The arbitrary World Champions


When George Wallace ran for President as an independent in 1968 he did so because, he said, there wasn’t “a dime’s worth of difference” between the Republicans and Democrats.

Watching Game 7 of the NBA Finals last night I got the same sensation.  Midway through the fourth quarter with the game tied, I kept thinking “We’re going to forever proclaim one of these two teams 2009-10’s clear “World Champions” based on what occurs in these last six minutes?  It seems ludicrous.”

The fact is each team was dead equal.  There wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two.  

Their Team Win Scores for the seven game series were:  Boston 31.71; Los Angeles 31.52.  Dead equal.  Each team won once on the other team’s home floor and lost the rest of their away games.  The only reason the Lakers won last night and are World Champions this morning, it seemed to me, is because of home court advantage and unfortunate Celtic injury.  If they played a hundred more times at full strength I would expect each team to win 50 times.

But hey, that’s part of sports.  We sort of have to buy into the fiction.  You think the New York Giants were really better than the New England Patriots a couple seasons ago?  Well, history does.  (That’s whats such a joke about ESPN’s campaign to have the college football champion ‘decided on the field’. The field is probably the worst place to decide things!)

I’m not saying the Lakers aren’t a worthy champion.  They certainly are.  And they earned the right to have that seventh game in California, which I kind of like because it rewards long term excellence.

But still, all the celebration after the game last night struck me as phony.  It seemed contrived.  I kept thinking “You’ve proven you’re maybe a c hair better than the Celtics and you’re dousing each other with booze?”

I’m just getting cynical, I guess.  Woo-hoo, Worlds Champions!


5 Responses to “The arbitrary World Champions”

  1. Alvy Says:

    Dude, you need a time-machine and tell me how 1971 feels like.

    • tywill33 Says:

      Oh, oh, burrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!!

      And a good one (I’m in my office laughing my ass off)

      We better win something fast or “1971” is going to become a chant like the New York Rangers old “Nine-teen for-ty”

  2. Guy Says:

    I saw your comments on “Alternate Win Score” over at the WOW blog. I don’t know if AWS has the “correct” weights, but I don’t think you should reject the idea that ORB rate has a big impact on the value of both shooting efficiency and rebounds. When 30% of missed shots are rebounded by offense, a possession is worth about one point. But if the rules were changed to favor offensive boards, and the ORB rate was 70%, the average possession would be worth about 1.5 points. In that “alternate” NBA, rebounds would be much more valuable than today. But shooting efficiency would matter much less: making a shot still delivers 2 points, but now a missed shot will result in about 1 point on average, instead of .3 in today’s game. So the cost of missing is much less. In this alternative NBA, rebounds rule. (Imagine if 90% of missed shots were rebounded by offense: shooting percentage would hardly matter at all, and the game would be all about gaining possession.)

    Alternatively, if ORB% were 10%, then shooting efficiency would become more important. Then a miss almost always means a loss of possession, and a missed shot is worth just .1 points.

    • tywill33 Says:

      I was in bad mood that day, Guy. So I went over the top a little.

      But to your point. If you pin offensive rebounding value solely on the value of surrounding players, I think that’s a mistake. One, you must also follow your logic and add an additional adjustment for the defensive efficiency of the opponent at the time of each and every offensive rebound. What I’m saying is, if the value of the rebound is pinned upon its potential for becoming points, then that potential rises against lesser defenses. That must be accounted for.

      Two, a possession including an offensive rebound IN AND OF ITSELf has a higher value than an ordinary possession. Ken Petersen proved this with his charting. The highest value possession he found was one that included an offensive rebound, because of putback opportunities, etc. This must also be accounted for.

      But the main problem I have with AWS is this. Its assuming an action that we do not need to assume, and its deducting the shooter’s opportunity cost to the team when in fact it should be exclusively crediting the rebounders added value to the team. The NBA tracks offensive rebounds. Thus we don’t need to assume them. When they occur, we credit the player who made them occur. But we should not
      give a “cost discount” to the player whose action deliberately incurred the cost (the shooter). That doesn’t make sense.

      Thank you for the comment and the interest.

  3. Guy Says:

    “But the main problem I have with AWS is this. Its assuming an action that we do not need to assume”

    But you do have to assume it. Think about rebounds: why do we say they are worth 1 point? Because we assume someone on the team will score one point on that possession (on average). Now, we will know who scores that point, and we could give that scorer the credit. In which case, rebounds would always be worth zero!

    You have to assume that average performance will follow the event in order to properly value the event. Then, to the extent players exceed or fall short of that expectation (making or not making a rebound), you reward or debit them accordingly.

    You can’t say on the one hand that rebounds are worth one point, because we know it will lead to someone else making a point later, but then evaluate shooters as though you have no idea what comes next. It matters that teams get the ball back 30% of the time. If it were 10%, efficiency would matter even more; if it were 70% of the time, shooting efficiency would matter less; it it were 100%, efficiency wouldn’t matter at all!

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