I’m not sure if it comes through in my condescending tone or consistently judgmental world-view, but I support my basketball blogging habit working as an elementary school teacher. Both pursuits are challenging, rewarding and intellectually stimulating, but the nature of each means there is generally very little crossover. Over the past year however, I’ve been looking for ways to bring my hobby and professional life closer together. The latest iteration of that pursuit is a project I helped start this summer at Hickory-High called the K-12 Analytic Challenge. This project aims to get students engaged with scientific reasoning and mathematical argumentation through basketball analytics. Every few weeks we’ve been posting a basketball question and asking students to submit answers supported by statistics.
I’m sharing this project, not (entirely) for shameless self-promotion, but because in preparing the latest challenge I stumbled across a Dallas Mavericks story I had missed from last season. The most recent challenge asked students “Who will win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award for the 2012-2013 season?” Each challenge also comes with a set of scaffolded hints designed to make the project accessible to students with all levels of statistical sophistication. In putting together one of those hints I pointed out that one group of players who often win the Most Improved Player Award are those who have been very effective in limited minutes the season before, and are then given a big bump in minutes the next season. These players don’t really improve, so much as they are given more opportunities to show off their skills — think Ryan Anderson last season or Kevin Love the season before.
In guiding students to use this line of thinking in the challenge, I used a search from Basketball-Reference’s Play Index to generate an example list of players who fit that set of circumstances for this season. I was looking for players who had been very productive in limited minutes last season, and who might have the opportunity to play a larger role this year. I set the criteria for my search as players 25 and under, who had played more than 500 minutes and less than 1200 minutes with a minute per game average below 25.0. If you sort the results by PER you find a Brandan Wright second from the top.