Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

First of all, I've always understood that Mark Twain coined the phrase that serves as the title of this post.  Not so.  Apparently, Twain popularized it's use in the United States, but even in his original usage in "Chapters from My Autobiography" he attributes the quote to Benjamin Disraeli.  So there, I learned something today.

I love statistics as regards NBA basketball.  There is much subjectivity in the game, and statistics provide an element of objectivity.  But there is little question that they can be misused.  For my part, I strive to understand the stats that I see, and even moreso the ones that I use.  A statistic in a vacuum is a very dangerous thing.  There needs to be some context.

What got me thinking about this was the discussion about Biedrins versus Camby in a FanPost today.  Biedrins led the NBA in field goal percentage last season at almost 63%, while Camby shot a seemingly anemic 45%.  True, comes the counter-argument, but Camby is a better shooter from the perimeter, and the reason Biedrins' percentage is so high is because he only shoots layups and dunks.  However, comes the retort, if Camby is such a great shooter, why does he only make 38% of his jumpers, and shouldn't he take the hint and stop shooting so many - 57% of his shots are jumpers, after all.

This 57% jumpers, 38% on those jumpers stat was first thrown out there by Jeremy on Pickaxe and Roll as an indictment of Camby's offense.  And let's face it, those are some ugly looking numbers.  But let's put them in context.

Here is the same 82games data for five big men: Biedrins, Camby, Kaman, Tyson Chandler and Mr. Fundamental himself, Tim Duncan.  (Sorry, I don't know if you can get these numbers side-by-side in 82games - I couldn't, so I'm just hopping between tabs to look at everything).

Are Camby's numbers  ridiculously poor?  Well, Camby was 37.7% on 57% of his attempts.  Kaman was 40% on 38% of his attempts.  Better on both counts, and certainly an encouraging trend for the newfound Kaman face up game.  Biedrins and Chandler, first and second in the NBA in field goal percentage, take very, very few jumpers by comparison - Biedrins 11% and Chandler 16%.  Their shooting percentages are atrocious on those jumpers (they barely make 1 of 4), so it's a good thing they don't take them.  So it becomes pretty obvious how a couple of 'horrible' shooters lead the NBA in shooting percentage, especially when you see that fully one third of Chandlers buckets were dunks.  ONE THIRD!  He could only make one in three of all his other shots and still shoot 55%!

But what about multi-MVP, first team all pro, first ballot hall of famer, Duncan?  He made 37.5% of his jumpers last season, and 55% of his shots were jumpers.  He sucks!  He actually shot worse than Camby, and took almost as many jumpers as a percentage of the overall.

Unfortunately, I don't know the exact definition of a 'Jumper' in this statistic.  I know it's not a 'Dunk' and not a 'Tip' and not 'Close.'  But where does 'Close' end and 'Jumper' begin?  5 feet?  10 feet?  12 feet, 4 and one half inches?  I just don't know.

I do know that the 82games statistic seems to be out of sync with the NBA HotSpots feature.  Go there and look up Tim Duncan and you'll see that they show 711 of his 1178 field goal attempts last season coming from within the closest zone they track, which is inside of the lane and well below the dotted line on their graphic - we're talking 5 feet and in.  So it's hard to figure how 82games has him shooting 55% jumpers when the HotSpot has him taking over 60% of his shots with 5 feet of the basket.  Does it have to do with the form of the shot?  Anything shot facing the basket with a jump shot motion, no matter how close, counts as a jumper?  Hard to say.

So, all of this to say, I don't know what most of this means.  It's easy to accuse players of 'settling' for low percentage jump shots, but there's a huge difference between a seven footer and a 22 footer, and just how many of those shots are being taken with 5 or fewer seconds left on the shot clock, when the guy has no choice?  We just don't know.

Damned statistics.