The Playoffs are for fun, not science


Over at 3 Shades of Blue, the Memphis Grizzlies’ blog in the TrueHoop Network, Dave Berri has written a post about the Grizzlies and their rather improbable run into the Western Conference Finals. In it he provides Playoff Wins Produced numbers for the rosters of the Clippers, Thunder, Warriors, Spurs, and the Grizzlies. He also talks about how small sample sizes can affect the results of a seven game series, highlighted by one of his favourite quotes from Leonard Mlodinow’s The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (p. 70-71):

…if one team is good enough to warrant beating another in 55% of its games, the weaker team will nevertheless win a 7-game series about 4 times out of 10. And if the superior team could beat its opponent, on average, 2 out of 3 times they meet, the inferior team will still win a 7-game series about once every 5 match-ups. There is really no way for a sports league to change this. In the lopsided 2/3-probability case, for example, you’d have to play a series consisting of at minimum the best of 23 games to determine the winner with what is called statistical significance, meaning the weaker team would be crowned champion 5 percent or less of the time. And in the case of one team’s having only a 55-45 edge, the shortest significant “world series” would be the best of 269 games, a tedious endeavor indeed! So sports playoff series can be fun and exciting, but being crowned “world champion” is not a reliable indication that a team is actually the best one.

The post is almost 2000 words, so there is certainly a lot more to read in the article. And you don’t want to miss Dave’s prediction on the outcome of the Western Conference finals:

And finally, although I have made it clear that small samples make predicting difficult in the playoffs, I suspect Chip will insist I make some sort of prediction. Given the primary readers in this forum, that prediction should be designed to make fans of the Grizzlies happy.

Sports fans – when faced with outcomes where randomness plays a role – tend to fall for superstitions. And these superstitions often take the form of the sports fan trying to repeat whatever happened before something good happened in the past (i.e. wearing a lucky hat, sitting in a lucky seat, etc…). With that in mind, I will make a pick that I think will clearly ensure success for Memphis.

Go over to 3 Shades of Blue to get the complete prediction!

– Devin

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