How’s this for a description of an NBA All-Star: “He can’t dribble, he’s slow and hasn’t got much body control.”
That’s Shane Battier, evidently. But here’s the kicker: he’s a good player and he makes the teams he’s played for significantly better. From a New York Times Magazine article by Michael Lewis (of Liar’s Poker, Blindside, and Moneyball fame):
The Grizzlies went from 23-59 in Battier’s rookie year to 50-32 in his third year, when they made the N.B.A. playoffs, as they did in each of his final three seasons with the team. Before the 2006-7 season, Battier was traded to the Houston Rockets, who had just finished 34-48. In his first season with the Rockets, they finished 52-30, and then, last year, went 55-27 — including one stretch of 22 wins in a row.
Battier makes just over $6 million per year, a paltry sum compared to the superstars. But the Houston Rockets recognized his value—or, more importantly the fact that he is undervalued by NBA standards. The description atop the post is from Daryl Morey, the stats minded (these kind of stats) Rockets’ general manager. And he thinks he’s onto something.
From the article:
…there is right now in pro basketball real value to new information, and the Rockets feel they have some. What he will say, however, is that the big challenge on any basketball court is to measure the right things. The five players on any basketball team are far more than the sum of their parts; the Rockets devote a lot of energy to untangling subtle interactions among the team’s elements. To get at this they need something that basketball hasn’t historically supplied: meaningful statistics. For most of its history basketball has measured not so much what is important as what is easy to measure — points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots — and these measurements have warped perceptions of the game.
Why Morey likes Battier:
Battier’s game is a weird combination of obvious weaknesses and nearly invisible strengths. When he is on the court, his teammates get better, often a lot better, and his opponents get worse — often a lot worse. He may not grab huge numbers of rebounds, but he has an uncanny ability to improve his teammates’ rebounding. He doesn’t shoot much, but when he does, he takes only the most efficient shots. He also has a knack for getting the ball to teammates who are in a position to do the same, and he commits few turnovers. On defense, although he routinely guards the N.B.A.’s most prolific scorers, he significantly reduces their shooting percentages. At the same time he somehow improves the defensive efficiency of his teammates — probably, Morey surmises, by helping them out in all sorts of subtle ways. “I call him Lego,” Morey says. “When he’s on the court, all the pieces start to fit together. And everything that leads to winning that you can get to through intellect instead of innate ability, Shane excels in. I’ll bet he’s in the hundredth percentile of every category.”
It’s all very interesting. But we can’t leave it at that. Ben Casnocha is on to my line of thinking:
…”Who’s the Shane Battier on our team?” Every organization has one.
It is true in health care, too. Do you know who your underrated all-star is? Is it time we start finding ways to measure value outside the traditional performance scope? It surely would be a bad deal to learn about an individual’s value to your team because of their departure.
Undervalued health care skills? The hard stuff. (Tom Peters: The numbers turn out to be the “soft” stuff, abstract and subject to fudging. The “tangible,” “hard stuff” of infinite importance for performance is the depth and breadth of our relationships with others within or outside the firm.) Especially the hard stuff (pdf). Others?
I hate the NBA by the way, most of it having to do with a lack of players like Shane Battier.