To begin, here are is my pick/prediction for the 2008 NBA MVP award: Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets. Second most valuable is Kobe Bryant, followed by LeBron James and Paul Pierce. How did I decide this? Read on…
I have discussed the concept of Winshares previously in this space, and I believe that this measure is the most parsimonious and theoretically satisfying way to estimate player value. If you are unfamiliar with the construction, here is the formula:
- valuable contributions = pts + as*2 + tr + st + bk – to
- winshares = (valuable contributions / team valuable contributions) * team wins
The very simple motivating theory is that each player is responsible for some fraction of his team’s success (and here I define success as winning, plain and simple–value is a separate concept from quality or talent, and value in athletics is commonly gauged by game outcomes and the contribution of individuals thereto). The better the player doing the contributing, the more successful the team, and so contributions should be weighted by team success to reward those players whose efforts result in winning.
Picture a team with one player who contributes substantially more than his teammates (say, Minnesota with Al Jefferson, or Cleveland with LeBron James). It stands to reason that win or lose, that player deserves a large share of the credit for that team’s outcomes. Now picture a team for which valuable contributions are more evenly made (say, Chicago, Sacramento, or Boston). It similarly stands to reason that credit for the success of those teams ought to be more evenly attributed to the several players who contribute.
This means that a great player doing all the work for an otherwise very poor team should be worth about the same amount, in terms of wins, as a great player doing a smaller part of the work for an otherwise very good team. This makes sense, both are great players, so both should be able to generate similar levels of success. LeBron James should be approximately as valuable as Kevin Garnett, since although the quality of their teammates is different, so is the amount they are required to contribute to their teams’ success.
So this is how I arrived at my formulation of player value: essentially add up all the good things a player has done for his team, and divide that by the total number of good things his team did. Multiply this percentage by the number of team wins, and there you have it–a per-player number of Winshares.
Now, there are several downsides to this operationalization. It takes no account of intangibles, or anything besides basic boxscore statistics. Kevin Garnett’s incredible intensity defensive leadership doesn’t count in this formulation (except as they are expressed in the boxscore–no doubt they contributed to team wins), so Paul Pierce comes through as slightly more valuable. Keep in mind, however, that this (Pierce for MVP) is what Garnett himself has told us all year long, and also keep in mind that this is not a per-minute or per-possession measure. Garnett played 2329 minutes to Pierce’s 2873, a substantial difference. Garnett had less time to add wins, even though he may have been more valuable per-minute than Pierce. However, for the MVP award, the focus ought to be on total value over the season, not player quality or efficiency. I am as big a Garnett fan as anyone, but no one would argue that injured Gilbert Arenas has been more valuable to the Wizards this year than Jamison or Butler, even if he is more valuable in some per-minute sense (though this is questionable).
The other problem with Winshares is that it does not take into account the specific possessions, minutes or games in which the valuable contributions came. I’m working on this, but in the meantime, you’ll want to use something like plus/minus figures if this is what you’re looking for. This disadvantage is most marked in attempting to measure the value of players traded during the season, but let’s face it–it is unlikely that an MVP-level player will be traded in the midst of an MVP-type season, and it’s even more unlikely that a player who was traded in the midst of the season would be in the running for MVP.
Any questions or critiques on this methodology are welcome, please feel free to leave a comment, but I submit that as far as elegance, parsimony, accessibility, and theoretical validity, Winshares as measured here are an optimal conceptualization of value.
After all that, here is the payoff: I’ve constructed a visualization depicting each player’s value in Winshares: their percent of valuable contributions is depicted on the vertical axis, and team success along the horizontal. Multiplying these two figures together results in Winshares, and each player is listed with their Winshare value and represented as a rectangle, the area of which is exactly proportional to his value. (Color is derived from my favorite way to capture playing type–the RGB scorer/perimeter/interior quasi-trichotomy.)
In a new twist, I’ve got it set up in a Google-Maps-style interface, so you can get as big a picture or as much detail as you’d like. Enjoy! (You’ll probably want to zoom in when the page first loads…)
If that’s not the coolest, most straightforward way to envision basketball value, I don’t know what is!