Basketball for geeks!

By Sherwood Strauss

What a day to be writing up the coolly logical “Stumbling on Wins.” In the wake of CavsFAIL, there are sure to many overheated reactions. LeBron haters will cite the awful loss as proof of some abstract “LeLoser” quality. Lakers fans surreally will inject themselves into yet another needless conversation as the “debate” fueled sports media squeals with glee. The Kobesters will trumpet this series as proof of the KOBE winner quality (Psst: Your boy’s not even better than Dwayne Wade or his teammate Pau Gasol. Please shut up, I’m sick of this grand charade). Since Lakers fans—to their galling credit—have such passion, and since they have a disproportionate impact on the national sports consensus, it skews what the average plan believes. It’s the same in politics: If one group is crazy, organized, and loud, they’ll swing a debate in their favor.

Of course, it’s one thing to say that Bryant isn’t the bestest and it’s another to have arduous work backing such an argument. And that’s why “Stumbling On Wins” is such a delicious tonic to loud conventional wisdom.  Economists David J. Berri and Martin B. Schmidt have tirelessly worked to model what creates wins, and delight in flaming our misconceptions about “winners”. And I get to read their work, plus sound smarter when pissing off that guy on the other barstool. I’ll support anything that validates my urge to condescend.

Stuff you’ll like:

•    An explanation on why NHL goalies are far less important than you might think

Sharks fans, I hope that makes you feel a bit better about Nabby’s occasional shakiness.

•    Research that claims the NBA player prime to be age 24

Coaches tend to overplay vets in general, to the detriment of team success.

•    An analysis of what creates basketball wins, and what screws up our basketball analysis

We, as a people tend to emphasizing scoring over what creates a positive point differential. Pau Gasol can yank down 19 rebounds in victory, but if Kobe Bryant scores 34 points on lackluster shooting, Kobe will get the publicity.

NBA fans, coaches, and GMs are all blinded by scoring bias. As Berri often points out at his Wages of Wins blog, the best scoring sixth man is almost certain to win the award. Every year. I’m not sure if Berri has a name for this phenomenon, but I call it the “Yay! Points!” thesis.

I love this book, and I won’t pile on with the expository when there are so many other reviews out there. It’s a stimulating Summer read, and it’s sure to get you into a tough debate or +/- two. My plea is that you give it a chance. Please, don’t descend into those cliché, meathead arguments about how “you hate stats,” or that “stats are stupid.” This is all about a quest for the right stats, and a fun one at that. Enjoy.