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Your 2007 TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown Champion: Justin Kubatko

The Spurs did their job, and in the process handed the Smackdown prize to Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference.com.

Interestingly, when I started this contest, I consulted with several stat experts to see if they would either join or make recommendations as to who should. When I talked to Dean Oliver (author of "Basketball on Paper," stat wizard to the Denver Nuggets, and the legend of the field) he regretted that he could not join because of his team affiliation, but made an off-hand comment that his money was on Kubatko to win.

Smart guy, that Dean Oliver.

The final standings and scores:

  • 65 points for Justin Kubatko who runs the web site Basketball-Reference.com. He was, until recently, a lecturer in the Department of Statistics at The Ohio State University.

  • 63 points for Kevin Pelton, the the interactive marketing coordinator for the Seattle SuperSonics and a writer for the team's site. He runs the APBRMetrics Forum for basketball analysis.

  • 62 points for David Berri, Associate Professor of Economics at California State University-Bakersfield and lead author of "The Wages of Wins."

  • 56 points for ESPN.com's John Hollinger. He created the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and several other statistical measures.

  • 55 points for Jeff Ma, co-founder of PROTRADE. He was the protagonist, under the name Kevin Lewis, in the bestseller "Bringing Down the House," the story of the MIT blackjack team.

  • 37 points for Mike Kurylo,writer and founder of KnickerBlogger.Net. In 2006 he developed OTTER, a unique non-biased team ranking system.

  • 34 points for my mom who promises to spend the off-season refining her technique to make an impressive comeback next season.

(One thing I'd be interested to see: how do these picks stack up against the picks of regular old media experts? What about betting lines? If anyone wants to indulge in some post-game analysis, I welcome the input.)

Colony Sportswear 52nd and 5th CollectionOf course, Justin Kubatko will shortly be sporting a swanky new jacket. Kubatko describes the victory through the spray of victory champagne and cigar smoke:

What was your secret?
My secret wasn't really a secret: I went 100% with the numbers and ignored my gut instinct. If I had made my picks based on gut instinct, I definitely would have taken Miami over Chicago in round one, and I probably would have picked Golden State over Utah and Chicago over Detroit in the conference semifinals. Most people allow recent history to play a much larger role than it should when making choices. For example, Utah had shown over the course of an 82-game regular season that they were a stronger team than Golden State, yet my gut instinct was to pick Golden State based on a recent six-game series. That doesn't really make much sense, does it?

In the Eastern Conference Finals you picked the Detroit Pistons in seven, but said that the second most likely scenario you envisioned was Cleveland in six. That makes clear to me that you are not doing a straight team vs. team analysis, right? You are somehow measuring the relative likelihood of many different outcomes. Without giving away any trade secrets, can you sketch out how that works?
I did not do a straight team vs. team analysis to make my picks. Instead, I took into account the home court advantage and estimated the probability that Team A would win in four games, the probability that Team B would win in four games, and so on. In the Chicago-Detroit series I actually had Chicago as the higher rated team, but just by a nose. When the home court advantage was taken into account, Detroit in seven games was the most likely outcome. Of course, Detroit actually won in six games, but John Hollinger and myself were the only ones to pick Detroit to win the series, and in the end that proved to be the difference.

Now that you have etched your name in history as the winner of the first TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown, what's next? You're not going to get a big attitude and stop working hard, are you?
No, no ego here; I'll continue to work hard. It's funny you should ask that, because I recently left Ohio State and started working on my web site full time. Ohio State has lost a lot of talent this spring: Oden, Conley, Cook, Kubatko.

Well, maybe not that last one.

(Photo courtesy of Colony Sportswear)