Google Analytics

March 02, 2008

Why I Hate Ben Gordon

From my vantage point, it's often difficult to observe the nuances within a basketball game. While Section 312 of the United Center offers an enjoyable perch to take in a game, it lacks the advantage of slow-motion replays or a courtside perspective. The intensity in the voice of the head coach, the subtle grabbing of jerseys in the low post, the eye contact between players on a developing fast break... All of these aspects of the game elude me as I peruse the action from the upperdeck. However, over the years, I have continued to follow the ups and downs of this team, compiling observations and formulating opinions from my bird's eye view. And one thing has become increasingly clear.

I hate Ben Gordon.

Obviously, this is only regarding the game of basketball. I have never met Ben Gordon, nor have I heard stories that would sway my opinion of him as a person. But he isn't getting paid millions of dollars to be my friend. He's getting paid to play basketball. And in that respect, he's failing me miserably.

Now, I will spare you the traditional complaints that are typically levied at this point. It is well documented that Ben Gordon's size and defensive abilities are a liability in the backcourt, creating mismatches for opponents and forcing Kirk Hinrich to expend his energy chasing opposing shooting guards. And with Ben Wallace's departure, the shivers in my spine are all the evidence I need to know that nobody on the Bulls frightens me more putting the ball on the floor than Ben Gordon. But no, the source of my frustration is in his supposed strength. Ben Gordon is failing me as a scorer.

The main responsibility of a primary scorer, which is how Gordon sees himself, is to provide the team with not only a spark, but an anchor to lean on. However, box score after box score, Gordon finds himself all over the scoring spectrum. His supporters will describe this phenomenon by saying Gordon is "explosive" on the offensive end, able to catch fire and drain shots from any point on the floor. But one man's "explosive" is another man's "erratic". Personally, I like to call it volatility. And like any chemistry experiment, as every sports team is, volatility can prove disastrous to a team already teetering on the brink of a long off-season.

So how volatile is Ben Gordon? That is what I wanted to find out. Charting the per-game point totals throughout the season, Gordon has amassed 951 points for an average of 19.4 points per game. Nothing too shocking. I then calculated the standard deviation for the data, a mathematical measure of statistical consistency. For Ben Gordon, the resulting standard deviation (stdev) was 8.8 points, or 45% of his per-game average (what I will call his volatility). Simply put, there is approximately a 68% chance that Ben Gordon will score 19.4 plus or minus 8.8 points in any given game.

Without any context, this number appears meaningless. Is this good? Is this bad? How do other players stack up? Well, I'm glad you asked. Here is Gordon compared to a couple other players you may recognize:
  • Ben Gordon: 19.4 ppg, 8.8 stdev, 45% volatile
  • LeBron James: 30.3 ppg, 7.7 stdev, 25% volatile
  • Kobe Bryant: 28.2 ppg, 9.2 stdev, 32% volatile
Of course, it is probably unfair to compare Gordon to these two players. After all, James and Bryant are battling it out for MVP honors this season. But I do find it interesting that Bryant, who is universally renowned as "explosive" displays a more consistent point total than Gordon, even with his frequent 40+ point games. Regardless, let's lower the bar from this lofty height and see what we find. How does Gordon compare to another undersized shooting guard (Allen Iverson) and the shooting guard I wanted the Bulls to draft two seasons ago (Brandon Roy)?
  • Ben Gordon: 19.4 ppg, 8.8 stdev, 45% volatile
  • Allen Iverson: 26.9 ppg, 7.2 stdev, 27% volatile
  • Brandon Roy: 19.3 ppg, 6.9 stdev, 36% volatile
Still not looking good for Ben. Iverson shows surprising consistency for his style of play. And Roy has provided that anchor to the upstart Blazers. Both players come across as more solid offensive players than Gordon. Shall we lower the bar even farther? How about two players that are scoring about the same as Gordon... one, a rookie that you would expect to be inconsistent and the other, a familiar face to long-time Bulls fans:
  • Ben Gordon: 19.4 ppg, 8.8 stdev, 45% volatile
  • Kevin Durant: 19.3 ppg, 6.3 stdev, 34% volatile
  • Jamal Crawford: 20.7 ppg, 7.6 stdev, 37% volatile
Look at those numbers again. Ben Gordon, now in his 4th year, is more inconsistent than a rookie and a player that Chicago fans turned on years ago. Not exactly a good sign for the supposed offensive leader of this team. Now, after going through these numbers, I wanted to believe I was wrong. I wanted to believe that this had to be some anomaly in the data. So I went back over Gordon's entire career, performing the same calculations for each season. Here is what I found:
  • '07-'08: 19.4 ppg, 8.8 stdev, 45% volatile
  • '06-'07: 21.4 ppg, 9.4 stdev, 44% volatile
  • '05-'06: 16.7 ppg, 8.4 stdev, 50% volatile
  • '04-'05: 15.4 ppg, 7.2 stdev. 47% volatile
Those numbers seem rather consistent, don't they? Could it be that this is just the player that Ben Gordon is - capable but mind-numbingly frustrating? Now in his 4th year, Gordon should be showing some sort of signs that he can be counted on to carry this team without disappearing for games at a time, especially for the $10+ million per year he's expected to seek in free agency this summer. With this thought, I took one more approach. Gordon, to be fair, has been pulled in and out of the starting lineup, often playing for entire games or fighting for minutes. Perhaps Ben's inconsistencies are merely a factor of his inconsistent playing time. So I created more plots, this time normalizing each of Gordon's games as a 48 minute affair, eliminating the variable of minutes played. And what do the per-48-minute statistics show:
  • '07-'08: 26.7 ppg, 10.6 stdev, 40% volatile
  • '06-'07: 30.5 ppg, 11.7 stdev, 38% volatile
  • '05-'06: 25.4 ppg, 10.3 stdev, 41% volatile
  • '04-'05: 29.6 ppg, 12.4 stdev. 42% volatile
Some of the variability seems to have been removed, but even a normalized Ben Gordon in his best season still provides less consistency than Jamal Crawford! And he doesn't seem to be improving. This is just who Ben Gordon is as a basketball player. And again, I have not even touched upon Gordon's defensive deficiencies or propensity for turnovers. This is purely an evaluation of his "strength". On a running team as a 3rd or 4th option (like Phoenix, perhaps), Ben Gordon could prove valuable. But to base your scoring on this undersized shooting guard is tempting the fates... you never know which Ben is going to show up.

Fortunately, the likelihood that the other 29 GMs in the league read this blog is minimal at best, and it only takes one to believe Gordon is the missing piece to their championship puzzle. I hope John Paxson understands this and takes appropriate action this summer, spinning Gordon into a backup point guard, rebounder, or draft picks. Based on the numbers, there is only one way Ben Gordon can be counted on to help this team after this lost season: sign-and-trade.

No comments: