Predicting Full Retirement Attainment of NBA Players

Predicting Full Retirement Attainment of NBA Players

The aim of this analysis is to predict whether an NBA player will be active in the league for at least 10 years so as to be qualified for NBA’s full retirement scheme which allows for the maximum benefit payable by law. We collected per game statistics for players during their second year, drafted during the years 1999 up to 2006, for which information on their career longetivity is known. By feeding these statistics of the sophomore players into statistical and machine learning algorithms we select the important statistics and manage to accomplish a satisfactory predictability performance. Further, we visualize the effect of each of the selected statistics on the estimated probability of staying in the league for more than 10 years

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Predicting career longevity from the early stages as professional athletes is an interesting task, both from the athlete’s and the club’s perspective as it is in the interest of both sides to decide on future strategy. The task becomes challenging, and more interesting at the same time, when one relies on early stage professional performance statistics. Although there are several research papers on this topic, in this paper, we will narrow our attention to U.S. professional basketball athletes competing in the NBA league. Specifically, we will focus on whether an NBA player survives in the league for at least 10 years, which is the minimum number of years in order to receive the full retirement scheme.

Staw and Hoang (1995) delved into factors influencing NBA players’ longevity, analyzing data from the 1980-1986 drafts until the 1990-1991 season. Their event history analysis identified a player’s initial draft number, performance variables, and tenure length as pivotal factors affecting career longevity, with scoring ability significantly impacting playing time and the likelihood of remaining in the league. The study also revealed that NBA franchises tended to retain high draft choices over low draft choices, while defensive skills like rebounding and blocked shots positively influenced a player’s chances of staying in the league, particularly within teams valuing team-oriented skills. In parallel, Groothuis and Hill (2004) and Groothuis and Hill (2018) conducted significant research on exit discrimination in the NBA, focusing on non-U.S. players. Groothuis and Hill (2004) explored factors affecting career duration, emphasizing team owners’ inclination to retain productive players, with assists, blocks, and points per minute played influencing continued NBA tenure. Height, weight, and draft number were also identified as significant predictors of career length, while race did not contribute to exit discrimination. Groothuis and Hill (2018) expanded on this, by revealing that foreign-born players without U.S. college experience tended to have shorter careers, possibly indicating exit discrimination or a preference for concluding their careers in their home countries. Conversely, players with U.S. college experience exhibited career lengths comparable to native-born players, highlighting the complex interplay of fan preferences, cultural dynamics, and lucrative opportunities in shaping the career trajectories of foreign-born NBA players. These insights contribute significantly to sports economics and the broader discourse on international talent dynamics in professional sports leagues.

Petersen et al. (2011) demonstrated the Matthew effect (“rich get richer”) where an individual’s longevity and past success contribute to further career advancement. The study effectively illustrated that even a modest rate of progress at the onset of one’s career has a crucial role in shaping the trajectory of career length. The model intricately incorporated the Matthew effect, underscoring the critical significance of early career development. This work shed light on the inherent disparities between short and protracted careers, revealing a compelling statistic that approximately 3% of basketball players experience an NBA career when playing for less than 12 minutes per game. Furthermore, the research accentuated that athletes enjoying extended careers successfully sustained a high level of performance over a substantial interval of playing time.

Two studies published in 2008 explored the significance of college basketball in shaping the trajectory of an NBA player’s career. Coates and Oguntimein (2010) focused on NBA draft classes from 1987 to 1989 evaluated the predictability of successful careers based on college performance by examining retired players. The analysis, incorporating comprehensive data on draft details and performance metrics, revealed that players from smaller conferences exhibited higher efficiencies, driven by superior college points and rebounds. Despite achieving similar NBA production, players from smaller conferences experienced shorter careers compared to their counterparts from larger conferences, challenging prevailing notions about statistical discrimination and option value. By exploring correlations between college and NBA performance, Coates and Oguntimein (2010) provided valuable insights into the intricacies of draft decisions and player career trajectories. Barnes (2008) investigated the relationship between pre-NBA career statistical variables and NBA player longevity, conditioning on the players’ playing positions, guard, forward, and center. Analyzing data from the 1988–2002 collegiate seasons, they employed 11 independent variables such as points, assists, and turnovers, with career longevity being the dependent variable. The statistical analysis unveiled significant associations for guards and forwards, emphasizing the impact of assists, turnovers, points, field goal percentage, and free throw percentage on NBA career longevity. Notably, the study found statistical insignificance for centers, attributing it to the unique nature of the center position and a smaller sample size. These findings underscore the potential of statistical analysis in assisting NBA general managers and scouts in effective player evaluation and selection strategies, contributing valuable insights into the complex process of building successful basketball teams. Miguel et al. (2019) performed an extensive analysis of NBA draft data from 1978 to 1998, revealing compelling insights into the relationship between draft selection order and players’ career longevity. Players chosen in the first five picks, on average, enjoyed a more extended career of around 14 years, with a discernible non-linear trend showing a decrease in longevity from the first to the 30th pick. When accounting for draft years, the study identified fluctuations in career longevity, with an increase until 1985, stabilization until 1993, and a subsequent rise.

