Benny “The Eagle”, Vol. 4: The Law of Diminishing Returns
Later in my high school days I transitioned to being a high post or a 4 from my early life as a shooting guard. I wasn’t very tall, but I was a stout young lad who remembered to box out and was willing to commit a dirty foul or two under the basket when necessary. These aren’t necessarily endearing traits to an opponent, but my coaches appreciated it. Given my increased playing time as a high post goon, my coaches decided it was about time to try to give me some semblance of an offensive repertoire to go with it. And thus, the Kramer sky-hook was born. I’d catch the ball at the high elbow of the key, jab step and juke with the left foot, head fake, drive right 2-3 steps and take the Dr. J sky hook from the middle of the charity stripe. MONEY IN THE BANK! The sky hook from the stalky white kid who can’t dribble was as unexpected to defenders as the Spanish Inquisition in a Month Python sketch. NO ONE EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!
For a few games that shot became a great weapon. I was making it consistently with my couple of touches a game. Then came the fateful afternoon that the old proverb, “pride cometh before the fall”, was once again proven true. Instead of taking up my spot at the elbow and knowing my role, I started trying to make my “move” wherever I got the ball and hilarity ensued. You could have dubbed in the Benny Hill theme to my highlight reel that day. You haven’t LIVED until you’ve seen a thick white kid attempt a sky hook from 25 feet half a dozen times. What had been a good weapon when used sparingly became an embarrassment when used at a higher clip. The law of diminishing returns expressed in player efficiency bit me in the butt.
Efficiency is seemingly as nebulous a term in basketball as “clutch hitter” or “game manager” are in MLB or NFL. Everyone knows what it means, and no one has any idea what it really means. There seems to be a couple prominent formulas for determining what a player is really producing.
The NBA formula (EFF) that they tout and publish themselves is pretty straight forward:
Simply add up all the positive counting stats, subtract the negative counting stats and divide that total by the player’s total games played. I’m sure this is a way of determining what a player gives you on a game by game basis, but it doesn’t take into account at all a player’s minutes. Reserves and rotation players will naturally have a much lower score than players that play a full 32-40 minutes per game. It’s almost more of a formula for determining MVP candidates than determining a player’s actual “efficiency”. It would seem efficiency would be much better determined on a per minute basis than per game if you want to compare players from an equal baseline. So, enter John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER):
Well, obviously, that makes way more sense…
There are times that Masters studies in Humanities come in really handy, but equations like this make me wish I had leaned a little further into my interests in quantum physics. I have faith that Mr. Hollinger has some idea what he’s talking about in developing this behemoth, but again, it’s one of those numbers that is interesting to use to compare players more than it’s actually helpful to tell you anything about their play. The data set is just too dense to draw much from the actual score.
To put it in simple terms, if a player plays more minutes their EFF is almost certain to rise significantly, while their PER could stay about steady. The part of efficiency that isn’t easily measured or projected, may in fact be the most important thing to take note of. It’s great if a player’s minutes and usage increase with an improved role on their team, but this often equates to lower efficiency as well, due to stiffer competition against starters. There’s no good way to project how much efficiency will get affected, it’s one of those “gut feel” statistical adjustments. You can’t just assume that because a guy has been scoring at a fantasy point per minute clip as the eighth man in his team’s rotation, that an elevation to a starting role will automatically take him from 20 points per game to 40 that night. We all know it, but it’s hard to project what the effect will actually be. Thankfully Drew and Mike have much more intelligent guts than I do. That’s where knowing the actual talent of players beyond their stats makes a big difference in accurate projections. I think this is what is still baffling me a bit, and leading to some struggles: these NBA names are still just numbers to me at this point.
Take for example the Dallas Mavericks of a week ago. EVERYONE was injured. Dirk Nowitzki, JJ Barea, Devin Harris, and Deron Williams were all out. When they faced Memphis, there were a handful of sub 4k players on DraftKings guaranteed significant minutes. Wesley Matthews and Justin Anderson each played over 30 minutes. “Who the heck are Wesley and Justin? I have no idea, but they’re playing 30 minutes at minimum salary. GIVE ME ALL THE WES-TIN!” It seemed that given increased roles that they were sure to get 5-6x value. And of course, in 63 minutes playing time they combined for 15-8-3. The Mavs as a team barely cracked 60 points by the end of the blood bath. Memphis is a tough defensive matchup and given Dallas was starting a roster full of D-leaguers they accomplished what they deserved to, shooting about .300 that night. I was the sucker that bought in on increased minutes, usage that had to go somewhere, and totally neglected to account for decreased efficiency.
- Total Entries this week: $30
- Total Winnings this week: $17
- Net total this week: $-13
- Bankroll: $199.30
Unfortunately, this week was my worst of the season so far and that $50 GPP win from a month ago has finally been wiped out. I’m basically back down to break even on the season now. Much of this loss was on the back of a number of hastily constructed lineups built after days full of board meetings this past week. I didn’t have time for research, just plugged in some lineups after 5 minutes of fooling around with the optimizer and got what I deserved. There’s no substitute for doing the work kids. Hopefully a more normal paced week gets me back in the money.