Sports

A better player for a bad team?

by on July 2, 2015 at 1:53 am in Economics, Sports | Permalink

Kevin Love, in his infinite wisdom, decided to test the free agent market.  At least for a while, it seemed to raise the possibility that he wouldn’t return to the Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James.

Courtside critics of Love frequently cite the Coase theorem, especially when criticizing his play this last year for Cleveland.  Arguably Love is a better player on a bad team than he is on a good team.  He scores a lot, but only if he is the primary option on offense; you can see this by comparing his numbers on Minnesota, a poor team where he was a big star, with his numbers for Cleveland, where he was the number three scoring option.  He needs a lot of touches to hone his shooting, which is a kind of scale effect.  He also pulls in a lot of rebounds by neglecting his duties on team defense.  For a poor team, maybe that is OK, because the team defense had serious holes anyway.  For a good team it can wreck the entire plan.

This situation differs from the traditional O-Ring model (clever link there), in which the lesser talented workers hold the more talented worker back.  Here the lesser talented workers allow a flawed, attention-demanding competitor to flourish.

It may sound negative to say a player is more valuable on a bad team, but that is a skill too.  These individuals are perhaps no less virtuous or hard-working than those who are better on a good team.  Michael Adams was better on bad teams (and he played on lots of them), but was hard-working and non-selfish and also widely admired, even though he was too short and weak to hold the line in a good defensive set-up.

There are analogues in business.  Some managers may have special talents in bringing out the best in less talented workers.  Or they may make better decisions when they get to be the real boss of just about everything.  They may need a lot of unfettered experience to refine their skills, and perhaps they’re not so good at collaboration anyway.

Some politicians may be better at running chaotic countries; Nelson Mandela would have been wasted as Prime Minister of Iceland.

Some economists may be of more value in weak departments than in strong departments.  Their generalist skills fill in a greater number of gaps, and perhaps they can bring out the best in weaker students, when better students would find their lack of specialization a bigger drawback.

What are other examples of this phenomenon?

Given that Kevin Love is indeed re-signing with Cleveland, does this mean the knock on him is wrong?  Or is the equilibrium that the Cavaliers will become a worse team?  Or maybe virtually all players are good bargains the year before the salary cap will go up a lot?  Maybe Cleveland re-signed him…because they can?  The rumored deal is for $110 million, tell Coase about that.

The chairman of the National Football League’s health and safety advisory commission believes American football could ban helmets in the future.

The NFL has tried to reduce the risk of head injuries over the last five years and recently reached an almost $1bn legal settlement with ex-players suffering with head trauma.

But some experts think helmets give the players a false sense of security.

“Can I see a time without helmets? Yes,” said Dr John York.

“It’s not around the corner, but I can see it.”

There is more here, via Michelle Dawson.

Over the past five seasons, LeBron’s played a total of 18,087 minutes, counting the regular season and the playoffs.

What that means: Compared to every other player, LeBron’s played at least 15% more minutes than anyone else in the league. He’s played nearly 2,500 more minutes than Kevin Durant, the runner-up.

Basically, pick any other NBA player. Since 2010, LeBron has played the equivalent of at least one extra season compared to that player — and likely, a lot more.

And over the past ten seasons, the minutes gap widens — LeBron has a 20% edge on Joe Johnson (who’s played the second-most minutes) and a 30% edge on Tim Duncan (who’s played the tenth-most).

And yet that is with very little in the way of injury, perhaps his most remarkable achievement.  That is all from Dan Diamond.

Stephen Curry set a record In May of this year:

It took Reggie Miller 22 games to set an NBA playoff record of 58 three-pointers for the Indiana Pacers in the 2000 playoffs. Now, Stephen Curry has broken that mark in just 13 games.

He is now up in the 80s I believe.  Curry, by the way, is NBA MVP and his team is probably on the verge of winning the Finals.  The three-point strategy seems to be working: for Curry, for the Golden State Warriors, and also for last year’s champions, the San Antonio Spurs.

Yet the three-point shot has been in the NBA since 1979 (!), and for most of those years it was not a dominant weapon.

