A Mr. Thorpe has written an article on ESPN (Insider, but it’s a free preview for we plebeians) entitled, “Rookie Watch: Which veterans should the rookie class study?” The article is a reasonably interesting read, but largely consists of the author recommending each of 22 rookies attempt to add dimensions to their game that are possessed by 22 veteran players. For example, Mr. Thorpe suggests that Kevin Durant adopt some of Allen Iverson’s “fire”, and that Thaddeus Young study Kevin Garnett’s “intensity”… I am not sure, however, why Garnett’s “intensity” would be better for Young than Iverson’s “fire.” Which brings me to my central critique of the article, and many others like it: the comparisons are entirely subjective and appear to be made in an arbitrary or convenient way. Of course, this is where statistics might help.
Using the same methodology as previously, I’ve put together a similarity network for this year’s NBA season, with all of Mr. Thorpe’s rookies (except for Greg Oden, who has not played) highlighted. I cannot advise any of these players which specific veterans to emulate, except to recommend they learn to score like Michael Jordan, pass like John Stockton, rebound like Dennis Rodman and defend like Hakeem Olajuwon. Instead, we can learn the non-rookies in the league to whom the rookies are the most statistically similar, which may in itself be informative. Al Horford, for example, somewhat similar to Anderson Varejao, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Drew Gooden, might be a good fit in Cleveland someday. K [pdf]evin Durant, proximate to Dirk Nowitzki, might do well to learn from the flaws in Nowitzki’s game, that he might obviate them. Joakim Noah, seems to have already found his niche in the ecosystem along with Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace.
2007-08 NBA similarities, with rookies highlighted [pdf]