## What if Michael Jordan Played in Today’s NBA?

It seems that one cannot turn on ESPN or any YouTube channel nowadays without the ongoing debate of whether Michael Jordan is better than Lebron, what would happen if Michael Jordan played in today’s NBA, etc… However, I have not seen a single scientific approach to this question. Albeit, it is sort of an impossible question to answer, but, using data science I will try.

From a data science perspective, it only makes sense to look at Michael Jordan’s performance in a single season, and try to predict based on that season how he would perform in the most recent NBA season. That being said, let’s look at Michael Jordan’s game-to-game performance in the 1995-1996 NBA season when the Bulls went 72-10.

Using neural networks and Garson’s algorithm , to regress against Michael Jordan’s per game point total, we note the following:

One can see from this variable importance plot, Michael’s points in a given game were most positively associated with teams that committed a high number of turnovers followed by teams that make a lot of 3-point shots. Interestingly, there was not a strong negative factor on Michael’s points in a given game.

Given this information, and the per-game league averages of the 2017 season, we used this neural network to make a prediction on how many points Michael would average in today’s season:

Michael Jordan: 2017 NBA Season Prediction: 32.91 Points / Game (+/- 6.9)

It is interesting to note that Michael averaged 30.4 Points/Game in the 1995-1996 NBA Season. We therefore conclude that the 1995-1996 Michael would average a higher points/game if he played in today’s NBA.

As an aside, a plot of the neural network used to generate these variable importance plots and predictions is as follows:

What about the reverse question? What if the 2016-2017 Lebron James played in the 1995-1996 NBA? What would happen to his per-game point average? Using the same methodology as above, we used neural networks in combination with Garson’s algorithm to obtain a variable importance plot for Lebron James’ per-game point totals:

One sees from this plot that Lebron’s points every game were most positively impacted by teams that predominantly committed personal fouls, followed by teams that got a lot of offensive rebounds. There were no predominantly strong negative factors that affected Lebron’s ability to score.

Using this neural network model, we then tried to make a prediction on how many points per game Lebron would score if he played in the 1995-1996 NBA Season:

Lebron James: 1995-1996 NBA Season Prediction: 18.81 Points / Game (+/- 4.796)

This neural network model predicts that Lebron James would average 18.81 Points/Game if he played in the 1995-1996 NBA season, which is a drop from the 26.4 Points/Game he averaged this most recent NBA season.

Therefore, at least from this neural network model, one concludes that Lebron’s per game points would decrease if he played in the 1995-1996 Season, while Michael’s number would increase slightly if he played in the 2016-2017 Season.

## The “Interference” of Phil Jackson

By: Dr. Ikjyot Singh Kohli

So, I came across this article today by Matt Moore on CBSSports, who basically once again has taken to the web to bash the Triangle Offense. Of course, much of what he claims (like much of the Knicks media) is flat-out wrong based on very primitive and simplistic analysis, and I will point it out below. Further, much of this article seems to motivated by several comments Carmelo Anthony made recently expressing his dismay at Jeff Hornacek moving away from the “high-paced” offense that the Knicks were running before the All-Star break:

“I think everybody was trying to figure everything out, what was going to work, what wasn’t going to work,’’ Anthony said in the locker room at the former Delta Center. “Early in the season, we were winning games, went on a little winning streak we had. We were playing a certain way. We went away from that, started playing another way. Everybody was trying to figure out: Should we go back to the way we were playing, or try to do something different?’’

Anthony suggested he liked the Hornacek way.

“I thought earlier we were playing faster and more free-flow throughout the course of the game,’’ Anthony said. “We kind of slowed down, started settling it down. Not as fast. The pace slowed down for us — something we had to make an adjustment on the fly with limited practice time, in the course of a game. Once you get into the season, it’s hard to readjust a whole system.’’

First, it is well-known that the Knicks have been implementing more of the triangle offense since All-Star break. All-Star Weekend was Feb 17-19, 2017. The Knicks record before All-Star weekend was amusingly 23-34, which is 11 games below .500 and is nowhere mentioned in any of these articles, and is also not mentioned (realized?) by Carmelo.

Anyhow, the question is as follows. If Hornacek was allowed to continue is non-triangle ways of pushing the ball/higher pace (What Carmelo claims he liked), would the Knicks have made the playoffs? Probably not. I claim this to be the case based on a detailed machine-learning-based analysis of playoff-eligible teams that has been available for sometime now. In fact, what is perhaps of most importance from this paper is the following classification tree that determines whether a team is playoff-eligible or not:

So, these are the relevant factors in determining whether or not a team in a given season makes the playoffs. (Please see the paper linked above for details on the justification of these results.)

