Nate Silver on the Smart Play for LeBron James and Other Data Points

Loraine Lawson
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I wouldn’t normally write about sports on this blog …or at all, really, but here’s an unexpected development: Today, famed statistician and data geek Nate Silver revealed that he and his company, FiveThirtyEight, ran a data analysis on whether LeBron James should stay with Miami or move to Cleveland.

It may seem like an unusual mix, but sports is actually Silver’s original stomping ground. He first made a name for himself by developing the Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm, a system for forecasting Major League Baseball player performance.

As you might expect, the results are a bit controversial. After all, this is the man who gave us “No, really, your polls are wrong about Mitt Romney winning.”

Silver explains that the data indicates LeBron should do neither.

CNET contributor Chris Matyszczyk breaks down the logic behind the finding.  Ruling out Miami was not hard, it seems, given that they had 54 wins last season. Cleveland’s future is murkier, but the bottom line, data-wise, is that there are simply better potential scenarios for LeBron, such as Dallas, Houston, the Bulls, even the Knicks.

If you’re a sports fan, you’ll enjoy Matyszczyk’s short and clever piece. If you’re a true data geek or LeBron devotee, you’ll want to read Silver’s full analysis on FiveThirtyEight. He includes charts on how LeBron might affect the season for nine different teams.

Data pros may enjoy Silver’s explanation of the metrics and variants used in his analysis.

If you’re interested in a more philosophical discussion from Silver, however, check out this transcript from Thursday’s Facebook Live Chat with Silver. He discusses sports and political analysis, of course, but the chat also covers topics such as what really bothers him about Big Data and what topic is the hardest to analyze, but offers the greatest benefit.

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