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On the San Francisco Giants and the NBA

Some random pre-season NL West odds I just found from March:

Los Angeles Dodgers: +200
Arizona Diamondbacks: +240
Colorado Rockies: +245
San Francisco Giants: +245
San Diego Padres: +250

As you know, the Padres finished second in the division, and last night, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series.

The Giants won each of their final two rounds as massive underdogs. They squeaked into the playoffs in the season's final days. And they still dismantled the American League pennant winners with ridiculous ease.

The Giants' success this season (and earlier this decade, the Cardinals' and the Marlins') is rather intriguing from an NBA fan's perspective. Baseball hasn't shown the same sort of parity you'll find in the NFL, but it's still an open sport. One of the Yankees, Red Sox, etc. will be there every season, but there's still tremendous luck involved. Billy Beane's most famous quote- "My s*** doesn't work in the playoffs"- comes to mind.

Teams that win in the playoffs are soundly constructed, but they're also often lucky (both in terms of random hits dropping, etc. and matchup wise). A team can get four absolutely dominating pitching performances, like the ones Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Madison Bumgarner provided this week, and roll. By no means do I mean to diminish their accomplishments; I'm simply focusing on the fact that it's possible at all. 

And the NFL is crazier. From 2000 to 2010, sixteen different teams have played in a Super Bowl. Sixteen! In the NFL, health and lucky are wildly important. A team that stays healthy throughout a season massively increases its odds of advancing in the playoffs, almost regardless of what players it employs. Sure, a good quarterback is probably the one (near) constant on each of those teams. But at the other 21 offensive and defensive positions? Health and match-ups are almost, almost, as important as roster construction. 

The NBA is starkly at odds with either of these leagues. To win an NBA Finals, you need to win four 7-game series. The sample size is much larger. Individual series are far less responsive to small sample size fluctuation. What's the equivalent of Cody Ross homering three times in a LCS against Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt? Maybe Marvin Williams averaging 40 points a night over six games against the Boston Celtics? Those two may have similar overall impacts on a series, but their levels of likeliness are ridiculously different. For Ross, it's three swings. It's still statistically unlikely, but it's not impossible. For someone like Williams to score 40 a night, it's putting the ball in the basket over and over and over. It basically is impossible.

It's why a lot of people don't watch basketball, especially early playoff rounds- the best team almost always wins. It's viewed as boring.

But it's also why I like the NBA. More than anything, I'm a fan of watching how rosters are put together. I'm a fan of team construction. I'm a fan of smart GM's cleverly playing with the salary cap, making shrewd signings, juggling usage rates and efficiencies and player positions and market values.

I love watching the games and cheering for underdogs... but there's a sense of justice being served when a beautifully assembled team achieves what it was built to achieve. It's why I'll never forget the 2004 NBA Finals even though I'm thoroughly ambivalent about the Detroit Pistons. As a viewer, it's entertaining to watch the San Francisco Giants win a World Series. It's not as fun to know that Brian Sabean is a World Series winning GM despite giving $126 million to Barry Zito or $60 million to Aaron Rowand or ATTEMPTING TO TRADE TIM LINCECUM FOR ALEX RIOS.

If Dell Demps ever puts together a championship-level team, the Hornets will contend for a championship. I won't pretend that the NBA doesn't see fluctuations based on health and match-ups (see the middle of the decade Timberwolves or Kings). A championship-caliber team won't win an NBA championship for sure. But its odds of winning are decidedly better than a baseball or football team of similar caliber.

More than anything, I suppose I like the fact that s*** does, at an acceptable rate, work.