Looking at these predictor variables for the Knicks up to the All-Star break.

1. Opponent Assists/Game: 22.44
2. Steals/Game: 7.26
3. TOV/Game: 13.53
4. DRB/Game: 33.65
5. Opp.TOV/Game: 12.46

Since Opp.TOV/Game = 12.46 < 13.16, the Knicks would actually be predicted to miss the NBA Playoffs. In fact, if current trends were allowed to continue, the so-called “Hornacek trends”, one can compute the probability of the Knicks making the playoffs:

From this probability density function, we can calculate that the probability of the Knicks making the playoffs was 36.84%. The classification tree also predicted that the Knicks would miss the playoffs. So, what is being missed by Carmelo, Matt Moore, and the like is the complete lack of pressure defense, hence, the insufficient amount of opponent TOV/G. So, it is completely incorrect to claim that the Knicks were somehow “Destined for glory” under Hornacek’s way of doing this. This is exacerbated by the fact that the Knicks’ opponent AST/G pre-All-Star break was already pretty high at 22.44.

The question now is how have the Knicks been doing since Phil Jackson’s supposed interference and since supposedly implementing the triangle in a more complete sense? (On a side note, I still don’t think you can partially implement the triangle, I think it needs a proper off-season implementation as it is a complete system).

Interestingly enough, the Knicks opponent assists per game (which, according to the machine learning analysis is the most relevant factor in determining whether a team makes the playoffs) from All-Star weekend to the present-day is an impressive 20.642/Game. By the classification tree above, this actually puts the Knicks safely in playoff territory, in the sense of being classified as a playoff team, but it is too little, too late.

The defense has actually improved significantly with respect to the key relevant statistic of opponent AST/G. (Note that, as will be shown in a future article, DRTG and ORTG are largely useless statistics in determining a team’s playoff eligibility, another point completely missed in Moore’s article) since the Knicks have started to implement the triangle more completely.

The problem is that it is obviously too little, too late at this point. I would argue based on this analysis, that Phil Jackson should have actually interfered earlier in the season. In fact, if the Knicks keep their opponent Assists/game below 20.75/game next season (which is now very likely, if current trends continue), the Knicks would be predicted to make the playoffs by the above machine learning analysis.

Finally, I will just make this point. It is interesting to look at Phil Jackson teams that were not filled/packed with dominant players. As the saying goes, unfortunately, “Phil Jackson’s success had nothing to do with the triangle, but, because he had Shaq/Kobe, Jordan/Pippen, etc… ”

Well, let’s first look at the 1994-1995 Chicago Bulls, a team that did not have Michael Jordan, but ran the triangle offense completely. Per the relevant statistics above:

1. Opp. AST/G = 20.9
2. STL/G = 9.7
3. AST/G = 24.0
4. Opp. TOV/G = 18.1

These are remarkable defensive numbers, which supports Phil’s idea, that the triangle offense leads to good defense.

## Analyzing Lebron James’ Offensive Play

Where is Lebron James most effective on the court?

Based on 2015-2016 data, we obtained from NBA.com the following data which tracks Lebron’s FG% based on defender distance:

From Basketball-Reference.com, we then obtained data of Lebron’s FG% based on his shot distance from the basket:

Based on this data, we generated tens of thousands of sample data points to perform a Monte Carlo simulation to obtain relevant probability density functions. We found that the joint PDF was a very lengthy expression(!):

Graphically, this was:

A contour plot of the joint PDF was computed to be:

From this information, we can compute where/when LeBron has the highest probability of making a shot. Numerically, we found that the maximum probability occurs when Lebron’s defender is 0.829988 feet away, while Lebron is 1.59378 feet away from the basket. What is interesting is that this analysis shows that defending Lebron tightly doesn’t seem to be an effective strategy if his shot distance is within 5 feet of the basket. It is only an effective strategy further than 5 feet away from the basket. Therefore, opposing teams have the best chance at stopping Lebron from scoring by playing him tightly and forcing him as far away from the basket as possible.

