The Price of Anarchy

The Price of Anarchy is a suboptimal arrangement used in “traffic networks” that can be applied to Basketball as well.

ESPN.com sportswriter Bill Simmons calls it the “Ewing Theory”. The idea that a team could improve after losing one of its best players may in fact have a network-based justification, and not just a psychological one.

Optimizing the performance of a basketball offense may be viewed as a network problem, wherein each play represents a “pathway” through which the ball and players may move from origin (the in-bounds pass) to goal (the basket). Effective field goal percentages from the resulting shot attempts can be used to characterize the efficiency of each pathway. The analysis suggests that there may be a significant difference between taking the highest-percentage shot each time down the court and playing the most efficient possible game. There may also be an analog of Braess’s Paradox in basketball, such that removing a key player from a team can result in the improvement of the team’s offensive efficiency.