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WSJ Staff

In today’s pictures, a boy receives communion in South Africa, Easter egg hunters go on a spree in Belgium, a rescue worker responds to a mining accident in Tibet, and more.

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Twenty years after The Dream Team dominated unlike any other sports team in Olympic history, NBA TV’s behind the scenes look at the squad brought back many moments of nostalgia. The documentary entitled The Dream Team, narrated by Edward Burns, began by looking at the history of Olympic basketball, including how the Soviet Union team won the gold in 1972 and 1988 just when it seemed like the Americans’amateur players were good enough to win the gold every year.

http://vimeo.com/44080574

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This is a topological similarity network of 452 NBA players during the 2010-2011 season. Players (in circles) are connected to other players by edges (lines) based on how similar they are with regard to points, rebounds, assists, steals, rebounds, blocks, turnovers and fouls, all normalized to per-minute values in the 2010-2011 season. Further, the network is colored by a player's points-per-minute average, with blue being low and red being high.

For as long as basketball has been played, it’s been played with five positions. Today they are point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center. A California data geek sees 13 more hidden among them, with the power to help even the Charlotte Bobcats improve their lineup and win more games.

Muthu Alagappan is a Stanford University senior, a basketball fan and an intern at Ayasdi, a data visualization company. Ayasdi takes huge amounts of info like tumor samples and displays it in interactive shapes that highlight patterns like genetic markers that indicate a likelihood of ovarian cancer. It’s called topological data analysis, and it can be applied to sports, too.

That is exactly what Alagappan did.

Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki (41) is not a forward and Jason Terry (31) is not a guard, but rather a scoring rebounder and an offensive ball handler under an analytics model that reveals 13 new positions. Photo: David J. Phillip/Associated Press

He used the company’s software to crunch a data set of last season’s stats for 452 NBA players. He discovered new ways to group players (.pdf) based on performance after noting, for example, that Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics had more in common with Miami Heat forward Shane Battier than with fellow point guard Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs.

After reading his map, Alagappan came up with 13 new positions based on the three typical roles of guard, forward and center:

  1. Offensive Ball-Handler. This guy handles the ball and specializes in points, free throws and shots attempted, but is below average in steals and blocks. Examples include Jason Terry and Tony Parker.
  2. Defensive Ball-Handler. This is a defense-minded player who handles the ball and specializes in assists and steals, but is only so-so when it comes to points, free throws and shots. See also: Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry.
  3. Combo Ball-Handler. These players are adept at both offense and defense but don’t stand out in either category. Examples include Jameer Nelson and John Wall.
  4. Shooting Ball-Handler. Someone with a knack for scoring, characterized by above-average field goal attempts and points. Stephen Curry and Manu Ginobili are examples.
  5. Role-Playing Ball-Handler. These guys play fewer minutes and don’t have as big a statistical impact on the game. Hello, Arron Afflalo and Rudy Fernandez.
  6. 3-Point Rebounder. Such a player is a ball-handler and big man above average in rebounds and three-pointers, both attempted and made, compared to ball-handlers. Luol Deng and Chase Budinger fit the bill.
  7. Scoring Rebounder. He grabs the ball frequently and demands attention when on offense. Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge play this position.
  8. Paint Protector. A big man like Marcus Camby and Tyson Chandler known for blocking shots and getting rebounds, but also for racking up more fouls than points.
  9. Scoring Paint Protector. These players stand out on offense and defense, scoring, rebounding and blocking shots at a very high rate. Examples include Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.
  10. NBA 1st-Team. This is a select group of players so far above average in every statistical category that the software simply groups them together regardless of their height or weight. Kevin Durant and LeBron James fall in this category.
  11. NBA 2nd-Team. Not quite as good, but still really, really good. Rudy Gay and Caron Butler are examples.
  12. Role Player. Slightly less skilled than the 2nd-team guys, and they don’t play many minutes. Guys like Shane Battier and Ronnie Brewer fall under this position.
  13. One-of-a-Kind. These guys are so good they are off the charts — literally. The software could not connect them to any other player. Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard are examples, but you already knew that.

The 13 positions are based on how players compare to the league average in seven statistical categories: Points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots, turnovers and fouls. The stats were normalized on a per-minute basis to adjust for playing time, so starters got the same consideration as backups.

That said, the names of some of these new positions could use a bit of work. For example, Rondo, the Celtics’ floor leader, is classified as a “role player,” which is commonly used in basketball to describe a so-so player with a specific, if unremarkable, set of skills.

This is the same topological network of players, with red regions indicating the Dallas Mavericks. This representation shows the diversity of playing styles of Mavericks’ players.

Even if no one is going to refer to Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks as one the league’s best “scoring rebounders” any time soon, Alagappan’s prize-winning analysis could change how coaches and general managers think about the roles their players fill. Alagappan proved the title-winning Mavs had a solid diversity of “ball handlers” and “paint protectors,” giving them the ability to put a balanced lineup on the floor with few weak spots. The Western Conference cellar dwellers the Minnesota Timberwolves, on the other hand, had too many players with similar styles and a dearth of “scoring rebounders” and “paint protectors,” leaving them vulnerable along the front line.

