In basketball, every play counts

There’s a basketball statistic either in development or in existence that is referred to as “Win Probability Added“.  I have a simple one as well but this one is different.   It values certain identical acts differently based upon when they occurred in a basketball game.

I thought about the merit of this and decided I don’t like it.  The statistic comes from baseball.  It was conceived by a pair of brothers, and in the baseball context its quite valuable, but it does not carry the same value in basketball.  I’ll tell you why.

In basketball, similar plays hold deceptively similar values, even though we may perceive the value of the plays differently based on nothing other than their time of occurrence.

For instance, Bogut’s missed bunny tonight in the final three minutes did not hurt the team anymore than Moute’s missed bunny in the second quarter.  It was the same negative act carrying that should carry something like the same negative value.  Just because one miss happened at a so called “clutch” moment artificially elevates our judgment of its importance.

In baseball, however, similar acts CAN and should be given dissimilar values based on the situation.  If Ryan Braun comes up in the third inning with no one on base and belts a triple, that act carries less value than the same act done with the bases loaded.  Because there were men on base in one situation and there were none on in the other, the same exact action carried a different value when figuring how it impacted the team’s probability of winning.

The same applies to defensive acts committed in the two sports.  In basketball, to paraphrase what they say at PETA rallies, “a block is a block is a block” (of course you have to take some account of the shot’s likelihood of going in the basket).

When Bogut gave LeBron James a Wilson sandwich late in  the fourth quarter, that was a spectacular act that brought me out of my chair, but it carries the same value as a rejection of Mo Williams in the first quarter(depending on the likelihood of the ball going through the basket were it not blocked, of course).

But in baseball a caught fly ball in the field of play can carry wildly different win probability values.  A ball caught over the fence, to use an extreme example, carries a  lot more importance than a can of corn caught in short right field.

If you start trying to give weight to basketball plays according to when they occurred, you end up with a situation where you devalue certain acts that are just as valuable, and indeed are sometimes the proximate cause of the perceived “high value” of the latter “clutch”acts.

For instance, going back to Bogut’s missed bunny compared to Moute’s, had Moute made his earlier basket it would have created an entirely different universe.  A Moute make in the earlier situation makes Bogut’s miss in the latter less costly and vice versa.

Perhaps the creators of the statistic will account for all that.  I’m skeptical.  I’m not sure how, or if they will even take it into account.

Dollars to donuts says the statistic somehow ends up overglorifying (my new made up word) the achievements of one certain Californian who comes by way of Philly, and I don’t mean this one.  I mean the one from Lower Marion High School.


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