The five players on any basketball team are far more than the sum of their parts; the rockets devote a lot of energy to untangling subtle interactions among the teams elements. To get at this they need something that basketball hasnt historically supplied: meaningful statistics. For most of its history basketball has measured not so much what is important as what is easy to measure — points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots — and these measurements have warped perceptions of the game. (Someone created the box score, morey says, and he should be shot.) How many points a player scores, for example, is no true indication of how much he has helped his team. Another example: if you want to know a players value as a rebounder, you need to know not whether he got a rebound but the likelihood of the team getting the rebound when a missed shot enters that players zone. There is a tension, peculiar to basketball, between the interests of the team and the interests of the individual.
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He doesnt shoot much, but when he does, he takes only the most efficient shots. He also has a knack for getting the ball to teammates who are in a position to do the same, and he commits few turnovers. On defense, although he routinely guards the. B.A.s most prolific scorers, thesis he significantly reduces their shooting percentages. At the same time he somehow improves the defensive efficiency of his teammates — probably, morey surmises, by helping them out in all sorts of subtle ways. I call him Lego, morey says. When hes on the court, all the pieces start to fit together. And everything that leads to winning that you can get to through intellect instead of innate ability, shane excels. Ill bet hes in the hundredth percentile of every category. There are other things Morey has noticed too, but declines to discuss as there is right write now in pro basketball real value to new information, and the rockets feel they have some. What he will say, however, is that the big challenge on any basketball court is to measure the right things.
But look, see how he waiting pump fakes. Battier indeed pump faked, several times, before he shot over a defender. He does that because hes worried about his shot being blocked. Battiers weaknesses arise from physical limitations. Or, as Morey puts it, he cant dribble, hes slow and hasnt got much body control. Battiers game is a weird combination of obvious weaknesses and nearly invisible strengths. When he is on the court, his teammates get better, often a lot better, and his opponents get worse — often a lot worse. He may not grab huge numbers of rebounds, but he has an uncanny ability to improve his teammates rebounding.
Because you can guard that shot with one player. And until you cant guard someone with one player, you really havent created an offensive situation. Shane cant create an offensive situation. He needs to be open. For line fun, morey shows me video of a few rare instances of Battier scoring when he hasnt exactly been open. Some large percentage of them came when he was being guarded by an inferior defender — whereupon Battier backed him down and tossed in a left jump-hook. This is probably, to be honest with you, his only offensive move, morey says.
This perplexed even the man who hired Morey to rethink basketball. All i knew was Shanes stats, Alexander says, and obviously they werent great. He had to sell. It was hard for me to see. It was, and is, far easier to spot what Battier doesnt do than what he does. His conventional statistics are unremarkable: he doesnt score many points, snag many rebounds, block many shots, steal many balls or dish out many assists. On top of that, it is easy to see what he can never do: what points he scores tend to come from jump shots taken immediately after receiving a pass. Thats the telltale sign of someone who cant ramp up his offense, morey says.
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The bid failed, but a related group went and bought the celtics — and hired Morey to help reorganize the business. In addition to figuring out where to set ticket prices, morey helped to find a new general manager and new people looking for better ways to value basketball players. Leslie alexander heard whispers that Morey, who was 33, was out in front of those trying to rethink the game, upbringing so he hired him to remake the houston Rockets. When Morey came to the rockets, a huge chunk of the teams allotted payroll — the. Caps payrolls and taxes teams that exceed them — was committed, for many years to come, to two superstars: Tracy McGrady and yao ming. Morey had to find ways to improve the rockets without spending money. We couldnt afford another superstar, he says, so we went looking for nonsuperstars that we thought were undervalued.
He went looking, essentially, for underpaid players. Thats the scarce resource in the. Not the superstar but the undervalued player. Sifting the population of midlevel. Players, he came up with a list of 15, near the top of which was the memphis Grizzlies forward Shane battier.
He was tall and had played high-school basketball, but otherwise he gave off a quizzical, geeky aura. A lot of people who are into the new try to hide it, he says. With me there was no point. In the third grade he stumbled upon the work of the baseball writer Bill James — the figure most responsible for the current upheaval in professional sports — and decided that what he really wanted to do with his life was put Jamesian principles into. He nursed this ambition through a fairly conventional academic career, which eventually took him. I.T.s Sloan School of Management.
