A Stat for Bruce Bowen
In the obituaries written for the career of Bruce Bowen, you were likely to find something along these lines:
Judging by his statistics, Bruce Bowen is not good at anything. And yet, he managed to remain a key contributor in the NBA for more than a dozen seasons.
Seriously, look at his stats…most statistics show that Bruce Bowen contributed nothing to an NBA team.
And this from a well-reasoned article in favor of hoisting Bowen’s jersey high above the AT&T Center floor.
But Bowen is anything but a failed basketball player. Not even the most anti-Spurs cynic would hit him with that label. Instead, traditional box scores fail Bowen.
I was happy to learn of a statistical model which does not fail Bowen.
Steve Ilardi has had my ear (more on this in the coming weeks) of late. In response to my bemoaning the absence of a single measure that communicated Bowen’s actual worth, Ilardi kindly pointed me toward Bruce Bowen’s defensive adjusted plus-minus.
The plus-minus is, cribbing a line from Steve, a “stat [that] simply keeps track of the net changes in score when a given player is either on or off the court.” He continues:
Unfortunately, however, the plus-minus stat doesnâ€™t always fare particularly well in the messy real world of NBA basketball. For one thing, some players spend most of their time on the court in the company of very good teammates, while others frequently play in tandem with much weaker players. The plus-minus stat doesnâ€™t account for these inequities at all. Likewise, some guys always find themselves matched against the opponentâ€™s best players, while others more often face the opposing teamâ€™s second unit. Thatâ€™s another big problem as far as the plus-minus stat is concerned.
Enter the adjusted plus-minus: “it reflects the impact of each player on his teamâ€™s bottom line (scoring margin), after controlling statistically for the strength of every teammate and every opponent during each minute heâ€™s on the court.”
Steve Ilardi would know. He helped pioneer the model while on staff with the Kansas Jayhawks. And he’s a contributor to the database at 82games.com.
He wrote this by way of email: “In my latest adjusted plus-minus (APM) model for the 08-09 season, Bowen had…a stellar Defensive APM rating of +4.10 per 100 [possessions]. Â This placed him among the top handful of perimeter defenders in the league.”
My first thought was great, and, wait, last year? The same year we all filed Bowen into the but-has-lost-a-step folder?
Dr. Ilardi concluded with this postscript:
I just went back and looked at Bowen’s Defensive APM in a six-year average model (all seasons evenly weighted from 2003-2009).Â His Defensive APM number of +2.95 was 4th best among perimeter (non-big) starters/high-minute guys over that span.Â He only trailed [Ron] Artest (+5.09), [Shane] Battier (+3.92), and (ironically enough) [Manu] Ginobili (+3.24).