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Why underdogs do better in hockey than basketball

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A statistical analysis of luck vs skill in sports.

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In his book, The Success Equation, Michael Mauboussin places sports on the skill-luck continuum by using a statistical technique earlier demonstrated by sports data analysts. He found that season standings for the NBA reflect skill levels more so than the seasons of other major team sports, with NHL hockey being the sport closest to the luck side of the continuum. In this video we explore the characteristics of the sports that either enhance or diminish the influence of luck on the results, and we’ll walk through the method for calculating the contribution of luck.

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49 thoughts on “Why underdogs do better in hockey than basketball

  1. love basketball the most, next is soccer. there are different sports based on preference and everyone has their own preferred sport. we're all different and unique in a lot of ways, so we usually like the sport that we find most pleasure in. the NBA is really popular and outshines the other national sport leagues, since basketball is really popular and the NBA is the highest level. the other sports like american football is less recognized since rugby is accepted worldwide. hockey and ice hockey cannot be observed everywhere, so there'll be less people who watch it, but unlike the NBA, other team sports like football and hockey teams are more likely to get faithful fans even after a star player gets traded

  2. One big problem with this idea in determining the impact of ones skill in every sport. It fails to recognize the other team as an opposing variable. As with the hockey to basketball comparison, both have defense. Equal. Both have blocking shots. Equal. But hockey has one variable that drastically reduces the rate at which a puck will go in the net, the goaltender. A perfect goaltender opposing a perfect shooter will always win out, as this perfect shooter does not control the "fate" of the puck once it leaves his stick. He may have a 100% accuracy on net, but the goaltender will always save the shot. At no point in this perfect scenario does luck play in at all. But perfect vs perfect works in every sport for an example, so go back to a great player vs a great player. In basketball a great shooter will rarely win out against an equally matched defender. Unless one of the two fails in their realm of control the defender will always win out. That's 100% skill, and only perceived luck from one side. Now in hockey you have an equally matched shooter against an equally matched defender, along with an equally matched goaltender. The shooter must get past the defender, which more often than not (statistically) will miss the block, even being the greatest player in the world as the shooter controls the puck to a close enough point. Now as the puck nears the goaltender the "skill" percentage shifts from the shooters ability to put the puck on net, to the goalie to save the shot. And no point is luck a factor in this situation. And if this situation wins games, and wins seasons, if goals are the only way to win a game then how can a purely skill based occurrence build to suddenly become luck over time? There is very little mention of another team in this video, and it completely ignores that with each and every shot in both sports there is pure reliance on skill. Skill may change depending on the players mental state and fatigue. If you cloned Sydney Crosby, and sleep deprived one of the two, the rested Crosby would win out every time, as the skill is purely to blame. But now that Crosby that is rested is both tiring, and maybe even thinking he can lay off a bit since he's winning so much, it shifts the level of skill towards the clones favor. No luck plays in here, and skill isn't concrete. Therefore you cannot put any sport on this graph as every sport is purely skill based, accounting for each and every player's variables affecting skill at the moment of the situation. With a wider team of 30 players vs 12 the only difference is the median of "skill" (If one were to assign a numerical value) between the players, not luck. If the usually more skillful team plays poorly and loses to the worst team, that isn't luck for the worse team, it's a level of skill that momentarily superseded the commonly better team's level of skill. It only evens out to seem more lucky because of the wider range of "skill" within the teams. In a perfect universe where every player in every sport played at a consistent level at all times, then yes this would work out. But this is a world full of variables that drastically change the landscape constantly, rendering statistics useless when determining luck vs skill. since luck is only perceived by one team. Every goal can be attributed to someone on the defending side doing something wrong. If everyone played perfectly no goals would be scored, no shots would be taken, nothing would happen. Throwing in luck would still change nothing in a perfect world, so how can it be a factor in a flawed one if each "lucky" instance can be traced back to a failure.

  3. When I look at sports, especially non-american ones (like rugby, Aus. Football, or Cricket). I don't care who wins or loses. I just want to see what the rules and positions in the game are. I want to see great athleticism on display. I want to see clever plays, and the bird's eye visual form of the players in formation toward the goal.

  4. I don't like if the best 2-3 teams win every time. I would prefer the best 10 or so teams to have a chance at winning with even complete underdogs winning sometimes. (Example Giants make Super Bowl on Hail Marys then beat 18-0 pats). I just like a bit of random as long as it does not completely eliminate skill.

  5. In hockey all 25+ players play during the game while in basketball u have ur starters ur bench and a couple other guys. When you take in
    injuries it makes it even more complicating because in hockey more players are playing thus more players have a chance at getting hurt. In basketball less players play and less players have a chance at getting hurt

  6. I would say that I definitely prefer skill based sports, but I don't like sports that are 100% skill (Running, swimming, biking being exceptions) this is because if you can always predict that one team or person will dominate then it's boring to watch because there's a lack of anticipation. I'm not knocking those sports, but for example I tend to get bored with Basketball because games tend to be one sided, but in soccer there's more tension in the air because there's more random chance.

  7. Two issues (although you can't cover everything in 7.5 minutes you have to simplify).

    There more than just "skill" + "luck". There's also matchups. There's also injuries, which are a matter of luck in a sense but also still make the actual result of the game dependent on skill just the same – it just changes whose skill you're talking about.

    And skill even without luck doesn't mean the more skilled will beat the lesser skilled (which this analysis seems to suggest, but it's unclear). See chess or go – no luck, but still you sometimes have a slighter lesser-skilled player win against an opponent who usually beats him.

  8. For all these leagues it's neither Luck or Skill, it's Money.

    If team has monyt it can get skills.
    If team hasen't money or Luck it's hard to get skills.
    And by skills I mean skilled players.

  9. Basically this is saying that if some sport has a lot of games in season and there is some teams that win a lot of their games. It = to measure player skill better? Like ftw, that doesn't make any sense at all.

    If you also measure how much chances you have to score and how many you get in of those. It isn't comparable between sports. They are just different and after all its about teams trying to win. So the individual can have an affect, but it comes down to the combined skill of the team in the end. In some of these sports some individuals can have a bigger impact yes so they need more skill to be competitive in the league, but the rest of the team should bring down the skill/luck ratio because their skills are being less tested. In something like hockey everyone's skill can have an impact so in every game everyone is tested. This was after all about how well different sports measure INDIVIDUAL skill. (in a team sport…) I think this might be just more about how some sports can "measure more" about some individuals skill, not all players.

    I could rumble all day about this video, but shortly its just a stupid research done wrong and specially explained horribly in the video.

  10. I don't understand. How is this NOT incorporated into Odds-Making for NHL? This tells you ought to make money over time by betting on the team that is given any goals.

  11. Except for maybe last year with that whole part about how the MLB has the most discrepancies between regular and post season performance. Go Cubbies amiright?

  12. Respect to the other sports, but hockey will always be, in my opinion, the best. It's unpredictable and can be insanely brutal (ever seen the Stanley cup playoffs?) and each team stays pretty competitive due to salary restrictions. You just don't get that with a lot of the other sports.

  13. Sports is not a statistic world not any players are more lucky than another some are more skilled than other but nobody is more lucky than other

  14. There are more of a spread in basketball because there is no salary cap so high market teams spend more money in hockey it is all close in standings because there is cap

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