There he opted for the entrepreneurial track, not because he actually wanted to be an entrepreneur but because he figured that the only way he would ever be allowed to run a pro-sports franchise was to own one, and the only way he could imagine. This is the 1990s — theres no Theo, morey says, referring to Theo epstein, the statistics-minded general manager of the boston Red Sox. Sandy Alderson is progressive, but nobody knows. Sandy Alderson, then the general manager of the oakland Athletics, had also read Bill James and begun to usher in the new age of statistical analysis in baseball. So, morey continues, i just assumed that getting rich was the only way. Apart from using it to acquire a pro-sports team, morey had no exceptional interest in money. Photo Credit Dan Winters for The new York times. He didnt need great wealth, as it turned out. After graduating from business school, he went to work for a consulting firm in Boston called Parthenon, where he was tapped in 2001 to advise a group trying to buy the red Sox.
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The games are games of odds. Like professional card counters, the retrolisthesis modern thinkers want to play the odds as efficiently as they life can; but of course to play the odds efficiently they must first know the odds. Hence the new statistics, and the quest to acquire new data, and the intense interest in measuring the impact of every little thing a player does on his teams chances of winning. In its spirit of inquiry, this subculture inside professional basketball is no different from the subculture inside baseball or football or darts. The difference in basketball is that it happens to be the sport that is most like life. When Alexander, a wall Street investor, bought the rockets in 1993, the notion that basketball was awaiting some statistical reformation hadnt occurred to anyone. At the time, daryl Morey was at Northwestern University, trying to figure out how to get a job in professional sports and thinking about applying to business schools.
In 2005, the houston Rockets owner, leslie alexander, decided to hire new management for his losing team and went looking specifically for someone willing to rethink the game. We now have all this data, alexander told. And we have computers that can analyze that data. And I wanted to use kite that data in a progressive way. When I hired Daryl, it was because i wanted somebody that was doing more than just looking at players in the normal way. I mean, Im not even sure were playing the game the right way. The virus that infected professional baseball in the 1990s, the use of statistics to find new and better ways to value players and strategies, has found its way into every major sport. Not just basketball and football, but also soccer and and rugby and, for all i know, snooker and darts — each one now supports a subculture of smart people who view it not just as a game to be played but as a problem. Outcomes that seem, after the fact, all but inevitable — of course lebron James hit that buzzer beater, of course the pittsburgh Steelers won the — are instead treated as a set of probabilities, even after the fact.
same time; the rockets player who spent the most time actually playing for the rockets during the streak. This year Battier, recovering from off-season surgery to remove bone spurs from an ankle, has played in just over half of the rockets games. That has only highlighted his importance. This year, morey says, we have been a championship team with him and a bubble playoff team without him. Here we have a basketball mystery: a player is widely regarded inside the. As, at best, a replaceable cog in a machine driven by superstars. And yet every team he has ever played on has acquired some magical ability to win. Solving the mystery is somewhere near the heart of Daryl Moreys job.
From the minute jerry west got there he was trying to trade me, battier says. If West didnt have any takers, it was in part because battier seemed limited: most of the other players on the court, and some of the players on the bench, too, were more obviously gifted than. Hes, at best, a pays marginal. The Grizzlies went from 23-59 in Battiers rookie year to 50-32 in his third year, when they made the. Playoffs, as they did in each of his final three seasons with the team. Before the 2006-7 season, battier was traded to the houston Rockets, who had just finished 34-48. In his first season with the rockets, they finished 52-30, and then, last year, went 55-27 — including one stretch of 22 wins in a row.
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Early on, hoop Scoop magazine named Shane battier the retrolisthesis fourth-best seventh grader in the United States. When he graduated from Detroit country day school in 1997, he received the naismith Award as the best high-school basketball player in the nation. When he graduated from duke in 2001, where he won a record-tying 131 college-basketball games, including that years. Championship, he received another naismith Award as the best college basketball player in the nation. He was drafted in the first round by the woeful Memphis Grizzlies, not just a bad basketball team but the one with the worst winning percentage. History — whereupon he was almost instantly dismissed, even by his own franchise, as a lesser talent. The year after Battier joined the Grizzlies, the teams general manager was fired and the. Legend Jerry west, a k a the logo because his silhouette is the official emblem of the. B.A., took over the team.