Predicting the future, by analogy

Many times before, I’ve posted network diagrams which I suggest highlight objective similarities between athletes, according only to their statistical production. I’ve also noted that one of the most common discussions, especially around the draft and its aftermath, is that which attempts to identify which current or past professional player is most similar to which draftee. This is done, I believe, to convey some idea of playing style, but also, I think, to convey some idea of an individual’s potential. If a collegiate or recent draft pick gets compared to Michael Jordan instead of Zan Tabak, it means that the comparer thinks the rookie is more of a scoring wing player than a non-scoring center type, and that he has the potential to be a very good player in the NBA, rather than a very good player in Europe.

Thus, I thought it would be useful to do this same sort of comparison, but statistically, rather than subjectively. The main problem I encountered is that one cannot just add a college player’s statistics to a database of pros, match them, and expect the results to be valid. A player who scores 28 ppg in college could turn out to be a prolific scorer in the NBA, but he may also turn out to be Adam Morrison. Even comparisons of two players’ statistics across NCAA teams, I would submit, is shaky, given that college teams are so variable in terms of playing styles and abilities. Nevertheless, that it what I have chosen to do: Compare the collegiate statistical profile’s of some of this year’s draftees to those of other recent draftees, and suggest the inference, by analogy, that their professional careers will be similar to those whom their college careers match. I understand that this is fraught with tenuous connections and weak connections, but given my personal data limitations and relative lack of patience and time, this is what I’ve come up with:


Statistical Proximity of Selected NCAA Basketball Players [pdf]

Incidentally, player vertices are scaled according to their per-game MEV (Model-Estimated Value-similar to the calculation for BoxScores), and colors are according to the Playing Style Trichotomy outlined here. I find it interesting that the algorithm matches Michael Beasley with Kevin Durant, who just had a ROY season. Derrick Rose isn’t directly connected to anyone spectacular, though he is only two degrees of separation from Chris Paul, which is good company. OJ Mayo is tied to Ben Gordon, who is off to a promising start in the NBA, and Rodney Stuckey is most closely matched to Dwyane Wade (perhaps the Pistons used similar methodology in making their pick). Anyway, I’m sure many of you will gain greater insight from the graphic than my own descriptions, so please fill me in with a comment.

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One response to “Predicting the future, by analogy

  1. One of the things we Wolves fans have struggled with is figuring out how well Kevin Love’s game will transfer to the pros. The problem with that is, as your graphic nicely illustrates, that his collegiate game was more of a big blue dot in a purple world that one would think at first glance.

    I recognize that Love’s usage rate to ORtg ratio says that he is an efficient player; so much so that there could have been a legit discussion about his relative worth to Beasley. However, other measurements have him in the Fazekas/Big Baby range, as you clearly indicate, and the trouble then becomes figuring out which group of players Love most strongly correlates with.

    I think there is an aspect of specialization to his game. From the much-hyped outlet pass to his old-fashioned ability to seal the post, he’s getting results with certain methods that just aren’t widely used. Does this specialization lead to inflated results? Is it the driving force behind his efficiency?

    I’d be interested on hearing your take on Love’s game and how he came to be the big blue dot in a purple world. At the very least, metaphorically, it’s a big part of both sides of the Love debate here in Minny: is he a hybrid specialist or is he in over his head?

    Any thoughts would be appreciated.

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