Stephen Curry and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf?

As usual, Phil Jackson made another interesting tweet today:

And, as usual received many criticisms from “Experts”, who just looked at the raw numbers from each players, and saw that there is just no way such a statement is justified, but it is not that simple!

When you compare two players (or two objects) who have very different data feature values, it is not that they can’t be compared, you must effectively normalize the data somehow to make the sets comparable.

In this case, I used the data from Basketball-Reference.com to compare Chris Jackson’s 6 seasons in Denver to Stephen Curry’s last 6 seasons (including this one) and took into account 45 different statistical measures, and came up with the following correlation matrix/similarity matrix plot:

  

 
Dark blue circles indicate a strong correlation, while dark red circles indicate a weak correlation between two sets of features. 

What would be of interest in an analysis like this is to examine the diagonal of this matrix, which offers a direct comparison between the two players: 

  
One can see that there are many features that have strong correlation coefficients. 

Therefore, it is true that Stephen Curry and Chris Jackson do in fact share many strong similarities! 

The Effect of Individual State Election Results on The National Election

A short post by me today. I wanted to look at the which states are important in winning the national election. Looking at the last 14 presidential elections, I generated the following correlation plot:

  
For those not familiar with how correlation plots work, the number bar on the right-hand-side of the graph indicates the correlation between a state on the left side with a state at the top, with the last row and column respectively indicating the national presidential election winner. Dark blue circles representing a correlation close to 1, indicate a strong relationship between the two variables, while orange-to-red circles representing a correlation close to -1 indicate a strong anti-correlation between the two variables, while almost white circles indicate no correlation between the two variables.

For example, one can see there is a very strong correlation between who wins Nevada and the winner of the national election. Indeed, Nevada has picked the last 13 of 14 U.S. Presidents. Darker blue circles indicate a strong correlation, while lighter orange-red circles indicate a weak correlation. This also shows the correlation between winning states. For example, from the plot above, candidates who win Alabama have a good chance of winning Mississippi or Wyoming, but virtually no chance of winning California.

This could serve as a potential guide in determining which states are extremely important to win during the election season!

 

A Series of Lectures on Fine-Tuning in Biology

A recent lecture and a series of interviews has been posted online where cosmologist George F.R. Ellis discusses the issue of fine-tuning in biology at considerable length and in considerable detail. Of course, the larger theme here is that to discuss and understand things like Darwinian evolution properly, one needs to have an understanding of the underlying physics, as it is laws of physics that allow life to emerge and for Darwinian evolution to occur in the first place. Here are the lectures:

 

 

 

 

 

Notes on Dynamical Systems

A big part of my research involves dynamical systems theory. A lot of people don’t know what this is, at least, they don’t have a very good idea. It has not helped that the vast majority of Canadian university physics programs have deemphasized classical mechanics and differential equations, but that is an another story! 

Anyways, here are some notes describing what they are and how they work. 

Click the image for the full notes in PDF form.
Click the image above for the rest of the notes.

On Gravitational Waves

Since I expect the concept of gravitational waves to once become very popular in the next few days, I wrote some quick notes on them, I.e., where they come from. They are handwritten, as I didn’t have time to LaTeX them, but, hopefully, they’ll be useful to interested readers! 

Also note that, gravitational waves are not necessarily evidence of inflation. I wrote a paper a few years ago, describing a anisotropic early universe that had an epoch of plane waves that isotropized to our present-day universe. It can be seen here. It was subsequently published in Physical Review D. 

Anyways, here are the notes (Interested readers should see the classic texts by Misner, Thorne, Wheeler, Landau and Lifshitz, or Stephani for more details). 

   
    
 

Equations Published in a Cosmology Textbook

One of my earliest works was deriving equations which themselves were forms of Einstein’s field equations that described the state of the early universe, which may have had dominant viscous effects. I was delighted to learn that these equations were published in Springer’s Handbook of Spacetime Cosmology textbook.

Here is a snapshot of the textbook page citing these equations:

image1

 

The Three-Point Shot Delusion

The vast majority of NBA analysts claim today that the NBA has changed. It has become more fast-paced, and there is a significantly greater emphasis on teams attempting more three point shots. The evidence for this is the repeated recital of the fact that over the last number of years, the average three-point attempt rate has increased. An example of such an article can be found here. 

