April 7, 2020

No Talking Heads, Just Talking Hoops

The Problem With Counting Stats: Andrew Wiggins

So, I’ve been inspired to write this piece after being called a nerd on Twitter:

I want to start off by saying, what exactly is wrong with being a nerd? Nothing. Zip. Nada. I’m a well-rounded person with non-traditional perspectives. I didn’t compete in basketball at a high level, but I did in other sports, and I understand basketball better than most. The notion that you have to have been a D1 college player or NBA vet to talk basketball is a fallacy.

There is such an unjust stigma of statistical analysis in sports in general, but specifically from basketball fans. So often, traditional stats/box scores are used to judge a player’s career and performance. Rarely does a collection of averages paint the full picture. It might sketch it out lightly, but you miss out on all the vibrant shades and colors. The fine detail is nowhere to be seen. Averages are the end point, while analytics help describe how we reach that point.

Obviously analytics are not everything; they’re such a small part of analyzing the game. Watching the way a player does things on the court can never be replaced, however, analytics provide context.

We need context in relationships, movies, video games, music, anything of importance and value requires context to create understanding. EVEN BASKETBALL. Shocking right?

If I’m a nerd for using statistics and metrics, then so be it.

The above tweets were in regards to a tweet about Andrew Wiggins calling him a horrible player.

Both that assessment, and regarding him as an atrocious player, are unfair. Wiggins is a pretty average player, but on paper his counting stats project him as a star. His inefficiencies as a shooter negate much of his effectiveness as a scoring threat.

Wiggins has shot 44% from the field for his career (below league average every year except 15/16) and among wing players, his effective field goal percentage has never been better than the 38th percentile according to Cleaning the Glass. Wiggins is an excellent at rim finisher, but settles for tons of mid range shots (which he’s shooting 36% on this year, yikes). Seems like an easy fix, but this has been Wiggins’ story so far; he can get points, but not in the way a winning team needs him to.

This is not a shit on Wiggins article. The guy clearly has all of the potential in the world, but to say he “puts up 20 points in his sleep,” is a stretch. Wiggins seemingly does fall asleep often in games showing complete disengagement.

He can put up twenty points, sure, but when it takes 24 shots to get there, that’s not efficient. That’s not winning basketball. Those 20 points mean a hell of a lot less. How you get there MATTERS. It impacts your team either positively or negatively.

A player who can “score 20 in his sleep” does it with ease, not by chucking up hapless shots. Wiggins MIGHT still become that player, but he is definitely not that player today. He’s shown flashes of it; the first month of this season and usually 11 or 12 games a year.

I personally can’t stand comparing players, especially off of stats and averages. I think we need to enjoy and respect individual players for their accomplishments and play, not try and divide them into categories based off of numbers. We need to be careful about our use of stats, specifically career averages, because they don’t tell the full story. When we don’t have all of the information or are misinformed, we create false narratives that can harm a player’s legacy, or unfairly build them up.

I want to be fair and honest to every player, because they’re humans just like you or me, they just have a much much more demanding career.

My Point: Stop slandering Wiggins and saying he’s “trash,” does he have an inflated contract? For sure! But, is he the worst player in the league? Hell no, to suggest that is bullshit. And conversely to call him a star is unfair. He’s not there yet, maybe he’ll never get there. I sure hope he does! I think he has a great opportunity to rewrite his narrative in Golden State. But, by hyping him up as something he’s not right now, and shitting on him every time he doesn’t live up to the standard, we do him a massive disservice. I just started sports writing 4 months ago. If you watch me write for 15 seconds and proclaim that I’m going to win a Pulitzer, and then harass me on Twitter when I don’t win the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Sports Journalism, that would be pretty dumb. Do you see the comparison? So chill, on both ends. The box score isn’t everything. Averages don’t tell you who a player is, how they play, and how they impact the game. Analytics and stats should be used as a reference, not a tell-all.

If you have any questions, comments, or opinions let me know down below!

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