February 14, 2009

Michael Lewis and the NBA's No-Stats All-Star: "Here we have a basketball mystery: a player is widely regarded inside the NBA as, at best, a replaceable cog in a machine driven by superstars. And yet every team he has ever played on has acquired some magical ability to win." Moneyball author Michael Lewis returns to familiar ground with the cover story in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. But this time the sport is basketball and the player he describes -- whose skills required entirely new metrics to properly appreciate -- is Shane Battier.

posted by rcade to basketball at 10:08 PM - 7 comments

A great story. I always thought Battier was going to be an extra part on any NBA team - a "character" guy who logged a lot of pine time. I had no idea he was as critical a player as he is, and that he is as valued as he is. Good on the Rockets.

He was always adding extra dimensional details to games when he played in college, like his famous backhanded tip-in off the glass in Duke's tournament title run.

Sometimes I look at the NBA and some of the characters who populate it and I'm thinking: a guy like Battier is too good for this league. He'd make a great coach, I'm sure, but I hope he gets a Cabinet position instead.

posted by beaverboard at 08:49 AM on February 15, 2009

A pretty good, if long, article that just left me wondering what the agents do for these guys. Shouldn't they be calculating how their guy improves those around him? Couldn't the team stat guys just as easily generate a pile of metrics to use against the player for contract negotiating purposes? I'm just a little surprised that these types of non-traditional value measurements had to be developed by the team.

posted by geekyguy at 09:16 AM on February 15, 2009

I was thinking about posting this article yesterday. I'm a big fan of Lewis and also Battier. I think Lewis is working on a book about basketball, and it looks like this could be a chapter. Although I think he's supposed to write a "sequel" to Moneyball as well, but that's being held up by a book on the latest economic situation. Ah, who knows.

IIRC, Battier negotiated his own contract with the Grizzlies - at least his first one, where he was locked into a pay band based on his draft position.

posted by mbd1 at 12:25 PM on February 15, 2009

That article was an education. Thanks for the post.

posted by Landis at 02:03 PM on February 16, 2009

Awesome article. Great post. 'Nuff said.

posted by trox at 04:18 PM on February 16, 2009

Just a great find. Thanks for the post.

posted by BornIcon at 12:50 PM on February 17, 2009

I've been thinking about responding to this article for awhile now, not just to play devil's advocate but because I think Lewis' article is seriously deficient in some areas.

In 02-03 the Grizzilies went 23-59, and in 03-04 the Grizzilies went 28-54. Now in 04-05 they did go 50-32, but Battier only had one start that season and played the lowest amount of minutes per game in his career. If you look at their roster that season you'll see lots of good players - Pau Gasol, James Posey, Mike Miller, a still-relevant Jason Williams, Bonzi Wells, Earl Watson.

Thus it seems clear to me that his time with the Grizzilies is similar to his time with the Rockets, with one significant added benefit from a historical perspective - you get to see how his teams perform when the talent level around him is poor. And it's clear - their record is poor.

Now it's one thing to call someone the "ultimate glue guy" and it's another to call someone "the no-stats all star". The first description would describe the best second-round pick ever, the second asserts that he would deserve to play in the all-star game.

I think there is also a very real and legitimate reason to the seemingly incongrous lack of respect elite scores give him. For the elite scorer, there are some parallels to golf, with "take what the defense gives them" being somewhat analagous to golf's "competing against himself out there" - or at the very least if it's not it's important to the elite scorer's psyche to act as if it is. Granted this needs to be fleshed out more but the nub of something is there, I think.

To me, the bottom line is this: How valuable is he, exactly? It seems to be relative - he's worthless on very bad teams, and seemingly very valuable on very good teams. Well... ok, how much do you pay him then? He's clearly not a lottery pick (which he was), in fact you can probably argue that non-playoff teams shouldn't be bidding for his services at all. This puts him at mid-level exception pay for a playoff team - which is exactly where the NBA has him.

posted by chmurray at 09:51 AM on February 25, 2009

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