Mar 12, 2010, 11:48 AM EDT
Advocates for the use of statistical analysis in basketball are called many things: stat geeks, dorks, nerds, people who JUST NEED TO WATCH THE GAMES!!!, etc. Jokes are made about pocket-protectors, mothers’ basements, and middle-aged virgins.
And for what? The field and the data are hardly assuming of anything other than numerical findings, and best of all, the data provides a completely different approach that works in conjunction with, not in opposition to, more conventional basketball analysis. But the old guard has decided that members of the analytics community be classified as public enemies, mostly so claims that a team “lives and dies by the three” or “just knows how to win games” aren’t debunked by, y’know, facts.
Funny how those fact things can get in the way sometimes.
Dean Oliver, author of Basketball on Paper and Director of Quantitative Analysis for the Denver Nuggets, used the “advanced statistical measures as fact” bit as a motif during his panel discussions at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Not because advanced metrics are Truths with a capital T, but because they offer additional information that helps in decision-making.
Whether you’re assessing player value, determining a player’s strengths, figuring out which lineup to use, you want to amass as many facts as possible in order to make the best decision that you can. That’s all that the advanced stat movement is doing, essentially: giving more information from innovative angles to help people who make decisions about the game do so more effectively.
Shockingly, having that information available is helping the stat-savvy teams win a whole bunch of basketball games. From David Biderman of the Wall Street Journal:
According to interviews with every team, The Wall Street Journal found
that half the league’s teams this season have at least one of these
statisticians who helps make in-game, draft-day and trade-deadline
decisions. Many of these teams are among the NBA’s best. The list
accounts for all six division leaders, including the Orlando Magic and
Dallas Mavericks, who have a data analyst traveling with the team.
These 15 teams that have invested heavily in statistics have combined
to win 59.3% of their games this season. The 15 teams without such
analysts have won 40.7% of their games, and only three–the Phoenix
Suns, Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks–are on pace to make the postseason.
Look, there will always be radicals in every field. Some will claim that their metric is all-knowing and all-important, and it will make everyone in the analytics community look bad. But the important thing to remember is that those people represent an extreme minority; the rest of the “stat geeks” are perfectly rational, cogent people that are as willing to admit the flaws of their analysis as they are its strengths.
That’s where the community at large is being woefully misrepresented, and it’s a damn shame. This is the future of sports, and there’s no more fitting way for sport to evolve in the information age than by amassing the largest amount of data, both raw and analyzed, for usage and consumption.