Jaren Jackson Jr. stat-filling controversy explained: Reddit post sparks discussion with gaming implications

Jaren Jackson Jr. has become a popular choice for Defensive Player of the Year in recent weeks. Before Saturday, he had become the favorite to win the prize at all major sportsbooks, with odds of some cases below minus-200. When CBS Sports made our selection of prices for the mid-season, seven of eight voters chose Jackson as the Defensive Player of the Year. Several other notable outlets followed.

And then, Saturday morning, got a long post on Reddit. The thread, by user u/ADMassive6666, was titled “Memphis Grizzlies scorekeeper posting fraudulent numbers.” The post itself alleged that the goalie working the Grizzlies’ home games artificially inflated Jackson’s blocking and steal numbers, which in turn fueled Jackson’s Defensive Player of the Year campaign.

Soon after, Caesars Sportsbook removed the defensive player of the year odds from the board. Other books abandoned the odds and saw a significant movement against other contenders. In accordance The Athletics Fred Katzthe post “is going around the league now, not just the internet.”

The NBA is no stranger to citizen journalism. The scandal that ultimately cost former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Bryan Colangelo his job was originally uncovered by a Twitter user who led The Ringer’s Ben Detrick to investigate further. But this is something completely new. Fans often use social media to complain about how players are treated, but as Katz reported, the league is at least monitoring this one, and for good reason. So let’s dive into one of the more bizarre controversies in recent NBA history and why such a seemingly small difference in a few statistical columns can have huge ramifications for the future of basketball.

So… what are the claims here?

The central thesis of the post is that Jackson is unfairly awarded extra blocks and steals by the Grizzlies’ goalie when playing at home. In 16 home games, Jackson has collected 66 blocks and 22 steals. In 17 road games, Jackson has blocked 37 shots and grabbed just 12 steals. The post listed seven specific plays where the writer believed Jackson was unfairly awarded either a block or a steal. Videos for all seven can be found here, but below is the first example cited:

On the play, Zion Williamson drives into traffic and seemingly loses the ball without stepping up for a shot. Jackson was awarded a block. Each of the seven clips alleges that Jackson was unfairly given credit for a play he did not make. Tim Frank, the NBA’s senior vice president of communications, issued a statement denying those allegations and explaining the league’s procedure for such matters.

“To ensure the integrity of our game statistics, auditors, independent of the on-site statisticians, review all plays and statistical decisions in real time during NBA games,” the statement read. “If changes are necessary, they are made at that time or after a post-game review. All of the plays questioned in the Memphis game post were scored consistently within the rules set forth by the NBA Stats Manual.”

NBA goaltenders are not employed by the league. Instead, each team provides scorekeepers at their home arenas. According to Katz, the Grizzlies are using the same goalie they did last season. Historically, static padding in the home arena is a relatively common and accepted practice. This manifests itself most often in assists, which is by far the most ambiguous statistic to track. The traditional definition of an assist is a pass that directly leads to a shot being made, but home goalkeepers tend to be more generous with their own passes than their counterparts on the road.

This season, the average home team assists at 25.3 buckets per game, while the average road team finishes with just 24.6. On a league basis, this gap is relatively small. It can manifest itself more aggressively with individual players. The season’s assist leader is James Harden, who averages 11.5 assists at home and 10.6 per game away from home. However, blocks and steals are a bit more concrete than assists, and the gaps we’re talking about, especially when it comes to blocks, are significant.

What does the movie say? What about other numbers?

The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor posted a thread Saturday afternoon covering Jackson’s blocks. He watched all 66 in slow motion and found that only three of them were wrongly judged. The thread as a whole makes a thorough argument against the relevance of any alleged stat-filling in Memphis.

It’s also worth noting that not all stats are tracked by the official scorekeeper. Starting in 2016, the NBA began tracking what they call “hustle” statistics on NBA.com. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, they were tracked out of the NBA’s Secaucus replay center by league-trained personnel. These numbers also show a difference in Jackson’s performance at home and on the road. In Memphis, for example, Jackson is averaging 11.9 contested shots and 1.9 deflections per game. Everywhere else, he averages 10 contested shots and 1.3 deflections per game. This would support the idea that Jackson is just a better defender at home than he is on the road.

As for Jackson’s Defensive Player of the Year candidacy, he remains a strong choice regardless of how many raw blocks he’s credited with. The Grizzlies still have the NBA’s No. 1 defense. They were ranked No. 20 on the morning of November 15, when he made his season debut. That defense is eight points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor than it is without him. Since Jackson’s debut, the Grizzlies have allowed opponents to make just 60 percent of their shots in the restricted area. The gap since then between them and second-place Brooklyn (62.5 percent) is greater than the gap between Brooklyn and seventh-place Oklahoma City (64.6 percent). In other words, there is plenty of evidence supporting Jackson as the NBA’s best rim protector this season that goes beyond the number of shots he blocks.

Why does any of this matter?

For the average fan, it doesn’t. The outcome of games is not determined by how many blocks a scorekeeper awards to an individual player. But financially, the NBA is concerned with far more than just the outcome of games.

In 2021, the NBA named FanDuel and DraftKings as its official sports betting partners. Caesars operates an in-arena sportsbook at CapitalOne Arena in Washington DC, home of the Wizards. FanDuel runs one in Chicago’s United Center, home of the Bulls. Sports betting is no longer just next to the leagues themselves. They are official partners and sports betting relies on precision.

For example, say a bettor bets on Jackson going under a certain number of blocks in a home game. If the way blocks are recorded isn’t standardized and completely across the board, that player might feel cheated if a game like the first example on Reddit was the difference between winning and losing a game.

Choosing the Defensive Player of the Year is in itself an imprecise undertaking, but all awards are somewhat subjective and based on narrative. If Jackson gained momentum based on false block numbers, those betting on other candidates may feel like voters are voting with inaccurate information. Ironically, voters now have to weigh the numbers laid out in this Reddit post. Even if O’Connor’s suggestion that only three of Jackson’s home runs were ruled errors is accurate, there are going to be voters struggling to shake those numbers out of their heads.

And then there is daily fantasy. Imagine losing a $1 million contest because the winner had Jackson and got an extra block. The stakes are lower on this season’s fantasy, but the theoretical consequences will be the same.

These are now serious revenue-generating industries for the NBA, and however these differences arise, they call into question the legitimacy of the entire enterprise. At the very least, the questions posts like these raise should force the NBA to consider a more standardized method of scorekeeping. If home goalies are awarding numbers unfairly, it may be worthwhile for the league to either keep statistics externally or hire their own goalies rather than outsource this responsibility to the teams.

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