#RealTalk - Beware of Empty Stats

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

#RealTalk - Beware of Empty Stats

NERR readers may have noticed that, this year, we've gotten away from promoting notable performances - that is recognizing or praising big statistical games from individual players.

Why? The Answer is twofold:  

First, we've found high school coaches increasingly willing to exaggerate their players’ statistics in recent years. (We won't do a deep dive on this factor just yet but it's safe to say that we could revisit it as part of a larger issue in a future edition of Real Talk.) 

Second, we've noticed an increased priority on stats over wins. That is, more and more people (players, parents, and coaches alike) are on social media citing statistics in a sentence that ends in "in a loss."

Playing for stats has always been fool’s gold. It’s selfish and often inefficient. The goal of basketball, at its most basic level, is to win the game. It’s a team game. Therefore, when trained evaluators assess prospects, what they're trying to determine is that prospect's ability to impact winning at the next level. 

Far too often players might put up gaudy individual numbers but do so while dominating the ball, making poor decisions, and alienating their teammates. The stat line might look good on social media the next day, but the actual floor game was anything but.

Even more efficient stats are only as good as the sample size and quality of competition, which is a big reason why no high school statistics have ever proven to be a good predictor of future success at subsequent levels (with the EYBL being the only possible exception according to NBA Draft experts).

Furthermore, once players reach that next level, assessing their success simply by checking their stats is both insufficient and also potentially misleading.

College coaches often use the phrase “someone’s got to score.” What that means is that bad teams score points and accumulate stats, but that isn’t validation that they are ready to impact winning at that level.

Far more impressive – a player who continues to compete, play the right way, and make translatable winning plays even when they are surrounded by a negative situation. Put that player in more positive culture and now you’ve got something.

Stats will tell you that someone like Wabissa Bede was over-rated coming out of high school. After all, he only averaged 8 minutes per game as a freshman and is putting up 3 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists this year as a sophomore when others ranked below him are putting up four or five times as many points in other high-major conferences.

And yet, Bede is the starting point guard on an ACC team ranked within the top 10 programs in the country as a sophomore. His numbers might be modest, but they end with “in a win.”

Finally, while advanced analytics have never been more relevant in the game of basketball, that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about basic individual stats, the motivating factors behind them, and the misconceptions they can create for players and families who don’t yet know any better.

Hopefully this can help.