Listen to the Nerds? Basketball Analytics and Lin’s Rise

As the math nerds gather for the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at MIT this weekend, I thought it would be interesting to review some of the advanced statistics on Mr. Jeremy Lin.

For most NBA observers, Lin came out of nowhere. After all, he really didn’t do much in his rookie season with Golden State to give anyone the impression that he could be a starting point guard, let alone even deserve to be in the NBA.

Like everyone else, the analytics community was just as shocked as the rest of us in witnessing Jeremy’s meteoric rise. However, advanced metrics provided early evidence that Lin had the potential to succeed. The basketball nerds were certainly on to something…even if they didn’t know it.

After Lin signed with his hometown Warriors, Golden State of Mind explained that Lin was “more than just hype”, citing his promising Position-Adjusted Win Score (PAWS) stat- which was actually higher than that of the Warriors’ first round pick, Ekpe Udoh. As the writer points out:

“I feel confident in the fact Lin’s PAWS40 is higher than all but 11 players in this draft class, and far better than Ekpe Udoh.”

Even after Lin’s rookie season, a fan post on Golden State of Mind showed that Lin was an efficient player for the Dubs based on a Win Shares/Salary metric.

In addition, Arturo’s Silly Little Stats suggested that the GSW “got some steals in Lin and Adrien (even though they’re not using them)” based on his analysis of preseason performance. Auturo had undrafted Lin in the top 10 of his rookie ranking.

Furthermore, The Wages of Win notes that:

  • Lin accumulated a PAWS of 12.96 in his senior year at Harvard. The average PAWS of college players selected in the NBA Draft is 10.18. If we discount Lin’s PAWS by 20% to account for weaker Ivy competition, it is still above the average draftee’s.
  • In 636 minutes in the D-League last year, Lin put up a 0.211 WP48, totaling 2.8 wins produced.

At the end of the day, though, I would argue that it doesn’t take an expert number cruncher to realize that Lin was very productive in limited action last year. His Per 36 statistics were definitely above average in most categories: 9.6 points/5.3 assists/4.3 reb/4.2 steals/3.2 FTA. Yea, he played a lot in garbage time, but these numbers definitely earned Jeremy a second look by the Warriors.

For the Dubs to cut Lin before Mark Jackson even saw him in practice was premature, to say the very least. If only the Golden State front office had listened to the stat geeks…