Why Dukies underachieve as pros

By Razib Khan | April 2, 2010 5:01 pm

Interesting article in Slate. This shocked me:

Out of all the big schools, NBA teams likely fall harder for Dukies because of their NCAA tournament success. In Stumbling on Wins, economists David J. Berri and Martin B. Schmidt find that players who appear in the Final Four the year they’re drafted get a boost of 12 draft positions. Berri and Schmidt believe that this boost is unwarranted. One of the “statistically significant factors … that lead to less productivity in the NBA,” they write, is “playing for an NCAA champion the year drafted.”

I’ll have to look at the model itself, but this is somewhat surprising if plausible. It makes intuitive sense, but NBA teams don’t normally take the draft lightly and do prep work. On the other hand, as the years go by I’ve become more skeptical about the ability of institutions to squeeze all efficiencies out of any given process (I suspect there’s a principal-agent problem; those who are making the final call are less likely to get fired if they select a “can’t miss” who they think is overrated if that prospect flops than if they get someone who they believe is underrated, and it turns out their assessment was in error).

Personally, I think the similarities between Duke and Indiana during the Bobby Knight years are telling, and Knight was a mentor of Mike Krzyzewski. Both schools seem to produce fewer stars on the professional level in relation to the success of their teams; but I think the group vs. individual dynamic is key. There are differences between the pro and collegiate level, and Duke and Knight’s Indiana teams were able to leverage group level efficiency and precision in collective action to make up for shortfalls in relative individual talent. When a team manages to win many games individual players are perceived to be better than they are. Take individuals out of that context and their more modest talent endowments become obvious. A college team which routinely makes it far in the NCAA tournament can regularly field what might be “role players” at best in the NBA.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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