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A Stat Even Dr. Naismith Would Love


These NBA playoffs have been a tough slog for me. Intensity! Defense! Starters out or visibly hobbled! Hard fouls and hurt scowls! (It's not so much the Heat, it's the hostility.) The same damn bromantic or baroom! commercials over and over and over—I hate the one where the bison rams the two guys' car! But I am hanging in there, because I am rooting for OTTs. Let me explain.

What would you give to have been there that dewy-fresh moment when Dr. James Naismith's friend Horace said, "Let's call them ... rebounds"?

"Hmm," said Dr. Jim, "I like it. Bound is a jump, and there's a suggestion of bounce in there too. I wish we had something bouncier than dribble, for passing the ball to yourself off the floor continually. Dribble ... runs down. If only there were a word like, say, badabing. Or badonkadonk."

"Dr. Jim, that train has left the station. Anyway, dribble is not a statistic. Whereas rebounds...."

"Statistic? You mean like the score?"

"Not just the score. Other things, like points."

"But that is the score."

"I mean individual points, and shooting percentage, and...."

"Ah," sighed Dr. Jim, "I foresee my game getting very complicated."

Little did he know. To devise a new stat today, people do calculations like this (from Player's adjusted field goal percentage = f(player's adjusted field goal percentage last season, age, age squared, percentage of games played last two seasons, dummy variable for position played, dummy variable for new coach, dummy variable for new team, dummy variable for year, stability of roster, teammates' assists per minute, teammates' adjusted field goal percentage).

I don't even keep dummy variables around the house. The beauty of OTT is that it's transcendental, yet it requires nothing more than online picking-and-scrolling and simple arithmetic.

Back to the first round. I'm watching the Heat beat the Knicks in Game 1. New York forward Steve Novak knocks down two three-pointers, but then he stops getting the ball. Don't his teammates know that he bids fair to be the greatest OTT shooter of all time?

How could they know? I am just now going public with OTT, a concept that has been some time in development. Perusing NBA box scores over breakfast, I would note that someone had hit 7 for 20 from the floor, just 35%. Yes, I would mutter into my cereal, but four of those baskets were threes, so in effect that's 9 for 20, or 45%. There's a term for that correction: effective field goal percentage, or eFG%, which factors in the extra value of threes.

But what would you call it, I wondered, if somebody were to hit, in effect, more shots than he took? Say 10 for 12, with six of the 10 from behind the arc, so in effect, 13 for 12. Like extra-virgin olive oil, or reaching your destination five minutes before you depart, or Metta World Peace. Weee-oooo.

What sort of player, I wondered, could go over the top? (OTT.) An unearthly amalgam of big-man slams, point guard prudence and shooting-guard range. I checked out all of Dirk Nowitzki's games. He has never gone OTT. Once in 2002 he hit 10 for 12 from the field, including three threes, but that's just 11.5 for 12, not even all the way to the brim. O.K., how about Ray Allen, the NBA's best pure shooter, according to a recent SI poll? Allen has gone OTT three times in 16 years.

Your best OTT bet is a trey specialist, a spot-up guy—the prime example being Novak, who lacks other tools but, in hitting a league-leading 47.2% of his threes this season, had nine OTTs. In his six-year career Novak has gone OTT 29 times. If he stays healthy and is able to get both open and ahold of the ball often enough, he should overtake the alltime career leader, Steve Kerr, who in 15 years went OTT 48 times. (When I informed Kerr of this distinction, his response, after taking a moment to master his emotions, was, "For what that is worth.") Compare Novak's numbers with Steve Nash's (16 career OTTs) or Reggie Miller's (13). OTT is not equivalent to best-all-around. As soon as the Heat saw Novak as a threat (he said he heard all five Miami players on the floor say, "Novak's in"), he turned into a faded waltz on top of which Dwyane Wade was recording hip-hop.

But when you pull for OTTs, you watch the game in a whole new way. Whereas triple doubles accrue, OTTs tend to come undone, like baseball no-hitters—but unlike no-hitters they can come back, and they can sneak up on you. Take the second Spurs-Clippers rumble. First quarter, Manu Ginóbili (one OTT lifetime) is 2 for 2, both threes, so in OTT terms he's 3 for 2. But then a blocked three brings him down to full-but-not-overflowing. He puts up another three. If it's in, he's 4.5 for 4—but no. Soon Ginóbili's OTT is irretrievable. And Chris Paul's hip flexor hurts, Nick Young's wisdom teeth are impacted, Blake Griffin is giving us put-upon-Golden-Boy looks, and—wait a minute. Fourth quarter, 2:57 to go, and San Antonio forward Boris Diaw! Has! Got! An OTT going! Don't shoot, Boris! Take him out, Pop!

Whew! It's over! Diaw—7 for 7, two threes, or 8 for 7! O!T!T!

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