Bad Game Theory in the NBA

“He’s got two fouls in the first quarter, he’s going to the bench.”
“They are taking a risk starting him in the second half, he’s already in foul trouble with three”

I don’t know a single NBA team that deals with “foul trouble” correctly. The correct approach is to mostly ignore it.
The logic is simple. Leaving a player in who has foul trouble might result in them fouling out. That is bad. But then again, it might not result in them fouling out. When you take your player out of the game, they are for sure 100% out of the game. To take your player out of the game in case they might get taken out of the game later… it’s nonsense.

“You want that player in the final two minutes.” Erm… maybe. A basket is a basket, and it counts the same no matter when it is scored. There might be some legitimacy here. But again, taking a player out of the game for sure so that there is a chance that they might play those same minutes and at a more important time seems like a poor gamble.

This approach shouldn’t be absolutist. If my star player picks up four fouls in the first five minutes, then they should probably have the rest of their time allocated more conservatively. Right now though, the pendulum is in a crazy place and needs to swing back to letting players play. Much as NFL teams have been gradually getting more aggressive with ‘going for it’ on 4th down, the NBA should take a lesson from them and be more aggressive about letting their player stay in.

I can’t find stats about how fouling out trends, but in 2010, another writer saw the trend, and came to the same conclusions
(coaches are wusses).

(Here is a reddit discussion with some others answers I find unconvincing.)

And because Draymond Green is a jerk, here’s one of him getting it also.

Hurray for *not* attacking Trump

Democrats like Conor Lamb and Doug Jones (over Roy Moore) are winning deep in “Trump Country” without talking a lot about Trump. They are talking about local issues. They are spending less time attacking Trump and more time talking about what they would do. They are not coming from the Bernie Sanders wing, they are coming more from the center, and often have positions at odds with the center of the left. The GOP was wildly exaggerating to claim that Conor Lamb won because he was a Democrat in Republican clothing, but the exaggeration has some truth. Around the country, Democrats are running candidates with strong military backgrounds and candidates who own and shoot guns.

This is a good thing. The country needs less partisan ideologues on both sides. The country needs less nutjobs blowing up America to get their party a slightly bigger portion of the leftover scraps. The country needs more people who defy stereotypes of a typical Republican or typical Democrat. The country needs less of each party making a name by blindly supporting/attacking the President. The country needs more people who represent the people of their district/state as well as their national party.

So a big Muttrox hurray for candidates who simply represent their own district.

Tom Brady on Analytics

While watching the excellent Tom vs. Time documentary, I was startled to find that Tom “gets it” with analytics. He really is the greatest of all time! I have been parts of lots of analytics projects and work that don’t result in any real-world application. Analytics is a means to end. If it’s not usable, don’t bother doing it.

This is exactly where businesses struggle. They have incredible amounts of data. They have a team of bright young gearheads. But somehow they can’t leverage all that the way they want. That’s where folks like me come in, to bring the data to life and get real value out of it.

I apologize for the brief digression to my professional life, we now return to your normally scheduled blog posts of Trump, the NBA, and 50-year old music.

Why Don’t Any Prominent Republicans Defy Trump?

I don’t get it.

Let’s take it as a given that everyone in Congress sees that Trump is unfit for office on multiple levels. They see and understand the real threat he poses for American democracy. None speak out. The only ones who have are a few retiring Senators (Corker, McCain, Flake).

Why none others? The most common explanation is that he is delivering on the major policies goals of the GOP. He is all-in with transferring wealth and power to the rich on multiple levels, and… well, you don’t need anymore. Whatever other heresies he may commit, that is the sine qua non of the modern Republican party. And he has done well with those goals. So why defy him.

And yet. The first senator to actively speak out against Trump will likely be rewarded. Trumps approval ratings are in the toilet, and even within the GOP he is not particularly popular. Particularly if a group of Senators (and/or Representatives) take an active opposition against him, they are likely to be catapulted up to national prominence.

Perhaps not. Perhaps they will simply be ground into dust by the Trump and Fox machine. But from a game theory standpoint, the reward is surely worth the risk. Going into 2020 as the opposition to Trump, from within the GOP, is a good place to be. It is not a sure winner, but it is a good shot at winning. That person would also be getting support throughout from Democrats and Independents who are desperate to see the anti-Trump movement get some legs. Even if they lose, they will have speaking fees and book sales for the rest of their life.

