Sunday, October 07, 2007

Sunday Readin': Bill James On The NBA

Link from BBTF. BJ in the Globe:
In the NBA, the element of predetermination is simply too high. Simply stated, the best team wins too often. If the best team always wins, then the sequence of events leading to victory is meaningless. Who fights for the rebound, who sacrifices his body to keep the ball from rolling out of bounds doesn't matter. The greater team is going to come out on top anyway.

A fan can look at the standings in December, pick the teams that will make the playoffs, and might get them all. This has a horrific effect on the game. Everybody knows who's going to win. Why do the players seem to stand around on offense? Why is showboating tolerated? Because it doesn't matter. Why don't teams play as teams? Because they can win without doing so (although teams like these may crumble when they run up against the Pistons or Spurs).

So how should the NBA correct this? Lengthen the shot clock. Shorten the games. Move in the 3-point line. Shorten the playoffs.

If you reduce the number of possessions in a game by giving teams more time to hold the ball, you make it more likely that the underdog can win - for the same reason that Bubba Watson is a lot more likely to beat Tiger Woods at golf over three days than he is over four. It's simple math. The longer the contest lasts, the more certain the better team is to win. If the NBA went back to shorter playoff series - for example from best-of-seven games to best-of-three - an upset in that series would become a much more realistic possibility. A three-game series would make the homecourt advantage much more important, which, in turn, would make the regular season games much more important. The importance of each game is inversely related to the frequency with which the best team wins.


The best of 5 1st round is sorely missed, but a 3 game series? I agree with James that there's room for improvement, but the 24 second shot clock is one of the few things no one watching closely gripes about. That would seem to give an advantage to the already slow paced top of the league as well. A longer shot clock, and the resulting fewer possessions are changes less likely than a shorter playoff series.

4 Comments:

Blogger BenGo07 said...

Actually, as a longer shot clock wouldn't necessarily hurt revenues (as cutting first round series back to five games would), I think that's more likely to happen.

But yes, I agree, extending the shot clock would be deeply stupid.

3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem that I have with the 5-game or 3-game series is that in my mind, neither proves that the winner is truly the better team. I think statistically, there is still too high of a probability of the inferior team winning the 3 or 5 game series. By playing the 7th game, I think the statistical chance that the inferior team wins the series is small enough for the conclusion to be made that the team that wins the 7 game series is indeed the better team.

For me, the ultimate goal of playing the games is to prove unequivocally which team is better. I don't think 1 game, or even 5 games for that matter, is enough. I really couldn't care less about predetermination. I DON'T want an inferior team to win over the superior team simply because the series was short enough to allow chance to play a larger role. I want the games to prove which team is better.

Being able to predict who will win doesn't detract from my enjoyment. I would much rather have chance be eliminated as much as possible so that we can conclude to a near 100% likelihood that the league champion is in fact the best team. By allowing inferior teams the opportunity to win, I think the entire purpose of sports and competition is destroyed.

I don't think sports is about the 1-in-a-million upset. I think it is about proving which team is actually better. You need a large enough sample size to say that one team is categorically better than the other.

1:26 AM  
Blogger Hot Shit College Student said...

I miss the 5 games series simply because of the 8 1st round matchups. I'm an advocate of cutting some of the fat out, it's not really about parity (although that would be a small, but significant result). The Cavs and Pistons didn't need the 4th win to prove they were better than the Wizz, and the Magic.

I disagree with James' idea that upsets!=a better NBA (I care soooo much about what's good for the NBA). The game can be made better without radically changing the way it's played. Ziller pointed out tweaking the cap rules would help keep bad contracts from killing a team's chances at success.

8:37 AM  
Blogger ken said...

Did this guy miss the Dallas/GSW series 4 months ago?

If you want to improve the NBA, make all salaries contingent on team win totals. Then you'll see some real competition.

10:47 PM  

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