What took so long?  At first the shot was thought to be a cheesy gimmick.  Players had to master the longer shot, preferably from their earliest training.  Coaches had to figure out three-point strategies, which include rethinking the fast break and different methods of floor spacing and passing; players had to learn those techniques too.  The NBA had to change its rules to encourage more three-pointers (e.g., allowing zone defenses, discouraging isolation plays).  General managers had to realize that Rick Pitino, though perhaps a bad NBA coach, was not a total fool, and that the Phoenix Suns were not a fluke.  People had to ponder the expected value concept a little more carefully.  Line-ups had to be smaller.  And so on.  Most of all, coaches and general managers needed the vision to see how all these pieces could fit together — Arnold Kling’s patterns of sustainable trade and specialization.

In other words, this “technology” has been legal since 1979, yet only recently has it started to come into its own.  (Some teams still haven’t figured out how to use it properly.)  And what a simple technology it is: it involves only placing your feet on a different spot on the floor and then moving your arms and legs in a coordinated (one hopes) motion.  The incentives of money, fame, and sex to get this right have been high from the beginning, and there are plenty of different players and teams in the NBA, not to mention college or even high school ball, to figure it out.  There is plenty of objective data in basketball, most of all when it comes to scoring.

Dell Curry, Stephen’s father, was in his time also known as a three-point shooter in the NBA.  But he didn’t come close to his son’s later three-point performance.

So how long do ordinary scientific inventions need to serve up their fruits?  I am a big fan of Stephen Curry, but in fact his family tale is ultimately a sobering one.

Addendum: Tom Haberstroh fills in the history.

I’m passing through Baltimore on the train today (a talk at U. Penn and chatting with Ashok Rao), so I have license to do this.  Here goes:

1. Author: There is plenty to choose from here, including Poe, James Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Frank O’Hara, and H.L. Mencken.  I do not love F. Scott Fitzgerald as many do, same with Upton Sinclair, but they deserve mention.  I’ll opt for Poe, with Gold-Bug as my favorite story.  Hammett’s Red Harvest I also enjoy and have taught a few times, delicious incoherence.  Anne Tyler has a few good books, but stop reading after one or two of them.

2. Philosopher: John Rawls, though since we’re talking about Baltimore I feel I should call him Jack.

3. Painter: Morris Louis or Grace Hartigan?  I feel I can do better, help out people.

4. Popular music: Tori Amos grew up in Baltimore, I like her Little Earthquakes and various singles, live cuts, and cover versions, available only in scattered form as far as I know.  Is Dan Deacon popular?  Frank Zappa is a remarkable musical talent, but I don’t actually enjoy listening to him.

5. Jazz: Eubie Blake, there is also Bill Frisell and Billie Holiday.

6. Classical music: Philip Glass was born there, though I associate him with NYC.

7. Baseball: I still remember that old Orioles rotation with Cuellar, McNally, Palmer, and Dobson, all twenty-game winners in the same year.

8. Soviet spy: Alger Hiss.

9. Movie, set in: I don’t love Diner or Avalon, how about The Accidental Tourist, or Twelve Monkeys?  The first half of Silence of the Lambs is excellent.

For good measure toss in Thurgood Marshall, Tim Page, Babe Ruth, The Wire, Walters Art Museum, the underrated BSO, and Brooks Robinson.  Who or what else am I forgetting?

The bottom line: Lots for one city!  Let’s hope it gets better soon.

What are non-e sports for that matter?  Via Liam Boluk, I read this from Prashob Menon:

Last year’s League of Legends championship, for example, drew nearly 30 million viewers, putting it in line with the combined viewership of the 2014 MLB and NBA finals, or the series finales of Breaking Bad and Two and a Half Men, plus the Season 4 finale of Game of Thrones. As with most sports, competitive gaming is now firmly entrenched in the US college system, with the country’s largest collegiate league counting more than 10,000 active players, some of whom are on full athletic scholarships. Eager to capitalize on growing interest in the sport, Major League Gaming (MLG) opened the first dedicated domestic eSports arena in October 2014, and major brands such as Ford, American Express and Coke have begun forming partnerships with game developers, teams, players, event organizers and video distributors. The US Department of State has been issuing athlete visas to competitive gamers since 2013.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to say eSports aren’t “real” sports, but the bigger question is whether it even matters. The media business is about eyeballs, and audiences are turning up in droves for the likes of Defense of the Ancients and League of Legends.

