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Three Thunder Thoughts: Why Basketball Reference's Similarity Scores are awesome and hilarious

Every basketball scribe worth their salt has used the phenomenal site that is Basketball Reference. One of the overlooked metrics that's featured on BR is their similarity scores, a measure that makes me giggle with every query.

Brett Deering

Before completing this article I spent roughly five hours doing two things.

1. I built up an insane library of musical content on my Spotify playlists. From the 'Top Down Music' playlist (smooth grooves) to 'Dua Mode' (a family nickname for "Eduardo" and a group of songs that motivate me at the gym...if I ever go), from 'Jesus Is The Reason' (gospel, duh) to 'Guaranteed Victory' (forgive me Jesus) my Spotify playlists should be illegal. Thank you Sean Parker for doing something good on these here internets.

2. I read Basketball Reference looking at obscure players, stats and facts until my eyes watered. B-R is by far one of my bible's when it comes to writing and understanding what I see within the game of basketball. From comparative stats of legendary players to realizing that Alaa Abdelnaby played 5 (!!!) years in the league, this is my childhood dream come true.

One of the more fascinating things to check out are the similarity scores used to compare players historically in the NBA. While I could explain some of the fancy math that B-R uses to compute a Harris Poll-esque output, here's a simple explanation from the site itself:

It is important to note that this method does not attempt to find players who were similar in style of play. Rather, it attempts to find players whose careers were similar in terms of quality and shape. By shape, I mean things like: How many years did he play? How good were his best years compared to his worst years? Did he have a few great years and then several mediocre years, or did he have many good-but-not-great years?


So, since the Thunder have an off day before trying to push their winning streak to 9 games versus the Hornets on Wednesday, I decided to put Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins and Russell Westbrook in the similar scores blender and see what happens.

Kevin Durant: Most Similar To Dirk Nowitzki (89.8% through five seasons)

No shocker here, right? All-world near 7-foot shooters who took the league by storm early in their careers, both Durant and Nowitzki have helped transform just what a forward can actually be. While Durant was able to get to an NBA Finals appearance quicker than Dirk (four years for KD versus seven for Dirk) the Big German does have that ever elusive ring. That ring came when Nowitzki was nearing age 33 in in his 13th season in the league. While many hope and believe that KD won't have to wait that long, Durant's probably going to face the same opposition that Dirk had to run into a few times in the Finals. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

Kendrick Perkins: Most Similar To Scot Pollard (91.5% through nine seasons)

Couple of things quickly.

One, I'm glad that Scot Pollard popped up at No. 1 vs. Darrall Imhoff, a 6'10" center from Cal who entered the league back in 1961. Yep, I remember those days vividly. Two, Scot Pollard? 91.5%? This thing is amazing. On wikipedia, it says that Pollard was known for his defensive play and his unique hairstyles. Similarly, Kendrick Perkins is known for his defensive play and his unique scowls and confrontations with referees and members of the opposing team!

I'll give Pollard this much, his role on those Sacramento Kings squads were integral when facing up against those evil Los Angeles Lakers. A big body, never afraid and a hard worker, its exactly what Perkins provides for OKC. Perk has an added leadership quality that I appreciate a bit more and more daily, and that's why OKC keeps the Big Scowl around.

Russell Westbrook: Most Similar To Jason Terry (93.1% through four seasons)

The one thing that everyone loves to get on Russ for is that he's always shooting the ball more than Durant all the damn time. Of course, the reality of OKC's situation is that they absolutely need Westbrook to get his 20-25 shots a game as he's the second option in holding up his end of the scoring load alongside KD. Jason Terry's always been the guy totally willing to put shots up and fill up the scoring sheet ever since he was drafted by Atlanta out of Arizona.

(Sidenote: You haven't lived unless you got to watch the 2003-04 Atlanta Hawks become the Jack'em Joe all-stars before our eyes. Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Stephen Jackson and JET were on a 28-win team and put up 20, 18 and 17 points a game, respectfully. Quickly put, it was jumpers for everybody.)

Don't read more into this than their ability to shoulder a scoring output folks. I can hear Westbrook haters yelling that No. 0 should be a sixth-man like Terry. Not quite. Lest we not forget that JET has quite often finished plenty of games in the fourth quarter playing the biggest of minutes. Playing alongside Dirk, he got him a ring too be continually filling it up. Its something OKC will always need from Russ, and now that he's playing at a more efficient rate, the sky's the limit for the Thunder.

Now if we can only get Perkins to wear some of those Scot Pollard haircuts.