Stay Tuned...

Some important Cleaning the Glass news: I’m working on something really exciting for this coming season. If you’ve liked the articles here so far, I think you’ll really like this. But I want to make sure what I’m working on is as good as possible, so I’m going to temporarily stop writing articles to concentrate on that work.

In the meantime, browse the CTG Archives and follow me on Twitter — I’ll still be tweeting and maybe keep making videos as well. (Ideas? Requests? Let me know!)

Stay tuned for the start of next season…

Cornered Market

When Patrick Patterson signed with Oklahoma City last week it was notable for a reason besides what it meant for the Thunder’s performance on the court: as Royce Young pointed out on Twitter, the three year, $16.4 million contract Patterson signed was the largest contract the Thunder have given out to another team’s free agent with Sam Presti as General Manager.

That’s a shocking fact. Patterson signed for only a little over $5 million per season. How can it be that the Thunder have been as successful as they have been over Presti’s tenure without spending more than the mid-level exception in free agency? Why have they seemed to deliberately avoid the free agent market?

This isn’t an accident, or the result of being cheap. The Thunder operate this way because they are aware of a truth of the NBA: free agency is generally not an efficient way to acquire players.

Keep reading Cornered Market »

A Roll of the Dice, Part 3

There’s a lot we don’t know about the draft, but we do know some important things. That was Part 1.

If we embrace this lack of knowledge and learn the science of making decisions under uncertainty, we can understand how decision making tools like statistical analysis fit into the broader picture. That was Part 2.

That takes us to this third and final part: an example of how to think about the draft through the lens of uncertainty.

Keep reading A Roll of the Dice, Part 3 »

A Roll of the Dice, Part 2

Simmons and Gladwell concluded their discussion about drafting with the following exchange:

Simmons: “You know, there’s no real science to it—”

Gladwell: “Well that’s my point.”

But there is. It’s the science of decision making under uncertainty, and it’s what the draft is all about.A Roll of the Dice, Part 1

Michael Lewis missed something. His 2003 book, Moneyball, had received critical acclaim, shot up bestseller lists, and helped accelerate the data revolution in sports. But, he wrote in the introduction to his latest book, The Undoing Project, while he captured the emerging use of statistics in baseball, he hadn’t seen the larger picture. “I’d set out to tell a story about the way markets worked, or failed to work, especially when they were valuing people. But buried somewhere inside it was another story, one that I’d left unexplored and untold, about the way the human mind worked, or failed to work, when it was forming judgments and making decisions. When faced with uncertainty – about investments or people or anything else – how did it arrive at its conclusions?”

The Undoing Project is a book about Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two psychologists who researched the systematic biases in human decision making the way nobody had before. But Lewis didn’t start the book by telling their story. Instead, the opening chapter details the drafting strategies of the Houston Rockets, zooming out from Moneyball to bring the larger picture into focus.

Keep reading A Roll of the Dice, Part 2 »

A Roll of the Dice, Part 1

Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell were an hour into another one of their freewheeling and entertaining discussions on Simmons’ podcast when Gladwell made a provocative claim: “I have yet to be convinced that there is any great predictability to player selection in any of the professional leagues,” he said. “It is ultimately a roll of the dice. Half the guys — not all of them — at least half of the people who are called wizards of talent evaluation are not wizards of talent evaluation. They got lucky.”

Whether you’re an NBA front office employee or a fan of the draft who pays a lot of attention to the breakdowns and profiles that proliferate this time of year, this probably sounds jarring. NBA teams are spending vast sums of money every season in an attempt to properly evaluate players; and in this day and age, with almost every game broadcast on TV and statistics readily accessible, fans and media members can form in-depth, well-reasoned opinions about prospects. Can this all be a giant exercise in futility? Can what Gladwell says really be true?

Ultimately I don’t agree with Gladwell — he goes too far with his claim. But following his line of thinking draws us along a path that can help us see the draft from a new perspective.

Keep reading A Roll of the Dice, Part 1 »

Making the Transition

The question was raised before the confetti had even settled: where do the Cavs go from here? If they end up facing Golden State in the Finals for a fourth straight season next year, how can they be more competitive? What roster changes do they need to make to be able to beat (or even just challenge) the juggernaut in the Bay?

Keep reading Making the Transition »

Finals Notebook: Games 1 and 2

By the late stages of the fourth quarter, Games 1 and 2 weren’t in doubt. The Warriors ran and passed and shot their way to a 2-0 series lead in front of a raucous Oracle Arena crowd. The Cavs didn’t look like they could compete with a team many had declared the best team ever.

Though the description fits, I’m not talking about this year’s Finals. The 2016 Finals started almost exactly the same way — and we all know how they finished. These are different Warriors and Cavs teams, and it took a historic comeback to overcome the hole the Cavs dug for themselves last year. But if nothing else, 2016 should teach us not to write off LeBron James’ team after two games. Even two that played out the way Games 1 and 2 did.

What are the keys to watch as the series moves to Cleveland for Game 3? Here are three important takeaways from the first two games — plus a bonus section to highlight a few subtle plays you may have missed.

Keep reading Finals Notebook: Games 1 and 2 »

Working Out Workouts

“It was that bad, huh?”

“Oh yeah. I mean a guy who’s probably not even going to be drafted just kicked his ass all up and down the floor.”

“Sheesh.”

“And the interview was just as bad. There were multiple times where we asked him questions we already knew the answers to, and he lied to us.”

“Wait — seriously?”

“Yep.”

I was at a loss for words. “Wow. Just…wow.”

Keep reading Working Out Workouts »

In the Arena

“What do you think, Ben?”

I had been waiting for him to ask me the question. We were in a coaches meeting the morning of a game, sitting around a table in the glass-enclosed conference room at the Portland practice facility. I tried in these meetings to be relatively circumspect. Sure, I had a gut reaction to most topics that were brought up, but my job was to help the coaches make decisions based on the data, and if the data didn’t point clearly in any direction then I wasn’t going to make a strong case. But this time we were debating a strategy for that night’s game and there did seem to be a good answer, so when Coach Stotts turned my way I seized the opportunity to lay out my argument.

Keep reading In the Arena »

Flipping the Switch

Switching is probably the most straightforward item on a basketball coach’s menu of defensive tactics. One offensive player goes to screen for another, and to eliminate any advantage the offense might gain, the defenders just switch who they’re guarding. Other options might necessitate more complicated choreography or require help from other defenders besides the two immediately involved in the action. But switching is simple: you take him, I take him. Or at least it seems that way.

Keep reading Flipping the Switch »