The economics indeed do not look so bad:

Moreover, eSports fans, unlike linear TV viewers, are highly engaged in the content. Major League Gaming, for instance, consistently beats the industry average on key digital ad metrics such as completion rates (90% vs. 72%), click-through rates (4% vs. 2%), and ad viewability (99% vs. 44%).

Here is Wikipedia on eSports.  I believe I have timed my birth at more or less the right time, so I will die of old age just when such institutions are taking over the world and pushing out baseball’s eight-team American League, as it ruled in 1968.

When Audrey Dimitrew won a spot on a club volleyball team in Chantilly, Va., the 16-year-old hoped to impress varsity coaches and possibly college coaches.

But when her coach benched her and the league told her she couldn’t join another team, the action shifted from one court to another — she and her family sued.

…The lawsuit is one of a number filed across the country in recent years as families have increasingly turned to the courts to intervene in youth sports disputes. Parents upset that their children have been cut, benched, yelled at by coaches or even fouled too hard are asking judges to referee.

The culture that is American youth sports, there is more here, via Michael Rosenwald.

What would you like him to cover?  Please don’t be rude, serious inquiries only.  On Twitter Ben claims he will cover “economics, finances, and sometimes baseball.”

In just about every field I looked at, having a successful parent makes you way more likely to be a big success, but the advantage is much smaller than it is at the top of politics.

Using the same methodology, I estimate that the son of an N.B.A. player has about a one in 45 chance of becoming an N.B.A. player. Since there are far more N.B.A. slots than Senate slots, this is only about an 800-fold edge.

Think about the N.B.A. further. The skills necessary to be a basketball player, especially height, are highly hereditary. But the N.B.A. is a meritocracy, with your performance easy to evaluate. If you do not play well, you will be cut, even if the team is the New York Knicks and your name is Patrick Ewing Jr. Father-son correlation in the N.B.A. is only one-eleventh as high as it is in the Senate.

Emphasis added by me.  And this:

An American male is 4,582 times more likely to become an Army general if his father was one; 1,895 times more likely to become a famous C.E.O.; 1,639 times more likely to win a Pulitzer Prize; 1,497 times more likely to win a Grammy; and 1,361 times more likely to win an Academy Award. Those are pretty decent odds, but they do not come close to the 8,500 times more likely a senator’s son is to find himself chatting with John McCain or Dianne Feinstein in the Senate cloakroom.

That is all from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.

Maybe this is too strange and squirrelly an example to deserve mention on MR, but I found it fascinating.  It starts with this:

This year’s rebounding leaderboard, at least in terms of rebounds per game, is topped by DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond, who also finished 1-2 last season. In a bygone era, you’d simply say they are the league’s best rebounders at this time. Yet it might not be that way at all.

There seems to be a huge oops:

Both the Clippers and Pistons have better defensive rebound rates with their star rebounders on the bench. How is that possible?

This is a big topic, but one possible reason could be the simple fact that neither Jordan nor Drummond is particularly concerned with boxing out…Drummond blocks out on the defensive glass just 5.97 times per 100 opportunities, lowest in the league among centers with at least 500 chances.

Jordan is a little better at 9.64, but that’s still the 11th-lowest total.

In other words, what really matters is marginal rebounding prowess, adjusting for how many rebounds you take away from the other players on your team.  Maybe an individual can pull in the ball more often by positioning himself to grab the low hanging fruit rebounds — often taking them from other team members — rather than boxing out the other team for the tough, contested rebounds.

Measurement really is changing the world.  The article is here, by Bradford Doolittle, ESPN gated.  Here is more on DeAndre Jordan, also ESPN gated.  That is one media source I pay for gladly.

What sport should your kid play?

by on March 11, 2015 at 12:45 am in Education, Sports | Permalink

After I requested requests, Trey Anastasio asked me:

If a parent were to pick a sport for their child to play competitively, what would you suggest? (factoring in cost, commitment, personal development, opportunities provided in life)

I take this to refer to stardom in high school or college, but not beyond.

