Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Two Shades of “Equal” Opportunity, through the Lens of Sport



In a typical Major League Baseball game during the sport’s first, oh … century or so, the winning team would score more runs in one inning than the losing team did for the entire game. This little peculiarity occurred with uncanny frequency, like four games out of five.

Think about that … the conversion of a single scoring opportunity (the other eight can be abject failures) has been sufficient to secure victory in far more games than not throughout the long and storied history of our (is it still?) national pastime.

Even Steph Curry’s preposterous shooting wizardry couldn’t make that feasible on a basketball court. There’d been a fair bit of fan-friendly ebb and flow before The Truth pulled off the shot (or at least the line) of the year in the second round of last year’s playoffs.

That ebb and flow of alternating (though not necessarily equivalent) possessions has been the very nature of the sport ever since they eliminated the center-court jump ball after each score during way back when. The “haters” would ridicule the game’s high-scoring pace, claiming little defense was played as the teams merely “traded baskets” until the final five minutes or so.

Nowadays the locution “trading baskets” is reserved as gentle criticism from local announcers of a less-than-promising comeback attempt by the homeboys.

Like baseball, the sport of basketball is very much a game of “runs” – stretches of sustained scoring superiority. And also like baseball, one such stretch of play frequently accounts for the differential in the final score.

When a political election results in a 51% - 49% margin of victory, the candidate on the short end is bound to call for a recount.

Would it surprise you to learn that, in each of the last two regular seasons, NINETEEN NBA teams produced a statistical twin of such an election return? Nearly two-thirds of the league converts its scoring opportunities at a rate that is within two percent of the rate at which opponents convert their possessions – that’s within two or three stops per game.

That’s a good bit of “basket trading,” huh?