Ahead in the Count

“Some Magical Ability to Win”

posted by Ted Sullivan

Shane Battier, the "No-Stats All-Star"

Shane Battier, the "No-Stats All-Star"

A few weeks back I wrote a post titled “Flaws in Collected Wisdom” about Michael Lewis’ Moneyball and it’s application within youth sports.  I’ve been fascinated by the “moneyball” philosophy — not because I’m a stat-rat or even a die hard sports fan really (ok, with one exception), but because I love its broader relevance of using data to dispel conventional wisdom and create business opportunities. Lewis wrote a terrific piece for the NY Times last weekend which detailed how the Houston Rockets are taking these “moneyball” concepts to the NBA. He profiled Shane Battier, the “No-Stats All-Star.” It’s absolutely worth a read — even if you aren’t a Duke basketball fan (my aforementioned exception) who thinks that Shane Battier is one of the great athletic role models of the last decade. I know everyone loves to hate Duke hoops but if you’re looking for a super-intelligent-team-before-me-leave-it-all-on-the-floor pro athlete to root for, look no further than Shane Battier.

Needless to say, my writing skills are over-matched by Lewis’ so instead of summarizing, I’ll post a few lines from the article about Battier (I can’t help myself), several of which are quotes from Rockets GM Daryl Morey:

First, from Basketball writer Dan Wetzel: “I’d covered high-school basketball for eight years and talked to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds

Battier and Coach K

Battier and Coach K

of kids — really every single prominent high-school basketball player in the country,” Wetzel says. “There’s this public perception that they’re all thugs. But they aren’t. A lot of them are really good guys, and some of them are very, very bright. Kobe’s very bright. LeBron’s very bright. But there’s absolutely never been anything like Shane Battier.”

“This year,” Morey says, “we have been a championship team with him and a bubble playoff team without him.” Here we have a basketball mystery: a player is widely regarded inside the N.B.A. as, at best, a replaceable cog in a machine driven by superstars. And yet every team he has ever played on has acquired some magical ability to win.

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.”

Last season when the Rockets played the San Antonio Spurs, Battier was assigned to guard their most dangerous scorer, Manu Ginóbili. Ginóbili comes off the bench, however, and his minutes are not in sync with the minutes of a starter like Battier. Battier privately went to Coach Rick Adelman and told him to bench him and bring him in when Ginóbili entered the game. “No one in the N.B.A. does that,” Morey says. “No one says put me on the bench so I can guard their best scorer all the time.”

February 19, 2009 - Posted by | Media Commentary, written by Ted Sullivan

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