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NBA battle over NBA “Moneyball” stats mirrors regular life

Sep 27, 2011, 4:00 PM EDT

brad-pitt-moneyball-getty Getty Images

We watched it play out in baseball around the time “Moneyball” the book came out. There were the old-school guys and Joe Morgan saying baseball can’t be defined by statistics and the new-school guys like Billy Beane and Theo Epstein winning that way.

Now the movie “Moneyball” is out and it is sparking the same debate in the NBA, where more advanced statistics are becoming part of the debate about players.

Henry Abbott over at TrueHoop saw the film — he would never miss the opening weekend of a Brad Pitt movie — and then talked to stats guys with a few NBA teams. Their reaction was that some of the scenes in the movie where stat guys are have a tough time getting attention is pretty much spot on. Abbott relates this story from a one guy working in the NBA.

I was asked to get involved in a negotiation with a certain player. I did a little homework on the guy, and then went back into the GM’s office, and asked how we should handle the guy’s injury history, specifically a torn ACL that had kept him out of the league for a year-and-a-half.

“He tore his ACL?” asked the GM, sounding surprised. “Where’d you learn that?”

I told him I had just googled the guy. This was in the last couple of years.

He said “ok, you’re going to have to show me how to use this google thing.”

The thing is, the stats can be an effective tool to use along with traditional scouting. That is what happens in Dallas, and that worked out pretty well for them (they love to use a variety of stats, particularly looking at how combinations of players work together). The Celtics and Thunder are stats-heavy teams that are doing well. There are others.

But there is plenty of resistance. Tons of it. Because you can’t define all the intangibles of the NBA into statistics, right? We’ve done just fine without stats like this in the past.

All the arguments struck Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com as familiar. Not just from baseball or sports, but from life.

I’m not alarmed when I see that battle between old school and new school because I’ve seen it play out my entire lifetime. I’m old enough to remember how offended people where when I got one of those early phone answering machines — the ones with the little tape recorders in them.

“I’m not going to speak to a recording,” someone in my family said. “That’s an insult.”

Computers? Remember when people hated them? And I mean really HATED them. Some still do, I guess. But I don’t know what I’d do without them. Same for cell phones. My goodness, people were downright offended that others felt they needed them.

Folks, advanced stats in the NBA are here to stay, and that’s a good thing. It’s not the answer to every question, but it can help. It’s a tool. In the end, what really matters is how well you know how to use the tools you have.

  1. cosanostra71 - Sep 27, 2011 at 8:24 PM

    I have no problem with using advanced stats, but too many people use them without understanding they need to be put into context. Too many people (cough John Hollinger cough) think you can use advanced stats and advanced stats alone to judge a player’s worth. I think that they can be used as a way to back up claims based on visual observations. Except for PER. PER is useless.

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