Ben Falk on Building NBA Teams and a Winning Culture

Ben Falk started working for the Portland Trail Blazers as an analytics expert while he still had two years of college left to finish. After graduating, he spent several years each with the Blazers and the 76ers assisting with analytics and basketball strategy. Today, he posts what he’s seeing in the league on his site Cleaning The Glass.

Zach Lowe had Falk on his Lowe Post Podcast this week, and Falk had many insightful things to say about constructing teams in the NBA along with winning strategy in today’s game. My notes are below:

— Zach Lowe’s solid insight on franchises that try to be good now while also adding young prospects to develop to be good in the future: It seems easier to be good first, and then worry about building assets to drive the future. Being mediocre to poor now and then trying to build from scratch has choppy results historically.

Falk’s related point: People like to say culture creates winning. But a lot of times winning creates culture. It’s hard to have a good culture when you’re losing.

— When projecting a draft pick, you have to consider their potential in terms of a probability distribution. What is the chance they become a star? A starter? A role player? A bust? And you’re constantly adjusting those odds as more information arrives. New info can make a big difference at the extremes (whether they project to be a star or a bust), which shrinks the potential outcomes.

And your expectations about the prospect at the start affects those predictions. If they’re high, you’re more patient with a slow or disappointing start than you would be if you’re taking a flyer on a pick at the end of the draft. Also, if you know this player will take time to develop, you’re more willing to wait.

Think about all the abilities a player has and what is more likely to change than not. Shooting is easier to change than height or hoops IQ.

— Ultimately, decisions rarely are black and white. You should rarely go into a decision thinking 100% one way or the other.

One franchise grades every one of their transactions on a scale of 1-100 of whether they think each one will work out. It makes you consider your threshold for making a deal. Does it have to be a 60? An 80? A 90? That said, uncertainty is not an excuse for inaction.

— It’s easy to have your goals set by outside influences. You have to set internal goals.

Sam Hinkie was incredible at having consistency internally. He ignored any talk of what he’d have to do to save his job, because that’s how terrible decisions get made.

The best trade Ben was a part of (trading Gerald Wallace for the draft pick that became Damian Lillard) occurred because of the other team’s desperation.

— Sam Hinkie quote: “Every game is a data point.”

— In Philadelphia, they made players earn the green light to shoot certain shots in the game by hitting a certain percentage in practice.

— In the NBA, it’s amazing how much a foot or a step matters. It can be the difference between being in position to challenge a shot vs. giving up a layup.

— It’s tough to have a great offense without getting at least some easy points from transition and/or putbacks.

DePaul Campus Planner Quotes, Part 5

This may be my favorite batch of the five sets I’ve posted so far:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” — Goethe

“There is more treasure in books than all the pirate’s loot on treasure island.” — Walt Disney

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” — Margaret Thatcher

“Being defeated is only a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.” — Marilyn vos Savant

“If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” — Frank A. Clark


Here are the others: Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4

#1 Financial Regret for Americans

Over two-thirds of Americans have regrets about how they have managed their money. Here are the top individual regrets regarding money management for different generations of Americans:

Not thinking about money management sooner: #1 regret for Gen X and Baby Boomers, and a top 3 regret for Millennials.

Spending on nonessentials: Top 3 regret for all generations.

Taking on unnecessary credit card debt: Top 3 regret for Gen X and Baby Boomers, #4 regret for Millennials.

Not having a budget. #1 regret for Millennials, #4 regret for Gen X and Boomers.

Source: Quentin Fottrell at MarketWatch

Quotes From Jobs, Hemingway, Chopin, and Tony Bennett

Here are some quotes I came across in recent weeks that I liked:

“Life teaches you how to live it, if you live long enough.” — Tony Bennett, speaking in the 2015 documentary Amy, about singer Amy Winehouse.

Steve Jobs: “…one of the ways that I believe people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity is to make something wonderful and put it out thereBut somehow, in the act of making something with a great deal of care and love, something is transmitted there. And it’s a way of expressing to the rest of our species our deep appreciation.”

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” — Ernest Hemingway

“Reality is a cloud of possibilities, not a point.” — Amos Tversky

Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.” — Frederic Chopin

Aging Population Plays a Part in Lower Bond Yields

Lars Christensen at Bloomberg walks through three macro factors that can impact the direction government bond yields move. First, and most important, is inflation expectations. Second is the amount of regulation in financial markets (more regulation = lower yields). Last, and often missed, is changes in demographics. The aging of a country’s citizens tends to drive yields down.

