Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Drinking the OKC Kool-Aid (Bx3 #12)

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Please don’t think too long and hard on this one- (Do Lev and Chub even live in Boston?  Kendrick Perkins doesn’t use doors?  Space jam and not Air Bud?) It’s called comedic license people!

Here's a link to the Bill Simmon's article that mentions Perkins crying about the trade.

I won't go on and on about another man's emotions, but I will be happy to go on and on about other topics. 100% superfluous commentary follows:

The people that are thinking long and hard are the NBA prognosticators trying to predict what the outcome of this (and other) trade will be.  It’s definitely interesting to read the different takes everyone has, but I’ve come to the realization that like economics, sports-analysis is a dismal science. (…and believe me I don’t mean that as a criticism of those that do it well- there’s a reason I do a gag-strip and not an in-depth analysis like Hardwood Paroxysm or Zach Lowe over at SI.)  

Similar to economics, there is a macro-micro split.  If you look at a blog like Sebastian Pruitis’s NBA playbook, (which you should, often) you find clear analysis on what happened on a certain play.  There is some aspect of speculation when considering the possibilities of a given play unfolding differently, but for the most part the interpretations of what happened will not have large variation (assuming the analysts are all skilled enough to read the action correctly).   This is the micro level of analysis (and again, I’m not trying to take away from it- you won’t find me sticking my neck out and trying it).   

Analyzing what happened over a whole game, we are still on somewhat solid ground, but we’re introducing a little less confidence, a little more wiggle room for interpretation.  When it comes to the truly macro level- the regular season record, playoff series, or questions like how player A will affect team B against team C, we are on shakier ground still.  Individual plays are repeated often (unless you’re OKC in crunch-time, they don’t use any plays at all! Rim-shot!), giving the micro-analyst a wealth of knowledge to draw conclusions from.  Things like impactful players moving from one team to another don’t happen nearly as often.  If you look at the individual idiosyncrasies of each player and each team’s system, you could almost argue every trade in some way is unprecedented. 

Due to this, on the macro level of the NBA one can theorize and offer up supporting evidence, but nothing can ever be completely proven.  This is true when analyzing past events, but even more true when trying to apply your theories to predict outcomes.  Will Kendrick Perkins make OKC a defensive stalwart that can now handle the Laker’s size, or will he slow down and simplify the offense that made OKC a dangerous playoff draw to begin with?  I don’t know.  I like reading people’s opinions who’ve forgotten more about basketball than I’ll ever know on such matters- but do any of them really know either?   

Prognosticators can only really tell you what they think the new odds are, and can’t ever say with 100% confidence that they were proven right.  The addition of Kendrick Perkins might be the reason OKC succeeds (or fails), but then again the outcome might just be the long odds finally coming through.  

After the fact, some may be ‘proven’ right and some ‘proven’ wrong- but  it’s never completely settled.  If OKC somehow managed to beat the Lakers in a playoff series this year, most would point to Perkins addition.  But think back to game six of last year’s playoffs- (and work with me here) if you’ll remember, Gasol got a last second put-back in game six to end the series.  Had that ball bounced off the rim to the opposite side of the key, we might have seen a game seven.  In game seven, maybe Durant gets hot, can’t miss, Lakers go cold, and OKC manages to take the series.   

The bounce of that one ball in game six could completely change the way the series would be analyzed after the fact. I’m not saying this outcome was likely, but I am showing how easy it is to inject doubt into a macro-basketball certainty. OKC hypothetically beating the Lakers  last year might be a one in ten kind of occurrence, but we don’t get the luxury of repeating it ten times to know.  

I’m not arguing against sports analysis, I would argue instead that this is what makes sports analysis fun.  It engenders debate.  Endless debate- which then gives us more to watch for in the games themselves.  And in the end it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, because it’s just entertainment (unless you are a GM or have a financial stake in the team of course).  

Economics on the other hand, at least when applied to political decision making, matters in a direct way to people’s lives.  So I say long live the sweet-dismal-science of sports analysis… but let’s hope the genius out their  figuring out some way to make economics a little less dismal isn't wasting too much time analyzing basketball games.