Jason Kidd does not make his teammates better. Defense doesn't necessarily win championships. Not only is Kobe Bryant not the next Jordan, he's not even the best guard in the NBA.
All of these statements go against the conventional wisdom of basketball writers and fans across the NBA. But author John Hollander says he has the numbers to prove all these statements correct. With his new book Pro Basketball Prospectus, Hollander wants to change the way we look at basketball — in the same way that statistical analysis has transformed baseball.
It has been 25 years since a Kansas writer named Bill James put out a 68-page mimeographed packet called the Baseball Abstract and began a statistical revolution in the national pastime. It took a while for James' idea to permeate baseball culture, but every time you see a mention of pitcher run support, park effects, or OPS, you are seeing the influence of James and those who followed him.
Keith Law, a writer for the analytical annual Baseball Prospectus, was hired as a consultant by the Toronto Blue Jays. Billy Beane, who runs the Oakland A's with strategies based on the work of James and Baseball Prospectus, is now widely-acclaimed as baseball's top executive. Even James has now joined the establishment, hired this month as "senior advisor, baseball operations" for the Boston Red Sox.
But for all the changes that James and his followers have wrought in the world of baseball, there has never been a similar revolution in any other sport. Now the publishers of Baseball Prospectus are trying a brand extension by enlisting Hollander, the Portland (now Atlanta) based writer of a basketball website called alleyoop.com. That website was the incubator for most of the basic ideas that are published in print for the first time in the Pro Basketball Prospectus.
Basketball is probably the sport that, next to baseball, keeps the most statistics. But basketball fans looking for statistical analysis have only found an occasional article focusing on some all-encompassing master statistic that claims to represent all of a player's contributions without any proof that the formula actually reflects how much a player contributes towards wins.
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough Hollander has made is the idea of "pace." In baseball, a major new concept of the statistical revolution was park effects. Each team gets 27 outs to score each game, but the size and altitude of the playing fields effect player statistics. Just ask any hitter who has played in Colorado.