Category Archives: Sports

The Laker’s Disadvantage

The book Moneyball popularized a narrative we all love: “In sports, the big market teams with all the money dominate. How can small market teams compete?”

This narrative forces us to ignore the fact that even in the 2000s, every MLB team was owned by a person or group of people worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Hell the end story of the “poor owners” in the As was they sold the team for $180 million in 2005 after purchasing it for half that price in 1995 (inflation-adjusted.) It’s a forced underdog narrative.

And that brings up another writer in the same vein as Michael Lewis. Malcolm Gladwell wrote, “Outliers” and “David and Goliath,” both of which focus on success and hidden advantages. One of the funniest cases of this is when advantages are framed as disadvantages and vice versa.

It is believed going to a top-ranked school like Harvard is an advantage. However, as Gladwell notes in David and Goliath, class rank has more correlation with success (at least in terms of things like publishing, etc.) than school pedigree. In short, a big fish in a small pond has more of an advantage than a mediocre student at MIT or Harvard!

On the flipside, Malcolm Gladwell notes there are disadvantages that can be, for lack of a better word, blessings in disguise. His controversial take was in some cases, children with learning disabilities are forced to learn other skills to succeed, and that helps them more in life than being a good student.

I feel both of these scenarios apply to the NBA and two of the most decorated teams: the Spurs and the Lakers.

The Goliath Spurs

The Spurs, are by all rights, a Moneyball team. I’ve written about this before. In terms of NBA market sizes, the Spurs are in the 20th sized metropolitan market. What’s more, the Spurs were a former ABA team. For those that don’t know, the ABA teams agreed as part of their buyout with the NBA to give 1/7 of their revenue to the owners of the defunct “Spirts of Saint Louis.” As such, the Spurs compared to other NBA teams for most of their history were at a disadvantage, right?

The Spurs lucked into David Robinson and Tim Duncan, and I refuse to discount this in their history (also, as I’ve discussed before Tim Duncan was not a result of tanking). Any monumental success, of course, requires a tremendous amount of luck. But the Spurs didn’t follow the path of other teams that luck into a star. No, they stayed a contender for almost two decades. And a huge part of it was the players they signed. Just like in Moneyball, the Spurs went after “untapped resources” like international players. They also went after other teams projects like Danny Green. And this is where I say their disadvantage was their advantage.

A big part of my work with the Wages of Wins and Boxscore Geeks is about how conventional wisdom in NBA talent evaluation is wrong. And the problem is, it’s tough to get teams to change their thinking. Markelle Fultz still went #1 in the draft. Donovan Mitchell was considered a Rookie of the Year and future star compared to superior young talent. D’Angelo Russell made the All-Star game over better “role players.” The Spurs were forced to look for underrated talent due to their financial constraints. And that’s the irony. Standard teams all go for the same 20 point-per-game player. And it’s a crapshoot. Some players, like LeBron James, are easily worth it. Others, like Carmelo Anthony, were not. But the Spurs were forced to avoid these players entirely and look at a crop of players the rest of the NBA was ignoring. And in business, taking advantage of an undervalued resource over and over is a huge boost.

As a funny postscript to this story. In 2014 the NBA settled with the Spirits of Saint Louis. The Spurs got back their TV revenue and just in time for the NBA salary cap to jump. Since then, they’ve gone after traditional stars like LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan. And while both players have played well in the Spurs system, it’s a far cry from their underrated and undervalued stars of old.

The Underdog Lakers

If there was any parable to the Yankees in the Moneyball narrative in the NBA, it would have to be the Lakers. In the 80s they went to eight NBA Finals. They won five titles in the 2000s, and have had money to throw around. The Lakers are in the second biggest market in the NBA and have the most storied franchise. How can other teams compete?

