Very difficult questions

by on August 13, 2010 at 7:18 am in Books, Economics, Sports | Permalink

I have spoken at Jane St. Capital a few times and it is perhaps my favorite audience; everyone wants analytic content and everyone came prepared.  All of the questions were tough, but two in particular I was not prepared for.

First, I was asked "Which is the most underrated statistic for judging the value of an NBA player?"

My attempted answer was the player's presence on a very good, consistently winning team.  There are many players with impressive statistics, including unselfish statistics such as assists and rebounds, who are only of value on bad teams.  We overvalue such players.  Overall, really good teams don't keep bad players and really bad teams don't keep good players.  If a player has never been on a really good team, he might not be so good, with apologies to the earlier Kevin Garnett.

Second, I was asked who is most likely to write a novel about the financial crisis which will stand the test of time.  I do not see any such author around today, but if you have ideas leave them in the comments.  "DeLillo, if he were thirty years younger" was the best I came up with.  Or maybe something from genre fiction.  There are notable works of fiction dealing with the Great Depression, but I can't recall that any of them focus on the financial side.  It's a hard topic to be dramatic about, without being either too simplistic or overly technical.

1 Jody August 13, 2010 at 8:35 am

How would “presence on a very good, consistently winning team” compare to the +/- stat?

2 derek August 13, 2010 at 9:02 am

The ubiquity of Michael Lewis.


3 CK August 13, 2010 at 9:11 am

Emma Lathen could have, but half of her is dead.

4 I. Stinson August 13, 2010 at 9:41 am

Jane Street has a reputation for hiring some of the brightest. What other questions were the employees asking?

5 Yan August 13, 2010 at 10:13 am

So the talk was in New York or something.

6 Ted Craig August 13, 2010 at 11:25 am

Hand length in the NBA. No kidding.

7 Maxwell James August 13, 2010 at 12:43 pm

The best novel about the financial crisis would not be a drama, but a satire. Were he alive, I’d vote for Joseph Heller.

8 ed August 13, 2010 at 2:13 pm

In 2003-04, the Timberwolves won 58 games and were the top seed in the west. Doesn’t that qualify as a “really good team?”

9 Ziyad August 13, 2010 at 4:49 pm

I believe John Lanchester has been writing this novel. Look up the podcast of his recent (quite entertaining) lecture at the LSE (Economics 1 Reality 0) where he quotes from the first few pages.

10 Bernard Guerrero August 14, 2010 at 11:25 pm

“My attempted answer was the player’s presence on a very good, consistently winning team.”

Interestingly, one set of factors that usually shows up in credit scoring models is historical credit utilization, with “more” generally = “better” (leaving aside serial credit abusers, who have additional factors in their profile.)

11 Paul December 14, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Re. evaluating basketball players according to their presence on good teams.

Might not teams, good or bad, have different utility functions? The marginal value of a given trait (a rebounder, a scorer, a defender) would be different for different teams. Secondly, there are many limits to the free movement of players, perhaps particularly for good players, who have historically been rewarded by the collective bargaining agreement for sticking with their team. This gives them an incentive to stay with what may be a bad team. Indeed, might not good players (or at least good bargains)be those who are consistently offered contracts by their current teams, making them less likely to move up the “good team chain”?

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