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NBA talent dilution/concentration

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  • Mike Goodman
    A couple of weeks back, in the APBR room, a comment I made about the year 1977, (with the ABA merger, perhaps talent concentration reached a peak then) evolved
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 4, 2001
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      A couple of weeks back, in the APBR room, a comment I made about
      the year 1977, (with the ABA merger, perhaps talent concentration
      reached a peak then) evolved into an analysis of players who played
      both in '76 and '77, and how their numbers changed in that one year.
      Eventually, it was noticed that the 189 players' minutes in '77
      were only 87% of their '76 minutes, on average. It was even
      suggested that talent was on average 11.5% greater; though I don't
      think this is necessarily a quantitative fact, I think it has to say
      something.
      So I finally got around to checking every season of the NBA, since
      1952 (before which, minutes are not recorded), and have some
      surprising results.

      A complete table would look something like this:

      counted avg. min. conc. cum.
      year plrs. prev. this fac. conc.
      1953 59 1777 1928 .921 .921
      1954 56 1981 1928 1.028 .947
      1955 51 2080 1910 1.089 1.031
      1956 58 1944 1817 1.070 1.103

      ...and so on.
      So in 1956, there were 58 players who also had played in 1955.
      Their average minutes dropped from 1944 to 1817, so the
      league "talent concentration factor" for 1956 is estimated by
      1944/1817 = 1.070.
      Boldly, I multiply each year's factor to get the "cumulative
      concentration factor". Now, of course, we know that small errors or
      systematic flaws can become exponentially exaggerated when one is
      multiplying them many times. Still, one may infer that "something"
      is implied when certain results are consistent.
      As it turns out, there are very few years in NBA history when
      talent seems to have diminished, by this measure. Certainly
      expansion years are evident, as counter to the trend, but only 12 of
      44 seasons (1953-'96) indicate dilution of talent. The average of
      those 44 years is 1.046 concentration factor, and the cumulative
      factor is over 2.5.
      I am not stressing the accuracy of a 44-year factor, but I would
      be willing to assert that the "watering down of talent due to
      expansion" is basically a myth.
      As I worked through these years, I fully expected to see this
      dilution creep in. But through 1996, it never does appear. I did
      stop at 1996, as I have some accounting methods which changed then,
      but I will be straightening that out shortly, as well as going back
      and separating NBA players from ABA, in those years.
      Meanwhile, I would love to see alternative interpretations of
      league-wide reduction of minutes played, per player.
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