Fynn and Sonnenschein (2012) departed from conventional player performance metrics, opting instead for individual awards as a measure of success, they employed the number of individual awards won as a measure of performance, along with the player’s biological data such as height and weight. They pointed out that, a player’s height and number of awards won have a positive effect on his career duration. The association between height and extended career duration can be attributed to the scarcity of players in positions like Center and Forward-Center compared to guards or guard-forwards, making the former more sought after for their abilities in finishing shots around the rim, rebounding, and shot-blocking, regardless of specific performance metrics.

Career longevity is further contingent upon various factors, with season injuries and illnesses playing a significant role in determining the career span of an NBA player, as evidenced in the following studies. Kester et al. (2017) conducted a thorough investigation into the impact of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury tears on NBA players from 1984 to 2014. Despite an 86.1% return rate post-ACL reconstruction, the study revealed a significantly shorter mean post-operative play of 1.84 years compared to controls. Survival analysis emphasized a heightened rate of early attrition for players undergoing ACL reconstruction, highlighting the intricate relationship between these injuries, rehabilitation success, and the enduring consequences on professional basketball players’ career longevity. Khalil et al. (2020) using matched controls examined the consequences of Achilles tendon (AT) ruptures on NBA players’ careers from 1970 to 2019 showed that among the 47 players with AT ruptures, an impressive 72.3% successfully resumed NBA participation post-surgery, albeit with significantly shortened playing careers compared to uninjured counterparts (3.1 vs. 5.8 seasons on average, respectively). Johns et al. (2021) conducted a review that examined the impact of Achilles tendon (AT) rupture on 333 professional athletes across major sports leagues. Findings reveal a 76.4% return-to-play rate after AT repair, with an average recovery time of 11 months—twice that of the general population. However, returning athletes experienced a significant decline in performance, particularly in the NFL and NBA, suggesting a potential career-altering consequence. That study underscored these athletes’ challenges, providing crucial insights for setting evidence-based expectations in postoperative return to professional sports.

Martin et al. (2021) focused specifically on injuries during the rookie season of an NBA player. Using data from 2007 to 2019, they revealed heightened injury and illness rates in rookie players, particularly in the ankle. They explored the connection between rookie season injuries and career longevity. The results showed a significant reduction in total seasons played for rookies with injuries, but this effect lessened after accounting for confounding variables. Lower draft positions associated with shorter NBA careers, suggesting performance factors and organizational investments play a role. Specific injury patterns, notably ankle and knee injuries, emphasized the long-term consequences and advocated for targeted mitigation programs. While rookies exhibited a higher injury risk, adjusted analyses indicated career longevity is multi-factorial, with cumulative injury burden emerging as a potential determinant, emphasizing the need for ongoing research and improved mitigation strategies.

The goal of this paper deviates from the previous research works in that instead of attempting to predict the duration of NBA players it attempts to predict the likelihood of staying in the league for at least 10 years. Players who have served in the league for at least 3 years are eligible for the NBA’s minimum pension package, but those who have served for 10 years are entitled to a full pension scheme that includes all possible benefits. NBA players can start receiving smaller monthly payments, over an extended period of time, as early as 45 years of age under the NBA Early Retirement Day scheme. Players are encouraged to hold off on receiving payments until the Normal Retirement Day at age 62 to receive the highest possible payments. For instance, a player with only three years of service who opts into the pension at age 62 will receive the minimum amount of 56.998 dollars per year and a player with at least 10 years of service can get up to 215.000 dollars annually at the age of 62 years. The pension amount is based on a combination of factors that include years of service, age, and salary history hoopshype.com. It is worth highlighting that from July 2023 and on the monthly amount per Year of Credited Service payable as a Normal Retirement Pension is $1,001.47.

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