It is a fact, we live in the age of the statistic.
Every sports writer, from those working for Sports Illustrated to the hack on the NBA beat at your local newspaper loves to analyze and pine over stats and use them to support an argument, but sometimes the numbers do lie, or at least allow these scribes to stretch the truth in favor of what they wish to say.
A glittering instance popped up this week on NBA.com, where respected writer John Schuhmann has assigned some meaning to a stat you probably didn’t realize was a statistic, just a cliché word used by coaches and television analysts to describe why a team is or isn’t good; continuity.
That’s right, someone out there has devised a statistical formula to measure a team’s projected continuity and with that comes rankings. By looking at the number of players returning to a given roster, the minutes said players spent on the court last season and the total minutes played, you can come up with a percentage of returning minutes, which then supposedly corresponds to a team’s roster continuity, the theory being the more time on an NBA court a group has spent together, the better their team chemistry will be thus driving up their chances of winning. Good teams stick with what they got, right?
Well, in theory yes, but is there anyone out there who really believes that the Charlotte Bobcats, who Schuhmann notes have the third best continuity numbers in the league in returning 85% of their minutes from last year, will be better than the Brooklyn Nets, who will return just 60% of their minutes this year?
The answer is no. If you have mostly the same guys playing in Bobcats uniforms this season under a new coach with a rookie in the lineup and a new signing who does nothing to address your biggest problem from last year in defense, you can expect much of the same misery that has plagued Bobcat fans over the last decade, that is a fact.
In Brooklyn or New York, where the teams have seen significant changes made to the roster, expectations for playoff basketball will most likely be met, despite those organizations poor rankings in this seemingly meaningless statistical category. The offseason is slow, and as you go into next year ready to make wholehearted predictions about how the season will pan out, it will serve you well to remember that this is the case. Numbers can be skewed at times to say what you want, to reveal surprising information or lend hope to the hopeless.
While the argument for the lowly Bobcats can be defended by looking at the other three teams that populate the top three in continuity (Miami, Oklahoma City and San Antonio), applying any credibility to such a stat is ludicrous. We have to examine how all the other numbers pan out, and after the top four teams the data that this statistical category yields appears completely random.
The truth is, NBA writers, myself included, are bored by the lack of action and are looking for anything to occupy their minds while we wait for basketball’s return. We find things to analyze and project meaning to numbers and factors that don’t necessarily warrant those projections. There are a lot of factors that go into making a quality basketball team, talent and team chemistry are just a part of it. Coaching, fan support and the general happiness of the players also play a factor but there is only opinion and conjecture to support whether a team has some of these disciplines in order. We shouldn’t assign too much meaning to them before we watch an NBA game. So while Charlotte fans should be encouraged to enjoy their NBA basketball, they shouldn’t be led to believe anything good is about to happen to them based on ridiculous numbers conjured out of boredom.