Inevitably, in any conversation worth having about basketball you end up making comparisons. What I find extremely interesting is size and weight of the “thumb” that is invariably put on the scale. It’s one of those things that’s always there but it rarely made explicit.
In a recent social media “debate” with my good friend Charles Jones from Born Leader Family, he asserts that Samir Doughty (Auburn/R-Senior) is “easily best college guard [from] our area offensively & defensively.”
That’s a STRONG fuckin’ statement… Indeed, Jones refuses to consider alternative assessments. While I love the energy and analytical rigor he brings to the discussion, I am not ready to concede that his conclusion is accurate.
Jones did make me realize this topic warrants a more serious evaluation. We need to make some things VERY EXPLICIT so we won’t continue the long-standing Philadelphia tradition of talking right past one another.
Toward that end, I want to perform a comparative analysis of some current Philly guards playing NCAA Division 1 basketball. The Below chart is a listing some Philly guards and their “per game” statistics in Division 1 competition.
We chose per game averages instead of career totals for a reason. While interesting and in some ways informative, total stats are really not useful in the present comparative analysis because of the extreme variation in the number of games played. Some have only played as few as 41 and 51 games while others have played in as many as 102 and 107. This wide variation renders a comparison of totals almost meaningless. The per game averages, however, shed some useful light.
An objective comparison of the actual NCAA Division 1 game performance is fairly straightforward. More points, rebounds, assists and steals per game is better than fewer. As far as scoring is concerned, Sam Sessoms is the most prolific scorer over the course of his career which is also the shortest at 43 games.
But… We all know the game is much more than simply scoring points. Other important factors have to be taken into consideration. Keep in mind the objective here is not to identify the “perfect” way of framing the argument and measuring performance. Rather. the goal is to identify “better” ways of framing the argument. We are trying to lay the foundation for future debates and discussions. Most importantly, we want to help the hundreds of new consumers of Black Cager content understand what is often left unsaid.
We take it seriously and do it a little differently at Black Cager Sports Media.
My man Jones leaves very little unsaid… It was a heated dialogue with him that prompted this essay. He rather forcefully put forth the following assertion, “In meaningless basketball (knowing you gonna lose going into games makes it a lot easier to play. No real pressure). As a ranked team coming off a final 4 you getting teams best punch. Big differentiating factor when u expected to win at the highest level and your expected to lose at a Lower level.”
Fair points… Jones has pushed the argument forward on an analytical level. You cannot just look at D1 stats and compare across the board.
At it’s core, his essential point is that when comparing player performance across conferences to determine which is “better” you have to put the “thumb” on the scale…
SEC points > American East points
SEC rebounds > American East rebounds
SEC assists > American East assists
SEC steals > American East steals
Again, fair points…
After establishing this point, Jones can argue that Doughty with NCAA Division 1 performance stats significantly lower than those of Samuel Sessoms, Ryan Daly, Stevie Jordan (Rider) and several other Philly guards is the “BEST” player. In a very straightforward manner, Jones is arguing that 18.4 ppg in the America East is not equal to nor is it a reasonable predictor for scoring in the Big East, ACC, Big 12, PAC 12, Big 10 or SEC.
Basically… He making it very clear that it’s levels to this shit!
And… If you don’t put your “thumb” on the scale for the Big East/ACC/Big 12/PAC 12, Big 10/SEC player… The comparison is unfair to the high major players and more or less useless.
Jones is right..
With aforementioned data one can compare and contrast any two guards. If we limit ourselves to a “simple” compare-and-contrast analysis, in which the data is weighed equally, we make a HUGE assumption that needs to be made explicit.
We assume that all D1 games are equal. That is simply not the case. In this regard, I agree with Jones.
However, the far more interesting and difficult question becomes: Exactly, how heavy should the thumb be?
Let’s walk through two examples. For illustrative purposes, we can conceptualize and measure “impact” per game by simply add the average number of points, rebound, assists and steals per game. This will result is a score for each player we call the Division 1 game “impact” number.
The results are different than our earlier comparison of scoring averages alone. If one compares the resulting impact numbers, Ryan Daley overtakes Sam Sessoms as the leader and Josh Sharkey (Samford) overtakes Tommy Funk (Army). Taking overall performance into account, Daly’s ability to rebound at a significantly higher rate than the others explains his jump in the rankings. Same thing with Sharkey’s ability to steal the ball. Stevie Jordan’s strong overall performance across categories throughout his career at Rider keeps him near the top of the list.
With this data one can compare and contrast any two guards in terms of their performance in NCAA Division 1 games. However, as noted earlier, if we limit ourselves to such a “simple” compare-and-contrast analysis, in which you weigh the data equally, we make a HUGE assumption that needs to be made explicit.
We assume that all D1 games are equal. I agree with Jones, that is simply not the case.As a result, the rankings of Doughty, Quade Green (Kentucky/Washington) and Collin Gillespie (Villanova) suffer.
This brings us back to the question at hand: Exactly, how heavy should the thumb be?
Here we make explicit exactly how much the “thumb” weighs in two different examples. Varying weights assigned to the “thumb” result in significant variations in the rankings. In the first example, we use following multipliers to account for the effect of playing in more competitive leagues/conferences:
We multiply the Impact score times 1 for Low Division 1 leagues.
We multiply the impact score times 1.25 for Mid-major Division 1 leagues.
We multiple the impact score times 1.50 for High-Major Division 1 leagues.
In this way we recognize that it is tougher to be a productive player in the A10 Conference than in the America East Conference. This way of accounting for “League Competitiveness” also recognizes that the SEC Conference is tougher than the A10.
When the strength of the conferences is taken into account in this assessment, Doughty makes the biggest jump in the rankings. He goes from 8th to 3rd. Fatts Russell (Rhode Island) moves from 6th to 4th.
But, this still would be insufficient for some observers. Consider this argument Jones unflinchingly adheres to, “no matter what context you put it in [Doughty] is a better player as a role player and as a primary. More efficient, better defender, better athlete, and is a center piece of winning. I been said the context matters. Meaningful basketball is different. You put it into stats I told u… That [Doughty] is better. You talked about situations and I still told u why. And if you was starting a team and u took any of them players before him you’d prolly [sic] get fired.”
But how does one convincingly substantiate the position that Doughty “no matter what context you put it in [Doughty] is a better player”? You simply cannot discard performance in games.
You have to assume that Doughty has a harder row to hoe…
Statistically, what you have to do is assigned double the weight to every high major point, rebound, assist and steal while holding low to mid-major stats steady. If your rubric assumes that “high major” leagues are twice as difficult as low and mid major leagues, Doughty becomes the clear cut “best” player. See the chart below with such revised Weighted Impact scores.
High major conference impact #s have multiplier of 2. All others have a multiplier of 1. Even when such disparate weight is applied, Daly remains second in the ranking. Passed only by Doughty. Quade Green and Collin Gillespie also surpass all of the low to mid major players on the list.
I’ll be the first to admit that the Big East, ACC, Big 12, Big 10, PAC 12 and SEC conferences are tougher that the low to mid-major conferences. But I’m not willing to assign a weight to the high majors that is twice that assigned to the A10, Mountain West and American.
Jones is right… “It’s levels to this shit!”
However, the differences between the levels are not as large he would have us believe… Doughty may very well be the best Philly Guard in college basketball, but the discussion is definitely unsettled and ongoing.
Black Cager Sports Media thanks him for introducing some much needed nuance and subtlety into discussion usually driven by personal bias and animosity.
We will revisit this topic every few weeks or so.