Home > Math of Sports and Games > Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan

Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan



Who is the better NBA player?


Students discuss in their groups how/if we can determine this with math.   Their goal for this discussion with their groupmates is to create a plan on how to determine which athlete is the better athlete.  I’ll have them record their plan and we’ll come back together and share ideas.

Questions that I hope will come up:

How do we define “better”?  How do we quantify a player’s value?   How do we compare players from different eras/different skillsets?

The key question that will help us determine which is the better athlete is “How do we quantify a player’s value”.

I think it would be a good idea to get the students to come up with their own way (using common stats) of ranking players.

Not all students will know the ins-and-outs of basketball.  I may need to do a primer (read…. “go to gym and play some basketball”) on the different statistics available.

There’s a few useful things I’ve found out there.  Chapter 29 of an excellent book entitled Mathletics by Wayne Winston has a nice discussion on the NBA efficiency rating (points per game + rebounds per game + assists per game + steals per game – turnovers – missed FG per game – missed FT per game) as compared to a much more complicated player efficiency rating abbreviated PER (see the wikipedia page).  They state that the correlation between the NBA’s efficiency rating and PER is at 0.99.  Moral of the story, complicated does not always equal better.

We might decide as a group to come up with our own efficiency rating.  I’ve got a few ideas of what this could look like, but I don’t want to be a “provider of information”.

I liked what Mr. H over at Mathing did in a Tyson Chandler versus Steve Novak argument, and I think it could fit into this discussion quite easily.

When all is said and done and we use an efficiency rating of sorts to compare the two players, I want them to discuss (and this may be difficult without them knowing the sport very well) what the problem(s) are with using an efficiency rating like this to compare two players.   Wayne Winston does a good job of this in Mathletics.

Another good reference for what I’ll call “extended NBA statistics” is 82games.

I see this project hitting on the following math topics:
z-scores, standard deviation, correlation, evaluating expressions

Most importantly, it will hopefully develop problem solving skills in the students.

I thought about having them go through this Lebron vs MJ argument, and then assigning them to pick their own two athletes to compare of any sport (perhaps I could exclude the NBA since that would be too easy after the MJ vs LJ argument).  They then would have to create their own SportsCenter segment similar to my intro piece comparing the two athletes.

Any thoughts on how to improve upon this very rough outline of a project?

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