NBA playoffs 2021: Trae Young, Devin Booker and the 'empty stats' fallacy

As Devin Booker and Trae Young lead their respective teams in the 2021 NBA conference finals, it's time to retire the phrase "good stats, bad team."

Both Booker and Young were tagged with the unflattering label early in their careers, when they accumulated impressive per-game statistics for lottery-bound teams. The notion might even have helped keep Young off this year's All-Star team when the Atlanta Hawks started the season 13-18 while dealing with injuries to key starters prior to the announcement of reserves. (The Hawks went a mere 28-13 the rest of the way.)

Now, with Young powering Atlanta's pair of upset series wins as a lower seed, and Booker carrying the Phoenix Suns to a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals -- without star guard Chris Paul -- we should learn from their examples and forget about a concept that always made more sense in theory than practice.

The clumsy relationship between individual and team success

I can understand where the concept of "good stats, bad team" originated. Back when players were evaluated primarily based on their per-game statistics, and specifically points per game, it was easy to confuse volume scoring for performance that translated into winning.

Without the evaluation framework provided by advanced stats, team record was a shortcut to telling the imposters from the genuine article.