NBA coaches may be “forced” to go small

The world’s coming to an end, hence it’s time to talk NBA basketball.

In recent years, the Houston Rockets have pioneered a new style of basketball, focusing on the three point shot. Now Houston is innovating again, with small ball.

In the past, small ball was mostly used around the NBA during the last few minutes of close games, when playing well is particularly important. Big, slow, lumbering centers like Rudy Gobert were often ineffective at those times, and sat on the bench.

At the same time, coaches like Gregg Popovich don’t like to adopt these sorts of changes. A game focused on three point shooting is ugly, at least compared to the well-rounded offenses of the past, which incorporated a wide variety of shots. And relying overwhelmingly on the long ball seems intuitively “irresponsible”.

Furthermore, basketball has traditionally been dominated by big men at the center position. The last thing that coaches want to do is go against tradition with small ball.

[BTW, I hope it’s obvious that this post is talking about monetary policy.]

But when other NBA teams have success with a new strategy, then eventually even stubborn coaches must give in and follow along. They may not want to, but they will be forced to.

Here’s an interesting question: Why should coaches ever be reluctant to adopt a new strategy, just because they don’t like it? Isn’t success all that matters? You’d think so, but coaches are conservative by nature. If the tradition is to punt on fourth and one in football, that’s what you do. No one ever got fired for following tradition.

Just as coaches may be reluctant to rely on the three point shot or small ball, central banks may be reluctant to cut interest rates. You might think that the level of interest rates would be a matter of complete indifference—all that matters is whether the policy produces good outcomes. If so, then you are being naive. Central banks have a fondness for certain levels of interest rates, or at least certain expected paths of change, and will only move those rates unexpectedly if “forced” by overwhelming pressure. This leads to inertia in monetary policy, and results in recessions every few years after a long expansion is suddenly interrupted by a sharp drop in equilibrium interest rates.

Check this out:

Recent global developments, including the more rapid spread of the coronavirus outside of China, make it more likely the Federal Reserve will be forced soon to cut interest rates to respond to growth concerns, according to economists gathered for a top policy conference on Monday.

The media’s use of the term ‘forced’ is correct, and is the “tell” that monetary policy is inefficient.

Are there systems that would avoid this damaging inertia? Yes, and we are slowly getting there. Unfortunately, however, we are not quite there yet.

On the plus side, recessions are like airliner crashes; each time one occurs we learn a bit more about safety.



8 Responses to “NBA coaches may be “forced” to go small”

  1. Gravatar of rayward rayward
    28. February 2020 at 10:53

    I was pleased UVA won the NCAA basketball title last year, but only because I refused to watch their truly awful style of play. Some games one wondered if the score would hit double digits. I say pleased because it’s good to know that an academically advanced college like UVA can win an NCAA title. I don’t expect UVA will ever be competitive in football, but it did win an NCAA title in baseball several years ago, the year after Vanderbilt won the title. How did that happen? Scholarships. Or more accurately, very few scholarships: college baseball teams are allowed a total of 11.7 scholarships. For the entire team, many with rosters approaching 40. How does that help schools like UVA and Vanderbilt? If an exceptional baseball player is only going to get a partial scholarship, why not choose a college like UVA and Vanderbilt. Anyway, that’s my theory. Of course, in basketball, everybody gets a full ride (and then some), but it only takes one or two exceptional players to make a championship team. Economics in college sports.

  2. Gravatar of David Pinto David Pinto
    28. February 2020 at 11:47

    I was working in baseball broadcasting in the early 1990s when Tom Glavine, a left-handed pitcher, was getting better results against right-handed batters than left-handed batters. In fact, left-handers hit him well. Yet managers did not start left-handed batters against him very much. I asked two players why this would happen, including one that had caught Glavine. They gave the same answer, there was a breaking ball Glavine threw that moved away from righties, but into a good hitting zone for lefties. I then asked why managers didn’t start lefties against Glavine. Again, The answer was the same, the managers didn’t want to be criticized in the press if the strategy didn’t work in a game.

    I believe this happens a lot among public people. Every economist I read does not consider the cost of items rising during a disaster as “price gouging”. They see it as a correct response to shortages. Yet I always see reports in the press on how a gas station or a lumber yard is gouging their customers, and the politicians follow along.

    The Fed should be a bit more insulated from this type of criticism, but maybe not.

  3. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    28. February 2020 at 11:58

    Other than your analogy might be exactly backward, I completely agree with your conclusion. (D’antoni is fascinating coach—and so far small ball has worked well—key is playoffs–easy to predict failure—but they have been fun to watch).

    The Fed is like the Church—-customs and traditions so embedded they cannot think like market-oriented people. “Women priests?”— of course not because…… well 1700 years ago we figured out no women priests.

    In a dynamic world, the Fed lives by a schedule—waiting for certainty, which one certainly gets when it’s too late. Your recent suggestion of daily settings I now see as brilliant–(its brilliant because brilliance is often pointing out the obvious—and the obvious is rarely actually obvious.) Today, he said he “is carefully watching the economy”–I am laughing out loud and crying inside (so to speak).

    I am uncertain how effective Fed action can be, due to the almost unprecedented nature of this kind of “supply” crisis potentially spread across all global industries——-but to actually say “he is carefully watching the economy” feels so ridiculous.

    maybe he does believe he is running “out of ammunition”. Your optimistic prediction that future Feds will prevent recessions is being tested right now.

  4. Gravatar of BB BB
    28. February 2020 at 12:57

    Great post. I’ve reached the point that I’ve finally given into the view that we should get rid of the three point line.

  5. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    28. February 2020 at 13:22

    Your analogy is a good one. Houston has yet to navigate a postseason using small ball. The Warriors had KD (previously Bogut) to rim protect plus an army of long-armed perimeter defenders and one of the most versatile defenders in the history of the NBA in Green. Coaches won’t trust small ball until a small ball team survives the crucible of the postseason where Lebron James causes supply shocks by holding the ball for 20 seconds before jack-hammering your undersized defenders through your rim or Kawhi Leonard slows the velocity of your ball movement to a trickle by sticking his giant mitts in every conceivable passing lane.

  6. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    29. February 2020 at 09:05

    I guess all we need to do is somehow come up with a Central Bank League version of the Larry O’Brien and we’re away. In other news – in case anyone missed this:

  7. Gravatar of Market Fiscalist Market Fiscalist
    29. February 2020 at 10:29

    If NBA coaches just targeted scoring 130 points a game they could probably win most games without having to worry about tactics or strategy at all.

  8. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. March 2020 at 11:13

    Carl, Just to be clear, I’m not predicting a title for Houston, as Milwaukee and the Clippers are probably better. Maybe the Lakers too.

    Anon, I’ve been thinking of you. Did you see Westbrook destroy the Celtics yesterday?

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