Note: All statistics mentioned in article are “As of 4/13/14”
ESPN recently came out with an adjusted Plus/Minus rating using an algorithm that aims at measuring how effective a player is individually. According to Steve Ilardi’s article that introduces this new statistical approach (Real Plus/Minus or “RPM”), there is a major flaw in the traditional Plus/Minus statistic itself:
“Each player’s rating is heavily influenced by the play of his on-court teammates.”
In other words, “How do you measure a player’s own effectiveness if he plays alongside someone like Kevin Durant most of the time?” The concept makes perfect sense, especially if it can surface those players that don’t shine on the stat sheet, but are respected by coaches and teammates for their hustle and cooperative team play.
However, using RPM to judge or compare someone like Jeremy Lin, is immensely misleading. Take a quick look at all PGs on ESPN’s RPM page and you’ll notice that Patrick Beverly is #3 on that list after NBA darlings Chris Paul and Stephen Curry no less. Jeremy Lin, on the other hand, is ranked 29th, one spot below Steve Nash’s corpse and ironically two spots above his original replacement on the Knicks, Raymond “Back-Off-B*tch-Or-I’ll-Shoot-You” Felton.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not really complaining here. 29th is not that bad, especially considering that both Rajon Rondo (37th) and Kyrie Irving (39th) are placed significantly lower. But this site is about giving objective insights about Lin. As with anything from the media, it’s far too easy to accept what reporters, game summaries, or simple box scores tell us. The writers and fans of this page watch and/or follow every Rockets game so that we can share our unbiased opinion on Lin. That is why, after reading ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus article and subsequent analysis, I decided to dig deeper.
Not surprisingly, after some researching, numbers also conclusively suggest that Lin is “short changed” by a large margin by stats such as the RPM. So what are the flaws of RPM you ask? It’s quite simple really. The biggest major flaw around RPM is the fact that it is still largely based on the Plus/Minus statistic irrespective of playing time. The second is that it focuses on how a player produces irrespective of their teammates contributions to the team’s plus/minus, which effectively makes it biased against true point guards whose main job is to distribute the ball.
If you’ve been following Lin this season, you will know that he hasn’t really been given much “quality” playing time. Yes, his 29 mpg is about the same as players like Reggie Jackson (28) and Jamal Crawford (30), but if you’ve been watching the Rockets games, you’ll commiserate with the frustration around McHale’s distribution of Lin’s minutes. I haven’t found any statistical reference for “consecutive minutes played”, but it’s painstakingly obvious when watching, that the Rocket’s coach likes to throw Lin on and off the bench at odd times intermittently throughout each game. As such, we absolutely cannot rely assessing ANY of Lin’s stats through the lens of the entire season.
In addition, look through the top performers under the RPM’s evaluation methods and you’ll see that out of the top 20 listed, only 5 are point guards and out of those 5, only Chris Paul and Stephen Curry have assist averages higher than 7. The variables and weighting formula used to generate the RPM value clearly de-emphasizes the value of setting up teammates in it’s efforts to extrapolate how effective someone is without them. Per 36 minutes, Lin averages a respectable 5 assists with a 22 assist percentage (the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while on the court). (Source: http://bit.ly/1enxqCX) Comparatively, Beverley averages 3.1 assists per 36 minutes and a 12.9 assist percentage. (Source: http://bit.ly/1exVWBH) It’s even more impressive when you consider how McHale uses Lin as the bring-the-ball-up-to-halfcourt-then-wait-in-the-corner-for-last-minute-dumps-from-Harden-passes guy. Paul and Curry did well on the RPM rankings regardless because they are super efficient NBA studs who are often relied as the second, if not first offensive option on their team.
With these two “flaws” in mind and to prove that one should not blindly look at ESPN’s RPM ratings results, I decided to compare the two Rockets point guards Beverley and Lin through the lens of minutes played and team wins/losses. And before people peg me as a Beverley hater, I will throw out the disclaimer that I actually really like him, but believe his defensive prowess is over-reported, he is undersized and my preferred role for him (if the Rockets didn’t use Harden as the main playmaker) is to be the energy guy coming off the bench with the goal of disrupting the other team’s rhythm. In fact, the Rockets are actually at their best when playing both Lin and Beverley together.
Below are both their stat’s from the 2013-14 season, taking only into account games in which they have played 32 or more minutes. Why 32 minutes? Because I believe that to have any proper influence over a team’s success in four twelve-minute quarters, one needs to play at least 32 minutes.
Patrick Beverley’s 32 or More Minutes Played Statistics
- 29 games with over 32 minutes played
- Overall Plus Minus = 109
- Plus Minus Per Game = 3.76
- Record 18-11 (62%)
Jeremy Lin’s 32 or More Minutes Played Statistics
- 25 games with over 32 minutes played
- Overall Plus Minus = 165
- Plus Minus Per Game = 6.6
- Record 18-7 (72%)
The numbers speak for themselves. If we only count the games in which a player was on the court for 32 minutes or more, Lin almost doubles Beverley in his effectiveness per game, amounting to a solid 16% more wins than Beverley (62*(1+(72-62)/62)). As you can see, if one wants to objectively see if Jeremy Lin is effective (ie. helps the team win), you must take into account how many “quality” minutes are played. Neither regular Plus/Minus or ESPN’s Real Plus Minus does the job outright. Furthermore, it devalues selfless players who makes their teammates better.
So the next time you see a statistic thrown out like ESPN’s RPM, give it some more thought and consider all the quantitative and qualitative factors. Despite my mathematical ramblings above, I’m actually more of a qualitative guy and prefer the “eye-test” more than anything. Just watch the games. I guarantee you that you’ll see, when given the proper minutes to get into a rhythm, Jeremy Lin increases the Rocket’s chance of winning by moving/pushing the ball, being aggressive and making smart/creative plays that put his teammates at an advantage and keeps their offense unpredictable. Sadly, those “opportunities” are little and far between. Since McHale refuses to play Lin as the primary ball handler and using pick and rolls in favor of an unimaginative “paint-points or three-ball” strategy, we are stuck watching an underperforming, but “still considered successful” team play stagnant offense, no defense and ISO-play after ISO play.
For more timely thoughts and comments, especially during/after Rockets games, follow me @JeffYam
Note: All statistics mentioned in article are “As of 4/13/14”