The Boston Celtics lost tonight. Until mid-season they were the top team in the East. What happened?
The Celtics made a trade. At the time of the trade, my favorite NBA commentator, David Berri, imagined the following conversation:
Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge: Sam, what can I do for you?
Thunder General Manager Sam Presti: Danny, how about you take the two worst players on my team? And in return give me a big man that can help me contend for a title?
That’s in fact what happened. The Celtics traded a slightly above average center, Kendrick Perkins. In return, the main attraction was supposed to be Jeff Green, pictured above.
Berri has always had a very simple but profound notion about the NBA. People overvalue scorers. People undervalue many other things. And not just fans. Even famous general managers like Danny Ainge, who has spent his life playing, coaching, and now evaluating the game.
Berri is an economist and a fan. He has zero special knowledge of the game of basketball. Instead, he has complicated mathematical regressions. The formulae tell him things which experts may overlook. In this case, he knew that Jeff Green, the guy the Celtics got, was a terrible rebounder for a man of his size (6’9″). He is also a very inefficient scorer. As a result, he harms his team every minute he plays.
This leads into a riff on recent thinking on teacher evaluation.
A few points from down 95.
The Berri post cited isn't as unequivocal as Goldstein suggests:
So this move probably didn’t help the Celtics much. After all, Krstic is still not a very good center (but not much worse than Semih Erdan who the team shipped out today). But this move probably doesn’t hurt as much as one might think if they didn’t consider where Green will probably play in Boston.
Berri cannot "predict the future" with stats as well as Goldstein suggests:
Given the talents of Durant, Westbrook, Sefolosha, Ibaka, and Harden, the Thunder might finally be contenders in the West. And that means, Danny and Sam might be meeting again in June... Of course, Miami, Chicago, San Antonio, and the LA Lakers might have something to say about this potential meeting.
Yes, San Antonio and the Lakers! The problem with using sports prognosticators as your metaphor is that they aren't that reliable. Obvious, but true.
- After watching the Celtics/Heat series, the more obvious explanation is that the Celtics are too old. Berri also wrote about that as an explanation for their quick start and regular season decline last year. Ending, reasonably, with:
The big question is whether or not these players can briefly return to form in the playoffs. If they can, Boston may still be able to win a title in 2010. If not, it seems likely Boston’s decline will continue into the future (a future where everyone will be even older).
This was right, insofar as Berri knew what he didn't know. If only we had this kind of analysis in education!
- Celtics Coach Doc Rivers put in his own two cents on the trade recently (via Charles Pierce):
Rivers told the station that he wishes the Celtics had waited until the end of the regular season to make a decision on Perkins instead of pulling off that February trade.
"Well, it was more not that the trust went away, the know-how went away," Rivers said. "The continuity went away. That’s what the trade affected more than anything. Obviously, Perk was great to our team and all that. But it was more that you have new guys playing different positions and you had a guy who could literally reach back into a playbook and throw out something that was three or four years old and they all knew it, when Perk was there.
"When you lose Perk, you take that one guy out of that starting lineup, now there’s the fifth guy who doesn’t know your offense three years ago; he only knows what he knows since he’s been there. And that limited our group. With Rondo, because the way teams guard him, you need a massive playbook. That took more away from it than we thought."
Rivers continued on Perkins:
"Well, I would wait until after the year is over. I’ll put it that way. I do think Jeff Green has a chance to be a starter for us in the future and a hell of a basketball player. And Krstic can help. But making that trade at the time we made that trade, that made it very tough for us. And not only that, we added other pieces as well that we tried to fit in.
"It was just a lot of moving parts to a team that the advantage that we had was that we had continuity, everybody else was new. Chicago was new and the Heat were new. They couldn’t fall back on what we could fall back on with our starting five. Once we made that trade, we took that advantage away."
Hm. I wonder if evaluating teachers and managing schools could be that complicated too? Maybe attaching numbers to individuals doesn't tell us everything we need to know about basketball or education.