And here’s where I’m going to partially validate Lakers fans. The Lakers edge of being known as having an unfair edge hurts that edge. In 2011 the Lakers traded for Chris Paul. While I think the Pelicans were fleeced because they decided to send the best asset they got back (Pau Gasol) to the Rockets, it wasn’t a horrible trade in terms of what disgruntled stars normally go for. However, the NBA, thanks to complaints from other owners, blocked the move.

Recently both the Spurs and Pelicans vehemently refused to do business with the Lakers, arguably costing the Lakers a shot at a year of a star. Gregg Popovich allegedly called the Pelicans to not trade with the Lakers. Note that while the Lakers are a conference rival with the Spurs, the Pelicans are a division rival! Andre Iguodala was all set to go to the Lakers when the Grizzlies, likely upon hearing about it, decided to not waive Iguodala.

And while I agree the Lakers big market and cachet does give them an edge. They aren’t alone in this. The Clippers are in the exact same market, and Paul George was sent there with a bow on top. The Nets are in the biggest NBA market, and Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving went there just fine. The Lakers advantage can actually be a disadvantage because other people perceive it as a huge advantage. Hopefully, that parsed!

I am not so naive to say that their perception around the league is enough to erase their edge. I just want to state that the perceived value of their edge is smaller than people think.

Wrapping Up

A topic that comes up all the time on the Boxscore Geeks Show is how much we force narratives in sports. We want heroes and villains. We want underdogs and unstoppable odds for them to overcome. And like most things, the truth is far more interesting. The things that let teams win aren’t always what you think. And while I enjoy the narrative in Moneyball of the big teams outspending the little guy, the data in both baseball and basketball says that advantage/disadvantage dynamic might not work how you think.


Mariano Rivera and why the Naismith Hall of Fame is a sham.


Mariano Rivera has been elected to Cooperstown (the baseball hall of fame). For those that don’t know, Rivera is probably the greatest relief pitcher in MLB history. I certainly don’t have a problem with Rivera making the Hall of Fame or being a unanimous decision. But he now holds the honor of being the first unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer in baseball history, and that brings up two problems.

What the hell Baseball?

Mike Greenberg at ESPN actually summed up my issue amazingly well. Namely, how the hell did no one else in the history of baseball get a unanimous vote? Ken Griffey Jr. missed a 100% score by three votes. Babe effing Ruth missed by nine. In a revelation that will shock no one, voters of accolades for professional sports aren’t always the best. And with that, lets get back to basketball.

Here’s the clip from Mike Greenberg.

Baseball vs. Basketball

Mixing the two has bizarre results.

This is a subject I’ve talked about before. It’s no secret I’m jealous of how the baseball mainstream, relative to basketball, embraced much better analytical thinking. And Rivera is a great example why. A standard baseball player is quite similar to an NBA player. A standard hitter in baseball plays both offense and defense. The only major difference relative to basketball is their offensive contribution is governed. In basketball, a player like James Harden can essentially take all the shots. In baseball the most a batter is able to do is take one-ninth of the outs. But baseball gets interesting with pitchers.

Pitchers don’t play every game. And Rivera was a reliever, which means he only came in for the last inning or two when games were close. Here’s a decent set of comparisons. Rivera played 19 seasons with the Yankees, in that he played in 1,115 games for a total of 1,283.2 innings pitched.

Derek Jeter, another Yankees great played 20 seasons with the Yankees. He suited up for 2,747 games! Andy Pettitte was a starting pitcher for the Yankees that overlapped a lot of the time with Rivera. In a total of fifteen seasons with the Yankees, Pettite pitched 2,796.1 innings.

Yankees Dynasty

My point here is that in the language of the NBA, Rivera would be called a “role player.” He didn’t play as many games as standard starter (of course, most pitchers don’t). As a reliever he didn’t pitch as many innings as a standard pitcher. But Rivera had a very specific role — throw an unhittable pitch so well that the Yankees were always in it at the end. And, of course, this helped the Yankees win games. And as a unanimous decision shows, baseball fans recognize Rivera’s contributions too. Back to basketball.

