In recent days, former Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe and ESPN analyst Dick Vitale scoffed at the ever-increasing attention given basketball statistics, analytics and numbers.
“I hate it . . . ,” Bledsoe told NBA.com. “Somehow it can show that an average player can be better than a superstar player in some aspects, and that don’t mean nothing. . . . You’re going to put your best five on the court, analytics or not.”
Vitale bemoaned the flood of numbers he receives to supposedly help him prepare for telecasts.
“It takes away from the beauty of the game . . . ,” he said. “It’s becoming crazy.”
Now, for a shock: such sentiments do not offend Ken Pomeroy, a modern-day Pythagoras with a website (kenpom.com) that showcases basketball addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
“I can actually sympathize with Eric and Dick on some level,” Pomeroy said. “Sometimes I hear numbers that are used, and I feel like they’re not terribly meaningful. They sound cool. But they don’t really add anything to a broadcast or try to make a point.
“You can definitely overdo it with the numbers, and go to a place that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Pomeroy questioning the attention paid to numbers is like Leonardo di Vinci dismissing Renaissance art.
Yet Pomeroy, who is acknowledged as a top college basketball analyst, finds the growing attention to basketball numbers a bit much. For instance, take plus-minus . . . puh-leeze.
“I cringe every time I hear people talk plus-minus,” Pomeroy said.
Plus-minus supposedly shows how a player’s performance helps or hurts his team’s chances of winning. But, of course, much depends on what teammates are on the floor with you.
“You put me on the floor with LeBron (James) a few minutes, and my plus-minus is probably going to look pretty good,” Pomeroy said. “That doesn’t mean I’m a good basketball player.”
Pomeroy said he found greater value in such statistics as offensive and defensive efficiency, percentage of rebounds grabbed and percentage of field goals that are three-pointers.
Former UK All-American Kevin Grevey, who is now a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers, said numerical analysis has its place.
Lakers Coach Luke Walton meets each morning with the team’s analytics expert, Grevey said. Each week the Lakers’ analytics staff conducts mock drafts based on numbers.
But the Lakers still have scouts like Grevey watching and evaluating college players.
“What I like to see, and what analytics doesn’t tell you, is a guy’s heart,” Grevey said. “His love for the game. His passion to play. His willingness to compete. His I.Q. as a player. Is he a happy player? Is he a good teammate? Is he engaged?”
Del Harris, a longtime NBA coach, said that analytics are a poor tool for evaluating high school or college players. There are too few games played to get a good sense of a player through numbers, he said. Plus, the players can play against wildly different levels of competition.
Harris also said basketball is not the best sport to try to reduce to a mathematical formula.
“Stat numbers in football and baseball are better indicators because it’s a stop-start game in both those sports,” Harris said. “Basketball is a fluid dynamic-type game where players are never in the same position at any time during the game. That is you’d never have 10 players in the same geometric position twice in the same game. It’s like a snowflake.
“And decision-making becomes so much more important in basketball than it does in the other sports. Not that it doesn’t matter for a quarterback or a pitcher or catcher or hitter. But basketball is a constant decision-making process. And to this point there’s no way to put a metric on that.”
Still, more and more analysts pull out their slide rules and try. Pomeroy offered a word of caution: the science of numbers and the artistry of sports sometimes do not mix.
“Certainly with basketball, that is true . . . ,” Pomeroy said. “That’s one thing about people who dive into basketball stats. You sort of have to have that understanding, or you’re occasionally going to sound like a fool.”
Former Herald-Leader sportswriter Steve Aschburner recently interviewed ex-Cat Eric Bledsoe for NBA.com.
Here’s an excerpt:
NBA.com: So it was Jamal Crawford, when you were both with the Clippers, who tagged you with the “Mini-LeBron” nickname. How did that come about?
Eric Bledsoe: “He’d tell me he had guys like Blake (Griffin), D.J. (DeAndre Jordan), my main guy CP3 (Chris Paul) telling him how I’d stand out every time I get in the game, doing the stuff I do. He’d really only seen selected things, like blocking shots or chasing down shots, or getting a crazy dunk or something else to stand out from the crowd. He just started calling me that.”
NBA.com: So it was for your versatility or your physicality?
EB: “It was kind of both. The way I was built, my body. The way I played. Pretty much a little of everything.”
NBA.com: Can you imagine the type of player you’d be if you were 6-foot-8?
EB: “That’s what Jamal told me. That if I were 6-8, I’d probably be the same player (LeBron James is).”
NBA.com: What kind of relationship do you have with LeBron?
EB: “He’s like a big brother to me. I used to call him, text him for advice, on leading my team and stuff like that. He’s a great friend.”
NBA.com: When did your paths first cross?
EB: “My first time meeting him was in college. He came to one of our practices in Kentucky. It just went on from there.
NBA.com: You invited him to your wedding in July?
EB: “Of course. He couldn’t make it. I really only had my two best friends from the NBA there, John (Wall) and DeMarcus (Cousins). They were the only ones from the league there.”
58 percent shooting
Kentucky won last weekend even though Virginia Tech made 58.2 percent of its shots (32 of 55). An obvious question: When was the last time UK won a game in which the opponent shot with 58 percent or better accuracy?
The answer: Feb. 26, 2003. Kentucky beat Tennessee 80-68 even though the Vols made 58.7 percent of their shots (27 of 46).
How did UK win? Turnovers helped. Tennessee had 19 turnovers, the same number Virginia Tech committed.
Free throws also played a big part. UK made 25 of 29 (Cliff Hawkins was 7-for-7; Chuck Hayes and Gerald Fitch each 4-for-4). Tennessee made eight of 12.
Yes, the game was in Rupp Arena.
Until Virginia Tech on Dec. 16, there had been only five UK games since the victory over Tennessee in which the opponent shot with 58 percent or better accuracy. UK lost all five by an average of 21.2 points. Perhaps, most notably, one of those five games was the 88-58 loss at Tennessee on Feb. 16, 2013 (aka the first game after Nerlens Noel tore an ACL).
In case you missed it, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi tweeted:
“North Carolina’s home loss to Wofford is the worst by a defending national champion in the expanded NCAA Tournament era (post-1985). Have gone back as far as UCLA’s dynasty looking for comparables and come up empty. A truly historic upset.”
Sports Illustrated used to do a mini feature called Sign of the Apocalypse. It was a tongue-in-cheek reference to signs that the sports world was veering off course.
That feature came to mind when the NCAA announced last week that Google Cloud would be its official cloud provider. Apparently cirrus (wispy at high altitude) and cumulus (puffy at low altitude) lost out.
According to a news release, the NCAA will coordinate with Turner Sports and CBS Sports in using Google Cloud’s “machine-teaming, analytics and data services to better serve the needs of its colleges and universities, athletics teams and fan base.”
The absence of callers on his radio show last week did not escape John Calipari’s attention. He playfully (?) said that if not a single fan called in to ask a question on the hourlong show he’d do a couple of back flips as he headed out the door.
There was a powerful urge to respond by tweeting, “I see your back flips and raise you a cartwheel.”
To Eric Manuel. He turned 50 on Thursday. . . . To former Georgia coach Ron Jirsa. He turned 58 on Thursday. . . . To Western Kentucky Coach Rick Stansbury. He turned 58 on Saturday. . . . To former South Carolina coach (and Tates Creek High School grad) Darrin Horn. He turned 45 on Saturday. . . . To Cliff Hawkins. He turns 36 on Sunday (today). . . . To Rodney Dent. He turns 47 on Christmas Day. . . . To former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson. He turns 76 on Wednesday. . . . To Kansas Coach Bill Self. He turns 55 on Wednesday.