Bill Simmons vs. Wayne Winston

In last week’s column about Bill Belichick’s ill-fated decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 on his own 28, Bill Simmons took a shot at Mavs stat-man Wayne Winston.

Which brings us back to statistics. Yes, they enhance the discussion. Many times. (FYI: The “to punt or not to punt” numbers, in general, are interesting. You can make a strong case that good offenses should almost always go for it on fourth-and-short beyond their own 40.) There are also times when statistics make that same discussion dumber. For instance, a former Mavericks statistician named Wayne Winston recently debuted a complicated plus-minus statistic for basketball that included the following two revelations:

1. Kevin Durant made the 2008-09 Zombie Sonics worse.
2. Tim Thomas is underrated.

(Deep breath.)

I don’t want to get into my thoughts about plus-minus data and all the inherent problems with it. Some other time. We’ll ignore the Durant lunacy for now. But to argue, insinuate or even blink that Tim Thomas is underrated — by any metric — cannot be allowed.

He goes on to discuss Thomas’s lack of heart, and how he hurts his team spiritually and emotionally.

Winston got wind of Simmons’ shout out and responded on his blog.

It’s nice to get a look inside the head of one of the numbers guys for an NBA team. Aside for the jarring changes in font type, size and style, it’s an interesting read.

First, Winston responds to Simmons’s assertion that this particular 4th-and-2 was more like a two-point conversion than your typical 4th-and 2.

You point out that less than 40% of two point conversions attempted with passes were successful, so you clearly think that MAKE < .50. I would argue, however, that the short field makes it easy to defend a pass on a two point conversion, so this is not a relevant data point.

Didn’t the Colts know that they were looking at a short pass? There was no one in the backfield so a run was out of the question. There was a small (though unrealistic) chance of a long pass, so while the long field did exist, for the purposes of this play, it was essentially a two-point attempt.

Winston also goes on to defend his opinion that Kevin Durant didn’t help the Thunder all that much in his first two seasons and that Tim Thomas is an above average player. He leans a lot on numbers and not on the qualitative aspects of the game, but that’s what numbers guys are supposed to do. It’s the GM’s job to use common sense and throw the numbers out when necessary.

I’m a numbers guy myself, but I also played college basketball (at the Division III level), so I am well aware that there are a lot of positive (and negative) things that a player can do that don’t show up in the box score. Tim Thomas only plays hard in his contract year. Otherwise, he’s soft, lazy and apathetic.

Kevin Durant is a great basketball player. Whether or not the +/- numbers during his first two seasons bear that out doesn’t matter. He passes the “eye test” with flying colors. And it looks like Winston is a lot higher on KD in his third season.

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