Ceci N’est Pas Une Metric


The moment the first basketball players made some helpless nerd write down the final score of their games, the analytics movement was born. Surely these first box scores — now lost to the sands of time — were the analytical equivalent of the Lascaux cave paintings: rudimentary, crude, conveying only the most abstract impression of the game as it existed on the court.

In the quest for clarity, more and more categories of statistic were invented and recorded, all in an effort to better represent the game: rebounds, assists, blocks, field goal percentage. Eventually: effective field goal percentage, offensive rating, defensive rating, player efficiency rating. And now: estimated player value and real plus-minus.

As introduced by ESPN, one of the goals of real plus-minus is to reduce the noise that clutters standard plus-minus stats. It’s another step towards ever greater fidelity in the numbers, bringing the box score closer and closer to photographic replication of the game, to a high definition representation of the sport itself.

But what about the absurd?

Surely there’s no metric that can adequately convey this:


No all-in-one statistic that can explain this:


There never has been. Until now.

Allow me to introduce surreal plus-minus. Let’s take a quick tour through some games from this past season and see how surreal plus-minus can help us understand them.

The final score of the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors game played on April 4 was 69-102, but as we’ve learned, that score can only tell you so much. Delving deeper, we can see that the Kings managed just 27 points in the entire first half. Go still deeper and we can see that Ray McCallum was 0-7 from the field with two turnovers and a raw plus-minus of -35. But that’s not deep enough: If you check his surreal plus-minus, you can see it’s a kitten swaddled in masking tape and placed delicately at the top of a tower of canned garbanzo beans.

Or consider the Knicks-Lakers game from March 25 where the Lakers scored 51 points in the third quarter alone. The traditional box score will tell you that Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly were each a staggering +24 off the bench, but surreal plus-minus will show you that during that phenomenal third quarter, they were an apple cut neatly in half to reveal a shockingly accurate reproduction of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” painted with painstaking care by ants using miniature sable brushes.

J.R. Smith’s league-leading surreal plus-minus is an eyeball with an egg cracked over it that two aging nuns are squabbling over outside of a scale replica of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore built entirely of celery. Although he’s now out with an injury, just behind Smith is another Knick, Andrea Bargnani, whose surreal plus-minus for the season is a man wearing his suit inside out inside of a lemon that’s stapled to the side of the Empire State Building wreathed in fire during a torrential rainstorm.

With a little elbow grease, surreal plus-minus can be applied across a player’s entire career to provide a more accurate picture of their game — more accurate even than watching every minute of game footage they’ve compiled in most cases. For example, here is JaVale McGee’s career surreal plus-minus:


And here’s his Denver teammate Anthony Randolph’s career surreal plus-minus:


There’s no witchcraft here, folks. This is no proprietary statistic gleaned from sources like SportVU or biofeedback monitors that only a select few have access to. In fact, here is the fairly straightforward formula for calculating surreal plus-minus:

√this apartment * uoɔɐq + (♬ – tmFG/tmFTA) * 1/min % {brown loafer + tic-tac}

Most new stats are introduced with the caveat that they are imperfect, that even in their new comprehensiveness they are still woefully inadequate to the task of encompassing a total assessment of a player. But that’s weak. This isn’t just the tip of some freaky iceberg. Surreal plus-minus is a sense-rending bolt of complete and total comprehension, a world-altering inversion of space and time that terrifies small children and pets alike, dragging slack-jawed and goggle-eyed basketball fans to the precipice of a black hole and then hoisting them bodily over the event horizon and into a bottomless wonder of roses and all of their dead family members embracing them and gently massaging their temples while Seals & Croft’s “Summer Breeze” plays on endless repeat.

Welcome, basketball fans, to the desert of the real. Welcome to surreal plus-minus.


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