The Naismith Hall of Fame is a sham!

“Role Player”

Rivera could rightly be called the greatest role player in baseball history. Let’s talk a similar player in the NBA. Dennis Rodman is perhaps the best “role player” in NBA history. After his second season in the NBA, Dennis Rodman never averaged more than 6.5 shots a game in his career. But what he did do was rebound and defend. Despite only being 6-7, which is quite undersized for a Power Forward/Center, Dennis Rodman led the league in rebounding seven straight seasons from 1992 to 1998. He also won back to back Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 1990 and 1991. He made eight straight All-Defense squads and was a member of five title squads.

Like Rivera, Dennis Rodman did a very important job better than anyone in the league. And Dennis Rodman did make the Hall of Fame … in his second year of eligibility. In baseball, Rivera became the first unanimous first ballot member. Dennis Rodman had to take two tries to get in, despite dominating an apsect of the sport like no one has since. 538 writer Ben Morris gained notoriety in NBA analytics circles for his large treatise on just how amazing Dennis Rodman was, and it took many many words to explain!

Sadly, Dennis Rodman is not even the most egregious aspect of the Naismith Hall of Fame. No, that honor goes to Ben Wallace. Ben Wallace is one of only two four-time Defensive Player of the Year winners in NBA history. He also made six straight All-Defensive squads, as well as five All-NBA teams. And, of yeah, he also made it to four straight All-Star games, getting the second most votes of a starter in 2006. Ben Wallace was part of a Pistons squad that made four straight Eastern Conference Finals, back to back Finals, and won a title so hard it broke up Shaq and Kobe (he lead all players in rebounds that Finals too)

Unlike baseball, Rodman and Wallace aren’t questions for how close to unanimously their accolades are celebrated. Instead, they’re questions of if they belong at all. Rodman made the Hall of Fame in 2011, four years after the first Sloan Analytics conference. Ben Wallace has been eligible for three years now and is still not in the Hall.

One is in, one isn’t.

In NBA history there have been nine players that have won the Defensive Player of the Year multiple times. Seven have been eligible for the Hall of Fame (Dwight Howard(3) and Kawhi Leonard(2) are both locks for first-ballot) Only three names made first ballot (Hakeem Olajuwon, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutombo), Dennis Rodman made secondballot, and three aren’t in (Sidney Moncrief, Mark Eaton, and Ben Wallace)

The fact that the first Defensive Player of the Year in NBA history (well, first back to back Defensive Player of the Year, in fact) isn’t in the Naismith Hall of Fame is a travesty. In fact, for a sport trying to embrace the “Analytics Movement”, I argue the Hall’s blind spot for recognized defensive greats is an embarrassment. I’m biased but I think basketball is an infinitely better sport than baseball. That said, I’m ashamed at how much baseball is lapping the NBA in regards to recognizing its greats. Do better basketball voters, do better.


Serena Williams and Slap Shot 2: A Lesson in “Fairness”

Recently Serena Williams lost in the US Open finals. Up and comer Naomi Osaka beat the greatest tennis player in what should be a possible passing of the torch in women’s tennis. The story, however, is that Serena Williams was penalized a point, and then later a game for arguing with the umpire. Serena Williams has gone on to claim the umpires are sexist and have a double standard compared to male athletes. I agree. And while I’ve seen some flock around the defense of the umpires “following the rules,” I figured I’d use one of the worst movies ever to make a point about that line of thinking in double standard scenarios.

Slap Shot 2: Dear God, Why did they make this?

Slap Shot 2 is the story about a minor league hockey team in financial trouble (like the original Slap Shot). The team finds itself acquired by an eccentric rich man who wants to put on wholesome hockey for his son. As a result, he creates a Harlem Globetrotter-esque scenario where the Chiefs play the role of the Washington Generals.

However, the Chiefs decide they want to play real hockey. After giving up many goals to their rivals in a game, they start playing for real. They end up winning the game proving a minor league team with former NHL players can indeed win a hockey game against another minor league team. Dear god, why did they make this movie?

