History of the Journal of Basketball Studies

The Journal of Basketball Studies began in November 1995 as a simple, text-only listing of a small subset of the research I, Dean Oliver, had carried out. Slowly, I began writing Java programs and adding graphics to make it presentable for the picky twerps who complained that it didn't look very good, but themselves surf the web for days without taking a shower or brushing their hair.

Although the Journal in its current form has only been around since February of 1996, much of the research dates to the mid-to-late 1980's when I began thinking about it. At the time, I was a high school student playing basketball and breezing through math and science classes. I had already read a book called Bill James' Baseball Abstract that my father had given me and showed me a scientific approach to baseball. Not being one to steal ideas -- I like to extend them -- I was inspired to combine the sometimes esoteric math I was learning with the practical and thoroughly understandable game of basketball. That lead to the Pythagorean Method, which was derived using estimates of the average margins of victory in baseball and basketball. It also lead to a few erroneous formulas that lead absolutely nowhere as I tried to make direct analogies of how baseball worked to how basketball worked. In the summer of '86, I was looking at what I considered to be good offenses in history and developed the concept of floor percentage using the equation that is now known as power percentage. With that, I made a break from strictly trying to extend baseball formulas to basketball and I began looking solely at how basketball was structured.

Then I went to college, Caltech, to be precise. I worked so incredibly hard at my studies that I had to put away my basketball work even though I played on the team and was in contact with the sport almost every day. However, at the end of my sophomore year, the Lakers were beating the Celtics for the NBA title and I had time on my hands, having finished finals early. That was when I developed the Possession Scoring System, which became the basis of all this work.

Soon after that, I had written a few things in Basketball Digest, an unpublished book called Basketball Hoopla 1988-89 that is reprinted here, and an immense library of data and research that is slowly making its way to the public through this Journal. This got me the assistant coaching position at Caltech, where I also scouted and coached the JV team.

Since finishing college in 1990, I got a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, where I also worked as a collegiate scout with the Bertka Views Organization, which is owned by Bill Bertka, assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. There I studied environmental engineering, groundwater hydrology in particular. You'd be amazed at how much it has in common with basketball. One of the important things I learned in my graduate work was that variability, uncertainty, or inconsistency (whatever you want to call it) can be very important in the final results of a process. For groundwater, this meant that the variability in the types and permeabilities of rocks played a significant role in the time required to clean up a contaminated water supply. For basketball, this means that underdogs can improve their chances of winning by shooting lots of three pointers, that Michael Jordan is a great player because he is both good on average and consistently good, and that Orlando was lucky to win 56 games in '96 because they were so inconsistent.

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