Only about 20 percent of defensive plays show up in basketball box scores, which convey far less information about how points are stopped than baseball box scores do about how runs are prevented.
To get more meaning out of hoops stats, analysts have to either use statistical techniques to extract more from the existing data, or go out and get more data, even if it means creating new companies to track it. The second approach is promising -- Mark Cuban is investing in one -- but the first is far from exhausted. I want to delve into a particularly elegant example: research presented by John Huizinga and Charles "Sandy" Weil at last weekend's MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
Last year, Huizinga (who is Yao Ming's agent) and Weil presented interesting evidence that, contrary to the "hot hand" theory, NBA players are significantly overconfident after making shots. This time around, they looked at "The Value of a Blocked Shot in the NBA: From Dwight Howard to Tim Duncan." Analyzing about 1.6 million possessions from the 2002-03 to 2008-09 seasons, Huizinga and Weil found meaningful and often huge variation, in how players block shots and in how valuable those blocks are.