One essential part about the pivotal game is that the Chiefs are down many goals (I couldn’t find how many and I refuse to pay for this movie) because like professional wrestling they are scripted to look bad and decide to play for real. When this happens, their coach informs the scorekeepers to reset the score 0-0. And this is important. In an already unbelievable movie — one of the subplots is that Stephen Baldwin was kicked out of the NHL for missing a vital shot in the Finals, which lead some to believe he was paid to throw games — Slap Shot 2 felt it important to stress that even playing good hockey, a team down a lot couldn’t come back in a period.

John McEnroe and “Good” Outbursts

Back to tennis! John McEnroe is a Hall of Fame tennis player. He is a nine-time Grand Slam winner, and depending on which list you use, places top 5 to top 10 in career wins in men’s tennis. That said, McEnroe is more well known for his outbursts and tantrums on the tennis courts. And one way we know this is that McEnroe has capitalized on this.

I found a 2017 commercial where McEnroe references one of his famous outbursts (“You cannot be serious!”)

Even Wimbledon’s own site has this clip fondly.

And for what it’s worth, McEnroe himself agrees there is a double standard in regards to the recent Serena debate. So back to the original debate.

Let’s assume you want to side with the argument – Serena Williams broke the rules and was wrong. And the tennis umpires are right, and regardless of what has happened in the past, they were right here. Even one of the worst sports movies ever understands if you give one side a huge lead and then decide to enforce the rules fairly for both sides, it’s still unfair for the team that’s been having goals scored on it. You cannot forget the years of tennis where the same behavior has been excused or awarded to the men, while chastised to the women. Even one of the worst sports movies ever understood this logic. And here’s hoping that tennis can too. Of course, as of this writing, various umpires are debating whether to boycott Serena’s games, so I won’t hold my breath.


Q&A with Professor David Berri: The Fastpitch and the NBA Playoffs

Holy cats, our podcast with Dave Berri returns. For those that don’t know, Wages of Wins founder David Berri writes regularly for Forbes now ( and he comes on weekly to talk his recent pieces. Since we’re catching up, we cram a lot in.


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You can download the show direct here.

Video Show

Dave talks about the National Pro Fastpitch draft, both a preview and a review. As Dave notes, there are five teams, so they drafted pretty well.

Dave also tells an old story about the NFL draft, no one has any idea about how good any QB will be. As Dave notes, this has never been a popular story. People don’t like being told no one knows it seems.

We talk Dave’s article about NCAA “cheating” by paying athletes is a ludicrous idea.

We talk a fair bit about the NBA and NBA Playoffs. Dave put up his first round predictions and got 7 of 8 correctly. It turns out in the NBA picking the better team to win is often a good strategy. We may get a post out of his second round projections. Dave did post his projections for the series before they started:

Do want to throw out one of my old pieces on how the Mavericks 2011 Finals win wasn’t about clever lineup schemes as much as Dwyane Wade getting injured at a pivotal time.

We ask an important question: Has Carmelo Anthony read and used the Wages of Wins as a model for how to maximize his career earnings.

Fun Easter egg, our internet connection failed in the middle of the recording, so I had to cut out some dead space, see if you can find where! (It’s pretty obvious)

Follow Dave

Dave’s Forbes’ site is:

Dave’s Twitter is: @wagesofwins

Dave’s textbook ” Sports Economics” has its own blog:


The Boxscore Geeks Show: Should Lonzo Ball win Rookie of the Year over Donovan Mitchell?

Penultimate Lakers fan Chris Yeh returns to discuss Lonzo Ball’s excellent rookie performance and why the Lakers are in a fantastic spot. We also randomly discuss NBA players out of time in their eras. Tune in!



You can watch us live at; we usually go Wednesday at 9:30 pm EST. Follow us on Twitter, and we’ll keep you posted!

