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Do NBA Teams Juke The Stats?

Scorekeeping in the NBA is done by the home team. This means that an employee of whatever NBA team is hosting the game will record the blocks, steals, assists, turnovers etc for all the plays that take place in the game. Many of these stats are very subjective; a good example is look to at the NBA definition of when an assist can be awarded: “credited to a player tossing the last pass leading directly to a field goal, only if the player scoring the goal responds by demonstrating immediate reaction to the basket”. To be frank, nobody really know what counts as an assist in the NBA, which is why its known as being the most subjective stat. Similarly, blocks are also viewed as being a very subjective stat. I encourage you to read this story to understand how arbitrary some of these numbers can be.

I look at the data from the past three NBA seasons to discover the difference in how many assists and blocks an NBA team recorded on their home court and on the road. Teams are better at home than on the road, so it makes sense as to why they would record more assists and blocks while at home than on the road. This is not surprising or even relevant for this study. The only thing that is relevant is how the amount of assists and blocks (subjective stats) a team is awarded while playing at home vs on the road, compared to other teams in the league.

I’m not going to suggest that any NBA teams are intentionally “juking” the stats, but due to how large of a discrepancy there is between the two extremes in Cleveland and Utah, it would certainly be easy to do so. All the NBA team would have to instruct their scorekeeper to do is to record more or less blocks, assists and other subjective stats. The question is whether teams should be “juking” the stats, and if so, which way they should do it.

The existence of this discrepancy is also extremely problematic for the NBA. Sports betting is not only based on wins and losses, but also on player stats. With stats being largely arbitrary and without measures in check to determine fraud, the league is very susceptible to having scorekeepers act in their own interest. If the league keeps promoting Fanduel or if Silver makes another push in favour of NBA betting, there is currently too much room for manipulation.

The fundamental question is whether it is better for an NBA team to have their players undervalued or overvalued. If an NBA team pulls a “Cleveland” and artificially increases the amount of assists, blocks and other stats players get, that team will receive many benefits. Highlights are more likely to end up on ESPN, players are more likely to get picked up in fantasy sports, get increased fan support/award consideration and be viewed favourably by other general managers. On one hand, if a player’s value increases, they can return more in a trade. On the other hand, those players will be more likely to receive increased attention in free agency to be signed by other teams or that the cost to re-sign them will increase.

If a team pulls a “New York” and undersells the amount of subjective stats received by their players, those players will be less attractive to fans and executives across the league. The main benefit other than the players being cheaper to re-sign are that with less stats, players will be less influenced by boxscore stats, and be more susceptible to team play.

So I leave it to the readers; do you think its better for a team to oversell or undersell their players?