A good portion of the fall in bond yields from 2008 to today was predicted by these factors:

And for most of the major countries of the world, demographics are expected to continue to drive bond yields lower in the next ten years.

Articles on Harvey Weinstein & Hollywood Masculinity Problem

Reports of Hollywood big shot Harvey Weinstein’s awful behavior toward women for the last three decades has been in the news a lot lately as more women continue to speak out about their own terrible experiences.

Two pieces published on this topic resonated with me.

First, Lindsey Zoladz took a personal view, writing about how she has had an imaginary boyfriend named Scott since she was 18 that she mentions in conversation when a strange man is too aggressive in approaching her in a public place. She walks through why using an excuse like this does not really make her safer (even if it gives her more comfort), but more than anything it is upsetting that almost all women have to resort to this tactic more than they ever should (which would be never).

Second, Kate Muir at the Financial Times looked at Hollywood’s masculinity problem. Of the top 100 grossing films at the box office in 2016, 96 were directed by men. 97% of cinematographers on top films are men, as are 89% of screenwriters. The top 10 paid actors in Hollywood earned three times what the top 10 paid actresses made. Meanwhile, 52% of the film audience is women. The other disconcerting point is these rumors about Harvey have been around for a long time, and it just so happens that when he has been on a cold streak of churning out hits, the news finally hits the mainstream. As one screenwriter said, “We’ll know Hollywood culture has changed when a predator at the height of his power is taken down, not just someone already in decline.”

Don’t Assume You’ll Retire and Never Work Again

It is the aspiration of many younger adults to reach the point where retirement becomes a feasible option. While it is a nice feeling to know you have saved enough to live your life comfortably in a number of scenarios, maybe it should not be such an explicit goal.

A recent study by the Federal Reserve Board of 2,300 older workers found that one-third of people who retired ended up going back to work again, even if it’s just part-time. In some cases, this is because they need the income. However, the highest income demographic within the survey showed even more than one-third went back to work.

It makes sense when you consider the longer life expectancies in this era. Retiring at 60 could mean lounging around for thirty years, which may not appeal to a lot of senior citizens. So keep saving money to allow yourself the freedom to live how you want in your twilight years, but don’t plan on doing nothing when you get there.

Source: John Kimelman at Barron’s

One other stat: 65-and-older labor force participation rate – 27% in 1948, fell to 11% in 1985, and now back up to 19.6% today.

The Current State of China and its President Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping is about to begin his second 5-year term as the President of China. There were three great pieces I read this week about Xi and/or the current state of China.

This piece at BBC walks the reader through Xi’s difficult childhood, his rise up the political ladder, and just how much he has consolidated his power in the first five years as leader.

The other two pieces are both from the Wall Street Journal and require a subscription.

Chinese cities are borrowing money from the state to buy empty homes from property developers. The problem is to pay back the loans, the cities are selling more land to the developers to build more homes, so the cycle is only expanding instead of going away.

— The biggest risk to China’s communist party: Chinese billionaire entrepreneurs. Twenty years ago, government leaders realized some capitalistic principles and private business would need to be allowed for China to grow as fast as they wanted. The catch now is how does the party regulate the companies and their billionaire founders that have become too big for the government to be comfortable? You’re starting to see more petty meddling with these businesses as well as several instances of wealthy businessmen disappearing.

Kevin Durant’s Advice for Those Losing Confidence

Kevin Durant did a Q&A session on his YouTube channel where he answered questions from fans. One person asked how he thinks when he struggles at the start of a game. Durant’s response:

You gotta know what you’re playing for. If you’re playing to impress people, nine times out of 10, you’re always gonna be disappointed when you miss a shot or you make a mistake because you’ll feel embarrassed. But if you know why you’re out there, if you know that you want to just get better and you want to master the game, you’re gonna be excited about mistakes.

Get excited about messing up because you know that you can learn from those mistakes quicker. It’s just all about being confident in yourself and knowing it’s gonna take some time for you to get where you wanna get to, but enjoy the process

Source: Alysha Tsuji at USA Today