Blog Changes: More Content, New Feed Options

This blog has gotten a bit more traffic and attention in recent weeks, so I think this is a good time to make a long-planned move to shift gears a bit as far as content.  I will still be writing and posting the same types of longer articles that I always have, but I will also be posting shorter, less polished, more frequent, and generally more blog-like items, such as:

  • Random thoughts, ideas, graphs, or speculative takes relating to the various sports analytics conflicts taking place in the blogosphere or in my head
  • More preliminary results from my ongoing research and works in progress.
  • Responses to reader comments and emails.  If you’ve emailed me questions or followed the comments, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve given a lot of fairly detail replies, so I’m going to start posting some of those exchanges on the main page.
  • Brief follow-ups and updates to individual items (e.g., how I was right about Tiger Woods not being himself).
  • Links to relevant and/or interesting outside articles (though always with some comment or criticism).
  • Site news and info, such as: how things are going in the Stat Geek Smackdown (now alone in 2nd), my new policy on rotating subtitles, the silly bet I lost to Arturo, etc.
  • Occasional non-sports material.  Don’t worry, most of my abstract-thinking time is spent on three subjects: Sports analysis, day-to-day applications of Bayes’ Theorem, and Hacker-God cosmology [Claimed!].  Fortunately, these are all pretty much the same, so if I go off topic a bit it should still be somewhat relevant.

So, to reflect the change, I’ve slightly altered the blog structure and layout, including altering the style sheets and switching to 3 columns.  You should see 4 new feeds in the upper left:

  • Everything: This will still be the landing page and default feed.
  • Articles: This is for my longer (though not necessarily 30,000 word) pieces only (the most recent are also listed in the left column).
  • Non-Articles: Not that I would encourage skipping my articles, but I’m providing this as an option in case anyone wants to subscribe to the feeds separately.
  • Featured: This will be a feed of just my favorites from both sides.

For even less polished and more raw material, I’ve started tweeting more often than I used to, so I’ve expanded the Twitter feed in the right side column.  I also have some moderate to big ideas for non-post content, which I should be rolling out in the near(ish) future.

If you hate the new setup (feed structure, layout, style, me, etc.), or if you have any suggestions for improvements, per usual, please let me know in the comments or email me.

Quick Take: Why Winning the NBA Draft Lottery Matters

Andres Alvarez (@NerdNumbers) tweeted the other day: “Opinion question. Does getting the #1 Pick in the Draft Lottery really up your odds at a title?”  To which I responded, “Yes, and it’s not close.”

If you’ve read my “How to Win a Championship in Any Sport,” you can probably guess why I would say that.  The reasoning is pretty simple:

  1. In any salary-capped sport, the key to building a championship contender is to maximize surplus value by underpaying your team as much as possible.
  2. The NBA is dominated by a handful of super-star players who get paid the same amount as regular-star players.
  3. Thus, the easiest way to get massive surplus value in the NBA is to get one or more of those players on your team, by any means necessary.
  4. Not only is the draft a great place to find potentially great players, but because of the ridiculously low rookie pay scale, your benefit to finding one is even greater.
  5. Superstars don’t grown on trees, and drafting #1 ensures you will get the player that you believe is most likely to become one.

I could leave it at that, as it’s almost necessarily true that drafting #1 will improve your chances.  But I suppose what people really want to know is how much does it “up your odds”?  To answer that, we also need to look at the empirical question of how valuable the “most likely to be a superstar” actually is.

Yes, #1 picks often bust out.  Yes, many great players are found in the other 59+ picks.  But it utterly confounds me why so many people seem to think that proving variance in outcomes means we shouldn’t pay attention to distribution of outcomes. [Side-note: It also bugs me that people think that because teams “get it wrong” so often, it must mean that NBA front offices are terrible at evaluating talent. This is logically false: maybe basketball talent is just extremely hard to evaluate!  If so, an incredible scouting department might be one that estimates an individual player’s value with slightly smaller error margins than everyone else—just as a roulette player who could guess the next number just 5% of the time could easily get rich. But I digress.]

So, on average, how much better are #1 draft picks than other high draft picks?  Let’s take a look at some data going back to 1969:


Ok, so #1 picks are, on average, a lot better than #2 picks, and it flattens out a bit from there.  For these purposes, I don’t think it’s necessary, but you can mess around with all the advanced stats and you’ll find pretty much the same thing (see, e.g., this old Arturo post). [Also, I won’t get into it here, but the flattening is important in its own right, as it tends to imply a non-linear talent distribution, which is consistent with my hypothesis that, unlike many other sports, basketball is dominated by extreme forces rather than small accumulated edges.]

So, a few extra points (or WPA’s, or WoW’s, or whatevers) here or there, what about championships?  And, specifically, what about championships a player wins for his drafting team?


Actually, this even surprised me: Knowing that Michael Jordan won 6 championships for his drafting team, I thought for sure the spike on pick 3 would be an issue.  But it turns out that the top picks still come out easily on top (and, again, the distribution among the rest is comparatively flat).  Also, it may not be obvious from that graph, but a higher proportion of their championships have gone to the teams that draft them as well.  So to recap (and add a little):


The bottom line is, at least over the last 40ish years, having the #1 pick in the draft was worth approximately four times as many championships as having a 2 through 8.  I would say that qualifies as “upping your odds.”

Stat Geek Smackdown Round 3: Scenarios

Update (5/22/11): Here’s an updated version of the same graphic (slightly reorganized), reflecting the latest:


As most of you know, I’m competing in ESPN’s Stat Geek Smackdown 2011. I lucked into the lead coming out of the first round, but have since dropped into a tie for 2nd.

Oklahoma City choking in the 2nd half of game six against Memphis cost me dearly: had they held on to their 10 point halftime lead to win that game, I would have remained outright leader heading into these last three series. But by losing that one and winning the next, the Thunder have put me in a tough spot: With Ilardi and I both having the Heat in 6, this round doesn’t give me a lot of opportunities to catch up. At this point, the lead—no matter how small—will be huge advantage heading into the Finals, and four of us are technically within striking distance:
Round 3 Scenarios

Stahlhut and Berri have put themselves in decent spots by being the only panelists currently in contention to choose OKC and Chicago, respectively. To regain a share of the lead, I need Dallas to win in 6 and not{Chicago win in 7}. But Dallas came through for me by winning in 6 in round one, so here’s hoping it happens again.