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Debunking Myths

Okay, so I was passively browsing today and stumbled upon this gem by a guy I really like:
There can be no doubt who the most improved player in the Big East Conference is this season. I would go so far as to say Gary McGhee is (my emphasis, not his) the most improved player in the history of the Big East Conference.

If McGhee doesn’t win the award, there should be an investigation. In fact, if he doesn’t win it unanimously there should be an investigation.
Not may be, IS. *Sigh*

Now, I'm a Bob Smizik fan. He takes it on the chin when Pirates fans (yes, I am one) get their panties in a bunch when he criticizes their hopeless franchise and is accused of being pessimistic, well, all the time. But this is, in a word, preposterous. Gary McGhee has gone from being horrendous to serviceable. If you want to call him your Most Improved Player for this year, fine. But to say he should be a lock? Then to take it 8,358 steps further and say he's the Most Improved Player in the history of the Big East?

Look, I'm not going to give you the 101 reasons I'm sure I could find why Bob has this one wrong. I'll merely point to one easy fact: McGhee is in the same boat as Ashton Gibbs to a degree. His numbers have gone up due to a big increase in minutes. Gary McGhee is averaging about 3.6 times more minutes than he had last year (6.7 in 2009 to 24.1 in 2010). This is a type of projection often used in the NBA for a stat called ____ per 48 minutes (the ____ meaning, scoring, rebounding, etc or whatever the researcher is trying to project). It's a simple extrapolation to see how productive someone might be if they played more.

Using that formula, let's see how much he actually 'improved', at least numbers-wise:

His 2009 numbers were 1.2 ppg / 1.5 rpg. Taking the 3.6 times factor above, we see that last year, his numbers should come out to 4.3 ppg / 5.4 rpg. His current numbers? 7.4 ppg / 7 rpg. So he's scoring about three more points per year and grabbing an extra rebound and a half.

Now go to a guy like Brad Wanamaker. He is getting approximately 1.7 times as many minutes as last year (32.7 to 19.0). Taking his numbers, we see only slightly less improvement. With the extra minutes, his output this year should come out to about 9.8 ppg / 5.6 rpg / 3.57 apg. His actual numbers are 12.3 ppg / 6.1 rpg / 4.4 apg.

Look at Ashton Gibbs who is getting about 3.3 times more minutes (35.5 to 10.7). Taking 3.3 to last year's ppg total of 4.3, we come out to 14.2. His actual output is 16.4 - an improvement of about 2.2 ppg of what he should have.

So what we end up with for actual improvement over and above what each player should be getting based solely on the extra minutes they're getting is:

McGhee - 3.1 ppg / 1.6 rpg
Wanamaker - 2.5 ppg / .5 rpg / .83 apg
Gibbs - 2.2 ppg

Looking elsewhere, you CAN say that McGhee's shooting (65% to 52%) has greatly improved. I also believe he's a better player, less awkward, and his defense is better. Based solely on the numbers, you can reasonably say that McGhee is Pitt's most improved player. But I'm not sure I'd call it a slam dunk - let alone a slam dunk for an undisputed conference most improved player OF ALL TIME. Gibbs has had a similar spike, albeit slightly less that McGhee. But doesn't leading your team in scoring count for slightly more? In addition, factor in that Gibbs is playing out of position at the point and that he's had more of a load thrust on him that McGhee. And...well you get the point. In my eyes, it's really about a wash.

And as far as that nonsense about most improved player in the history of the Big East, all you have to do is look to last year to find a similar instance (again, at least numbers-wise). DeJuan Blair had a very minor bump in minutes from his freshman to sophomore year (1.05 times more), but managed to average much larger numbers. Based on the 1.05, his numbers last year should have been 12.2 ppg and 9.5 rpg. His actual numbers were 15.7 ppg and 12.3 rpg. Blair's shooting percentage also increased and he had a much larger responsibility than McGhee. Leaving us with these numbers above the extrapolated figures:

Blair - 3.5 ppg and 2.8 rpg

Those numbers beat McGhee's. And like I said, more weight has to be given to someone who was responsible for playing a lead role on their team (i.e. Gibbs and Blair). Now, I'm not saying it's a given that Blair was a more improved player, just pointing out how easy it is to quickly identify players who made similar strides. Most players improve at least marginally from year to year and to point to one and say something along the lines of 'There - he's the best of all time' is rather foolish.

Aaron Gray also made very similar strides from his sophomore to junior season. And those are just the Pitt guys - not to mention the entire Big East - a conference that, by the way, has been around for over 30 years.

Gary McGhee has made great strides to become a solid player, but in all actuality, likely has not even been the most improved player in Pitt's Big East history.