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This Week In Sports: Winners, Losers And Favorites


Time now for sports.


MARTIN: Tonight on the Oscars, we honor acting. And if you're anything like me, you will have your eyes on the people who don't win to see how well they can really act. Mike Pesca does the same thing with sports, and he's here to tell us what - well, let's not call them losers - let's say the also-rans - what they...


MARTIN: ...Have been doing recently in the world of sport. Good morning, Mike.

PESCA: Exactly. So last night, the OKC Thunder lose to Steph Curry on a 32-foot 3-pointer. But I think of the Thunder as just happy to be nominated.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Yeah, exactly. So there are times when an individual actor's performance rises above what is an otherwise forgettable film. I'm thinking about Maggie Smith who got an Oscar for her role in a movie called "California Suite," which no one really remembers, let's be honest. So what - how do we extend this to the world of sport?

PESCA: Let's talk about the prime of Mr. Anthony Davis, a New Orlean (ph)Pelican. Now I've crunched the numbers on Anthony Davis, who's a great player.

How great? Well, according to this advanced statistic called win sharers (ph), by the end of the season, he'll be about the 35th greatest player in NBA history. And none of the other 34 have had as bad a team around him in their first four years.


PESCA: I mean, maybe we remember that Michael Jordan - he played on losing teams his first three years. But, you know what, they always went to the playoffs. By year four, he was on a 50-win team. So Anthony Davis - his team is terrible this year. They've made the playoffs once, lost in the first round. You know, you don't - you just don't see a superstar given a supporting cast so bad. And, you know, my statistics show he is actually the most abandoned guy by his franchise...

MARTIN: Oh, man, poor Anthony.

PESCA: ...In the history of the NBA, just judging by how good he is.

MARTIN: All right, so Anthony Davis is the Maggie Smith of basketball - kind of.

PESCA: (Laughter).

MARTIN: What about teams? What also-ran teams have you been looking at?

PESCA: All of Canada - all of Canadian hockey. Even though Canadians are half the NHL and Canada's a hotbed of hockey - sorry, that's huge contradiction - but anyway - because we know how ice works.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PESCA: There are seven Canadian teams, and none of them - if the playoffs started today - would be in the playoffs. And it doesn't look like any of them are going to make the playoffs.

MARTIN: Why? I mean, is it just random coincidence? Why's Canada so bad?

PESCA: I think - you know, you could have a theory that goes like this. The Nashville Predators, the Dallas Stars - if they want to pack fans in the arena, they have to actually be good. But if you're the Winnipeg Jets, if you're the Toronto Maple Leafs, just being those teams and playing for rabid Canadians, you're not incentivized as much to be excellent. That said, I don't really think that's it. I do think it's mostly coincidence.

MARTIN: OK. I suppose our Oscar theme breaks down a little bit when we think about prohibitive favorites. Actors like Meryl Streep or Jack Nicholson - these are people we think as guaranteed when they're nominated. But she's been up there 19 times. He's been up 12, and each has only won 3, which is a great Oscar run, but not really what Vegas likes to see in a team.

PESCA: Well, that's true. But you know, the Denver Broncos have only won three Super Bowls, and they're a good team. I mean...

MARTIN: Right.

PESCA: ...It's harder. It's harder to win an Oscar. You're dealing with more teams out there. But I think of the UConn Lady Huskies, the women Huskies, who are so good that they make other teams - like, this year, Baylor, South Carolina, Notre Dame - we might be thinking of them as great teams, but there's UConn with an average winning margin of victory of 40 points a game.


PESCA: So I think of, like, Susan Sarandon who was great in "Atlantic City." But, guess what, she went up against Katharine Hepburn - "On Golden Pond." You're not going to beat Katharine Hepburn. You're not going to beat the UConn Huskies.

MARTIN: And you're not going to beat Mike Pesca, host of "The Gist" from Slate. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.