Thinking Basketball

Are top scorers really the most valuable players? Are games decided in the final few minutes? Does the team with the best player usually win? Thinking Basketball challenges a number of common beliefs about the game by taking a deep dive into the patterns and history of the NBA. Explore how certain myths arose while using our own cognition as a window into the game’s popular narratives. New basketball concepts are introduced, such as power plays, portability and why the best player shouldn’t always shoot. Discover how the box score can be misleading, why “closers” are overrated and how the outcome of a game fundamentally alters our memory. Behavioral economics, traffic paradoxes and other metaphors highlight this thought-provoking insight into the NBA and our own thinking. A must-read for any basketball fan — you’ll never view the sport, and maybe the world, the same again.

Community Review 

  • Thinking Basketball feels like it could have been written yesterday and 30 years ago. Even as sports have entered the analytics age, the way we process information remains hamstrung by the way we watch and process in a sport with almost 200 possessions per game. What gets lost as our eyes follow the ball? Or in our recollections, as we remember only one or two emotional moments? Thinking Basketball helps you rethink a sport that everyone thinks they understand and challenges the narratives of conventional wisdom that lead us astray.
    This book is prescient. It can help you deliberate you and your friends’ late night arguments over who really deserves MVP but also arm you with a healthier approach to statistics, measurements, and popular narratives that crop up everywhere in our lives. Understanding the brain’s limitations and the way the brain takes shortcuts, based on studies from psychology and behavioral science, is the first step to not falling for the mirages we create for ourselves.
    Thinking Basketball will make you smarter but it’s not a dry textbook. Taylor introduces original concepts presented in clear prose with the context of sports debates to bring us along for the ride. The conclusions Taylor presents, based on a careful historical study of basketball, lively use of data, and a background in cognitive science, are ones that should disseminate through the basketball-speaking world. The questions Taylor asks, if we keep them in our minds, should keep us on our toes far beyond the world of basketball.
  • I’ve been an avid reader of Ben Taylor’s work on basketball since 2010, dating back to the days he ran his backpicks.com blog. Taylor is in the top 5 of basketball analysts because of the way he approaches the game. He judges players based on the actions they did, not by narrative. If you are expecting a book that rates players with a lot of titles highly because of wins, then this book is not for you. This book contains a lot of the concepts that Ben Taylor discussed on his website. If you haven’t been exposed to those concepts in the past, this book will change the way you think of basketball.
    Here are a few concepts you will learn from the book:
    -A 7 game playoff series is a small sample size. The best team will not always win because of the small sample size
    -A players value is determined on what he can do on a good team, not a bad team. A player who improves a 45 win team to 60 wins is more valuable than a player who moves a 15 win team to 45 win team.
    -Portability of a players skill is very important in determining his value. A player who can play well on multiple teams is more valuable than a player whose skill set fits on a few teams. For example, Isolation scoring is not a portable skill. Most good teams already have isolation scoring. Adding an isolation scorer will not move the needle as much as adding an offensive rebounder or good defensive player. If you add Allen Iverson to the Warriors, they do not become a better basketball team. They might be worse because the team is distributing more shots to him that should have gone to Curry and Thompson. If you add Durant to the Warriors, they become a better team. His shooting, rebounding, and defense will fit all teams.

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