By Kurt Bullard
Last night, Tony Snell of the Chicago Bulls played 8:40 of a professional basketball game without recording a single stat. He failed to take a shot, snag a rebound, dish out an assist, get to the line, steal the rock, block a shot, and succeeded in not coughing up the ball or picking up a foul against the Lakers in a 126-115 win over LA.
Tony Snell achieved a variation of the “trillion,” popularized by former Ohio State basketball walk-on and former Grantland (R.I.P.) writer Mark Titus on his blog, Club Trillion. The trillion is when the only stat you record is minutes played, so your line on the box score is just a row of zeroes after minutes played. For Titus, the true trillion was when you were in the game for only a minute, which would lead to the purest form of a trillion. But last night, Snell achieved an eight trillion, which seems like an almost impossible feat in the NBA today, especially from a wing player.
Titus jokingly would go into games looking to achieve the trillion, which makes doing so much easier. It’s pretty simple to avoid recording any statistics if you’re actively trying to achieve it. But I think it’s fair to say Snell wasn’t trying to go for the eight trillion last night. Making matters even more fascinating was that the eight trillion came against the Byron Scott-led dumpster-fire known as the Los Angeles Lakers.
To see the likelihood of unintentionally putting up an eight trillion, I found the rate at which Snell recorded major stats per minute. Since Tony Snell played 8:40, you would multiply these rates by eight and two-thirds to find the expectation of these stats over the course of his time in the contest. The rates were as follows:
The occurrence of these statistics could be modeled with a Poisson distribution, since the totals are discrete and the expectation of recording one of these statistics should be roughly constant throughout the game. The following are the probabilities that, for each individual statistic, he would put up a goose egg in that one stat over eight minute and 40 seconds of play.
But we want to know the chance that he puts up all goose eggs. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll assume that these statistics are independent, even though that assumption is slightly violated. So, we can multiply these probabilities together to figure out the odds that he pulls off an eight trillion without trying. Doing so, we find that for any given game in which he were to play 8:40, the probability that Snell would put up an eight trillion is around 0.4%, which I find to be a surprisingly high number for someone who averages north of 20 minutes per game on the floor. Inverting that probability, you would find that he would be expected to put up 1 eight trillion for every 231 games in which he played 8:40.
This analysis is very easy to extend to the rest of the NBA. I sought to find the probability that players who are in the top 100 in the league in minutes played per game would put up an eight trillion over 8:40 of game time. Below are the five players most likely to put up an 8 trillion (note that Tony Snell is not on the list because he is not among the top 100 in terms of minutes played):
Kyle Korver is the most invisible player in the NBA while on the floor by this metric, which makes sense as a three-point specialist. Korver records other stats besides shots at such a low rate that he would be expected put up an eight trillion as frequently as Tony Snell would.
We can also look at the players least likely to record an 8 trillion:
It probably surprises a few that Boogie is the least likely to grace the NBA with an eight trillion over the triple-double machine known as Russell Westbrook. The other players least likely to pull it off make sense as well—they all take a lot of shots and get to the line a lot, while also grabbing boards and dishing out dimes at a high rate.
So Kyle Korver, the eight trillion is calling your name. Follow in the footsteps of Snell towards eternal (mediocre) glory.