Please subscribe to Channel NerdNumbers on YouTube and like us on iTunes!

You can download the show direct here.

Video Show

Show Notes

Chris Yeh is an Angel Investor in Silicon Valley with years of experience in the tech scene. He’s co-author of the New York Times bestseller “The Alliance,” which I argue every NBA GM should have on their bookshelf. His new book “Blitzscaling” comes out in October, and you can already preorder it!

Ethan Strauss named the “Yay! Points!” thesis almost eight years ago. Donovan Mitchell is proof it’s alive and well. Chris elaborates that iso jump shooting is overrated as an NBA skill.

Lonzo Ball was already a better rookie than LeBron James early in the season. He’s only improved since then!

This may now be the most “popular” Tweet I’ve ever written that is liked by one of the athletes it is about.

Something we should stress: the goal of professional athletes is to make a living playing sport. As Jalen Rose noted: “give the people what they want!” (h/t Chris for that reference) Donovan Mitchell knows scoring will get him paid. So while we might be critical of his production, we can’t fault what he’s doing from an economic standpoint.

The NBA landscape is changing, with a premium being given for three-point shooters. We can’t help but think of players from other eras that would be completely different in the modern NBA. Chris brings up Drazen Petrovic. I’ve already talked the Dallas Mavericks with Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki. And, of course, John Stockton could have been Curry but with better defense!

Chris shouts out the incredible “Lakers Film Room” YouTube channel, which provides excellent analysis of the Lakers.

A sports metaphor that comes up on this show I love: Chris Paul is the Rickie Henderson of the NBA.

We talk how the Lakers have a fantastic young core (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma) ready for two max contract players, which they have space for this upcoming offseason. Our suggestion? LeBron James and DeAndre Jordan.

Remember when the Knicks signed Amare Stoudemire to try and entice LeBron James to join them? Here’s hoping the Lakers do better!

We talk Gasol vs. Gasol! Shockingly even at this age, Pau is still the better one.

Chris gives a fun tank throwback to Mark Madsen with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Tune in for all that and more! Chris is one of the most knowledgeable Lakers fans you’ll ever hear, so it’s worth your time.

Seeya next week!


Is “Major League” the best “Based on a True Story” Movie?

I’m a huge fan of sports movies. And, of course, many sports movies take their cue from reality. One of the most infamous types is the “Based on a True Story.” Of course, how accurate any of these vary. And regardless of how true the story is, many edit or inflate the story to add dramatization. There is one movie, that is “pure fiction” though that has so many true to life elements, I just had to talk about it. That movie, as you know from the title, is “Major League.” Major League tells the story of the Cleveland [Seriously it’s been 20 years they’re still called this?] baseball team and their owner Rachel Phelps. Here are three ways Rachel Phelps is “Based on a True Story.”

3.) Rachel Phelps is Billy Beane … a decade early

Alright, Billy Beane didn’t become general manager of the Oakland Athletics until 1998 and Major League came out in 1989. So, it’s hard to say it was based on reality. That said the plot of the two is very similar. A team in a depressed market struggles to compete against teams with larger payrolls. By acquiring undervalued assets that don’t look like conventional players, somehow a scrappy team is able to compete, but sadly unable to win in the playoffs. And, it turns out this was actually the “original script” to Major League. The plot we are given is that owner Rachel Phelps plans to tank the Cleveland season for nefarious reasons — we’ll get back to that shortly. However, that’s just a line she feeds the boardroom. Her team is actually cash-strapped, so the only way to compete is to look for undervalued players. There was a scene originally in the movie about this, but it didn’t screen well with audiences so it was cut.

