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Consider the case of J.J. Barea. During the regular season, the backup point guard had perfectly ordinary statistics, averaging 9.5 ppg and shooting 44 percent from the field. His plus/minus rating was slightly negative. There was no reason to expect big things from such a little player in the playoffs.
And yet, by Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Barea was in the starting lineup. (This promotion came despite the fact that he began the Finals with a 5-for-23 shooting slump and a minus-14 rating.) What Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wisely realized is that Barea possessed something that couldn't be captured in a scorecard …
… Because nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane. Although Barea's statistics still look pretty ordinary — his scoring average fell in the Finals despite the fact that he started — the Mavs have declared that re-signing him is a priority. Because it doesn't matter what the numbers say. Barea won games.
I didn’t really understand the value of those numbers at that point, even though Wally Walker [a longtime Seattle executive] was really pushing us to embrace it. But being from the old school of coaching, I didn’t really know what to do with all of it.
And in Minnesota, we just didn’t have anything like that. But in Dallas, Rick Carlisle and Mark Cuban have embraced analytical numbers, and they have been so valuable to us in terms of what lineups we put on the floor. And I know Toronto already has guys in place who do this. This is the new wave in the NBA.
The explanation is simple: The variables don't matter nearly as much as we think. Just look at horsepower: When a team of economists analyzed the features that are closely related to lifetime car satisfaction, the power of the engine was near the bottom of the list.