Thursday, May 25, 2006

Who's the Star?

Malcolm Gladwell looks at basketball and considers the difficulty of evaluating performance:

The fact that Allen Iverson has been one of the league’s most prolific scorers over the past decade, for instance, could mean that he is a brilliant player. It could mean that he’s selfish and takes shots rather than passing the ball to his teammates. It could mean that he plays for a team that races up and down the court and plays so quickly that he has the opportunity to take many more shots than he would on a team that plays more deliberately. Or he might be the equivalent of an average surgeon with a first-rate I.C.U.: maybe his success reflects the fact that everyone else on his team excels at getting rebounds and forcing the other team to turn over the ball. Nor does the number of points that Iverson scores tell us anything about his tendency to do other things that contribute to winning and losing games; it doesn’t tell us how often he makes a mistake and loses the ball to the other team, or commits a foul, or blocks a shot, or rebounds the ball. Figuring whether one basketball player is better than another is a challenge similar to figuring out whether one heart surgeon is better than another: you have to find a way to interpret someone’s individual statistics in the context of the team that they’re on and the task that they are performing.

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