Case studies in sample size

Hope all are enjoying the holiday weekend.

1) I am unsurprised to see that Russell Wilson’s performance yesterday is largely being used as further evidence in support of his legend. An enduring and mistaken tendency in sports analysis is the after-the-fact erasure of all a player’s mistakes if his team wins. So, let’s be clear. Wilson, a terrific quarterback who I really like, stunk yesterday. Of course, he made some big plays at the end. But before you conclude that he just has a “knack” for making big plays “at the right time,” ask yourself how we’d be talking about Wilson today if Brandon Bostick has secured an onside kick that was in his hands? Did Wilson throw four picks and get sacked five times because he was just lying in wait for the game circumstances to unfold as they did? Indeed, Wilson was suffering through an historically bad conference championship game until all hell broke loose in the final minutes of regulation.

Sure, he deserves credit for his play at the end of the game. And, of course, the bottom line is that the team won the game. But the emphasis should be on the team – the defense’s play in the second half and on Marshawn Lynch, who proved unstoppable in the second half.

Wilson has played very well in the postseason in his short career. But yesterday was not a good day for him. He just got *very* lucky.

2) Andrew Wiggins has had a very good few weeks. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft has been the source of much discussion lately, in part because the Cleveland’s decision to package him in a trade for Kevin Love has not worked out for the LeBrons as well as expected. Bill Simmons just said that Wiggins recently play not only vaults him to the head of the rookie-of-the-year race but also augurs a future as a superstar.

Sports history is replete with examples of players who got hot for a few weeks. (Remember Linsanity). It doesn’t automatically follow that those players went on to be historically great players. Indeed, so far this season, Wiggins has been a decidedly below average player. He’s shot well from three-point range, but otherwise hasn’t really done anything better than a league-average shooting guard (and some things quite a bit worse). Wiggins is very young and there is therefore, lots of time for growth and improvement. The overhyping of his recent play is, in part, a function of a recent favorite trope among sports media that while LeBron James might be a great player, he’s not a great general manager.  Wiggins is an often exciting player with some obvious physical gifts. But the breathlessness with which his recently play is frequently being described is unwarranted.

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