Tag Archives: analytics

Learning from The Machine: Some Observations about Past Timberwolves Draft Picks

Learning from The Machine

Learning from The Machine

I recently read an interesting paper, entitled “Profiting from Machine Learning in the NBA Draft (paper available here).” The author of the paper is Philip Maymin, Assistant Professor of Finance and Risk Engineering at the NYU School of Engineering. Maymin has written several articles applying machine learning techniques to NBA basketball.

Here’s the study’s abstract: I project historical NCAA college basketball performance to subsequent NBA performance for prospects using modern machine learning techniques without snooping bias. I find that the projections would have helped improve the drafting decisions of virtually every team: over the past ten years, teams forfeited an average of about $90,000,000 in lost productivity that could have been theirs had they followed the recommendations of the model. I provide team-by-team breakdowns of who should have been drafted instead, as well as team summaries of lost profit, and draft order comparison. Far from being just another input in making decisions, when used properly, advanced draft analytics can effectively be an additional revenue source in a team’s business model.

Based on The Machine’s* projections, we’re going to discuss some choice decisions the Wolves made in past drafts.

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“Why do I care?”

Target Center

“Why do I care?” is the single most hazardous question that a diehard NBA fan can ask himself.

“Junkies” like me, and those I surmise to be a large percentage of this blog’s readership, devote considerable time and energy to a game played by rich men we’ve never met.

Lending more than surface-level thought to the reasons for such devotion is to risk spoiling the fun for ourselves.  After all, there is more “important” news in any edition of the New York Times and there are [hopefully] more pressing personal matters in any of our lives, whether they be professional, romantic, familial, or otherwise. (One of the all-time great pieces from The Onion mocks the professional sports fan accordingly.)

Zach Lowe had an interesting take related to this on a recent Bill Simmons B.S. Report podcast.  Lowe, an expert NBA analyst who writes for Grantland, grew up a fan of the Boston Celtics, just like Simmons.  The Sports Guy asked Lowe how he felt about Ray Allen in a Heat uniform; a potentially sensitive subject for any diehard Celtics fan.  Lowe’s reply was fascinating.  He said:

I admire your quality to maintain very strong fandom, but the longer I do this, honestly, the more my fandom sort of fades.  I still sort of have that in me, and my dad roots for the Celtics and that’s cool.  But even last year when they lost Game 7 I remember being like, ‘I actually don’t care all that much,’ and watching Ray [Allen] in Miami is a more analytical experience…

And, honestly, part of the reason for that…[is] just how crazy Boston fans are…Now every fan base is like that…

The “this” in Lowe’s first sentence presumably means analyzing and writing about professional basketball for a living.  The statement is fascinating not because he draws a line between “fandom” and “analysis,” but because he paints a huge gulf between the two concepts; one that he outwardly admires the ability of Simmons to cross in his coverage of the NBA.

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