How do we quantify our emotions as sports fans, I once wondered. We certainly don’t always use fact and reasoning when it comes to the way we support our teams. What I do know is that both our optimism and pessimism is (almost) always dictated by our emotions. Yet we continue to torture ourselves because, well, sports are awesome.
Most of us have been fans of a team or multiple teams for the majority of our lives. We all have different reasons for why we chose those teams as well. Be it genetics, academics, or geographics we all have our reasons and that loyalty runs deep. Sports are just another thing to wrap ourselves up in, and we’ve done a pretty good job of obliging. It’s the middle of winter. The football season is wrapping up, basketball and hockey are a little more than 25% of the way through their respective happenings, and we’re several months away from the baseball season. I’m a Dallas Cowboys and TCU Horned Frogs superfan, but their football seasons have been extremely disappointing to say the least. The Frogs failed to qualify for a bowl game and the Cowboys have decided to shamelessly underperform. Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars and Dallas Mavericks have captured the attention of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, including one team who has captured the attention of the nation. People expected the Dallas Cowboys to be good this season, thus many of us who are fans thought the same thing. The Dallas Stars had high expectations heading into the 2019-2020 season and after a rough start, have since been one of the NHL’s best teams. Then there’s the Dallas Mavericks. A team in the midst of a rebuild led by a 20 year old generational talent entering his second NBA season, Luka Doncic. Acquired in a January blockbuster, after almost a two year layoff from a serious knee injury, Kristaps Porzingis joined the Mavs as the complimentary piece alongside Luka. With Porzingis’ level of play being a pretty large unknown, expectations for the 2019-2020 Dallas Mavericks were pretty modest. Many predicted a much improved club and a potential Western Conference playoff qualifier. But very few, if any predicted the Dallas Mavericks would be as good as they have been 24 games into the season. Sure, there are still 58 games remaining in the season, but if we’ve learned anything about the Dallas Mavericks thus far, we’ve learned that they’re very much for real.
I must say that there’s a little bit of shame in my not being able to see this coming. After all, I work for a basketball analytics company and had all of the answers at my fingertips. For those of you who don’t know, I work for EPLAY, Inc. as the Product Integration Director. For context, allow me to explain a little bit about who we are and what we’re about. EPLAY is basketball’s unified ecosystem for verified statistics, analytics, global ratings, and digital content for EVERYONE. This is done by harnessing the power of the scorer’s table, collecting valid data through our base of certified statisticians utilizing our proprietary system, incorporating player identity verification elements. From there, EPLAY’s skill assessing algorithm (which weights statistical performances against competition level) and in-depth analytics are generated within our system. In short, I work for a company that holds the key to solving the emotional crises we all face when choosing to be optimistic or pessimistic in regards to our favorite teams. Again, the football season is nearing its’ end while basketball and hockey are just getting fired up. Emotionally, the best time to be a sports fan is right before the season starts and our hearts are automatically filled with joy, hope, and optimism. Because technically, before the season starts, everyone is a contender. However, reality typically registers pretty quickly for those of us who should’ve known better. Sure, there’s always the “anything can happen” theory, and sometimes anything does happen. But for most of us, most of the time, our teams never meet our expectations. “Nobody could’ve seen this coming” is quickly becoming the most ignorant phrase in sports. Simply put, the numbers tell us a different story. The numbers don’t lie. Nobody saw this coming… EPLAY saw this coming. Hear me out.
After a Sunday night loss to the Sacramento Kings on the second night of a back-to-back, the Dallas Mavericks were sitting at 16-7 and in third position in the Western Conference. Quite certainly exceeding expectations. Dan Dickey, EPLAY’s Chief Quantitative Officer, and creator of hoopsnerd.com is the biggest reason why I believe the numbers now more than ever. The Dallas Mavericks were 16-7 after 23 games and NOBODY saw it coming. We did. Stay with me. Dickey is the creator of EPLAY’s analytical models and is quite simply a hoops nerd. So let’s just say that EPLAY had a projected 2020 season for everyone on the Mavericks roster, taken from a data set of 499 players. In order to make these projections, EPLAY uses 2 years of weighted NBA regular season & playoff data, as well as 2018 college ratings & NBA conversions if the player was a rookie in the 2018-19 season. However, this particular model is void of the 2019 draft class as well as NBA G-League, Summer League, preseason, or international data. Players that logged over 600 weighted minutes “qualified” for EPLAY’s 499 player list. In short, the Dallas Mavericks entire roster “qualified”, so it was simple to see what our projections would have been at this exact point of the season, based on actual season minutes. In other words, if someone had told us before the season, when we created this projected data set, the exact minutes distribution of the Dallas Mavericks through December 10, 2019, this is exactly how our ratings would have predicted the team E-Score. Here’s a quick explanation of our E-Score:
ESCORE: An overall rating of a player’s impact when on the court, adjusted for strength of schedule, pace of play, quality of team, et al. The ESCORE is based off of 100. Above 100 is above league average, below 100 is below league average. Replacement level players have a ESCORE of 80 or worse.
ESCORE Rank %: Where the player ranks in terms of their ESCORE compared to all others in that data set. 100% is top, 50% average, 0% worst. Sometimes listed as “Percentile” after a statistical skillset – the player will be listed between 0 & 100% for that skill set compared to their peers.
In order to generate an overall team ESCORE, you take the average of each individual player ESCORE from that particular team. The data visualization below shows us the 2020 PROJECTED ESCORE well before the season ever started. In our current actual player ESCORE’s, Luka Doncic is stronger than predicted and Kristaps Porzingis is weaker, for example. However, with a cumulated team ESCORE of 106.8, the Mavericks are projected to win 52-55 games this season. Based on the numbers (and even the eyeballs) the Dallas Mavericks are a very strong basketball team. To break this down just a little bit further, after 23 games, if we had known these minutes, we would have predicted the Mavs would be 16-7 or 15-8. Sure, with those minutes and some real bad luck they could’ve been at worst 14-9. With those minutes and some good luck, the Mavs could’ve been 17-6. But the Mavericks were 16-7 after 23 games and NOBODY saw it coming. The truth is, we at EPLAY did see this coming. This is a very simple test of our projections and we’re barely scratching the surface. There’s always truth in numbers. When nobody sees it coming, the numbers always do.