My Unpopular Opinion, Part I: How Heuristics and The Western Shortchanged Jeremy Evans

Just like all of you, I have lots of opinions.  Some are very unpopular.  Some are so unpopular that they would likely be considered heresy and lead to a comments lynching.  Opinions like this bomb: It is my opinion that “Warrior” is the greatest sports movie of all time.  I found it to be more moving than Rocky, better acted than Raging Bull, more entertaining than Hoosiers, more inspired in its ending than Rudy, and more re-watchable than all four.  And I stand by that unpopular opinion.  I believe that if you were to show those five movies right now to a group of sports fans who have never seen or heard of any of them, a majority of those sports fans would say their favorite to watch was “Warrior.”  So there’s that.

The Unpopular Opinion

Why is saying something like this so damaging to my cred?  It’s easy to write off an opinion as being *wrong* because it isn’t time tested or agreed upon by “experts.”  And the experts that make their professions doling out opinions are afraid to fringe out because they lose credibility if no one else says they agree.  So some would say it’s better to wait before sharing crazy opinions.  Well, that may be.  But I can’t wait any longer to discuss this next unpopular opinion.  It eats at me every time I see a Walt Perrin quote or hear a Jazz Upper Level interview wherein a certain player is either forgotten, or mentioned and simultaneously discredited without reason.  So here’s my second bomb-drop of the post: It is my opinion that Jeremy Evans is the best player on this Jazz team.  And not because I don’t think they have other very, very good players.

Let that sit and fester for a bit.  Now, before you never read anything from me again…

Heuristics

In residency I was taught to always be aware of my own biases.  A well received paper on cognitive biases talked all about cautioning against heuristics. “Heuristic” means using personal experience to short cut the problem solving process.  Heuristics are known to often lead to suboptimal solutions because objectivity is lost. The aforementioned publication talked of heuristic tendencies that trap E.R. physicians, and warned against awesomely named biases such as Ascertainment Bias, Visceral Bias, Sutton’s Slip, Overconfidence Bias, Diagnosis Momentum, Fundamental Attribution Error…there are thirty aptly named biases that I should be guarding against at all times while working.  The take home lesson for my profession is this: just because that patient is an unpleasant, dishonest, ungrateful heroin addict with a very low IQ and an even lower tolerance for life doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an emergency medical condition like septic endocarditis.  And I can’t expect to miss septic endocarditis without having to worry about the possibility of a career ending lawsuit.  So I have to take that unpleasant person seriously.

Warrior

Biases are everywhere.  They are what makes the expression of unpopular opinions so dangerous to a person’s credibility.  The movie “Warrior” is a perfect example.  Ninety-five percent of people who hear my unpopular opinion about the movie probably laugh at how crazy it is, especially if they haven’t seen the movie.  But before these people laugh, they would do well to evaluate all biases and understand how to disregard them.  So, let’s evaluate some associated cognitive biases.

1) The MMA bias: The movie can’t be great because it’s about a fringe sport that is only respected by beer-guzzling meat heads.

2) The Campy Trailer Bias: “The two fighters facing off in the championship are brothers!”  I laughed out loud at that line when I first saw that commercial, and thought that the movie looked pretty stupid.  I don’t know who is responsible for making the trailer, but whoever it is, shame on them.

3) The Spielberg Bias: Steven Spielberg made Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List.  Therefore, everything he makes should get an Oscar nomination.  War Horse?  Oscar nomination for best picture, even though it was tedious, boring and sappy.  Warrior was made by some guy named Gavin.  Must be dumb.  It’s only big name actor, if you can call him that, is Nick Nolte.  Who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Warrior, by the way.

4) The Guys Without Shirts On In The Movie Poster Bias:  Quick, name one other good movie that has guys (plural, for all you Rocky III fans) without shirts on in the poster.  One. Yeah, I thought so.

It is clear to me that heuristics killed the commercial potential of this movie.  It’s funny to read critics’ evaluation of this movie, because most of them include words like “surprisingly.”  They didn’t expect it to be any good.  But it was good anyway.  By the way, this post is not about “Warrior”, it’s about Jeremy Evans.  Heuristics has suffocated Jeremy Evans.  No one expected him to be any good, so he’s not.  Right?

The Evans Bias

NBA execs would do well to come up with a list of thirty of their own potential cognitive bias pitfalls in regards to evaluating talent and player value.  If they were to do so, my guess is that Jeremy Evans would be classified as a victim of about 27 out of the thirty.  Let’s go through some of them.

1)  The “Western” Bias:  Everyone talks about East Coast Bias in college sports.  College basketball takes it a step further.  Putting the name “Western” in your school title basically means you will never be on TV anywhere, ever.  What if Evans had played at Kentucky instead of Western Kentucky?  He would have had block and rebound numbers that were in the same vicinity of Nerlens Noel and Anthony Davis, all while maintaining his offensive fg% of 64%.  He would have been seen on TV nationwide as a key player on the #1 seed in the biggest tourney in all of sports doing one of those monster blocks on one end and monster posterizings on the other, and scouts everywhere would have been salivating.  Instead, he went to Crossett High School in Arkansas and was found by a college with the word “Western” in its name and no distributing point guard on its team.  That school got an all time blocks leader, but almost no publicity.

