Wednesday, February 18: A Bunch Of Light Reading For A Rainy Day

Posted by Matt Terl on February 18, 2009 – 12:04 pm

Michael Lewis has written a lot of books, but he’s probably most famous for Moneyball, the look at Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane that opened a lot of people’s eyes to some new statistical approaches to baseball.

(His more recent book, The Blind Side, is of particular interest to Redskins fans for two reasons: first, it has the most detailed analysis of the play that ended Joe Theismann’s career that I’ve ever read; and second, it serves primarily as a biography of then-high-school offensive tackle Michael Oher, who is now a highly-ranked prospect in this year’s NFL draft … a draft in which the Redskins just might be looking for tackles. But it’s not really relevant here.)

In an excellent (and LENGTHY) article in this past weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Lewis takes a look at the growing statistical changes in professional basketball by focusing on the statistically-invisible-but-actually-substantial impact for the Houston Rockets of former Terrapin-killer Shane Battier (that’s him behind Juan Dixon in the picture), and why Rockets general manager Daryl Morey values him so highly:

Battier’s game is a weird combination of obvious weaknesses and nearly invisible strengths. When he is on the court, his teammates get better, often a lot better, and his opponents get worse – often a lot worse. He may not grab huge numbers of rebounds, but he has an uncanny ability to improve his teammates’ rebounding. He doesn’t shoot much, but when he does, he takes only the most efficient shots. He also has a knack for getting the ball to teammates who are in a position to do the same, and he commits few turnovers. On defense, although he routinely guards the N.B.A.’s most prolific scorers, he significantly reduces their shooting percentages. At the same time he somehow improves the defensive efficiency of his teammates – probably, Morey surmises, by helping them out in all sorts of subtle ways. “I call him Lego,” Morey says. “When he’s on the court, all the pieces start to fit together. And everything that leads to winning that you can get to through intellect instead of innate ability, Shane excels in. I’ll bet he’s in the hundredth percentile of every category.”

It’s a sort of Moneyball-lite for the NBA, the sort of article that might bring these esoteric statistics to the mainstream, and well worth a read on its own merits.

But it also makes me wonder when the similar statistical revolution is going to come to the mainstream of the NFL. Read more »

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