Is Credit Due?

In our Times column published last Sunday, we wrote about how Mike Zarren of the Boston Celtics organization uses statistical analysis to help with personnel and strategic decisions.

Here’s one paragraph toward the end:

Zarren is also responsible for the Celtics’ basketball-related technology and uses a service that delivers video footage tagged with statistical information. With just a few mouse clicks, he can call up every clip in which LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers has touched the ball at the top of the key and see whether he went left or right, was double-teamed or not, passed or shot — and, if the latter, whether he missed, scored or was fouled. So if the Celtics dampen James’s scoring the next time they play a high-stakes game against the Cavs, Zarren might be entitled to a smidgen of credit.

In his first two playoff games against the Celtics, James has shot 2-for-18 and 6-for-24, with 12 and 21 points respectively. His season average was 30 points. Knowing Zarren a bit, I am sure he is not crowing about his contribution to the Celtics’ defensive success against James.

But maybe, just maybe, some kid somewhere in America this morning has decided to spend a little less time working on his jump shot and a bit more time working on his math skills.


Cohesive team units that care a lot more about international play can beat lazily constructed all-star teams with no team concept? Shocking.

Pretty much every NBA playoff team could win an international event. If all these international players could beat NBA players on a regular basis, they'd be in the NBA.


In response to comment 11: Please watch this summer's Olympic basektball contests and then tell me if you still think "Foreign players play better pro ball than US players".


Shoot... I've been working on only the math. Should I go out and play some ball?


2 data points are not much of a sample size don't you think?


After Mr. Zarren receives a 90 million dollar shoe contract, perhaps more children will put down their basketballs and pick up their calculators. As for now, I doubt anyone is influenced.


In response to #12, answer will likely be YES THEY DO! Check this out:
- Basketball World Championship results:
2002 1 Yugoslavia 2 Argentina 3 Germany
2006 1 Spain 2 Greece 3 USA
- Olympics game:
2000 1 USA 2 France 3 Lithuania
2004 1 Argentina 2 Italy 3 United States


This reminds me of some analysis done in early 1983 by Marshall Lipton, an unnoted professor at MIT. He discovered a correlation between the relative activity of the Van Allen radiation belt and the win-loss record of the Boston Celtics. His conclusion: when the belt is in a state of flux, the Celtics always lose. Of course, more celebrated credits for the bashful professor include once being accused of fathering a child with Carla Lozupone Tortelli LeBec.

Rick Kang

To Cory:

Please do not watch NBA basketball, then... Nothing is more useless than haters of NBA basketball hating on NBA basketball. Please enjoy whatever other things in life you enjoy (besides hating).

If you don't like high-level basketball played by the world's best athletes, then perhaps basketball just isn't the sport for you. I'm sure the curling nation will embrace you with open arms.

Dilip Andrade

I hope you are right, but somehow I don't think that this morning there are any more children choosing math problems over perfecting the jump shot.

It would probably make for a better place if you were right, but the skeptic in me says no.


Until the series is over, no credit is due. Against the Pistons last year in the eastern conf. finals, Lebron played awful in game 1 and game 2.. He had 10 points in game 1 and 19 points in game 2 (both losses). Then he woke up and torched Detroit winning the final 4 games of the series

David Damore

The point may be that when events are labeled or tagged in a system they can be analyzed. Proper analysis leads to learning. Learning leads to knowledge. Applied knowledge leads to desirable results.

The Freakonomics post may spur the imagination of a reader and they will create the next _____ [fill in the blank].

Too many people think there are no opportunities. Thinking, creativity, ideas, analysis and applied efforts will lead to...

Mr. Zarren is attempting to do something that may or may not be successful. But he is DOing something.

People should be encouraged to THINK and be Creative and to give it a shot, win or lose.

What do you think?



Nobody works on their jump shot any more anyway. Based on what I've seen in the NBA playoffs they are either working on (in order):

1) whining to refs
2) flopping
3) traveling
4) dunking

Jump shot should be somewhere around 20.


I side with Cory. The NBA game is garbage this era. Ticket sales are down, TV viewership is down, and the game IS declining from a talent US standpoint. Foreign players play better pro ball than US players.


"Nobody works on their jump shot any more anyway"

That is some curmudgeonly sentiment there. It's also wrong, as contrary to popular opinion, today's players are MORE fundamentally sound than ever. They are trained at an earlier age, with more advanced instruction. They are drawn from a larger pool of people, too, so that there are more athletically gifted players among those that have worked to increase their skill.But that means that defenses have advanced as well.

And if you point to declining historical FG% as a barometer of shooting efficiency, keep in mind that the main reason for that is the increase in three points shots taken. The difference is in the mix of shots between 2 pointer and 3 pointers. If you look at historical FG% on two point shots, you'll see that they have remained steady, and 3 point FG% has actually increased. Also, FT% have stayed around the same, so all that refutes the myth that players are worse shooters today than they were 20 years ago.


Chu Gai

Maybe he should've had some stats on what happens when the defence sags off Rondo and allows 5 to guard 4?


>2 data points are not much of a sample size don't you think?

Yes and no. In a playoff series you have a max sample of 7 so getting 2 right is quite compelling. There is no long-term frequency interpretation in a playoff series. You need the results now.


Wrt: - Basketball World Championship results:
2002 1 Yugoslavia 2 Argentina 3 Germany
2006 1 Spain 2 Greece 3 USA
- Olympics game:
2000 1 USA 2 France 3 Lithuania
2004 1 Argentina 2 Italy 3 United States

Right, so let's use a 3-2-1 method of assigning points. Gold medal is 3 points etc. Websites will do this during the Olympics, for example.

Argentina 5
Everyone else