Is there a term for Sabemetrics of basketball? What Muthu Alagappan, a Stanford undergrad, is doing in his spare time could qualify. His new super-nerd study suggests that there are really 13 positions in basketball—not just five.
The first thing to know about the thirteen NBA positions—Muthu labeled them offensive ball-handler, defensive ball-handler, combo ball-handler, shooting ball-handler, role-playing ball-handler, 3-point rebounder, scoring rebounder, paint protector, scoring paint protector, role player, NBA first team, NBA second team, and one-of-a-kind—is that the idea of thirteen NBA positions is a misnomer. Anyone who’s ever watched basketball knows that there are more than thirteen positions, and not even Isaiah Thomas would put together a team based solely on five positions. Indeed, the best basketball players are like soccer midfielders: They can function anywhere on the court, they make their teams better, and they’re not defined by position. But Muthu’s positions weren’t all that rigid. Tony Parker is an offensive ball-handler, which separates him from John Wall, considered a combo ball-handler, not based on anything stylistic but solely because of their statistics. Tyson Chandler, the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, is a paint protector who specializes on one side of the floor. Kevin Love and Blake Griffin are actually scoring paint protectors. Some players are in a league of their own: Kevin Durant and LeBron James, for example, are NBA first-teamers. Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard are one-of-a-kinders whose statistical combinations make them NBA outliers.
The graphic representation of the 13 players looks like something out of a molecular biology textbook:
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