I Like Bill Simmons, Really I Do

Posted on June 23, 2006 by

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Twice in the past month ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons has made reference to our book.  Generally when members of the media mention our book I get pretty happy.  Of course, that's because typically the response to our work – by people who have actually read our work – has been really positive. Simmons, though, has been an exception.  Not in the reading the book part (which I don’t think he has) but in saying positive stuff about our work (which he doesn’t). And this is odd. 

Bill Simmons clearly likes Malcolm Gladwell (see here and here).  And Gladwell clearly like The Wages of Wins (see here).  And I really like the writing of Bill Simmons (I have no link to prove this, so you'll just have to believe me).  But despite all this “liking” going around, Simmons seems none to fond of our book.

A few weeks ago he wrote the following: “Next time, Malcolm Gladwell needs to consult with me before he recommends an NBA book that argues Jerome Williams was among the strongest players of his generation.”

A few days ago Simmons said, “One more note on this: we get carried away with basketball statistics nowadays, as evidenced by the new book that rated Allen Iverson as the 90th best player in the league during his MVP season. Why make it so complicated? Just add up the point, rebound and assist averages for franchise guys during the playoffs: If the number tops 42, you're probably talking about a pantheon guy. You could even call it the 42 Club, just as exclusive as the Five-Timer Club on SNL, only without the NBA equivalent of Elliott Gould.”

Now one should notice, that's two references to our book without saying “The Wages of Wins”, or even “Dave Berri, Martin Schmidt, and/or Stacey Brook.”  Would it kill the guy to say the name of the book?

Okay, he doesn’t like what our book says about Jerome Williams or Allen Iverson.  What we say is of course based on our Wins Produced measure, which as we detail in the book is a simple, complete, and accurate measure of player performance in the NBA.

Simple is of course a relative term. What Simmons proposes is really, really simple.  Simmons says we should just add up points, rebounds, and assists.  So Simmons has cornered the market on simple.

His metric also has other advantages.  First of all, Simmons stated after the season that Kobe Bryant was the MVP.  Although during the playoffs he fell in love with Dirk Nowitzki, and then later Dwyane Wade, the measure Simmons has developed does list his first love, Kobe, as the best player in the 2005-06 season.  As for Allen Iverson, he joins both LeBron James and Kobe as the only members of his 42 Club in the regular season.

Of course, critics might note a few problems with what Simmons proposes.  The weaknesses of Iverson – poor shooting and turnovers – are magically whisked away by this measure.  And if we look at the relationship between team wins and its points, rebounds, and assists we uncover another difficulty.  A team’s summation of points, rebounds, and assists – by itself – only explain 17% of team wins. 

Okay, the 42 Club misses some stuff so it can’t be called complete.  And it can’t explain much of wins, so it’s not accurate.  But it is simple and it does allow Simmons to remain in love with Kobe.  And it let’s Simmons maintain his belief that Iverson is great.  So that’s at least something.

Of course we have proposed a measure that is still pretty simple, much more complete, and certainly more accurate.  And Simmons can read all about it in The Wages of Wins.  But to read what we have to say, doesn’t Simmons have to fork over some cash?  Actually that’s true for most people living on the planet.  But for famous members of the media – and Bill Simmons is in that group — the book comes free.  Yep, all Simmons has to do is ask, and I will see that a book is delivered free of charge to either his home or office.  And you thought exchanging e-mails with Malcolm Gladwell was the only perk Simmons had in his job (having exchanged e-mails with Malcolm Gladwell I can confirm that this is a pretty cool perk).

With all that said I want to emphasize that I really like what Bill Simmons writes. Okay, maybe not the stuff where he takes shots at our book (I mean, can he at least say “The Wages of Wins”?).  And the 42 Club stuff was kind of silly.  But the rest of the stuff is gold.  Really.

– DJ

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