The Shooting Guard Penalty

Posted on January 18, 2010 by


So you want to be “like Mike?”  As noted by David Biderman of the Wall Street Journal, there is a downside to this objective.  It appears that shooting guards – relative to the other four positions the NBA employs — are getting ‘short’-changed.

Biderman’s article draws upon a story we very briefly note in “Stumbling on Wins” (our next book).  After controlling for a host of explanatory variables (player performance, team performance, games played, age, market size, draft position, etc…), we find that shooting guards are paid less (about $1.44 million less per season) than players at other positions.

This result appears to be driven by the “short supply of tall people.”  As observed in The Wages of Wins (our first book), the labor market in the NBA is characterized by a limited supply of workers.   There simply are not many tall people for basketball teams to consider hiring. Or on the flip side, there is a relatively large supply of little guys.

When we think about free agent salaries in the NBA the story that stands out is that scoring is over-emphasized.  Points scored (as opposed to shooting efficiency, rebounds, steals, turnovers, etc…) have the largest impact on a player’s salary.  So NBA teams do not get everything “right” when it comes to evaluating free agents (and a similar story can be told for draft position, minutes played, etc…).  But when it comes to the evaluation of shooting guards, this decision seems to be essentially correct.  The abundance of these players suggests teams should be able to acquire shooting guards for a discount.

Two more notes on this story….

  • the abundance of shooting guards means it is harder for an elite guard to differentiate himself from his peers.  This can be seen when we look at the top players – according to Wins Produced (a measure that evaluates each player relative to position played) — at each position.  Only four shooting guards had more than ten Wins Produced last season (Dwyane Wade, Brandon Roy, Mike Miller, and Kobe Bryant).  In contrast, at the other positions we see eight point guards, seven small forwards, seven power forwards, and nine centers who were in double digits in Wins Produced.
  • the story we see with respect to salaries is also seen with respect to the NBA draft.  Controlling for performance (and a host of other factors), shooting guards are taken later in the draft. As we get closer to the NBA draft I will offer more on this subject (it is also in the next book).

Let me close by noting that this is not the first time Biderman has referenced my work at the Wall Street Journal.  Here are three more recent stories from Biderman that reference my research.

After Age 25, It’s All Downhill for NBA Players

In the NHL, More Dollars Equals More Wins

Few Starting Lineups Could Top These Celtics

One should note that both the shooting guard and aging story are briefly noted in Stumbling on Wins (the book has many, many more stories).  And while you wait for our next book (just a few more weeks), I highly recommend the sports section at the Wall Street Journal.  Here is a brief selection of recent stories:

We’re Picking the Jets to Win—Again (for insights into picking NFL games)

A Random Walk to the End Zone (a comment – from “Fooled by Randomness” author Nassim Nicholas Taleb – on fantasy football)

11 Minutes of Action (how much time is there really in a football game?)

In the NBA, 3 Is Cheaper Than 2 (check out Evan Eschmeyer’s – former NBA player — post in the comment section to this article)

What Price Vikings Fandom? Funny You Should Ask (the value of being a fan, from the research of Colorado College economist Aju Fenn)

The Count: Arenas’s On-Court Liability (Gilbert Arenes doesn’t help as much as his reputation suggests)

The Count: Hall of Fame Voters Snub Stats (what the stats say about who should be in baseball’s Hall of Fame)

What do these stories have in common? The Wall Street Journal is really emphasizing what the numbers say about sports.  So if you haven’t already, take a look at the sports coverage offered by the Wall Street Journal. For those who like numbers and sports, the Wall Street Journal sports page is a place to go.

– DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.