It is my hypothesis that this is all based on a very shallow analysis of what is actually going on. In particular, there are more than 60 variables on Basketball-Reference.com that classify each team’s play. It seems strange that analysts have picked out one statistic, noticed a trend, and have made conclusions ushering in the “modern-day” NBA. As I will demonstrate below, using concepts from statistical and machine learning, many things have been missed in their analyses. What is even more strange is that there have been an increasing number of articles claiming that, for example, if teams do not shoot more three point shots, they will probably not make the playoffs or win a championship. Examples of such articles can be found here, here, and here.

I will now demonstrate why all of these analyses are incomplete, and why their conclusions are wholly incorrect.

Using the great service provided by Basketball-Reference.com, I looked at the last 15 seasons of  every NBA team, looking at more than 60 predictor variables that classified each team’s performance in the season. Some of these included: MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS PTS/G oG oMP oFG oFGA oFG% o3P o3PA o3P% o2P o2PA o2P% oFT oFTA oFT% oORB oDRB oTRB oAST oSTL oBLK oTOV oPF oPTS oPTS/G MOV SOS SRS ORtg DRtg Pace FTr 3PAr TOV% ORB% FT/FGA  TOV% DRB% FT/FGA, where a small “o” indicates a team’s opponent’s statistics.

What classifies a playoff team?

Building a classification tree, I wanted to analyze what factors specifically lead to a team making the playoffs in a given season. I found the following:

fullstatspoffstree

(For this classification tree, the misclassification error rate was 2.73% indicating a good fit to the data.)

 

At the top of the tree, we see that the distinguishing factor is the average MOV/”Margin of Victory” measured per game. Teams that on average beat their opponents by more than 2.695 points are predicted to make the playoffs, while teams that on average lose by more than 1.825 points are predicted to not make the playoffs. Further, the only factor relating to three-point shooting  in this entire classification tree is the o3PA, which is the number of opponent 3-point attempts per game. For example, suppose a team can has an average MOV of less than -0.54 but greater than -1.825. If that team’s opponent attempts more than 16.0732 3-point shots per game, the team is expected to make the playoffs. In this particular case, getting your opponent to take a lot of three point shots is indeed desirable, and leads to the expectation of a team making the playoffs.

 

What classifies a championship team?

The next question to analyze is what characteristics/features classify a championship team. Looking at the last 20 years of playoff data, we see that the following classification tree describes the championship criteria for a given NBA playoff team.

championshiplotnew

(The learning error rate was 1.172% indicating an excellent fit to the data). One sees that at the very top is a team opponent’s field goal percentage (OFG.). If the average per game OFG% is greater than 44.95%, that team is predicted to not win a championship. Further, there are apparently three predicted paths to a championship:

  1. OFG% < 44.95 –> ORtg (Opponent Team Points Scored per 100 possessions) < 108.55 –> FT% < 73.5% –> Opponent Offensive Rebounds per game (OORB) < 30.2405 –> Personal Fouls per game (PF) < 24.1467
  2. OFG% < 44.95 –> ORtg > 108.55 –> O3P% < 32.45%
  3. OFG% < 44.95 –> ORtg > 108.55 –> O3P% > 32.45% –> AST > 19.9076 –> OAST < 19.0938

This shows once again that the three point shot is not at all relevant in winning a championship amongst playoff teams, in that, shooting a lot of threes, or playing as a “modern” team, does not uniquely determine a team’s success. What is tremendously important is defense, and offensive efficiency, and there are multiple ways to achieve this. One does not need to be a prolific three-point shooting team to achieve these metrics. 

 

Conclusions

The increasing  trend of teams shooting more threes and playing at a higher pace still does not uniquely determine whether a team will make the playoffs or win a championship, which is why I have called it a “delusion”. Indeed, the common statement that “nowadays, teams that make the playoffs also have the highest number of three-point shot attempts” is a very shallow statement, and is not actually why teams make the playoffs as this analysis very clearly shows. Further, attempting more three-point shots is not at all uniquely indicative of a team’s success in winning a championship.