A “New” Approach to Analysis! Edit the Sample and Tell a “Better” Story

Eric Goldwein – of Hoop76 – says we (as in the BoxScoreGeeks and myself) are wrong about tanking.  He acknowledges what I said at Freakonomics about the generally poor outcomes achieved in the future by NBA teams.  But he has an explanation:

In first place, with 10 “tanks,” is the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies: a 1995 expansion team that won 25 or fewer games in each of its first seven seasons. But why were they cellar dwellers? Was it because they were a small-market Canadian franchise owned by a hockey-first ownership group, Orca Bay Sports & Entertainment? Was it that they (and the expansion Toronto Raptors) could not pick top five in the draft their first season, or first overall the two seasons that followed? Or that they were handicapped by spending restrictions the first two seasons?

Ok, one team. Big deal. What about the Bullets/Wizards? Why have they been consistently terrible? Is it because they’re trying for that top pick year after year? Or is it because they make poor decisions, like drafting Kwame Brown first overall and signing Gilbert Arenas to a $111 million extension? And how about the Timberwolves. Were they tankers? Or were they a poorly-managed expansion team (1989) that had to forfeit three first-round picks and $3.5 million for trying to sign Joe Smith under the table. During Kevin Garnett’s prime. 

Next up we have Donald Sterling’s Los Angeles Clippers. The oft-maligned owner reportedly almost cost his franchise Chris Paul over the summer. This happened two years after his team gave away an unprotected lottery pick–which turned into No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving–for cap space. Add in the Maloof family-owned Sacramento Kings and the Chris Cohan-owned Golden State Warriors; those six aforementioned franchises account for 50 of the 112 “tanking” seasons in the sample.

Most of these teams weren’t losers because they had “tanking seasons.” They had “tanking seasons” because they were, for whatever reason, losers.

Did you catch Goldwein’s “new” approach?  Explain away part of your sample.  If you do enough of this you can get at the part of the sample that fits whatever story you like to tell.

Following this logic, from now on we should avoid arguing that players who cannot shoot efficiently are not “good” at shooting efficiently.  For example, Tyreke Evans currently has a 34.6% effective field goal percentage.  However… if you remove many of the shots Evans has missed from the sample, Evans is actually doing a “great” job of hitting his shots.

Or let’s apply this to teams.  Right now the Knicks are 2-3.  But if we take out the three games they have lost, the Knicks have currently won all their games!

So remember this about tanking.  If your team “tanks” this season and it doesn’t work, they are just losers.  And losers are losers because they don’t know how to tank “right”.

One should note… Goldwein’s team — the Sixers — are truly awful at tanking.  Their record is now 4-2.  Amazing how some Philly fans suddenly don’t like winning.

– DJ

P.S. I should note, a few people have graciously volunteered to start writing in this forum.  Hopefully we can soon get back to our regular schedule of about one post per day.


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