Friday, August 19, 2011

SPS: The Holy Grail

In writing about DeShawn Stevenson a while back I leaked my most top-secret player evaluation tool.

I had no idea what would happen after I leaked the information, but since that time at least one well-known writer has silently slipped the tool into his player-evaluation toolbox.

So now that the cat is out of the bag, I might as well go ahead a release the entire system.

It is called situational performance splits, or SPS.

SPS is the reason why I keep praising Baron Davis while others keep ripping him and why I had TJ Ford rated as my top free-agent point guard before I did away with the list.

Any good player evaluation system should look to find players who will lead their teams to championships.

And SPS does that by paying less attention to games which take place outside of championship environments and focusing more on players and how they perform against the best players and best teams and in the biggest games.

And if it involves the final two minutes of a one-possession game, that's even better.

Whenever I'm watching games and breaking down players I pay very close attention to the following things, which make up the essence of SPS.


After a team reaches the second round of the playoffs, you can pretty much bet that the teams are going to be loaded with the best players in the league.

In order to know if a guy can lead a team past this point, you have to know how he performs against the best players in the league at his position.

So whenever you're watching games, pay particular attention to specific matchups against top players. And at the very least you want to see specific matchups against very good players.

Some guys are better on one side of the court.

In these cases, for example, you would want to watch how a small forward plays on offense against Ron Artest and Tony Allen and on defense against Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce to get an idea of what he is capable of in big games.

Carmelo Anthony is someone who scores highly on my board.

For all of the stat-geek criticism, Anthony sports a 10-1 career record against Kevin Durant and a 9-4 career record against LeBron James.

And based on the swag and audacity Anthony plays with when he plays against James, I would never know James was the better player.

Anthony goes hard at James like James is some scrub in a pickup game at Rucker Park.

And that's what you look for in these individual matchups, guys who don't back down against the best competition.

And guys who are productive and win against the best competition and relish the opportunity to go against it rate highly in SPS.

It must also be pointed out that good performance is very much a product of good coaching and good teammates.

To find out why someone is underperforming you may have to look beyond his individual shortcomings and look at the coach he's playing for, the system he's playing in and the teammates he's playing with.


The next thing you want to look at is team matchup.

Specifically, you want to see how someone does on offense against the best defensive teams and how they do on defense against the best offensive teams and how they do against the teams with the best records and coaches in the NBA.

All information against teams like Minnesota and New Jersey must be excluded.

Based on last year's coaches, rosters and records the following teams would be of best use: Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.

And of course, things change.

Denver, Memphis and Portland were all on fire toward the end of the season. And Oklahoma City played much better after Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed were integrated into the lineup.

So games against those teams during that time would be useful as well.

But I wouldn't go much further than that because you start getting into serious mediocrity at the coaching and/or talent levels after that point.


All games are not created equally. Some games are simply bigger than others.

And SPS looks to identify those big games and draw more conclusions from them than the other games on the schedule.

What is at stake here?

That is what you want to find out in determining the magnitude of a game.

Is it a NBA championship? A series? A division title or playoff berth? A reputation? Nothing?

It goes without saying that in order to win it all a team is going to have to win some big games, and at least some of them on the road.

And you can't win big games without big-game players.

As best as I could I built a list of the biggest games, in order of importance:

1. NBA Finals games
2. Conference finals games
3. Second round playoff games
4. First round playoff games
5. Elimination games
6. Playoff position games during the last few weeks of the season
7. Games after the All-Star break
8. Games against top teams and players
9. Playoff position games before the last few weeks of the season
10. Road games, especially those in hostile environments
11. Games during long winning streaks (in general, 10 or more wins)
12. Games on national television

Some of those categories blend into one another.

In short, what you're trying to do is turn the pressure, the intensity, the competition and the attention levels way up to get them to match what someone will face as he tries to win deeper in the playoffs.

And playoff games clearly get bigger the further you go into a series, with game seven of the NBA Finals being the biggest game possible.

Watching guys under these circumstances tells you all you need to know about them.

Coaches too.


When I say game situation I am obviously talking about the clutch, the last two minutes of one-possession games.

Getting back to TJ Ford, he led Indiana to a win over the Lakers in Los Angeles six days after beating the Heat in Miami. And Baron Davis also has a few wins over the Lakers and Heat (one with the lowly Cavaliers) on his resume from last season.

Ford led the charge in Indiana's win over Los Angeles by flawlessly executing clutch plays down the stretch.

His play was what basketball is all about.

Let's take a look at the SPS factors and try to put some sort of value on the win.

There are some qualifiers.

Andrew Bynum didn't play. He was matched up individually against Steve Blake, who isn't a very good player. Although it clearly became a big game by the end, this wasn't a big game for Los Angeles coming in.

So you could say Indiana was able to sneak up on them and catch them by surprise with their strong play. And because it was so early in the season and the teams' records so far apart, there was very little at stake.

All that being said, this was still a significant accomplishment.

TJ Ford led lowly Indiana to a victory over the two-time defending world champion Los Angeles Lakers by outdueling Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in the clutch, on their home floor.

I don't have a problem with that victory.

In addition, Ford led Texas to the Final Four in college and took Milwaukee and Toronto (Milwaukee and Toronto!) to the playoffs two times each.

And there is no doubt he would have helped Indiana to the playoffs with a much better record last season had he not been benched in the middle of the season for no good reason.

Mike Bibby is the only one who can match Ford's level of accomplishment among free-agent point guards, but Ford is younger than Bibby and significantly more athletic.

And that is my ultimate player evaluation tool, and it is the Holy Grail of player evaluation systems.

So when you read my work and see that I seem to be speaking a different language and operating on a different wavelength than others who cover the NBA, now you'll know why.

We are looking at two totally different things, at least.

I put little stock in 82-game performance. I put my stock in situational performance and try to pick the situations which most resemble championship caliber.

And I seek out and praise players who excel in those situations, among others.

Note: HBIQ is notorious for jinxing players and teams.

So now that I have big-upped Carmelo Anthony, Baron Davis and TJ Ford don't be surprised if they totally flame out and suck beyond all recognition for the rest of their careers.

But don't let that discourage you from using the system.

It works fine as long as I'm not the one issuing the praise.

Carmelo Anthony's career record against Kevin Durant was posted by Sarcastic on Inside Hoops. His records against Durant and LeBron James are from Basketball Reference.

And TJ Ford had Milwaukee in the playoffs during his rookie season before he got injured and missed the rest of the season. Milwaukee went on to make the playoffs without him.

I counted that in his favor because there is little doubt they would have done the same with him healthy and in the lineup.

Some of the additional Ford information I learned from Mark Medina.

To wrap it up, I would like to say that I am only one man and can't possibly keep track of all of this information by myself.

But I do the best I can with what I have.

Comment or e-mail:

No comments:

Post a Comment