Scout A: He’s got an ugly girlfriend. Ugly girlfriend means no confidence.
Scout B: Ah no, you guys are full of it, Artie’s right. This guy’s got an attitude, and attitude is good. He’s the kind of guy that walks into a room and his dick has already been there for two minutes.
Scout C: He passes the eye candy test, he’s got the looks, he’s ready to play the part, he just needs to get some playing time.
This was the dialogue between scouts in “Moneyball” that made Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) think outside the box and hire Peter Brand (Johan Hill), an economist from Yale to rebuild his baseball team. After “Moneyball” changed baseball, a few baseball fans got jobs in basketball. Soon a former Celtics front office member became the General Manager of the Houston Rockets and started applying the same approach. Moreyball was on.
Similar to baseball, there are two schools of thought in basketball. The “basketball people” – former players, reporters who have been in the league a long time and have come up a conventional way, and the “analytics people” – GMs, front office personnel and a handful of reporters that did advance math and statistics in college and crunch numbers.
The analytics crew is new in town and has to prove themselves. They are often ridiculed as they look at numbers and data, then try to make conclusions without “understanding the soul of the game.” There is some validity in this comment, and it applies to any statistical analysis. You have to understand what you are analyzing before you start crunching numbers..
Whenever humans are involved, your formula has to have an X where you acknowledge your math is as good as the people who are a part of the process. Sam Hinkie did everything right – except having an X that represented the importance of narrative and the pressure he will get from his boss due to the all the criticism he got for tanking. The difference between old school and new school is best presented with this scene from Moneyball.
OK, the movie is about baseball, but the dynamics are the same. The old crew struggles to accept that there’s a new, better way of thinking that shows points like “He’s got an ugly girlfriend. Ugly girlfriend means no confidence.” don’t really mean anything. The advantage of being the minority is you have to learn about the majority more than vice versa. Everyone around the world speaks English – not as many Americans speak a foreign language.
Yesterday we saw Rachel Nichols, Dave McMeniman, and Richard Jefferson display that for us. All amazing at what they do, but obviously not so keen on math or statistics. They were commenting Daryl Morey saying that the Rockets have a 30% higher odds of winning a championship with Russell Westbrook on the team. Have a listen.
For 6 minutes, they laughed at Morey, thinking that “they had a 1% chance, and now they have a 31% chance.” A 30% increase in your chances means you had, for example, a 10% chance of winning and now you have a 13% chance of winning.
Now, we don’t know what the starting number Morey is working with was, but if you told me the Rockets have a 13% chance of winning the NBA title, I would laugh at it. I may disagree, but the statement that a former MVP increases your odds for 30% is not ludicrous. Just look at Cavs pre and post-LeBron. One superstar makes a huge difference in basketball.
But more importantly – you don’t have to be a math genius to talk about basketball, but in the analytics era – maybe learn how to add up percentages and what they mean?