Wins and Another Giveaway

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Published: April 12, 2010

A couple weeks ago, we ran a giveaway for Dave Berri and Martin Schmidt’s new book, Stumbling on WinsNOEngineer won that giveaway, but today, you’ll get another crack at the prize, as I am producing both a review and once again, giving away a copy of Stumbling on Wins.  If you don’t want to read the review, but still want the book, scroll down and enter the giveaway.

Reviewing Stumbling on Wins

First and foremost, you have to understand that Berri and Schmidt are economists.  Their focus isn’t on coming up with a tool to ranking players for overall effectiveness, but instead on using available measurement tools to identify cost efficiencies and minimizing financial risks.  Their work aspires to be similar to the Moneyball sort of work that has impacted Major League Baseball’s player evaluation so heavily.  The premise of that work?  Identifying cost efficiencies using tools that can predict player production in the future.  Unsurprisingly then, that is also is the focus of Stumbling on Wins: using predictable measures to evaluate players and how they are paid. 

It is generally true that player production in the NBA are predictable over time.(See the unvarying David West) In their book, Berri and Schmidt detail the types of production that are more predictable than others.  Armed with this information, the authors then use a series of fascinating tables to list the factors that have significant impacts on player salary and then compare them to predictable production factors.  The two lists do not line up – or even come close.  In fact, the two tables show that many of the predictable factors have very little impact on salary, while several significantly unpredictable factors(pure scoring numbers primarily) have a tremendous impact on salary.  That disconnect – between predictability and player salary – is the basic failure of logic Schmidt and Berri are trying to illustrate, and they present a compelling argument.

Here’s how I would put the situation the illustrate into a business world scenario:  Over the course of a year, I work on five projects.  On three of those projects, I am the team lead and a key resource, but the projects are for smaller clients.   On the other two, I am part of a large team, and just a small part of the whole, but the projects are for big clients.  My manager knows how each project turns  out.  In order to be apply the logic of an average NBA GM, it appears my manager would ignore or take into little account the outcomes of the smaller client projects, while basing my review, salary increase and bonus on the outcomes of the larger client projects.  That, however, doesn’t really make sense.  The smaller projects reflect my personal abilities more realistically than the larger projects do.  Yet Berri and Schmidt’s book illustrates that this is pretty close to what average General Managers do every day.

The book as a whole contains many nuggets of fascinating information.  It’s also small and a fast read. My only quibble is that a couple of the chapters are a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.  Using Isiah Thomas’s tenure as GM in New York to illustrate an incompetent GM or taking black quarterbacks in the NFL and showing that they are underpaid and underappreciated is a bit like taking the Yugo and attempting to prove it was a bad car.  Those cases are so obvious, and the failures so grand, that those chapters lack any of the shock or surprise that inspire people to think differently about things.  They are still fun, though.  Unless you’re a Knicks fan.  Or Black.  I’ll move on now.

I do wonder at one thing, however.  One of the primary criticisms of the WP48 and Wins Produced statistics that I’ve seen from other statisticians was the seemingly inordinate focus on rebounding and lesser focus on scoring numbers.  Elite rebounders show better in WP48 than in any other general player evaluation statistic.  This book, however, gives me an inkling as to why this is:

If Berri and Schmidt want their evaluation tool – WP48 and wins Produced – to be used in a similar fashion as the Moneyball factors in the MLB to evaluate players, then they would want it to take into account risk.  One of the most risky production factors to pin salary decisions on is pure scoring numbers.  Those numbers can go up and down, and have a small correlation to what has happened in the past.  Rebounding, however, is predictable over time.(as are a few other stats that weigh heavily in WP48)  A player who is an elite rebounder this year is very likely to be one next year.  So if you are deciding where to spend your resources – limited by a salary cap – and you are using WP48 as a primary evaluation tool, Berri and Schmidt appear to have already built in risk management into the tool – it will rate those players whose numbers shouldn’t change more highly than many of those who could see strong variance.

Limiting risk.  Economists to the core.  I’ll leave it to you to decide if that is a good or bad thing.

The Giveaway

If the above review has inspired you to read the book, which I hope it has, here’s another chance to get your hands on a copy.  For this contest, I’m going to be pulling interesting tidbits out of the book and posing them as questions for you to guess at.

The winner will be selected similar to the way the last one was run.  Answer the five multiple choice questions below in the comments.  Everyone who even tries to answer will be entered in a drawing to win.  However, for every right answer you get, you’ll get two additional entries.  As a bonus, if you get them all right, you get five additional entries. (I.E. If Joe answers every question right, he’ll get his name in the drawing 16 times.  If Naill answers “Beer!” to every question, he’ll still get his name in the drawing once.  You don’t have any idea how many questions you can ask Niall that he answers with “Beer!”)

The contest will run until Wednesday, April 14th, at 8:00 PM EST.   After that, I’ll close the entries, draw out the winner, and get in contact with them via email in order to arrange delivery of the book.  (So please, make sure your profile has your correct email information.)

The Questions:

1.  When does an average NBA player’s production peak?
A. 24-25
B. 25-26
C. 27-28
D. 28-29

2. When should you go for it when holding the ball on fourth down on your opponents 30 yard line?
A. Always
B. With 2 yards or less to go.
C. With 6 yards or less to go.
D. With 10 yards or less to go.
E. What the hell is a fourth down?

3. After scoring totals, which of the following factor is most significant when determining if a player will win the ROY.
A. Draft Position
B. Rebounding
C. Shooting Efficiency
D. Turnovers

4. Which TWO of the following factors has a significant negative impact to a player’s draft position?
A. High turnover rate
B. Playing Shooting Guard
C. Inefficient Scoring
D. High Personal Foul rate.

5. Which of the following coaches appears to have a significant positive impact on their player’s production?
A. Byron Scott
B. Isiah Thomas
C. Doc Rivers
D. Avery Johnson

Good luck!

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