Monday, November 3, 2008

You say to-may-to, we say to-mah-to

There are apples and oranges debates. But even an apple to apple comparison is not necessarily a kosher one. Here's what we mean and how this applies to WAC basketball.

Where did we get the idea for the following? A message board post on the Silver and Blue Nevada sports fan site did the trick. It's a long string with predictions about how the Wolf Pack will do overall this season, with some concerns and opinions interspersed about certain teams and players. The specific post that captured our attention included these numbers and comparison about San Jose State guard Justin Graham and Nevada backcourter Armon Johnson:

Justin Graham
2007- 08 32.0 10.7 2.4 2.9 4.5 .65 1.5 .4 2.1 .462 .721 .429 1.41

Armon Johnson
2007- 08 31.2 11.5 4.0 3.4 2.4 1.42 .8 .2 2.1 .482 .776 346 1.36

We're going to be a bit all over the map here with our ramblings here but bear with us.

First off, there's simply no congruent way of comparing these two players (or any players) unless an individual was also able to witness Graham and Johnson in the majority of games each played last season. Only their respective coaching staffs can claim such a viewing and even then the experience is too team/player centric to be valid -- how many games did Mark Fox and his staff view Graham and George Nessman and staff see Johnson?

Matching numbers head-to-head is an oft-used but also an oft-invalid comparison. Granted, if Johnson had scored 20 points a game and Graham but seven then there would be a much greater validity to strictly focusing on their numbers. But the season stats for the pair are fairly close, with an overall lead to Johnson.

But keep in mind that Graham missed five league games (two Fresno State games, one each against Idaho, New Mexico State and Bakersfield) due to shoulder and wrist injuries suffered in a road game in Hawaii on January 14. He never fully recovered even though he returned to action on February 7, thus skewing his seasonal numbers to an inmeasurable degree.

Plus, do remember that Johnson enjoyed played alongside much more talented teammates:

*** Marcelus Kemp - a 20 points per game scorer who earned first-team all-WAC status in 2007-2008

*** JaVale McGee - a 14.1 points a contest scorer who nabbed 7.3 rebounds each time out as well as being a second-team all-WAC pick in 2007-2008

*** Brandon Fields - a 12.4 points a game scorer who was the co-defensive player of the season for the Wolf Pack

*** Lyndale Burleson - a member of the all -WAC defensive team in 2007-2008

Of course, this talent surrounding Johnson was the proverbial sword that cut both ways. It took some degree of pressure and defensive focus off him but his points per game scoring average in 2007-2008 was also lower as a result of his talented teammates (although his assists per contest numbers were probably higher because of this factor). Johnson will certainly score more points in 2008-2009 and possibly maintain his assists totals but such will not necessarily be the appropriate measurement tools from which to make any judgment.

Graham was a redshirt freshman in 2007-2008 playing alongside a bevy of other newcomers, none on the level of Kemp or McGee. Graham was also in the position of having to generate offensive opportunities while being the sole creator on the Spartan team, thus resulting at least to a degree in a higher number of turnovers.

It's our expectation that Graham will enjoy a better season in 2008-2009 than his initial one even though his scoring average may drop and possibly even his assists per game numbers will do likewise.

You might be saying 'huh?" right about now.

The sentiment in the above paragraph is based upon the addition of Spartan newcomer Adrian Oliver. He should end up this coming season as the top shot taker and points producer on the team and will certainly be near the top in assists. But it's not that Oliver will reduce Graham's effectiveness. On the contrary, Oliver's creative ability will ease the burden that Graham carried solely last go-around.

As an aside, those who don't watch WAC basketball but still offer previews and predictions based solely on season numbers may very well have Graham as not performing as well as a sophomore as he did as a freshman come their 2009-2010 analysis. But this will be an invalid evaluation. What to watch for will be Graham's proficiency this season. The same goes for Johnson.

But it is interesting that the WAC coaches just selected Johnson as the expected Player of the Year. That undeniably says something. Teammates Brandon Fields and Luke Babbitt landed spots on the Second Team.

Graham didn't appear on either the coaches or media all-WAC squads, with teammate C.J. Webster receiving a first team nod.

So there you have it -- numbers do mean something but which numbers and just what?.

Maybe Ken Pomeroy can utilize some of his intricate mathematical formulas and determine why player A is 'better' than player B.

Or does it sometimes boil down to who has a better overall season and not necessarily is tops in individual numbers?

Oh boy, that's a whole 'nother argument.

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