Jeremy Linn, UCLA and Moneyball

The NY Times reports how Harvard signed Jeremy Linn.    This is a rare case where UCLA messed up.  It is usually excellent at evaluating and importing talent!  In this age of “Big Data“, how do you quantify intangibles?   James Heckman is working hard to “quantify” soft skills in his economics research.  Will talent scouts figure out how to do this?    I am eager to see how Lin and  “Melo” share the ball.  The Knicks should consider cutting Carmelo Anthony.

Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

8 thoughts on “Jeremy Linn, UCLA and Moneyball”

  1. I don’t know that I’d say UCLA messed up. Hindsight is always 20/20, but it’s not like UCLA completely ignored Lin. They were out of scholarships and asked Lin to walk on. According to Scout, they had two scholarships to give*. They brought in a McDonald’s All American in 6’8″ James Keefe (who underachieved) and Russell Westbrook, a kid who was rated as a three star recruit and was a lottery pick just two years later. Coincidentally, Westbrook was just named the Western Conference player of the week, matching Lin’s selection as the Eastern Conference POtW. UCLA also ended up bringing in another walk-on that year at point guard, Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, who actually did get some significant minutes over his last couple years.

    I do think that it’s interesting to finally see an American born player of Asian descent finally make the NBA. I went to high school in the San Gabriel Valley in the late ’80s/early ’90s, and in junior high and high school, Asian were over-represented on our basketball team (relative to the student body). Other than tennis, basketball probably had the highest participation rate by Asians, especially first generation. The Asians who played football and baseball were typically the kids we’d all grown up with since kindergarten.

    *This is according to Scout, though they also brought in Nikola Dragovic that year from Serbia, who did end up sucking it up pretty big. There’s a question, as well, about when their last schollie became available. That last schollie opened up when Jordan Farmar declared for the draft, which pretty much no one expected until their run to final four in 2006.

  2. My understanding has been that the “Moneyball” approach is much easier to apply to baseball than to football or basketball. Reason being: baseball is a series of discrete events (at bats) that lend themselves especially well to the compilation of individual performance stats. Its very easy to isolate a batter’s performance, pretty easy to isolate a pitcher’s performance and reasonably easy to isolate a fielder’s performance.

    Football also develops as a series of discrete events (plays) but because there is much more physical interaction between players and because players end up all over the field depending on the play, it is more difficult to apply a data-intensive approach to understanding the game. Basketball is even more chaotic and dynamic, and thus even harder to analyze quantitatively.

    That’s not to say that people aren’t trying to apply these disciplines to football and basketball. Only that its really hard. In 5, 10, 20 years people will figure out how to collect good, useful data on these sport, and then the quants will reign as they are beginning to reign in baseball today.

    1. This is something of a misunderstanding of Moneyball, albeit one that is very common. Quantitative analysis there was the method, not the goal. The goal was simply to find something that was undervalued in the marketplace and allow a small payroll team to compete better. Home runs, batting average and power pitchers were receiving free agent contracts that Oakland couldn’t compete with, so they opted to go with on-base percentage (a move that required a certain amount of quantitative analysis) as well as control specialist submarine pitchers (which really didn’t). Because of the success of this approach and its widespread adoption, the specific things that Beane and Co. did are no longer undervalued. The places I see the approach working in the near future are better defensive statistics (which will require numbers) and improving the ability to keep players healthy and on the field (which isn’t directly a measure of player performance at all).

      However, that doesn’t do anything to make the Moneyball reference in the post title any clearer.

  3. And the Knicks don’t have to cut Melo; in fact, now that there is a real point guard on the grounds, Melo can get off the dribble and all the one on one stuff and do what he does best, get open, take the feed from Lin, and shoot the ball. He should score more while expending less wasted energy in this system (as should Stoudamire). On the other hand, if he insists on selfishly controlling the ball, then Lin will not be able to push the offense. But I think Melo sees the opportunity and is probably dying to get back in and show how much he can do with a real point guard setting him up.

    Of course, he’ll have to play some defense now too to be really with the new program.

    1. I played ball into my 30s and no longer watch NBA because of the slippage of the sport IMHO. The Melo-types are why I quit watching, and when he played here lots quit watching because all he can do is get open and shoot. Nothing else. He gets open very well, granted.

      1. Not quite nothing else: Melo is consistently one of the best rebounding wing forwards in basketball. Granted, he’s a miserable defender and a relatively inefficient scorer, but he’s certainly not without his strengths.

        As for the slippage in quality of play in the NBA, I just don’t see it. I’d love to see some numbers on this, but I’m not at all convinced that the percentage of scoring opportunities from isolation plays has increased at all over the last decade or so. Plus, the talent at the top of the league is, IMHO, as good as it’s ever been, while I think the talent at the bottom has actually improved quite a bit due to the internationalization of the game and the larger pool of players from which the league now draws.

        1. Melo is consistently one of the best rebounding wing forwards in basketball That’s true. Forgot about that.

          As for the slippage in quality of play in the NBA, I just don’t see it. I see it. It is boring. Standing around waiting for a millionaire to take a shot or drive off the dribble. Steve Nash-types notwithstanding. The NBA is boring. But I like the team game, with plays and give and gos and picks and hard D and all that. Not the NBA game. Sure, they can shoot and some can dribble, but it is no longer a team game. It is boring to watch. And paying a couple C notes to consume their product live? Bleh.

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