Culture

Does March Madness lead to irrational exuberance in the NBA draft?

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Last updated: March 21, 2013

Anthony Davis (Wikimedia)
Anthony Davis (Wikimedia)

The NBA draft is just three months after March Madness every year, and NBA executives have to decide how a player’s performance over the games in March — a maximum of six, from the tournament’s first round to the championship game — should affect their draft decision. Is it possible that a player who can sustain a high level of performance in a few must-win games has demonstrated that he has what it takes to succeed on the highest stage?

A 2012 study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Does March Madness Lead to Irrational Exuberance in the NBA Draft? High-Value Employee Selection Decisions and Decision-Making Bias,” explores how the March tournament affects the way that professional teams behave in the June draft. The study is based on data from 1997 to 2010 that looks at college tournament standouts performed at the NBA level. The researchers, Casey Ichniowski of Columbia University Graduate School of Business and Anne E. Preston of Haverford College, sought to understand the relationship between tournament performance and draft position.

The study’s findings include:

  • Tournament performance matters. A player who outperforms his regular season averages or who is on a team that wins more games than its seed would indicate will be drafted higher than he otherwise would have been. “Draft decisions are affected by unexpected team wins and unexpected player scoring.”
  • Professional teams don’t take college tournament performance into consideration as much as they should, as success in the tournament correlates with elite professional accomplishment — particularly top-level success, where a player makes the NBA All-Star Team three or more times. “If anything, NBA teams undervalue the signal provided by unexpected performance in the NCAA March Madness tournament as a predictor of future NBA success.”
  • Teams appear to draft players for offense, not defense: “Draft order is not a significant predictor of defensive performance.”

While NBA executives may be as riveted by March Madness as the average basketball fan, they appear to be overly cautious when weighing its implications. “How collegians perform under the glare of intense media attention and large arena crowds in a lose-and-go-home championship tournament provides important information about the true potential of these players as professional NBA players,” the study states. “Players with positive draft bumps due to unexpectedly good performance in the March Madness tournament are in fact more likely to become one of the rare NBA superstars in the league.”

Tags: sports, entertainment


Writer: | March 21, 2013

Citation: Ichniowski, Casey; Preston, Anne. "Does March Madness Lead to Irrational Exuberance in the NBA Draft? High-Value Employee Selection Decisions and Decision-Making Bias", NBER Working Paper No. 17928, March 2012. doi:10.3386/w17928.

Newswriting and digital reporting assignments

  1. Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
  2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
  3. Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
  4. Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
  5. Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
  6. Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.

Class discussion questions

  1. What is the study’s most important finding?
  2. Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
  3. What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
  4. How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
  5. How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
  6. What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?

Study analysis

Read the study titled “Does March Madness Lead to Irrational Exuberance in the NBA Draft? High-Value Employee Selection Decisions and Decision-Making Bias.”

  1. What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
  2. Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
  3. What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
  4. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
  5. How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.

 

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