TITLE: CS in Everything: On the Hardwood AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: July 28, 2009 12:40 PM DESC: ----- BODY: The economics blog Marginal Revolution has an occasional series of posts called "Markets in Everything", in which the writers report examples of markets at work in various aspects of everyday life. I've considered doing something similar here with computing, as a way to document some concrete examples of computational thinking and -- gasp! -- computer programs playing a role how we live, work, and play. Perhaps this will be a start. Courtesy of Wicked Teacher of the West, I came across this story about NBA player Shane Battier, who stands out in an unusual way: by not standing out with his stats. A parallel theme of the story is how the NBA's Houston Rockets are using data and computer analysis in an effort to maximize their chances of victory. The connection to Battier is that the traditional statistics we associate with basketball -- points, rebounds, assists, blocked shots, and the like -- do not reflect his value. The Rockets think that Battier contributes far more to their chance of winning than his stat line shows. The Rockets collect more detailed data about players and game situations, and Battier is able to use it to maximize his value. He has developed great instincts for the game, but he is an empiricist at heart:
The numbers either refute my thinking or support my thinking, and when there's any question, I trust the numbers. The numbers don't lie.
For an Indiana boy like myself, nothing could be more exciting than knowing that the Houston Rockets employ a head of basketball analytics. This sort of data analysis has long been popular among geeks who follow baseball, a game of discrete events in which the work of Bill James and like-minded statistician-fans of the American Pastime finds a natural home. I grew up a huge baseball fan and, like all boys my age, lived and died on the stats of my favorite players. But Indiana is basketball country, and basketball is my first and truest love. Combining hoops with computer science -- could there be a better job? There is at least one guy living the dream, in Houston. I have written about the importance of solving real problems in CS courses, and many people are working to redefine introductory CS to put the concepts and skills we teach into context. Common themes include bioinformatics, economics, and media computation. Basketball may not be as important as sequencing the human genome, but it is real and it matters to a enough people to support a major entertainment industry. If I were willing to satisfy my own guilty pleasures, I would design a CS 1 course around Hoosier hysteria. Even if I don't, it's comforting to know that some people are beginning to use computer science to understand the game better. -----