## The Relationship Between The Electoral College and Popular Vote

An interesting machine learning problem: Can one figure out the relationship between the popular vote margin, voter turnout, and the percentage of electoral college votes a candidate wins? Going back to the election of John Quincy Adams, the raw data looks like this:

 Electoral College Party Popular vote  Margin (%) Turnout Percentage of EC John Quincy Adams D.-R. -0.1044 0.27 0.3218 Andrew Jackson Dem. 0.1225 0.58 0.68 Andrew Jackson Dem. 0.1781 0.55 0.7657 Martin Van Buren Dem. 0.14 0.58 0.5782 William Henry Harrison Whig 0.0605 0.80 0.7959 James Polk Dem. 0.0145 0.79 0.6182 Zachary Taylor Whig 0.0479 0.73 0.5621 Franklin Pierce Dem. 0.0695 0.70 0.8581 James Buchanan Dem. 0.12 0.79 0.5878 Abraham Lincoln Rep. 0.1013 0.81 0.5941 Abraham Lincoln Rep. 0.1008 0.74 0.9099 Ulysses Grant Rep. 0.0532 0.78 0.7279 Ulysses Grant Rep. 0.12 0.71 0.8195 Rutherford Hayes Rep. -0.03 0.82 0.5014 James Garfield Rep. 0.0009 0.79 0.5799 Grover Cleveland Dem. 0.0057 0.78 0.5461 Benjamin Harrison Rep. -0.0083 0.79 0.58 Grover Cleveland Dem. 0.0301 0.75 0.6239 William McKinley Rep. 0.0431 0.79 0.6063 William McKinley Rep. 0.0612 0.73 0.6532 Theodore Roosevelt Rep. 0.1883 0.65 0.7059 William Taft Rep. 0.0853 0.65 0.6646 Woodrow Wilson Dem. 0.1444 0.59 0.8192 Woodrow Wilson Dem. 0.0312 0.62 0.5217 Warren Harding Rep. 0.2617 0.49 0.7608 Calvin Coolidge Rep. 0.2522 0.49 0.7194 Herbert Hoover Rep. 0.1741 0.57 0.8362 Franklin Roosevelt Dem. 0.1776 0.57 0.8889 Franklin Roosevelt Dem. 0.2426 0.61 0.9849 Franklin Roosevelt Dem. 0.0996 0.63 0.8456 Franklin Roosevelt Dem. 0.08 0.56 0.8136 Harry Truman Dem. 0.0448 0.53 0.5706 Dwight Eisenhower Rep. 0.1085 0.63 0.8324 Dwight Eisenhower Rep. 0.15 0.61 0.8606 John Kennedy Dem. 0.0017 0.6277 0.5642 Lyndon Johnson Dem. 0.2258 0.6192 0.9033 Richard Nixon Rep. 0.01 0.6084 0.5595 Richard Nixon Rep. 0.2315 0.5521 0.9665 Jimmy Carter Dem. 0.0206 0.5355 0.55 Ronald Reagan Rep. 0.0974 0.5256 0.9089 Ronald Reagan Rep. 0.1821 0.5311 0.9758 George H. W. Bush Rep. 0.0772 0.5015 0.7918 Bill Clinton Dem. 0.0556 0.5523 0.6877 Bill Clinton Dem. 0.0851 0.4908 0.7045 George W. Bush Rep. -0.0051 0.51 0.5037 George W. Bush Rep. 0.0246 0.5527 0.5316 Barack Obama Dem. 0.0727 0.5823 0.6784 Barack Obama Dem. 0.0386 0.5487 0.6171

Clearly, the percentage of electoral college votes a candidate depends nonlinearly on the voter turnout percentage and popular vote margin (%) as this non-parametric regression shows:

We therefore chose to perform a nonlinear regression using neural networks, for which our structure was:

As is turns out, this simple neural network structure with one hidden layer gave the lowest test error, which was 0.002496419 in this case.

Now, looking at the most recent national polls for the upcoming election, we see that Hillary Clinton has a 6.1% lead in the popular vote. Our neural network model then predicts the following:

 Simulation Popular Vote Margin Percentage of Voter Turnout Predicted Percentage of Electoral College Votes (+/- 0.04996417) 1 0.061 0.30 0.6607371 2 0.061 0.35 0.6647464 3 0.061 0.40 0.6687115 4 0.061 0.45 0.6726314 5 0.061 0.50 0.6765048 6 0.061 0.55 0.6803307 7 0.061 0.60 0.6841083 8 0.061 0.65 0.6878366 9 0.061 0.70 0.6915149 10 0.061 0.75 0.6951424

One sees that even for an extremely low voter turnout (30%), at this point Hillary Clinton can expect to win the Electoral College by a margin of 61.078% to 71.07013%, or 328 to 382 electoral college votes. Therefore, what seems like a relatively small lead in the popular vote (6.1%) translates according to this neural network model into a large margin of victory in the electoral college.

