1

Coin Flips and Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves lost to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, 104-103, on a Gerald Green jumper and subsequent miss on the final possession by Kevin Martin. These are the basic facts. Another: the Wolves are now 0-10 in games decided by 4 points or less this season. You’ve probably heard that at this point. It’s kind of a big deal, apparently.

Experiment time! Grab a coin. Or if you’re lazy, or too good for change, use this virtual coin toss website. Flip the coin, real or digital, 10 times. On average, among all of these samples, the expectation is for the coin to come up heads five times and tails five times. Reasonable. Some of you will have skewed results, however, due to the whims of variance. On the extremes, a couple people might have seen one side or the other all 10 times. 1 in a thousand times, it happens.

Now do it again. But this time, before you start the variance train, pick a side and root for it. Feel the anger when these processes you know to be fated to chance repeatedly go against you, the certainty that probability will even out in the long run that slowly bleeds to pleading for just a couple to go your way — okay, maybe one? Really?! Not even one?

Finally, replace the coins with, you know, actual living, breathing people. People with whom most will never interact, yet feel an admiration bordering on unilateral bonding. Players who have tendencies and histories, memory both neurological and muscular, facets immeasurable with bearings on outcomes determined on the balance of a razor. Invest in the outcomes of those coin flips, understand their outcome on schemes bigger than chance.

Congratulations. You can kind of relate to the worst thoughts of a Wolves fan.

Andrew Lynch

When God Shammgod created the basketball universe, Andrew Lynch was there. His belief in the superiority of advanced statistics and the eventual triumph of expected value-based analytics stems from the fact that he’s roughly as old as the concept of counting. With that said, he still loves the beauty of basketball played at the highest level — it reminds him of the splendor of the first Olympics — and the stories that spring forth from the games, since he once beat Homer in a game of rock-paper-scissors over a cup of hemlock. Dude’s old.

  • http://hoopshabit.com/ Edmund Stoer

    Beautifully put.