Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Oscar Robertson's Triple-Double Season

Wikipedia reports: "Oscar Robertson is the only player in NBA history to achieve this feat [of averaging a triple-double]. During the 1961–62 season, Robertson averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game."

My son said, "But Dad, he only had 181 triple-doubles in his career. Wouldn't this mean 82 of them came that one year?"

I said, "No, those were his averages. He had games below those numbers in each category."

"OK, but shouldn't that still be about 70?"

"Hmm, let's see: if his distribution on each of these is a Bell curve, I'd expect that maybe in 25 or 30 games he'd miss a double in assists, maybe in 20 or so in rebounds, and in a handful in points. So perhaps..."

"Dad, right here..."

"Wait a second! Hmm, perhaps in 40 games he actually had a triple double."

"Dad, right here on the page it gives the actual number: 41!"

Ah, the power of statistical reasoning!


  1. When I have this kind of conversation with Clark, if we have time I'll say, "OK let's not look yet, let's see if we can figure out the answer."

    1. I don't have children, but I often do that just to test myself. It's weird because I don't have much of a background/training in statistics or math, and I often cannot explain or describe such concepts (though, if applying some effort, I can memorize and recite the concepts), but for some reason my "guestimations" are eerily close to the true answer.

      I will admit, that when I do this around other people and I'm on the money, that I revel in it. It's funny, because they'll think that I'm really smart even though I'm not. Eh, I'll take it.

    2. The takeaway from my prior comment is that I am basically a good guesser (since I cannot explain the mechanism, I *must* be guessing).

      For instance, if you give me a written test where there is an exact answer, I will do horribly (the exceptions being essay and constructed-reponse tests). However, if you give me a multiple choice test, I will almost always score in the 95th percentile or greater. I've never been able to explain this.


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