One can see that the predicted percentage of electoral college votes really depends on popular vote margin and voter turnout. For example, if we reduce the popular vote margin to 1%, the results are less promising for the leading candidate:

 Pop.Vote Margin Voter Turnout % E.C. % Win E.C% Win Best Case E.C.% Win Worst Case 0.01 0.30 0.5182854 0.4675000 0.5690708 0.01 0.35 0.5244157 0.4736303 0.5752011 0.01 0.40 0.5305820 0.4797967 0.5813674 0.01 0.45 0.5367790 0.4859937 0.5875644 0.01 0.50 0.5430013 0.4922160 0.5937867 0.01 0.55 0.5492434 0.4984580 0.6000287 0.01 0.60 0.5554995 0.5047141 0.6062849 0.01 0.65 0.5617642 0.5109788 0.6125496 0.01 0.70 0.5680317 0.5172463 0.6188171 0.01 0.75 0.5742963 0.5235109 0.6250817

One sees that if the popular vote margin is just 1% for the leading candidate, that candidate is not in the clear unless the popular vote exceeds 60%.

## Breaking Down the 2015-2016 NBA Season

In this article, I will use Data Science / Machine Learning methodologies to break down the real factors separating the playoff from non-playoff teams. In particular, I used the data from Basketball-Reference.com to associate 44 predictor variables which each team: “FG” “FGA” “FG.” “X3P” “X3PA” “X3P.” “X2P” “X2PA” “X2P.” “FT” “FTA” “FT.” “ORB” “DRB” “TRB” “AST”   “STL” “BLK” “TOV” “PF” “PTS” “PS.G” “oFG” “oFGA” “oFG.” “o3P” “o3PA” “o3P.” “o2P” “o2PA” “o2P.” “oFT”   “oFTA” “oFT.” “oORB” “oDRB” “oTRB” “oAST” “oSTL” “oBLK” “oTOV” “oPF” “oPTS” “oPS.G”

, where a letter ‘o’ before the last 22 predictor variables indicates a defensive variable. (‘o’ stands for opponent. )

Using principal components analysis (PCA), I was able to project this 44-dimensional data set to a 5-D dimensional data set. That is, the first 5 principal components were found to explain 85% of the variance.

Here are the various biplots:

In these plots, the teams are grouped according to whether they made the playoffs or not.

One sees from this biplot of the first two principal components that the dominant component along the first PC is 3 point attempts, while the dominant component along the second PC is opponent points. CLE and TOR have a high negative score along the second PC indicating a strong defensive performance. Indeed, one suspects that the final separating factor that led CLE to the championship was their defensive play as opposed to 3-point shooting which all-in-all didn’t do GSW any favours. This is in line with some of my previous analyses

## Optimal Positions for NBA Players

I was thinking about how one can use the NBA’s new SportVU system to figure out optimal positions for players on the court. One of the interesting things about the SportVU system is that it tracks player $(x,y)$ coordinates on the court. Presumably, it also keeps track of whether or not a player located at $(x,y)$ makes a shot or misses it. Let us denote a player making a shot by $1$, and a player missing a shot by $0$. Then, one essentially will have data in the form $(x,y, \text{1/0})$.

One can then use a logistic regression to determine the probability that a player at position $(x,y)$ will make a shot:

$p(x,y) = \frac{\exp\left(\beta_0 + \beta_1 x + \beta_2 y\right)}{1 +\exp\left(\beta_0 + \beta_1 x + \beta_2 y\right)}$

The main idea is that the parameters $\beta_0, \beta_1, \beta_2$ uniquely characterize a given player’s probability of making a shot.

As a coaching staff from an offensive perspective, let us say we wish to position players as to say they have a very high probability of making a shot, let us say, for demonstration purposes 99%. This means we must solve the optimization problem:

$\frac{\exp\left(\beta_0 + \beta_1 x + \beta_2 y\right)}{1 +\exp\left(\beta_0 + \beta_1 x + \beta_2 y\right)} = 0.99$

$\text{s.t. } 0 \leq x \leq 28, \quad 0 \leq y \leq 47$

(The constraints are determined here by the x-y dimensions of a standard NBA court).

This has the following solutions:

$x = \frac{-1. \beta _0-1. \beta _2 y+4.59512}{\beta _1}, \quad \frac{-1. \beta _0-28. \beta _1+4.59512}{\beta _2} \leq y$

with the following conditions:

One can also have:

$x = \frac{-1. \beta _0-1. \beta _2 y+4.59512}{\beta _1}, \quad y \leq 47$

with the following conditions:

Another solution is:

$x = \frac{-1. \beta _0-1. \beta _2 y+4.59512}{\beta _1}$

with the following conditions:

The fourth possible solution is:

$x = \frac{-1. \beta _0-1. \beta _2 y+4.59512}{\beta _1}$

with the following conditions:

In practice, it should be noted, that it is typically unlikely to have a player that has a 99% probability of making a shot.

