Episode 638: Alas, Porziņģis, I Knew Him Well

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we discuss the main storylines of the biggest prestige show on television, the NBA Playoffs.

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On the night of the Emmy awards, Pete Fenzel schools Matt Wrather on the twists and turns of the plot of the best prestige show on television: the 2020 NBA Playoffs.

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3 Comments on “Episode 638: Alas, Porziņģis, I Knew Him Well”

  1. John C Member #

    I always feel like basketball is the professional sport that I would be most likely to watch, since the shot clock keeps the game moving and the boycott/wildcat strike only improved my opinion of them. But if I’m going to watch normal TV, I’m more likely to head for the game show reruns, because Charles Nelson Reilly is funnier than Lebron James. OK, arguably funnier, sure.

    The framing of a sport as a prestige television drama does remind me, though, that there was a brief period where NASCAR tried to have drivers go virtual and–if I remember correctly–MLB statistically generated game events for sportscasters to announce. Ah, here we go: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/otm/episodes/on-the-media-blindsided – check out the last piece, “The Hybrid Reality of No-Sports Sports TV.”

    It’s not hard to imagine a version of 2020 where this took off and those simulated games became animated with original characters, since licensing athletes’ likenesses is complicated and expensive…


  2. Benjamin #

    Imagine my thrill when Pete undertook the task of Overthinking professional basketball! Worlds collide! As a life long Milwaukee Bucks fan (no, really) I was devastated by the team’s cruel elimination far before the final or penultimate episode of NBA Season 74 when the big names usually are dispatched. In this way the demise of Giannis Antetokounmpo is much more Zoe Barnes than Ned Stark or Stringer or Adriana. My team was the death that lets everyone know that no one is safe, not the death that provides catharsis at the end of a long thematic journey.

    Anyways, since you mentioned Moneyball, I’d like to talk about the Moneyballification of basketball and the narratives this creates.

    In the beginning there was basketball, a perfect game that was cheap to play for urban and rural youth alike. This game had certain aesthetic advantages over football (an emphasis on improvisation over designed plays, players not wearing identity concealing helmets) and baseball (more scoring and a generally more raucous atmosphere).

    While the game at the professional level has evolved constantly through the years, generally the logic of the game went like this: Offenses should first attempt to throw the ball down low to the tallest player closest to the basket, and should he be thwarted the next best shot closest to the basket should be taken. Offenses were trained to not take shots early in the :24 second clock, but to work for the “best” shot early and only settle for “bad” shots further away from the basket later in the shot clock.

    To over-simplify, roughly 7 years ago “Moneyball” reached the NBA. Moneyball as applied to the Oakland A’s has all kinds of flaws insomuch as the team never won with it, but never mind that now. The Moneyball approach in basketball can be summarized as: try to take only layups, 3 pointers and free-throws, don’t worry about the score or situation of any particular play, just keep bombing away with the assurance that 3>2 and you are likely to win many many games with this philosophy.

    In the regular season.

    What continues to be intoxicating about the NBA Post-Season is everything tends to transpire in a traditionalist fashion: The pressure of any individual play is heightened to a degree that the mathematician’s solutions are often insufficient to the randomness of a best of 7 series that is still at the end of the day performed by human beings, not robots. The math problem hasn’t changed, but the stakes have. The Houston Rockets famously in 2017 missed 27 straight 3 pointers in a Game 7 when they had the mighty Warriors on the ropes.

    FiveThirtyEight published a story the day after the game that attempted to “weigh the likelihood of a shot going in depending on who’s taking it, how close the nearest defender is to the shot, and how quickly that player is closing out”.

    They concluded that the “Rockets embarked on an approximately 1-in-72,000 cold streak from deep at the worst possible time, with a trip to the Finals on the line.”

    Much as with the Moneyball A’s, the Rockets and my beloved Bucks and many analytically sound teams fail in the playoffs, when rougher contact is allowed and conditioning becomes a factor and chaos reigns.

    Now this appeals to something deep in my heart as a sports fan, not just because it justifies all the things I’ve both experienced playing (and on some level the propaganda that movies like the Rocky series have incepted into my brain), but also because the analytics era has taken many coaching and front office positions away from African American ex-players in favor of MIT grads and tech-bros.

    At any rate, I very much enjoyed your foray into sports. You should do it again sometime. Here’s an example of the type of vids I occasionally make on the NBA:


    • John C Member #

      Interesting point. Considering that the shot clock is a recent innovation to make the game more television-friendly, do you think there are ways to modify basketball to disrupt the statistical analysis? Or does the current approach make the game more interesting to watch?


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