Every day, it feels like a new fear-mongering headline or social media post declares that ChatGPT or some other AI model will eventually replace us. But if a real-life version of SkyNet is going to kill us all, take our jobs or both, it’s going to have to be a lot more advanced than the statistical models we have now, as the Lakers showed with their 108-102 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves to advance to the NBA playoffs on Tuesday night.
You see, those robots may be smart, but as someone on the Lakers’ coaching staff reminded the team ahead of their critical play-in matchup, at least one computer-generated equation gave the team just a 0.3% chance to make the postseason after they started 2-10.
Which analytics said that? Apparently, it was the Lakers’ own internal ones, and both LeBron James and Anthony Davis brought up the number on Tuesday night to cite how far they’ve come to get to this point, and it was indeed posted on the whiteboard in their locker room:
"We feel like we deserve it. We're supposed to be here. ...But yeah, we started 2-10. The analytics guys... saying we had 0.3 percent getting into the playoffs. And we defeated those odds," Anthony Davis said. Locker room whiteboard had those numbers written on it postgame— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) April 12, 2023
It may be time to get a new model.
However, to be fair to that robot/software the Lakers ultimately made look like a dumbass on Tuesday, that was probably a safe assumption at the time. After all, the Lakers are the first team in NBA history to make the playoffs after a start that bad. They definitely defied the odds to make this happen.
And it wasn’t like whatever model spit out those numbers was alone in not believing in the Lakers, either. As Lakers fan and receipt enthusiast Lakers Guru made sure to dig up after the win, as recently as February, one of the foremost basketball minds of our time — sixth-winningest coach in NBA history George Karl — was tweeting about how the Lakers couldn’t even draft vaunted prospect Victor Wembanyama with their draft pick when they missed the postseason.
But WHEN the Lakers miss the playoffs, they still can’t draft Wemby https://t.co/KmCPzDQTEm— George Karl (@CoachKarl22) February 25, 2023
Since that tweet and including their play-in win, the Lakers have won 16 of their last 23 games to earn their upcoming first round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies. They will now finish outside the lottery, clinching that the Pelicans will not exercise their right to swap picks with the team in the 2023 NBA Draft.
So it may not have been analytically probable, but the Lakers did it. They broke their one-year postseason drought, went from laughing stock to a team good enough to lead to crying that games are rigged for them, and gave any calculators and coaches who doubted them a proverbial swirly. As it turns out, even our most advanced mathematical calculations can’t account for the greatness of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, or Rob Pelinka suddenly deciding to construct a real NBA team at midseason. That’s why robots don’t play the games, and spreadsheets don’t determine the results. To quote a former, temporary Lakers head coach: Take that for data!
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.