This is the same topological network of players, with red regions indicating the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Alagappan’s findings won the award for best Evolution of Sport this spring at the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

Whenever sports and numbers meet, the Moneyball question inevitably arises: Is it possible to use big data sets to find undervalued players? Alagappan believes it is.

He isolated the 40 players in the “scoring rebounder” section who best epitomized that group. At the top were the stars you might expect: Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire of the New York Knicks, along with Nowitzki and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Paul Gasol. But lesser-known players like Marreese Speights of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Lakers’ Devin Ebanks produced statistically similar per-minute results. Even better, where Anthony’s salary averages around $18.5 million per year, the Lakers are paying Ebanks about $740,000.

Another inevitable question: Could Ayasdi’s software have predicted the success of Knicks rookie Jeremy Lin? Alagappan concedes Lin’s college stats wouldn’t have suggested or predicted Linsanity, but he did create a similarity network to identify those players most similar to Lin in college. Three names emerged from the 3,400 analyzed: DeMarcus Cousins, who the Sacramento Kings picked fifth overall in the 2010 NBA draft; Alec Burks, picked 12th in 2011 by the Utah Jazz; and Nik Raivio, a University of Portland guard currently playing ball in Kaposvar, Hungary.

The lesson? For teams who buy into this new classification of players, the next Jeremy Lin might be in Hungary, awaiting your call.

Photo: Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki (41) and Jason Terry (31) defend Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade during the second half of Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals. Photo: David J. Phillip/Associated Press

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SOME HELP CELEBRATING
Shane Perkins of Team Australia celebrated with his son Aidan after winning the Men’s Team Sprint Final at the 2012 UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Melbourne Wednesday. (Daniel Munoz/Reuters)

TORNADO DAMAGE
Mike Enochs, left, and Gary Enochs salvaged a crib from Mike Enochs’s destroyed home Wednesday in Forney, Texas. Multiple tornadoes touched down yesterday across the Dallas/Fort Worth area, causing extensive damage. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

AFGHAN ATTACK
U.S. soldiers lay on the ground at the scene of a suicide attack in Maimanah, Faryab province, Afghanistan, Wednesday. A suicide bomber on a motorcycle at a market killed at least 11 people, including three Americans, according to Afghan and Western officials. (Gul Buddin Elham/Associated Press)

NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
Baylor’s Brittney Griner, right, blocked the shot of Notre Dame’s Kayla McBride during the first half of their women’s NCAA championship college basketball game in Denver Tuesday. Baylor won, 80-61. (Mark Leffingwell/Reuters)

BACK AT THE MASTERS
Tiger Woods teed off during a practice round Wednesday before the start of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

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Neil Leifer’s 1965 photograph of Muhammad Ali hovering over a knocked-out Sonny Liston may be the most famous sports shot of all time, but you will not find it at “The Sports Show,” a photography and new-media exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Nor will you find a single picture of the most famous athlete of the past 15 years, Tiger Woods, or of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team celebrating its miracle win, or of American soccer player Brandi Chastain ripping off her shirt after clinching the 1999 World Cup. Can you really mount a worthwhile retrospective of sports photography without these iconic athletes and moments? Turns out you can. In fact, “The Sports Show” (on view through May 13) is better off for it.

When I checked out the exhibit on opening day, I expected a greatest-hits compendium of sports images. But curator David Little took a more surprising approach, choosing photographs that offer more social commentary than celebration. For example, the circa-1899 portrait of female high school students playing basketball in dresses sends the message that women, too, could participate in emerging sports. (The picture was taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston, whom LIFE magazine once called “the closest thing to an official court photographer the United States has ever had.”) More than a century later, that message continues to resonate: Title IX has delivered athletic opportunities to millions of girls, but female athletes still fight for the same opportunities and recognition that boys get.

The exhibit casts a skeptical eye on the emotional energy we expend on sports. In 1970 photographer Tod Papageorge toured the country capturing fans at big events like the Iron Bowl (the Alabama-vs.-Auburn college-football rivalry) and opening day at Yankee Stadium. Some people in the crowd are goofing off, but many others appear pensive. The photographs invite the viewer to wonder what the spectators are thinking and feeling. Is their favorite team losing? Or are real-life stresses still on their minds? Papageorge bitingly called this project—a portion of which is on display in Minneapolis—American Sports, 1970, or How We Spent the War in Vietnam.

Read More: “Big Shots: The impact of sports on society, seen through the camera’s eye.”

The Sports Show is on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts now through May 13.

MORE: Check out TIME.com’s new sports blog: Keeping Score.

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Since October 14, more than 6,000 athletes have been participating in the 2011 Pan-American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. The athletes, who hail from 42 nations in North and South America, are competing in traditional categories such as diving, fencing, and wrestling, but there are also newer sports on the program, including roller skating, BMX biking, and waterskiing. Collected here is a small set of images from the past two weeks in Guadalajara. The closing ceremony will take place on Sunday. [50 photos]

Fireworks light up the Omnilife Stadium during opening ceremonies for the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, on October 14, 2011.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

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