This is Regressing, a numbers-minded column by our clever friends at the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective. Over the past week, they've been applying rigorous statistical analysis to some of the finest basketball movies in the history of cinema (and also Hoosiers). The series concludes with an examination of Teen Wolf and a possible answer to an age-old question.
The debate over Teen Wolf is at bottom a debate over the soul of basketball, and that's one reason even people who are not Bill Simmons talk about the movie today. Let's just state the question plainly. Who, statistically speaking, was the more effective basketball player in the end: the ball-sharing 5-foot-3 Scott Howard (played by Michael J. Fox) or his ball-hogging monster alter ego, Teen Wolf?
Before answering this question, we have to provide some context. To start the movie, Howard is the starting point guard on an inept Beacon Town Beavers squad that hasn't won in three years. We know they play 12-game seasons, and that they start the present season with a loss to the rival Dragons. That means 37 losses in a row. Considering the Beavers are really bad, let's assume they have a one-in-four chance of winning each game (as opposed to a 50-50 shot). Even then the probability of losing 37 games in a row is (0.75)^37=0.0000238 — in other words, the Beavers, like the Caltech team of the same nickname, are historically bad.
Enter Teen Wolf. For reasons that remain uncertain, Scott, upon transformation, is endowed with not just the usual characteristics of werewolfdom — strength, intimidation, hair — but also with the ability to play basketball really well. Teen Wolf leads Beacon Town to a victory over a local military academy in its second game of the year, the beginning of a 10-game winning streak. In that game, Teen Wolf propels the Beavers to a 19-0 lead, scoring on six dunks (including the same dunk repeated twice). His incredible game wins him great popularity and the hand of the hottest girl in school. Footage of the rest of his games is suspect at best, but the Wolf appears to continue his winning ways, despite becoming greedy, and actually stealing the ball from his teammates in the pursuit of individual glory. For the purposes of this exercise, we will use Teen Wolf's performance in that first victory as a point of comparison.
As the story unfolds, Scott begins to see the faults of the Wolf, and he decides to play the championship game — against the same Dragons to whom the Beavers lost their season opener — as himself. He enters the game with 2:11 left in the first quarter, the Beavers down 22-3. Despite the factual inaccuracies of the game's scoreboard (at one point we see 14 Beaver points but the scoreboard remains defiant, saying they are down 32-10), Scott leads the team back, clinching the championship with a pair of free throws with double-zeros on the clock.
In its own way, Scott's performance in the season finale was as remarkable as Teen Wolf's debut; instead of taking the ball to the hole over and over, as Teen Wolf did (think Dominique Wilkins, except better and a werewolf), Scott acted as more of a high-efficiency facilitator (think Steve Nash, except shorter and dribbling with his head down). Let's look at the raw numbers:
Teen Wolf vs. Military Academy (2:08 of game footage): 8-8 FG (16 points), 1 assist, 1 defensive rebound, 1 block, 1 steal
Scott Howard vs. Dragons (7:13 of game footage): 5-5 FG, 4-4 FT, 1-1 3FG (15 points), 6 assists, 4 steals
For such a brief snippet of game action, both of those stat lines are pretty impressive. Both Teen Wolf and Scott put up amazing effective field goal percentages — (FG+0.5*3FG)/FGA — with the Wolf shooting 100 percent and Scott shooting 110 percent. Interestingly, that 110 percent figure was not even the best on his team. Chubby, the player who routinely ate on the court (and who elsewhere in American cinema incorrectly identified Enrico Pallazzo and stole Pee-wee Herman's bike), recorded an EFG of 125 percent on 2-for-2 shooting (1-for-1 from three).
Effective field goal percentage is only part of the picture. To determine who had the better overall game, let's consult John Hollinger. Using his game score formula, we can reduce a performance to a single, easily understood number. Hollinger weighted various stats in order to have the final "game score" reflect commonly held sentiments about point totals. Thus, a game score of 40 is fantastic; a game score of 10 is average. Now, it must be said that the numbers for Scott and Teen Wolf aren't representative of their play on the whole; they just tell us how they played during game action shown in the movie. The results:
Teen Wolf: 17.3
Scott Howard: 21.7
Readers of Bill Simmons's Book of Basketball might remember that he spent approximately 8,472 pages comparing Kobe Bryant to Scott Howard and Teen Wolf, who represent the two poles between which Kobe's career has oscillated — from team-leading Scott Howard Kobe to ball-hogging, 81-point-scoring Werewolf Kobe and back, with the Lakers' fortunes rising and falling accordingly. The better Kobe, the more effective Kobe, has been the Scott Howard Kobe. It's interesting to see this borne out statistically on the other end of Simmons's analogy. Yes, it's conceivable that, over the course of a full game, Teen Wolf's score would outstrip Howard's, but that's just speculation. (For one thing, the editing of the two games is different: The Teen Wolf game is really just a Teen Wolf highlight reel and thus perhaps more comprehensive than the duration might suggest; the Scott Howard game contains more game narrative, if you can call it that — including, as Simmons notes, an eight-second-long give-and-go with four seconds remaining on the clock.) Based strictly on the footage available to us, our answer is clear: Scott Howard was the more effective basketball player.
There's a lesson in this for all ball hogs. The episode of Fresh Prince we analyzed earlier taught us that a great player with crappy teammates is doing what's best for the team when he monopolizes the ball. Teen Wolf shows us the other side of that: a great player with effective teammates is better off sharing the pill, werewolf or no.
REGRESSING AT THE MOVIES:
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air | Calculating The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air's Usage Rate, And What It Can Tell Us About Ball Hogs
The Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective is a student club dedicated to quantitative analysis of sports strategy and business. Follow them on Twitter, @Harvard_Sports. If you have any comments or ideas for future columns, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video editing by Kate Shapiro.