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Bayesian Linference

I hate to go up against Nate Silver on a subject he knows much better than I do, but is he really right that there’s a one-in-four chance that Jeremy Lin is actually a Hall-of-Fame-level superstar, based on his first four starts in the league?

Silver observes that only 41 times in the last 25 years has a player scored 20 points, shot 50% from the field, and recorded 6 assists in four straight games, as Lin did last week.  Most of those players were really, really good — about a quarter are in the hall of fame.  Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas — you get the idea.

But there’s something fishy here.  This isn’t a list of “streaks as good as Jeremy Lin’s first four games.”  It’s a list of “streaks which are good as Jeremy Lin’s first four games in the exact same way as Jeremy Lin’s first four games.”  Every Hall of Fame – eligible baseball player with 1600 RBI and 2800 hits is in the Hall, except Harold Baines and Rafael Palmeiro.  But that shouldn’t make you think Baines deserves to be in, because I chose my criteria precisely to match what is impressive about Harold Baines.

Then, too:  Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Isaiah Thomas were ranked as elite players before they ever set foot on a professional court.  Jeremy Lin had a strong but not dominant college career against Ivy League competition, and has been let go by several NBA teams that have watched him play.  I am as happy as anybody to see a Harvard player succeed in the bigs, but surely it’s reasonable to start with a pretty down-weighted prior.

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