Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Why Grading Is Stupid (yet I'm still doing it)
By Zach

I hate "grades" in sports. You know, those columns you see at the end of every season (and now, at the midway point, or the quarter-mark, or after every freaking week) which "grade" all the teams in a given league. First of all, the thought that you can assign an academic grade to a sports team where most of the players probably haven't been in a real class since 8th grade is silly. But even more so, the crichteria used to assign these grades is flawed. Of course, since we're at the end of the NBA season, plenty of people are starting to send in their grades.

Grades, in school, are usually assigned based purely on performance. In other words, if Student A got better grades on their work than Student B, then Student A gets a better grade in the class overall. If you follow that line of thinking, then you could just assign grades based on the number of wins a team had. You could break the grades down into various levels, where (in the NBA), if you won 65+ games, you got an A+, 60-64 got you an A, 55-59 an A-, and so on. But that would make the job of the columnist a bit too easy. Heck, anyone could do their job (anyone can, that's the sad state of sports writing in this day and age, but that's another story).

Plus, nowadays, grading students based solely on their performance in class is seen as too strict, to harsh, and unfair. That's a load of horsecrap, but again, that's another issue. So, things like attendance, participation, and achievement against expectations are thrown into the mix. And that's (to some extent) the same when it comes to grading teams.

Take Chad Ford's grades on ESPN.com's Insider. For those of you who can't afford the sign-up costs, I'll list the teams and grades:

Miami: A
Chicago: A-
Detroit: B+
Boston: B+
Washington: B
Charlotte: B
Indiana: B-
New Jersey: B-
Philadelphia: C+
Cleveland: C
Orlando: C
Milwaukee: C-
Atlanta: D
Toronto: D
New York: F

Phoenix: A
San Antonio: A
Denver: A-
Dallas: B+
Seattle: B
Houston: B
Clippers: B-
Golden State: B-
Sacramento: C+
Memphis: C+
Utah: C
Lakers: C-
Minnesota: D+
Portland: D
New Orleans: D

Now, Chad Ford has his reasons for his ratings. He doesn't give them, but we can assume that they exist. Still, I'll offer my grades (as they are) as well as an explanation for why I give them. I'll break a team's performance down into three catagories: Absolute Record, Expectations, and Mititgating Factors/Adversity. Those will each be assigned on a 10 point scale. Then, those scores will be averaged in order to come up with a holistic view of the team's year. And, yes, I'll even give them a grade.

Breakdown of Catagories:

Absolute Record: The easiest to understand. 10 points for 65+ wins, 9 points for 58-64 wins, 8 points for 51-57 wins, and so on.

Expectations: A bit more nebulous, this will measure how a team did compared to general expecations coming into the year. Scores nearing 10 will be for teams that greatly exceeded expectations, scores at about 5 will be for teams that just about met expectations, and scores at about 1 will be for teams that failed to meet expectations.

Mitigating Factors/Adversity: Much like the attendance/participation part of a scholastic grade, this is my way of excusing a team which had a lot go against them. Whether that be massive suspensions (Indiana) or massive injuries (Utah), it's a way of leveling the playing field. Again, scores around 10 will be for teams that had abnormally high levels of adversity, scores around 5 will be for teams that faced average amounts of adversity, and scores around 1 will be for teams that had little or no adversity.

Results: Here are the grades I came up with, in descending order:

Chicago Bulls: A
Seattle SuperSonics: A
Washington Wizards: A
Phoenix Suns: A-
Dallas Mavericks: B+
Denver Nuggets: B+
Miami Heat: B+
Boston Celtics: B
Detroit Pistons: B
Indiana Pacers: B
New Jersey Nets: B
Sacramento Kings: B
San Antonio Spurs: B
Houston Rockets: B-
Memphis Grizzlies: B-
Philadelphia 76ers: B-
Charlotte Bobcats: C+
Cleveland Cavaliers: C+
Orlando Magic: C+
Toronto Raptors: C+
LA Clippers: C
Milwaukee Bucks: C
Golden State: C-
LA Lakers: C-
Minnesota Timberwolves: C-
Utah Jazz: C-
New York Knicks: D+
Portland Trailblazers: D+
New Orleans Hornets: D
Atlanta Hawks: F

You can see how my "grades" to some extent digress from Ford's. For example, he gives "A" or "A-" grades to Phoenix, San Antonio, Denver, Miami, and Chicago. I can't fathom what cricteria he's using to determine those grades. Sure, San Antonio has had a great year, but they were easily the championship frontrunner heading into the season, and faced little adversity for most of the year (besides a stint on the DL for Duncan). But, if raw success is the cricteria, then how do Chicago and Denver get ranked ahead of teams with much better records. Don't forget, Denver was picked by a lot of people to finish first in the Northwest Division, and certainly was picked to do better than 7th in the conference. Yes, they've played tremendous basketball, but the entire point of grading is to assess the season as a whole.

My grades reflect that. No one picked Chicago, Seattle, and Washington to do as well as they've done. In fact, few people thought any of them would be in the playoffs, let alone that two would have home court advantage in the first round. Phoenix didn't quite make the "A" level because, while they vastly exceeded expecations and had the best record in the league, they did so while facing practically no adversity. Steve Nash spent a few games on the injured list, but that was it.

Teams like San Antonio, who basically met expectations, were rewarded with a good, but not spectacular grade. In fact, since they were picked to finish first by almost everyone, I was tempted to give them a 3 or 4 for expectations, since they'll be the 2 seed.

Still, while grading a season can be fun, it's a fairly arbitrary measure of 82 games. In fact, all it really does is provide columnists with an easy bit of writing.


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