During the most recent Academy Awards ceremony held last February 26, Bennett Miller’s Moneyball was nominated for several awards including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was a fantastic film and one that left viewers with something to think about.
Moneyball is about Billy Beane’s (the general manager of the Oakland’s Athletics) efforts of putting together a winning team with very limited funds. He resorted to using a non-traditional method of choosing players which involved selecting many of the players primarily based on their On Base Percentage as opposed to the traditional factors that scouts looked for (like batting averages). This innovative approach to selecting players eventually led them to win a record-setting 20 straight games.
This surprising true story leads some people to reconsider how they view and value players. How do we usually judge the greatness of a player and should we start changing the way we think?
Around the same time the Academy Awards was being held, there was also one person who was getting a lot of due media attention. Jeremy Lin, an overlooked player of the New York Knicks got his big break on February 3 when his coach had to let him play because they were short of good players and desperate. What came as a shock to everyone was that Jeremy Lin completely turned his team around and led them to victory. They then continued on to win 7 straight games with Lin after losing 11 of the last 13 games before he was given playing time.
Jeremy Lin was often overlooked because he did not possess the qualities NBA coaches regularly looked for. He was not a specially good shooter, he wasn’t especially tall or fast, and he wasn’t as physically strong as some of the other players. But like those underdogs chosen by Billy Beane in Moneyball, Jeremy Lin seemed to possess other qualities that were better suited for victory than those typically selected.
Since Jeremy Lin started playing, the New York Knicks improved both their offense AND defense. Other than playing quite well himself, Lin has the uncanny knack of making all the other players in his team play better as well. (Points per possession and the his ‘plus/minus’ effect on the game are statistics that demonstrate his true value.)
It seems we still have much to learn on how to detect truly talented players. Take it from Billy Beane and Jeremy Lin. Sometimes the best people for a team are those that we least expect.
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