Have We Learned Anything About Basketball?

As Tall as Possible

There was a theory I used to call “Devin’s Theory”. Put simply, you play the biggest player at the smallest position you can.


Good idea!

And the great extra work by Ari Caroline and Arturo Galletti looking at “floor stretch” gave even more strength to this affirmed this. Except, for all the great work we’ve done…well almost twenty years ago, Phil Jackson did just that. And it wasn’t a random experiment. It was on the greatest squad ever assembled.



As I wrote at the NBA Geek, Phil Jackson assembled one of the top five tallest squads during the 1996-1998 period. In Phil Jackson’s book 11 Rings, he overtly calls this out:

What would happen, I wondered, if we had three tall, long-armed guards on the court at the same time? Not only would it create confusing mismatches for other teams, but it would also improve defense immeasurably because big guards could switch off and defend post players without resorting to double-teaming.

Yup, rather than try and play a small backcourt and get a stock big, Phil just played his best players and put them in the backcourt.

What Wins Games?


The ball goes in, then we win.

The Wages of Wins preached the short supply of tall people and the ability to tie wins to point margin. Of course, as we’ve written about before, this isn’t new either. Hubie Brown noticed these observations about point margin and Artis Gilmore in the 70s!

What have we learned?

So, here’s the key. Our observations are not new! And what’s more, these observations have been made by hall of fame coaches, that lead their team to titles practicing exactly what they preached. And yet, small ball persists. We still see amazing mental gymnastics to explain the value of inefficient shooting. As we get more and more data, we see the same simple tenets¬†of success is basketball: get players that are really efficient with the ball. Yet, I can only wonder how long these simple lessons will be missed. After all, they’ve been front and center for years. Yet, a lot of the crowd has been running after other stories. The optimistic in me says breakthroughs are close. The pessimist in me says players like DeMarcus Cousins will get huge contracts.


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