Tag Archives: Los Angeles Lakers

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.


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!



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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!


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.