Speaking of that scene

2.) Rachel Phelps is Herb Brooks

Another one of my favorite “Based on a True Story” movies is “Miracle. We’re told the thrilling tale of how the 1980s US Hockey team defeated the unbeatable Soviets. Part of the story is that the US players have a lot of animosity towards each other as many are from rival colleges. Of course, the US is also having a lot of strife at the time, so it’s hard to get the players to gel. US coach Herb Brooks decides the best way for his team to get along is to have a common enemy — him! He is cold and distant to the players, and sometimes sadistic, including making them do sprints after a disappointing exhibition game. Rachel Phelps, who we already know is on the team’s side, is the same way. She’s overtly antagonistic to the team. She seemingly does spiteful things like restricting access to the team plane and take away equipment. The team unites around proving Phelps wrong, so the plan works! The scene showing how this works doesn’t age well though …

1.) Rachel Phelps is Clay Bennett

Admitted this is the weirdest entry. As mentioned, the original ending to Major League was changed after test screenings. As such the plot we’re given is Rachel Phelps inherits a team in a market she doesn’t like. She plans to tank the season so bad that a clause in her contract allows her to relocate the team to Miami. As this was a feel-good movie, of course, that doesn’t happen. Reality can be much crueler. Clay Bennett acquired the Seattle Supersonics and said he planned to keep them in Seattle. However, he then traded away their good pieces and demanded stadium renovations from Seattle. When, shockingly, Seattle didn’t want to pay money for a bad team, Clay relocated the team to his home state of Oklahoma. And oddly, Clay’s real-world story starts drifting into Major League’s universe even more. In Major League II, despite being a contender, Cleveland’s money woes cause them to lose one of their stars. Because Bennett relocated to OKC, he ended up letting James Harden go over money. At least both Cleveland and OKC did make the finals once in their respective universes.

Did Major League Predict the future?

When I set about to write this piece my thesis was of course how much Major League copied reality. Of course, date checking everything shows it’s the other way around. I guess I’ll go rewatch the movie to see what else I should expect! Anyway, until next time.


The Boxscore Geeks Show: Another MIT Sloan Analytics in the Tank.

Wow, another long one! We talk my time at the 2018 MIT Sloan Analytics Conference, tanking in the NBA, the NCAA controversy (the most recent one, maybe?), and some around the NBA team talk.



You can watch us live at; we usually go Wednesday at 9:30 pm EST. Follow us on Twitter, and we’ll keep you posted!

Please subscribe to Channel NerdNumbers on YouTube and like us on iTunes!

You can download the show direct here.

Video Show

Show Notes

I attended the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference and had some thoughts, tune in to hear. If you want another fantastic analyst’s thoughts on the state of Sloan, check out Cleaning the Glass’ write up here.

I’m pretty proud that this happened.

Brian notes that sadly, Hinkie is likely not going to be back in the NBA anytime soon.

The NBA is warning teams against tanking. Any fan of behavioral psychology probably has some bad news for them.

We talk about the most recent NCAA scandal. Lots of people agree the notion that paying athletes is fine. We review Stan Van Gundy’s take.

As Shaun King notes, no joke, the NCAA has basically compared “student-athletes” to prison labor.

We discuss a few teams in the NBA including the Wizards, Nuggets, and Bucks.

Seeya next week!


The Charles Babbage Basketball Prediction Problem

Charles Babbage is one of the pioneers of modern-day computing. In the 1800s he came up with the idea for a computer when such a thing was a far-off pipe dream. And as often happens with explaining fancy new future technology, some of the questions he got were odd. One of my favorite quotes about this was:

On two occasions I have been asked, — “Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?” In one case a member of the Upper, and in the other a member of the Lower, House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

Source: Wikiquote

I think about this quote a lot when it comes to sports predictions. As fans of the Boxscore Geeks or Wages of Wins will know, I have slowly adopted Dave Berri’s distaste for preseason predictions, primarily as “proof” of anything. And one of the biggest issues I have is encapsulated in the Babbage quote above. You see, when it comes to preseason prognostications, one can put in the wrong inputs and get the “right” outputs.

For example, when we first started the Boxscore Geeks we took on the audacious task of projecting the entire NBA season. We included our projections for every player’s minutes and performance in the NBA and got a win estimate for every NBA team as a result. And here’s the thing, while that’s a fun exercise, it goes off the rails quickly. Let’s use the current NBA season as an example. Here’s a list of teams that had a significant change to their roster either via injury or player movement. The list is not all-inclusive.

  • The Boston Celtics lost Gordon Hayward for the entire NBA season a mere one game into the season.
  • The Chicago Bulls “stars” Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic got into a fight two days before the NBA season started. Mirotic missed two months with a broken jaw. Portis was out eight games with a suspension. Eventually, the Bulls traded Mirotic at the trade deadline.
  • The Clevland Cavaliers did a complete overhaul of their roster at the trade deadline that saw Dwyane Wade, Channing Frye, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert leave and brought back George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. Additionally, Kevin Love is out six to eight weeks with a broken hand.
  • The Denver Nuggets recently acquired thirty-million dollar a year man Paul Millsap went down in November and will be out until at least March!
  • The Detroit Pistons had a blockbuster trade deadline trade for Blake Griffin.
  • The Los Angeles Clippers traded away Blake Griffin at the trade deadline.
  • The Los Angeles Lakers traded away Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson for Channing Frye and Isaiah Thomas.
  • The Memphis Grizzlies have lost Mike Conley for the season.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks traded Greg Monroe for Eric Bledsoe a month into the season. Additionally, Malcolm Brogdon is out for six to eight weeks with a tendon injury. Jason Kidd was also fired midseason if you believe coaching matters.
  • The New Orleans Pelicans have lost Demarcus Cousins for the season. They also acquired Nikola Mirotic at the trade deadline.
  • The New York Knicks have lost All-Star Kristaps Porzingis for the season with a knee injury.
  • The Oklahoma City Thunder have lost underrated guard Andre Roberson for the season.
  • The Orlando Magic traded Elfrid Payton for a second-round pick at the trade deadline. Also, Aaron Gordon has almost missed twenty games with various injuries.
  • The Philadelphia 76ers number one draft pick Markelle Fultz is out for the season (I believe.)
  • The Phoenix Suns traded Eric Bledsoe for Greg Monroe. They have since waived Greg Monroe. They also acquired Elfrid Payton at the trade deadline.
  • The Sacramento Kings traded away George Hill at the trade deadline.
  • The San Antonio Spurs have been with Kawhi Leonard for most of the season, and his timetable to return is unknown.
  • The Utah Jazz traded Rodney Hood for Jae Crowder and lost Thabo Sefolosha for the season.
  • The Washington Wizards are without All-Star point guard John Wall for six to eight weeks for knee surgery.

I’ve left out unexpected changes in performance, surprising rookie performances, etc. Regardless, this season I count nineteen teams that due to either injury or trade had a significant difference to their roster from the start of the year. And that means whatever inputs any of us had for our projections to the NBA season are now entirely different from what’s going on now. Of course, many of us can be “right” in regards to the outcome at the end of the season. My example, for instance, is one could have predicted Boston would win over 55 games this season and credit Gordon Hayward. They are well on their way to that, but Hayward is not a direct factor.

If we’re honest with ourselves, the prediction we made to start the season was answering an entirely different question. And the critical part of this is that this season isn’t an outlier. Every NBA season there are severe injuries that impact teams. Teams are always allowed to trade and waive players. The NBA is huge in that one or two players can completely change how a team does. It doesn’t mean we should stop trying to predict what’s going to happen. We should just acknowledge that by the time the NBA season wraps up, what we thought to start the season has little to do with what the NBA looks like at the end.


Should the Mavericks have won the 2003 NBA Finals?

In 1979 the NBA introduced the three-point line. Almost 40 years later, teams have finally realized it’s a good thing. Modern teams are raining down threes, and the best offenses in the league are built around layups and threes (or as we affectionally call it “Moreyball”). And that can’t help make you think of historical players (John Stockton anyone?) and teams.

