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Process and results

First time trying something like this – a stream of consciousness post, where a thought has come to me and I try to follow it for a little while. I do not know how far it will go, or how often it may occur. Feedback or inspiration welcome. Thanks for humoring me. -Brett

“I start with the platitude that one cannot judge a performance in any given field (war, politics, medicine, investments) by the results, but by the costs of the alternative (i.e., if history played out in a different way).” Fooled by Randomness, Nasim Taleb, p22.

The hero ball shot. Thinking specifically of Kemba Walker dribbling out the clock, crossing his defender for a step-back jumper that goes in at the buzzer.

Don’t just consider the make or the miss – what was given up to get to that position. Teams routinely receive the ball with 10 seconds on the clock, and the idea is to win or lose at the buzzer – don’t give your opponent a chance to re-take the lead. Would it not be better to take the shot with 5 seconds with the opportunity for an offensive rebound? Or 4 or 3, need numbers to decide – how long does a specific type of shot take: A couple of seconds for a 3 to complete its arc, but what about a layup? Which has the better chance for an offensive rebound?

That chance for an offensive rebound: It depends on the strength of your own offensive rebounders, the opposition’s rebounding, the type of shot that ultimately is taken, as well as the timeout situation of the opponent. If the opponent has no timeouts remaining, getting the ball back 94 feet from their basket and the clock ticking (in the case of a miss) has very little value. We see the heaves on Sportscenter when they go in, but not the numerous misses.

Could this be modeled as a decision tree? With expected values calculated for the various branches?
Shot with 5 seconds left – Two outcomes:

    Make –

  • Other team gets ball (~3 seconds remaining)
    • Two outcomes

    • Opponents makes – you lose
    • Opponent misses – you win

    Miss –

  • Offensive rebound
    • Two outcomes

    • Last second shot off scramble goes in – you win
    • Another miss and defeat is secured – you lose
  • Defensive rebound – victory is theirs, with less drama since the final attempt came before the buzzer sounded

There is more to it than this simple tree – as previously mentioned, timeouts must be considered, foul situations and the attractiveness of overtime, the likelihood of a whistle being blown, and the personnel in both uniforms and their relative merit in such a situation. And not whether or not they are “clutch”, but their ability to impact substantially what is generally about a 70% probability of a defensive rebound. Shooting percentages are higher immediately following an offensive rebound (this counts as stream of consciousness, as I was recalling something 82games.com has published previously – The value of offensive rebounds).

Playing with this simple probability tree in excel has me leaning against eschewing traditional behavior. Does preferring overtime to defending the opposition for 2 seconds while you hold a lead make rational sense? The longer game and more possessions favors the better team, as it reduces the role of randomness in the outcome. But even this assumes that there is a clear better team in overtime, or that it has not changed as the game progressed, due to injuries or players dismissed due to fouls.

Again, I go back to Kemba’s game winning shot against Minnesota last season. Perhaps the timing is not the issue I have with the process. It is the other part of the process, the execution – a midrange jumper off an isolation play, which is a low percentage, undesirable shot throughout the game, is celebrated as the source of victory. The Bobcats won in spite of this shot, not because of it?