To put this example in more practical terms, I generated some random data (1000 points) for a player in terms of $(x,y)$ coordinates and whether he made a shot from that distance or not. The following scatter plot shows the result of this simulation:

In this plot, the red dots indicate a player has made a shot (a response of 1.0) from the $(x,y)$ coordinates given, while a purple dot indicates a player has missed a shot from the $(x,y)$ coordinates given (a response of 0.0).

Performing a logistic regression on this data, we obtain that $\beta_0 = 0, \beta_1 = 0.00066876, \beta_2 = -0.00210949$.

Using the equations above, we see that this player has a maximum probability of $58.7149 \%$ of making a shot from a location of $(x,y) = (0,23)$, and a minimum probability of $38.45 \%$ of making a shot from a location of $(x,y) = (28,0)$.

## Will Donald Trump’s Proposed Immigration Policies Curb Terrorism in The US?

In recent days, Donald Trump proposed yet another iteration of his immigration policy which is focused on “Keeping America Safe” as part of his plan to “Make America Great Again!”. In this latest iteration, in addition to suspending visas from countries with terrorist ties, he is also proposing introducing an ideological test for those entering the US. As you can see in the BBC article, he is also fond of holding up bar graphs of showing the number of refugees entering the US over a period of time, and somehow relates that to terrorist activities in the US, or at least, insinuates it.

Let’s look at the facts behind these proposals using the available data from 2005-2014. Specifically, we analyzed:

1. The number of terrorist incidents per year from 2005-2014 from here (The Global Terrorism Database maintained by The University of Maryland)
2. The Department of Homeland Security Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, available here . Specifically, we looked at Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status by Region and Country of Birth (2005-2014) and Refugee Arrivals by Region and Country of Nationality (2005-2014).

Given these datasets, we focused on countries/regions labeled as terrorist safe havens and state sponsors of terror based on the criteria outlined here .

We found the following.

First, looking at naturalized citizens, these computations yielded:

 Country Correlations Percent of Variance Explained Afghanistan 0.61169 0.37416 Egypt 0.26597 0.07074 Indonesia -0.66011 0.43574 Iran -0.31944 0.10204 Iraq 0.26692 0.07125 Lebanon -0.35645 0.12706 Libya 0.59748 0.35698 Malaysia 0.39481 0.15587 Mali 0.20195 0.04079 Pakistan 0.00513 0.00003 Phillipines -0.79093 0.62557 Somalia -0.40675 0.16544 Syria 0.62556 0.39132 Yemen -0.11707 0.01371

In graphical form:

The highest correlations are 0.62556 and 0.61669 from Syria and Afghanistan respectively. The highest anti-correlations were from Indonesia and The Phillipines at -0.66011 and -0.79093 respectively. Certainly, none of the correlations exceed 0.65, which indicates that there could be some relationship between the number of naturalized citizens from these particular countries and the number of terrorist incidents, but, it is nowhere near conclusive. Further, looking at Syria, we see that the percentage of variance explained / coefficient of determination is 0.39132, which means that only about 39% of the variation in the number of terrorist incidents can be predicted from the relationship between where a naturalized citizen is born and the number of terrorist incidents in The United States.

Second, looking at refugees, these computations yielded:

 Country Correlations Percent of Variance Explained Afghanistan 0.59836 0.35803 Egypt 0.66657 0.44432 Iran -0.29401 0.08644 Iraq 0.49295 0.24300 Pakistan 0.60343 0.36413 Somalia 0.14914 0.02224 Syria 0.56384 0.31792 Yemen -0.35438 0.12558 Other 0.54109 0.29278

In graphical form:

We see that the highest correlations are from Egypt (0.6657), Pakistan (0.60343), and Afghanistan (0.59836). This indicates there is some mild correlation between refugees from these countries and the number of terrorist incidents in The United States, but it is nowhere near conclusive. Further, the coefficients of determination from Egypt and Syria are 0.44432 and 0.31792 respectively. This means that in the case of Syrian refugees for example, only 31.792% of the variation in terrorist incidents in the United States can be predicted from the relationship between a refugee’s country of origin and the number of terrorist incidents in The United States.

In conclusion, it is therefore unlikely that Donald Trump’s proposals would do anything to significantly curb the number of terrorist incidents in The United States. Further, repeatedly showing pictures like this:

at his rallies is doing nothing to address the issue at hand and is perhaps only serving as yet another fear tactic as has become all too common in his campaign thus far.

(Thanks to Hargun Singh Kohli, Honours B.A., LL.B. for the initial data mining and processing of the various datasets listed above.)

Note, further to the results of this article, I was recently made aware of this excellent article from The WSJ, which I have summarized below: