Dispatches from the Land of (Possibly/Probably Irrelevant) Statistical Intrigue

during the NBA game at US Airways Center on December 14, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.

Utah Jazz v Phoenix Suns

I don’t get to watch games as much as I used to. Don’t get me wrong, I still watch a lot. A ton, if you ask my girlfirend. She finds it perplexing.

But it’s nothing like when I was a kid. In middle and high school, NBA games were the soundtrack and background to just about every piece of homework I finished. The C-Webb/Peja/Bibby/Vlade Kings more or less got me through freshman Biology.

As an adult, my schedule just doesn’t allow for it. The bulk of lots of nights and weekend afternoons are claimed by other adult stuff. It’s a bummer.

To stay current, last year, I started scrolling through each box score of the night before I went to bed. Along the way, something cool happened: Reading box scores became strangely fun in its own right.

There are two things I’ve found particularly appealing about this.

First, reading box scores as a fan is a little like reading books as a kid: your imagination is always more magical than reality. On Sunday, J.R. Smith went 3-14 on 3s against Miami. I have no idea what these shots looked like in real life. I don’t want to know. I’m sure what’s in my head is more fun. Did he not pull up for a 30 footer on a 3-on-1 break? Actually, don’t tell me.

Second, sorting through stats is a delightfully nerdy investigative exercise. Any given night in the NBA produces thousands and thousands of pieces of data. A few dozen nuggets are important, the kind of suggestive numbers that point towards team or player trends. I like trying to spot these. It makes me feel smart. But, the real thrill come from Sherlocking the couple of gems that are really historical. They’re always out there, needles in haystacks. Cutting through the clutter  to find them is my own bedtime Sudoku.

Case in point, last night, I was getting towards the end of the evening’s box scores when I hit the Bucks – Jazz game, a 109-108 OT win for Milwaukee. I started perusing the numbers, looking first at the Jazz’s stats. Here is a general representation of my train of thoughts.

stats

 

  1. Derrick Favors took 20 shots. That’s a ton of shots for Derrick Favors! That’s probably the most he’s ever taken in a game. (It is. By a lot. His previous high was 15. I nailed it, though to be fair, this one was easy.)
  2. Utah only took 13 3s. That seems like very few 3s! I wonder if that’s very few 3s. Is that very few 3s? (It is, kinda… Memphis is last in the league at 13.7 3s attempted per game. But, Utah ranks 26th,  and only averages 16.6 per night, so this isn’t that abberant for them. Kind of a whiff here.)
  3. I wonder if Jamaal Tinsely has ever fallen asleep on the Jazz bench….(Probably.)
  4. Whoa! 3 Jazz starters didn’t score! That’s ridonk-a-donk-ulous, right? That has to be historic!

Naturally, since it’s 2013, I took to Twitter to share this last observation (you should totally follow me at @SuchAGoodman…), it being such a stud find:

 


 

And here’s the thing: Unbeknownst to me, Elias Sports Bureau was actually working on a piece to tell us that is was!

I woke up this morning an email from my friend Jason (who had seen my Tweet and happens to work for ESPN Stats & Information) with a link to this morning’s “Elias Says…” article.

 

Elias says 1

 

34 years and it never happened, then twice in two weeks! And I found it! That’s cool, right!? (As I type this, I’m starting to better understand my girlfriend’s complaints…)

Anyways, this was a long way of saying, NBA games are stories… Or maybe they’re puzzles… Or they’re mysteries… Let’s just say they’re mysteries. Regardless, they’re a lot of fun to follow.

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