Michael Lewis Gives The NBA Its "Moneyball"

Illustration for article titled Michael Lewis Gives The NBA Its "Moneyball"

It took me the entire weekend and most of Monday, but I finally got through Michael Lewis' epic deconstruction of Shane Battier, also known as "Moneyball: NBA Edition."


If you didn't read it, here's the Cliff Notes:

• The Houston Rockets are the Oakland A's of basketball and GM Daryl Morey is their Billy Beane.

• They have quietly invented a whole new class of basketball statistics that the article will not share with you, because right now that is their biggest advantage over the rest of the league.

• Those statistics say that Shane Battier is the greatest player alive.

It is not surprising that Lewis would write an article about math nerds (Morey went to Northwestern and M.I.T.) changing the way players are evaluated, but it is sort of amusing to see Battier as its protagonist. He is slow, undersized for his position, can't dribble, can't shoot and is kind of a pathetic loner—facts that everyone already knew about him when he played at Duke. However, he spent four years there infuriating college basketball fans as the Dick Vitale brigade fawned over his "heart" and "hustle" and "determination"—universal code words for "the best white guy in the room." (Even though Shane's father is black.) The media proclaimed him the best back then, even as it was painfully obvious to everyone else that he was not. Yet, somehow his teams just kept winning. Now it turns out that he really was the best in the room.

Of course—before I get a letter from Joe Morgan's taller brother—if you read the story closely you can see that it is not actually arguing that Battier is better than Kobe Bryant. It is more simply that the strengths of his game (good defensive awareness, smart shot selection, and yes, hustle) are not measured by traditionally obvious statistics and—via the original corollary gleaned from "Moneyball"—those strengths are grossly underrated by most ball clubs. That's what most critics of Beane and the A's always missed. It's not about re-defining what's valuable—it's about finding value that others can't see.

On the other hand, last week Lewis also wrote a bizarre screed—which may an intentional joke—for Bloomberg arguing that the problem with Wall Street is actually a lack of greed and selfishness, so take his advice for what it's worth. However, this article is also partly a fascinating bio of Battier, a brief examination of race and playing styles, and a small glimpse behind the curtain at an NBA game. I highly suggest that you read it all yourself, if for no other reason than it may be the first shot in basketball's upcoming sabermetric war and you'll want to be well prepared.


Sorry, firebillwalton.blogspot.com was already taken.

The No-Stats All-Star [NY Times Magazine]