Friday, January 14, 2011

Streaks of Great Seasons Are Bigger In Texas

A few quick points in response to John Hollinger's latest column on ESPN about the remarkable decade-long success of the Mavericks and Spurs.

1. It is not likely that Dallas regrets the effective swap of Steve Nash for Erick Dampier back in the summer of 2004. The Mavs got to the NBA Finals in 2006 and then amassed the best record in '07 without Nash. Nash is a fine point guard who excels in the open system of Mike D'Antoni and Alvin Gentry system, but he suffers on the defensive side of the court and surely would not have thrived under Avery Johnson.

2. Hollinger ponders why there is no training academy for new NBA owners. Existing owners have no incentive to educate new owners on good management practices. In the McDonald's regime, every franchisee wants to keep the quality of the McD brand high; incidents of scalding coffee or French fries cooked with pig lard are not good for business. And each McDonald's store is not competing with another; each outlet tends to be at least one mile away from the nearest saffron arch. In the NBA, however, the league's reputation is not harmed much if Minnesota fields a crummy team; a few instances of abysmality are expected by nation-wide fans. Additionally, teams are competing against each other, at least in basketball terms.

3. Finally, Hollinger says that the probability of a randomly selected team winning 50 games, then doing it again the following year has historically been about 70%. Thus, the chance of ten consecutive 50-win repeats is some tiny fraction. That is a fine approach to elementary statistics. However, we are not considering the case of a randomly selected team of unknown identity. We're talking about the MAVS and the SPURS. These teams have not merely strung together a crazy, fluky, hot streak with tons of lucky breaks. Based on what we know about the quality of their organizations, we should update our estimate of their probability of attaining repeat 50-win seasons. In other words, by now we should not be surprised.

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