Michael Lewis on Shane Battier and the NBA

Michael Lewis checks in with a profile of player Shane Battier and statistical whiz kid Daryl Morey. Some nuggets for you:

The virus that infected professional baseball in the 1990s, the use of statistics to find new and better ways to value players and strategies, has found its way into every major sport. Not just basketball and football, but also soccer and cricket and rugby… — each one now supports a subculture of smart people who view it not just as a game to be played but as a problem to be solved.

[Interesting because this is a virus caused in part by Lewis’ book Moneyball]

There is a tension, peculiar to basketball, between the interests of the team and the interests of the individual. The game continually tempts the people who play it to do things that are not in the interest of the group. On the baseball field, it would be hard for a player to sacrifice his team’s interest for his own. Baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team one…[In football] the players most famous for being selfish — …Terrell Owens, for instance — are usually not so much selfish as attention seeking. Their sins tend to occur off the field.

…A point guard might selfishly give up an open shot for an assist…He’s racing down court for an open layup, and…he passes it back to a trailing teammate…the likelihood of scoring…declined. “The marginal assist is worth more money to the point guard than the marginal point,” Morey says. Blocked shots — they look great, but unless you secure the ball afterward, you haven’t helped your team all that much…Dikembe Mutombo, Houston’s 42-year-old backup center, famous for blocking shots, “has always been the best in the league in the recovery of the ball after his block,” says Morey, as he begins to make a case for Mutombo’s unselfishness before he stops and laughs. “But even to Dikembe there’s a selfish component. He made his name by doing the finger wag…And if he doesn’t catch the ball,” Morey says, “he can’t do the finger wag. And he loves the finger wag.” His team of course would be better off if Mutombo didn’t hold onto the ball long enough to do his finger wag…

It turns out there is no statistic that a basketball player accumulates that cannot be amassed selfishly.

“I thought he’d be the first black president,” Wetzel says. “He was Barack Obama before Barack Obama.”

In the statistically insignificant sample of professional athletes I’ve come to know a bit, two patterns have emerged. The first is, they tell you meaningful things only when you talk to them in places other than where they have been trained to answer questions. It’s pointless, for instance, to ask a basketball player about himself inside his locker room. For a start, he is naked; for another, he’s surrounded by the people he has learned to mistrust, his own teammates. The second pattern is the fact that seemingly trivial events in their childhoods have had huge influence on their careers.

One other interesting point in this article is that the Rockets gauge which teams in the league are looking at data the same way they are by how that team plays the game. I wonder if this causes them to over think aspects of the game, though, if they think there opponent is smarter than it is.

Michael Lewis on Shane Battier and the NBA

0 thoughts on “Michael Lewis on Shane Battier and the NBA

  1. APik says:

    I just read this article and enjoyed it immensely. Funny that we both found it separate-like.

    I think all the Rockets are doing is quantifying something a lot of fans and others “feel.” You hear a lot of people talking about players like James Posery and Battier as “basketball players” or that they “just know how to win.” I have long thought that those players were simply doing the smart, team-oriented thing in an effort to win over an effort to look good.

    Interestingly, I think some of the “best” players in the game are the worst at this. Kobe is the king of the “false hustle” defensive play. The note about Steve Jackson is interesting in this way, too.

    Like

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