Charles Barkley fired shots at Daryl Morey, the stathead Houston Rockets GM, calling him and anyone who uses a great deal of analytics and sabermetrics an “idiot.” Once again, we have the old school “eye test only” vs. the new school stathead and numbers showdown.
To me, it seems pretty clear that in basketball, stats are not everything. As Bill Simmons always reminds us about Isiah Thomas, Isiah thought that the “secret” to success in the NBA was that it wasn’t about basketball. It was about how the individual guys on a team all clicked. Anything that intangible, whether confidence, chemistry, or whatever a guy ate for breakfast that morning, should theoretically show up in the stats when measuring how a team plays together, but obviously stats can’t measure everything when determining player moves. It’s nearly impossible to accurately gauge how a guy on one team will play when he’s on another surrounded by different guys, so clearly stats are not the be all end all.
That being said, the fact that Chuck just dismissed stats is ri-dik-a-luss. Just turrable. He pointed out that the Houston Rockets are the definition of a team who was built entirely around stats, meaning that they’ll win a round or 2 in the playoffs but then not be a real contender. That’s fair, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rockets failed, even when looking from a purely old school perspective. Dwight Howard has everyone around the league thinking he’s a pussy and trying to punk him, and James Harden sometimes tries to guard his man on the court about as much as I try to guard the guy from my couch. I could definitely see that team failing when the going gets tough in the playoffs.
But what about last year’s champs, the San Antonio Spurs? While the Houston Rockets are good but not elite in John Hollinger’s advanced team stats, at 12th in offensive efficiency but 7th in defensive efficiency, last year’s Spurs actually were elite in those same stats. In offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, and assist ratio, they were 6th, 4th, and 1st, respectively. In effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, they were 2nd and tied for 2nd.
So yeah, stats suck. I can understand Sir Charles’ apprehension to stats when trying to build a team and making all the puzzle pieces fit, but he went way too far with his criticism of all stats and anyone who focuses a lot on statistics. There’s a reason that Barkley is incredibly entertaining and very enlightening on the way that players think, what NBA life is like, and the mentality that a team needs to have, but he should not be the primary voice of reason for the finer details of how to measure an NBA team.