A solid chunk of Michael Lewis' big Vanity Fair profile of Barack Obama is set at a basketball game.
The president plays in an insanely competitive game with a bunch of former college players each week, so Lewis tagged along and provided the most detailed account of Obama's basketball playing style to date.
In order to contextualize exactly the type of player the president is, we used Lewis' insights to figure out which NBA player he most closely resembles.
Is he a LeBron? A JJ Reddick? Or a Jamario Moon? The results are weird, and may surprise you.
Here we go!
First of all, let's define what exactly Obama does on the floor. Based on what Lewis saw, Obama is a floor-spacing role player who doesn't shoot, plays solid help defense, takes charges, and passes well.
In addition, there were some other defining factors:
- He's probably the worst player on his team, but he gets a lot of playing time. This game is no joke. The guys all played in college and overseas professionally. As a result, Lewis says Obama was just barely good enough to hang with them.
- He's a guard.
- He talks a lot. He yelled at Lewis, “Don’t be looking to the sidelines all sheepish. You got to get back and play D!”
- He's left-handed.
So who is the NBA equivalent to THAT?
We used the excellent Play Index on Pro Basketball Reference to figure it out. We searched for all guards with who had the following stats in the 2011-12 season that correspond to the things Obama does on the court:
- Less than 1 turnover per game (Obama doesn't take risks)
- Less than 3 shot attempts per game (he doesn't shoot)
- More than 10 minutes played per game (he plays significant minutes)
That gave us just five potential candidates (click to enlarge):
They are Josh Childress of the Suns, Sasha Pavlovic of the Celtics, Royal Ivey of the Thunder, Lance Stephenson of the Pacers, and Matt Carroll of the Bobcats.
Unfortunately, Josh Childress isn't really a guard, so he has to go.
So then there were four. But how do we separate them?
Stephenson is a known trash-talker, so he gets points in that category. And Matt Carroll is hopelessly overmatched by everyone he plays against, much like our president.
But ultimately, we went with the subjective method, and brought in one more stat to find our NBA Obama — defensive rating. Lewis said that Obama takes a lot of charges and "does all the little things." That should translate into a more efficient team defensive, and that's what defensive rating takes into account.
So we went back to Pro Basketball Reference, and asked which one of these four players was the best defender. The answer gave us our NBA equivalent of Obama:
Welp, no one saw that coming.
Pavlovic is right-handed and he's from Montenegro, so he's not a perfect match. But from a playing style point of view the stats say he's the NBA version of Barack Obama.