via basketball-reference blog
via basketball-reference blog

Basketball-Reference.com is one of the greatest websites ever created. Sorry for the superlative, but it is true. I remember growing up and cravenly hoarding troves of basketball cards. The designs were always spectacular, but those cards also dispensed important statistical information and even a curio or two on the player’s life. The limitations of the cards are clearly obvious: they came 10 or so to a pack, you had to pay for every pack, and you also got stuck with players you didn’t give two Dwayne Schintzius about.

dwayneschintzius
The great Dwayne Schintzius and his mullet

Basketball-Reference has taken the basketball card concept and mutated it beyond belief. With no money down, you can access not just current players’ stats, but those of players from the very beginning of the NBA. Team records can be found in a jiffy, All-NBA and All-Star teams can be dredged up at a moment’s notice, a search function can be used to find statistical oddities. It’s a wonderland for the basketball junkie.

Simply put, the site aggregates more basketball information in such a fluid way than any fan could have thought possible just 20 years ago. It’s a paramount example of just how important and beneficial the digital age has been for disseminating information.

But is it disseminating proper understanding of the information?

Yes, basketball-reference has an excellent blog and about page that addresses the nuances of the stats. However, for the most part, the stats are presented “as is” with no interpretation. Now, in basketball-reference’s defense, it’s not purporting to be an interpreter, it’s just trotting out an impressive collection of numerical facts.

Still, I believe that basketball-reference can enhance its site by eventually including more photographs, more curio stories and facts, and greater explanations for who votes on the All-NBA teams, and how, instead of just showing the final tally.

Where this divide of information and interpretation makes itself most evident is the NBA Elo Player Rater. Users are presented with two players and must decide who was better based on a slew of statistical comparisons. Absent is any qualitative analysis. Obviously, some quality can be gleamed from the stats, but bigger problems lay in the weeds.

The Player Rater has a more modern bias due to a) the users doing the rating are likely to be young and unfamiliar with older players and b) the  absence of any players who didn’t play a significant length of time in the NBA. Maurice Stokes comes to mind for a great player who should be considered but who played only three seasons due to paralysis. Another luminary who gets no consideration is Louie Dampier. The guard is the ABA’s all-time leading scorer, but since he only managed a couple of NBA seasons he’s left out of the Player Rater. Then there’s the great Al Cervi who played the end of pro career in the NBA, but thanks to his previous play in the NBL he’s in the Hall of Fame, but not in the Player Rater.

These are just three players that every basketball fan should know about, but going simply by the Player Rater’s statistical parameters, they never will.

Consider this a helpful critique of what is surely an amazing site. The faults I’ve noted fall more on the user than the tool (Player Rater excepted). You can lead a horse to the water, but if it wants to simply admire how pretty the lake is without also enjoying its thirst-quenching aspects there’s nothing you can do.