I am inclined to select tennis.  It doesn’t cost so much, and you can play for most of the rest of your life, without needing a team to back you up.  It is unlikely to injure you very seriously, although arguably it cultivates an attitude of selfishness.  Various areas of track would be reasonable picks too.  If this is restricted to major team sports, I say baseball, mostly to minimize risk of injury or violence.

That said, my overall sense is that levels of competition in all of these areas have become higher than is socially optimal.  Little League success will suffice for a lot of the gains in terms of learning leadership, discipline, and teamwork.  So I would not wish any of these upon a child.  These endeavors have become academic fundraisers where levels of competition are pushed as high as the talent allows, and too often they have become all-consuming pursuits, in violation of Aristotle’s edicts about moderation.  Sports have gone from a very cheap way of educating your child to a very expensive way, yet another example of unmeasured declining productivity in education.

Kevin Erdmann writes:

I think basketball would be vastly improved if after the 3rd quarter, we just added 20 points to the higher score, and said, first team to that score wins.

Or, for that matter, make it score based instead of time based. It’s halftime when one team gets to 30, and the game is over when one team gets to 60.

It gets rid of all the fouling and time outs at the end of close games, and it means that it doesn’t serve any purpose for the winning team to drain the clock. And, it means that a team that falls far behind has more of a chance to catch up – like in baseball.

Of course this would not maximize ad revenue, which tends to increase with close games as the number of timeouts rises.  Furthermore perhaps people do not enjoy the outcome as much if they do not have to wait a bit for it.  Nonetheless an interesting idea.

Here is a piece by Tomala, Jia, and Norton:

When people seek to impress others, they often do so by highlighting individual achievements. Despite the intuitive appeal of this strategy, we demonstrate that people often prefer potential rather than achievement when evaluating others. Indeed, compared with references to achievement (e.g., “this person has won an award for his work”), references to potential (e.g., “this person could win an award for his work”) appear to stimulate greater interest and processing, which can translate into more favorable reactions. This tendency creates a phenomenon whereby the potential to be good at something can be preferred over actually being good at that very same thing. We document this preference for potential in laboratory and field experiments, using targets ranging from athletes to comedians to graduate school applicants and measures ranging from salary allocations to online ad clicks to admission decisions.

Here are some ungated copies.  For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis, who sent me the link in response to my earlier post on age discrimination.

In a Ramsey model this can be true.

I went to see a Thunder-Clippers game with Kevin and Robin, and as usual parts of the live experience were rather distasteful to me, including the noise, the arena announcer, and the cheerleaders.  These features of sports have, overall, become worse over time.

That said, NBA basketball largely succeeds in appealing to both high-status and low-status men.  (Roller derby and pro wrestling can’t quite bridge that gap, NASCAR is doing this more than it used to.  On arena strategies for making everyone feel exclusive, try this interesting piece.)  Neither group goes away from the experience fully happy, but each receives something of value.

High-status men receive ancillary products related to the NBA, such as statistics and clever analytics, from say Bill Simmons or fivethirtyeight or Zach Lowe.  These make the experience of watching the game more high brow and also more satisfying.  In response to that improvement, some other aspects of the experience can be dumbed down, without the high-status men defecting.  The stupid promotions and halftime shows, for instance, becomes less suited to what the high status men might be looking for.  But you can ignore them when you’re happy to sit there and think through PER for this year’s Kevin Love, whether the Wizards should take so many long twos, or why the Atlanta Hawks were such a surprise.

And thus we have another unintended consequence: making an experience smarter, as do the clever sportswriters, can also contribute to making part of that same experience more stupid.

Addendum: Watching the game, I also learned that the Thunder have a deeper team than I had thought, and that Chris Paul is no longer a quick point guard.

Seattle Art Museum and New England’s Clark Art Institute are wagering temporary loans of major paintings based on the outcome of Super Bowl XLIX between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. The masterpieces that have been anted up showcase the beautiful landscapes of the Northwest and the Northeast respectively.
The article is here, more here, and for the pointer I thank Chris F. Masse.