Category Archives: with apologies to stephen hawking

Final Four teams are way better at taking shots than they are at making them


The mystery of Duke 2010 — solved!

Last season I was struck by how some of the most incredible performances we saw from teams on offense were not necessarily all that incredible in terms of shooting. I realize this was a long time ago, but think back, for example, to the 82-50 win that Frank Kaminsky-era Wisconsin recorded at home against Iowa. That day the Badgers committed just one turnover and scored an absurd 1.52 points per possession while making 54 percent of their twos and 41 percent of their threes.

Obviously the shooting displayed by Bo Ryan’s guys against the Hawkeyes was excellent, but it’s at least possible for the very best offenses to achieve that roughly that same level of accuracy over an entire season. (Indeed that’s about how well Iowa State just shot in Big 12 play.) Conversely no offense in the history of the game has ever or will ever come anywhere close to scoring a point-and-a-half per trip for any appreciable multi-game length of time.

Mindful of this fact, I made a mental note to look into this whole matter of launching shots in mass quantities. (I vaguely remember thinking I’d use a picture of Phil Spector and tackle the subject under a “Wall of Shots” headline.) Then I got busy and did other things. Continue reading

The college basketball implications of Stephen Curry


If it turns out the usage-efficiency tradeoff doesn’t apply to one player, what does that say about how the game should be played by every other player? (

As an incorrigibly casual and contentedly sporadic NBA fan, I really enjoyed Benjamin Morris’s piece on what precisely Stephen Curry hath wrought in our game. Previously I had struggled to piece together a coherent awe from the stray random shouts I caught from trusted and unmistakably thunderstruck colleagues on Twitter. But after stumbling across Morris and his arresting visuals, I get it. A player who is (apparently) “virtually immune to burden” reorders the hoops universe.

So now what? As an incorrigibly dedicated and contentedly constant fan of the college game, I have some questions.

Should Curry change what college coaches do?
If nothing else Curry has erected a tower so that first-grade math can shine forth like a beacon and claim its due deference. Three is greater than two, and one possibility Curry raises is that, purely in the abstract sense, the first option for any basketball possession should be an open three-point attempt.  Continue reading

The category 5 roster

A roster like this only comes along once every 2.25 seasons -- unless it's 2015, when there were two such rosters. (Robert Deutsch/USA Today)

A roster like this only comes along once every 1.8 seasons in Division I. Unless of course it’s 2015, when there were two such rosters. (Robert Deutsch/USA Today)

Last March at the Sloan Conference in Boston, I was told a near-perfect parable on the traditionally and deeply yet needlessly antagonistic relationship between the “talent” and “analytic” schools of basketball interpretation.

In the immediate aftermath of a dismal 2013-14 season, an NBA general manager ordered a top-to-bottom review of what had gone wrong with the team that year. By that time every front office was fully equipped with bright young minds who could apply the latest analytic tools and even brandish some proprietary and closely-held statistical methods of their own. But the GM had allotted just 48 hours for the task while also imposing a draconian two-page limit on the final report. As a result the analytics team worked in a frenzy to summarize every last data point, shot chart, and pick-and-roll efficiency in just a couple of pages.

At the end of the ordeal the exhausted head of the analytics group yanked the final draft from the printer and thrust the two-page encyclical into the waiting hands of his boss. Whereupon the GM took the report and, smiling genially and never so much as glancing down at the printout, wadded up the two pages while taking aim at the nearest waste basket. As the GM let fly with his shot, he uttered one word:


After a decade of watching college basketball in the one-and-done era, I’ve come to the conclusion that in one crucial respect the GM is exactly right. In fact the more I ponder the question the more I think I’ve become something of a talent essentialist in spite of myself.

I wonder whether there might be rare instances where we can remove college performance from the equation more or less entirely and just look at the roster of players. Forget efficiency or shooting accuracy. Tell me how many minutes the returning players recorded, how many possessions they used, and how highly the freshman class is rated, and in these very rare instances this may be all we need to know.

In such cases I think we may be able to just look at a college basketball roster before the season even starts and say that if precedent’s any guide this team has virtually a 100 percent likelihood of earning an NCAA tournament No. 1 seed, a 60 percent probability of reaching the Final Four, and a two-in-five shot at winning a national title. I’m going to call such instances category 5 rosters, and, though I (and others) didn’t know it ahead of time, it turns out that Duke’s in 2015 was one such roster.  Continue reading