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Podcast: We Tell John Starks Why He Was The J.R. Smith Of The ’90s
Hot Takedown

Welcome to this week’s episode of Hot Takedown, our podcast where the hot sports takes of the week meet the numbers that prove them right or tear them down. On this week’s show (Aug. 11, 2015), we revisit the career of an NBA cult favorite. As we were preparing topics for the show, Kate Fagan mentioned that it was John Starks’s 50th birthday this week. Starks, one of Kate’s favorites growing up, spent eight years as a member of the New York Knicks (1990-98), where he developed a reputation for fiery play, dunked over Michael Jordan and went 2-for-18 from the field (and 0-for-10 in the fourth quarter) in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals. To celebrate, we look back at his career and how modern analytics would judge him.

Oh, also, John Starks calls in, and we tell him how he should feel about himself.

Also this week, a look at how the Blue Jays may have become the best team in baseball, and our Significant Digit of the week: Petr Cech had a rough first game for Arsenal in the Premier League, performing three standard deviations below the league average.

Stream the episode by clicking the play button, or subscribe using one of the podcast clients we’ve linked to above.

John Starks joins hot takedown

Below, Neil Paine’s notes for the discussion about Starks.


Neil Paine’s quick and dirty analysis of John Starks.

And some things we learned researching his career through the lens of advanced stats:

  • Starks was pretty good (nearly one standard deviation better than average) in four advanced statistical categories: usage rate, assist percentage, steal percentage and turnover percentage.
  • Despite his self-professed defensive focus and participation in one of the most suffocating defenses ever, the metrics are inconclusive when it comes to Starks’s own defense. In Box Plus/Minus, he rates below average, while Jeremias Engelmann’s emulated plus/minus ratings from the ’90s consider him one of the decade’s better defensive guards.

  • One of the players most similar to Starks — both statistically and in Starks’s own mind — is former Knick (and current free agent) J.R. Smith. Starks passed more, and Smith is a more efficient shooter, but the two had similar rates of usage, steals and overall effectiveness.

  • Starks was something of a trail-blazer for the 3-point shot, which has now taken over the game. When Starks was playing his best seasons, the average NBA player attempted a 3-pointer on roughly 11 percent of his shots, while Starks took a 3 on about 40 percent of his shots (a rate that ranked seventh among his contemporaries). Fast-forward to 2015, and 27 percent of all shots are 3-pointers.

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Kate Fagan is a writer for espnW and a regular panelist on the FiveThirtyEight sports podcast Hot Takedown.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Chadwick Matlin was a deputy managing editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Allison McCann is a former visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

Asthaa Chaturvedi is a freelance radio and television producer.