On Talent and Recruiting

“Talent” is a devilish term.

It can be defined as “a natural ability to be good at something, especially without being taught”.

However, it is often (implicitly) operationalised as a player’s ability to produce box-score stats.

I can think of two reasons:

  1. General over-reliance on numbers, statistics and analytics.
  2. Severely limited understanding of basketball.

The devilish thing about the implicit definition is that it leaves many relevant basketball abilities outside the scope of talent.

These abilities include screening, spacing the floor off the ball, passing in order to create good shots two or more passes away. And most importantly,  defensive abilities excluding blocking shots and getting steals.

So, if a “less talented” team beats a “more talented” team it may seem to be a surprise merely because the implicit definition of talent was  invalid in the first place.

In the NBA context, reductionism is considered being analytical. This leads to misinterpretations and misevaluations by team executives.

Ironically, it has also led to their being admired for being rational while they’ve  merely been ignorant about the nature of basketball.

There are competitive edges to be had for coaches and executives if you’re willing to go against the grain when recruiting players. Some suggestions.

  1. Re-define talent as “a player’s ability to help his team win games”.
  2. Recruit players with the types of skills usually overlooked.
  3. Recruit players who are being overlooked for non-relevant issues (body language, looks, background).
  4. Recruit players who lack skills that are relatively easy to improve (such as three-point shooting). Then help them improve those skills.
  5. When recruiting a player, consider the whole team as a complex system instead of the individual player as an isolated entity.

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