It seems like a good gamble. Forget policy and morals, from a strictly greedy venal game theory perspective, there should be a few Senators within the GOP looking to make their bones by resisting Trump. So why hasn’t it happened?

“Please listen to these choices carefully, as our menu has recently changed”

Dear voice tree programmers: Stop this. Just stop it now.

  1. No one memorizes the numbers. When someone calls, they listen to the choices, they pick the one and proceed. No one dials the main number, then quickly starts punching in “3-7-*”.
  2. Even if that’s wrong and people do memorize the sequence, it’s not a big deal. The cost of making a mistake is simply trying again. Or hitting zero.
  3. The cost of this message on the other hand is a few seconds multiplied times a number with lots of zeros. Every single person, every single call, every single time.
  4. Your menu hasn’t recently changed. It changed a long time ago. I don’t know your business, but I know this. You made the changes and it was a big deal for you, but no one else noticed or cares. And they shouldn’t. Well designed products don’t need to be explained.

Would you like to do something productive? Figure out a way for me to reach a human being more effectively. You can usually say, “Human. Representative. Operator. Help,” hit zero a few times, and one of those will trigger the system to find a human.

Some places with complicated backends try harder. They ask you to explain what you need so they can get you to the right department. That seems like a good thing, right? Except for that it demands more voice recognition and matching to pre-set phrases. If your need was standard though, you wouldn’t have tried to get a human. It is easy to get caught in loops where it doesn’t know what you want and keeps returning you to the top of the tree to try again. Cut it out. If I need a human, select a default choice that the system will point to if it can’t figure out what I want.

Infomercial Bad Math: Fur Wizard

The Fur Wizard is different than other lint brushes. You see, instead of having the lint brush on one side, it has one on each side. That’s a total of two sides! Wow!

During the course of their ad touting all the amazing things this brush can do, they say this (around 0:20):

Fur Wizard is faster because of the double-sided action. It cleans up twice as much in half the time of other lint brushes!

No. With two sides, it can do the work in half the time, or twice the work in the same amount of time. You only get credit for doubling the output, you don’t get to quadruple it.

And can it even double the output? Hardly. Remember, the two brushes are on opposite sides, you can’t use them simultaneously.

Can it really do twice the work in the same amount of time? Hard to see how. Since you can’t use the brushes at the same time, two lint brushes are going to get the same amount of lint up in the same amount of time. If one is two-sided, maybe you need to clean it less often, but that’s hardly going to do double the work.

Can it really do the same work in half the time? Hard to see how. I guess you can gather twice as much lint up before you need to clean the brush, but that’s hardly going to halve the time.

Their claim is absurd. And by the way, the Fur Wizard costs there are plenty of two-sided lint brushes out there. Amazon and Walmart have them for $7.

YMCA Track Math: Part II

Slow people who won’t stay on the inside irritate me. But this kills me every time.

The track is 19 laps to a mile. 19. A prime number. It makes it impossible to easily run quarter-miles, half-miles, any interval smaller than a mile. It also doesn’t divide into kilometers. For a numbers guy like me, this is torture.

Additionally, the track is small enough that the inside and outside are significantly different lengths. Is the outer edge 19 to a mile, or the inner edge? Yes, I asked the staff. No, they had no idea. Yes, they looked at me funny.

I am seriously considering driving twenty minutes further to go the next YMCA, whose track is eighteen to a mile, a nice abundant number.


YMCA Track Math: Part I

At my local YMCA, slower people are to stay on the inside of the track. There is a clearly posted sign.

I do walk/sprint intervals and need to dodge around folks when I run. The last two sessions the same woman has been briskly walking, sticking to the outside of the track. The first time as I passed her, I turned around, got her attention, and pointed at the sign.

Yesterday she was back, and still on the outside of the track. This time I got her attention and told her, “Please stick to the inside, like the sign says.”

A couple of laps later she got my attention. This gem of a conversation ensued.

Her: I’m sorry, but I just wanted to explain what’s going on. I did see the sign. I try to stay out of the way when you’re coming around

Me: Well ok, but –

Her: I can only get here for a little while. I drop off the kids and have to get to work, there isn’t much time. I do it this way to get as many steps as I can.

Me: I understand, thanks for explaining, as long as you’re aware and moving out when I come around, no big deal.


And I put my headphones back on and jogged away. Two seconds later, I realized what I had just heard. She does it to get more steps in!? That doesn’t make any sense at all!