Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Celtics endgame

The Celtics are hanging onto the 8 seed for dear life. Last night, they got a big win over the Cavaliers (who are ninth) and managed to tie up the Knicks for the 7 seed. In Boston, most people realize that this group is done. I’m reminded of the Pistons in ’08-09; here’s the IMDB:

Endgame (2012)
PG-13 (66 games and 1 playoff round) – Sports Action

In 2008-2009, the Detroit Pistons are coming off six straight Eastern Conference finals appearances. However, their core players — Chauncey Billups, Richard “Rip” Hamilton, and Rasheed Wallace — are aging, Continue reading

LOS LIIIIIINNNNNNKKKKSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Just a few LOS LIIIINNNKKKKSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!! as I get back in the groove after some vacation last week:

As always, send me your los links if you have something funny, sports-related, intelligent, and/or intriguing.

To tank or not to tank

Last week, I mentioned that my paper with my PhD cohort Chris was accepted for the poster session at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. I’ll give the summary and some pictures today (you can find the full paper on my academic website). The project looks at the age old subject of tanking for position in the NBA draft lottery. We answer two questions:

  1. Should teams tank for a better draft position?
  2. How much do teams actually tank?

For the first question, we head right to the lottery. We are interested in the causal effect of obtaining the top pick in the draft. If the first pick is truly valuable, then teams should be willing to lose intentionally to get it. LeBron James, Tim Duncan, and Shaquille O’Neal were all first picks, but so were Greg Oden and Michael Olowokandi. We want the average value of all the first picks since the draft lottery took its current form in 1990.

Since there is some randomness in who wins the lottery, Continue reading

Adrian the Canadian presents his girlfriend’s Unified Theory of Sports

Since I’m on vacation, I’m giving Adrian a little more rope than usual. Here’s his girlfriend’s Unified Theory of Sports:

My girlfriend has a theory about sports. She thinks that all sports that have a physical goal, be it a net or an end zone, require some sort of physical handicap in order to be interesting. These handicaps can be divided along two dimensions — one we’ll call rules-based and the other opposition-based. Rules-based handicaps are things like “no hands” or “no running with the ball/Frisbee” or “the net is two basketballs wide,” while opposition-based handicaps refer to what your opponent is allowed to do to prevent you from reaching your goal. These two types of handicaps move in inverse relation to one another. A sport with many rules-based handicaps — think about basketball with its small net and prohibition against running with the ball or soccer with its single, significant “no hands” rule — has to minimize physicality. Imagine full contact soccer. It would be stultifying. Similarly, imagine Continue reading

Adrian the Canadian fixes hockey

Being Canadian, Adrian has a lot to say about hockey. I’ll let him take it away:

In August, the NHL held its (now annual) Research, Development, and Orientation (RDO) Camp. The RDO Camp is an interesting idea — it gives NHL teams a chance to evaluate top prospects and serves as a venue to experiment with potential rule changes. This year, they evaluated over two dozen rule variations, from the mundane (thinner nets) to the radical (line changes only permitted on the fly, 3-on-3 overtime). While I often complain about the NHL’s rules, especially in regard to player safety, the RDO camp is a great idea more leagues should implement. Moreover, it shows a surprising open-mindedness and willingness to change by the conservative NHL establishment. So, let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly at the last RDO.  Continue reading

One more Lin

My buddy Tony and I have been trying to figure out how to quantify Jeremy Lin’s recent five games. He suggested I figure out the likelihood of his start, assuming that Lin is “just” an above average point guard. So, I identified all the point guards who averaged between 16 and 18 points per game in the 2009-10 or 2010-11 season. In 2009-10, that included Devin Harris, Rodney Stuckey, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Steve Nash, and Tony Parker. In 10-11, the list is Brandon Jennings, Chauncey Billups, Gilbert Arenas (before the suspension), John Wall, Raymond Felton (while with the Knicks), and Tony Parker again.

I collected the game logs for all these guys for the relevant year(s); here’s the histogram of points scored in each game (including playoffs to bump the sample up):

In a total of 832 games, these players scored 30 or more points on 38 separate occasions (this is the total of the last three bars on the right). Likewise, they scored fewer than 5 points in 32 different games. These two tails each capture about 4-5% of the total distribution.

Using this distribution, Continue reading

Back to earth

As I predicted, Jeremy Lin came back to earth against the Timberwolves last night (8-24 shooting, 8 assists, 6 turnovers, three more bricks from three point range). I found the whole thing quite revealing, since the Wolves have their own marketable point guard (Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio), but he gets much less attention in a small market.

This is not to diminish Lin’s achievement. He has made the Knicks winners without their two best players. However, there are plenty of reasons to temper the enthusiasm. During his five game launch to stardom, Lin has three games with 8 assists or fewer and 6 turnovers or more. He’s shooting 3-17 from three point range. Let’s see if he can get those numbers in line before we get too excited.

Since the dawn of Linsanity

Since it all began for Jeremy Lin on Saturday, February 4th against the Nets, Jeremy Lin has shot 42-73 from the field (58%!) over four games. Lin’s shooting percentage his senior year at Harvard? 52%. His first four games as the starter for the Knicks are even more anomalous considering that he is only 3-14 from three point range. He shot 60% on two pointers his senior year, compared with 66% over the last four games.

You probably know what’s coming. That’s right, Lin has had a great start to his career, but also a lucky start. Although his performance has transformed the Knicks’ demeanor, don’t expect the insane shooting to continue. Teams will also start backing off on pick and rolls to see if he can reliably make NBA threes. If you still want to jump on the bandwagon, Brother Conor can tell you what to expect.

I also have great news today! One of my submissions to the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was accepted for the poster session. The paper (available at my academic website, written with Christopher Walters) estimates the causal impact of NBA draft incentives on tanking as well as the causal impact of winning the NBA draft lottery. In short, we find that teams tank a lot — teams that can improve their draft position by losing have lower winning percentages than teams that can’t by about 15 percentage points. There’s good reason for all this tanking. After adjusting for team quality, winning the draft lottery provides a four year attendance boost (though only a small increase in winning percentage). I’ll explain the details in a future post.

LOS LIIIIIINNNNNNKKKKSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NFL/Super Bowl sayonara edition

Here a few LOS LIIIINNNKKKKSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!! to wrap up an entertaining NFL season and Super Bowl (“Turn out the lights . . . “):

As always, send me your los links if you have something funny, sports-related, intelligent, and/or intriguing.

An idea for the MLS

I play for the Boston Rugby Football Club (BRFC) in the ten-team U.S. Super League (our country’s highest level of rugby, but there’s not even a website worth linking for the league). We’re in the midst of preseason conditioning in a high school gym, and I’ll pay for all my own flights to our away matches. We’ve had a different “home field” in Boston for each of the last five seasons, yet we’ve reached the league semifinals two years running.

Meanwhile, in Foxborough, MA, the New England Revolution share Gillette Stadium with the Patriots, but only draw a few thousand fans to most games. Major League Soccer is entering its 17th season. Most teams are not profitable (though the league is making progress). The MLS lags far behind the big four U.S. professional sports in gate receipts, total revenue, and media coverage.

Somewhere between these two poles, lacrosse, women’s soccer, women’s basketball, and other sports struggle for attention. All these leagues are working towards similar goals but need Continue reading