2)  The High Draft Number Bias:  This happens every year.  Some respected scout somewhere thinks that some dude is a great player and convinces the world and ESPN The Magazine and the Detroit Pistons that Darko Milicic is better than Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.  And so, Darko gets a 10 year career and $53 million all while playing consistently worse than Kyrylo Fesenko.  That really happened.

3) The Investment Bias:  In some ways this melds into #2.  It happens with all of us.  We pay a lot for that thing we think will be a great thing, and when it isn’t, we still talk it up in hopes to make ourselves feel like we didn’t get ripped off.  When a team invests in a player, they want to give that player every opportunity to make the organization look smart.  So they spend extra time coaching that player, they advertise with that player’s face on a billboard, they give that player lots of playing time in hopes that he will turn into what they insisted he was worth.  It starts from the top: the owner and GM of a team anoint a top five pick, and the coach Yes-Man’s that pick with playing time to show that he agrees with everything his boss is doing so he can get a contract renewal.  Conversely, players who are paid less and drafted in the low second round have to consistently play three times better than a lottery pick before getting equal playing time.  One bad pass in the summer league from an undrafted guy and he never sees the floor again.  One bad pass from your high lotto pick and he gets 3 months with a personal specialized coach.

4) The George W. Bush Bias:  Some people define themselves so widely and definitively that they have little hope of succeeding anywhere else.  Take George W.  He was the president defined by his questionable judgment and quotes like this: “Too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.”   So when he started painting, “expert” critics wrote their reviews before seeing his work.  Then someone at Vulture decided to brave out an unpopular opinion and admit that he’s actually pretty good.  Now everyone else is agreeing.  Poor Jeremy lives with a similar bias.  He’s defined himself as a dunker.  No one outside of Jazz Nation has seen him do anything else.  Rewind to when he was drafted: he shows off his 5 foot vertical at practice and Coach only calls dunk plays for him forever more.  He posterizes some dude on a Watson ally-oop and Bolerjack only says “that kid can jump out of the gym” and “it’s another Early-Oop” when talking about Evans forever more.  He wins his first-ever dunk contest on national TV and no one even notices his painting at the second contest; he can’t possibly be a good painter because he only dunks!  By extension, he can’t possibly have a good turnaround jump shot, he’s a specialist!  Good at dunking, that’s all!  Never mind that he actually made 100% of his shots from 5-9 feet away, 57% of his shots from 15-19 feet away last year, and 50% of shots from 15-24 feet away his rookie year.  He can only make dunks, so that’s the only play anyone should run for him, and we should all refer to him as a specialist.

5) The Look Test Bias:  I fear that the Jazz were victimized by this when they had Dennis Schroeder work out for them this year.  Don’t get me wrong; I was excited that they traded up for Burke.  But I think Perrin wasn’t very excited by Schroeder after seeing him in workouts, the same way his Nike Hoops Summit coach was underwhelmed by him when first seeing him.  Until he played and consistently schooled some big names.  I think Atlanta got the steal of the draft.  If Schroeder’s look test is a C-, Evans’ is an F.  Looks like a super skinny bamboo straw with no competitive drive because he talks really quiet.  How could he ever defend at an elite level with the body of a string bean?  Never mind that Nerlens Noel’s body mass index is actually lower than Jeremy’s, and he’s projected to be an elite defender.  Jeremy went to a school with “Western” in its name, so he will never be able to defend big men despite his per-36 block numbers that rank top 3 in the NBA.

6) The Small Sample Size Stats Are Too Good Bias:  Look, I’ve taken many upper level statistics classes in my day.  I understand the letter “n”.  A low “n” means you widen the standard deviation.  Doesn’t mean you throw out the standard deviation.  I’ve seen too many people do this with Jeremy.  His stats are soooo good.  They can’t be that good.  So let’s throw them out because he hasn’t played much.  Never mind adjusting down, because they’re still ridiculous.  Let’s all just ignore them and we can go back to a world where numbers tell the story we think they should.

So the next time Walt Perrin refers to Gordon Hayward as “the oldest guy on the team,” let’s remember that Jeremy Evans is not only on the team, he is the most undeservedly slighted player on the team, and possibly in the NBA.  I have written 1900 words and haven’t even gotten to the part where I present real evidence that Evans is an elite player.  So I’ll have to do that in my “to be continued…” post.  So, to be continued…

Credits

Many thanks to my faithful twitter followers, especially the readers who like to spread the word.  If you aren’t already, be sure to follow @slcdunk, @UtahJazzPodcast, @Quinnurp7, @JazzNetworkStat, @McCadeP8, @lilbax, @jameson155, @UtahJazzTime, @UtahJazzAustin, @MarkPeacock11, and @MosesStone1980.  RT this and I’ll include you in the credits section, join the Jazz community!

 

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