In 2002-2003 the Mavericks had a 28-year-old Steve Nash and a 24-year-old Dirk Nowitzki on a team together. And this team went on to a 60 win record. They lead the league in Offensive Rating (how many points they scored per 100 possessions). And I think they vastly underperformed what they could have done. That season the Mavericks were second in the NBA in three-point attempts per game at 20.3. Dirk and Steve only combined for 8.2 of them. In the modern NBA, the lowest number of three-point attempts for an NBA team is the Knicks at 22.2. The second place team, the Brooklyn Nets, takes 34.2 three-pointers a game.

And you can’t help but wonder if the Mavericks had embraced Moreyball in 2002-2003, what it would have looked like. Here’s a rundown of the firepower the Mavericks had in 2003.

  • Dirk Nowitzki – 4.9 3PA/G, 38.4% career three-point shooter.
  • Mike Finley – 4.7 3PA/G, 37.5% career three-point shooter
  • Nick Van Exel – 4.3 3PA/G,  35.7% career three-point shooter
  • Steve Nash – 3.3 3PA/G, 42.8% career three-point shooter
  • Walt Williams – 2.6 3PA/G, career 37.9% three-point shooter

As mentioned the Mavs finished the season tied for the best record. But due to the stupid playoff seeding rules, they nabbed the 3rd seed! As a result in the first round of the playoffs, they had to play the six-seeded Blazers, who were a 50 win team and took them to seven games. While they got home court, they had to face the 59 win Sacramento Kings in the second round, who also took them to seven games. It turns out home court didn’t matter in their six-game loss to the Spurs. That said, you can’t help what wonder what a more relaxed schedule in the playoffs and an offense based on three-point shooting would have done against the Spurs.

Notoriously, Mark Cuban relented why Steve Nash couldn’t have played like an MVP in Dallas. Of course, we’d argue that he did, but regardless, the major change to Steve Nash was playing under D’Antoni. And one thing D’Antoni did was increase the number of threes the Suns took and then the number of threes that Steve Nash took. We often talk hypotheticals, and it’s hard to know if a player on a different team (for instance, what if Shaq had stayed in Orlando. What if Denver had won the 2003 draft lottery?), but most have too many variables to know anything. But it just feels slightly more certain in the land of absurd speculations, that had D’Antoni taken over the 2003 Mavericks, they’ve have had a much better shot at a title.


p.s. Day three of daily posting Monday-Thursday continues! I’ll try and do better at posting in the morning, but I’ll still count today, even though it was “after business hours.”



LeBron James and LaMarcus Aldridge Lead the Game Changers!

A quick reminder on the “Game Changer” metric. The Wins Produced formula estimates a player’s contribution in regards to how many wins they earn a team over the course of the season. We can translate this into point margin (the Points over Par metric), as in, how many points did they help their team outscore (or get outscored by) their opponent. If we compare their Points over Par (PoP) for a given game to the actual score, we can ask an important question: if you replaced them with an average player, would the outcome have changed? Here’s a fun down of the top ten game changers this season by net wins and net losses.

Player Game Changer  Wins Game Changer Losses
LeBron James 17 6
LaMarcus Aldridge 11 2
Anthony Davis 10 2
James Harden 9 2
Stephen Curry 11 4
Kevin Love 10 3
Klay Thompson 9 3
Clint Capela 5 0
Giannis Antetokounmpo 8 3
Victor Oladipo 9 4

In a revelation that will shock no one, LeBron James has been clutch this season. The Cavs needed his performance for seventeen of their thirty-three wins. Let that sink in. Admittedly he has aged, a little, and cost them a few games too. Our only “perfect” player in the top ten is Clint Capela, our darkhorse MVP candidate. Let’s also give a shout out to Kevin Love as well, who has been key to Cavs this season and will hopefully be back healthy for the playoffs.

A short post for today, but that’s how it goes sometimes! See you tomorrow!