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Commissioner-to-be Adam Silver is a big fan of advanced stats

Oct 28, 2013, 11:54 AM EDT

Deputy NBA commissioner Silver speaks during an announcement that the Toronto Raptors will host the 2016 NBA All-Star game in Toronto Reuters

If you fear that the NBA is being taken over by people who just love advanced stats… well, you’re right.

Come February 1 Adam Silver will be the Commissioner of the NBA — and he loves advanced stats.

Silver was at the early days of the SLOAN Conference at MIT (almost an annual convention of the advanced stats movement in sports) and told the Washington Post he thinks it is a natural fit in the sport — and as something the fans want to see more of.

I come at it, historically at least, more from a fan standpoint. And one of my big pushes over the last several years is about making more of this statistical data available to our fans. Because there increasingly seems to be a real hunger by our fans to get deeper into the game and in many ways, we’ve lagged behind other sports, certainly baseball. There hadn’t been that same tradition, maybe, in basketball of getting deep into the statistics of our players and teams and using that data to analyze trends on the court.

And so, I was an early adopter of the [Houston Rockets General Manager] Daryl Morey [MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston]. I remember early days, at MIT, when the conference was still in a couple of classrooms as opposed to the convention center where it is now and they have thousands of people. But Daryl was one of the people, early on, that came and spoke to me and the league and said he did see a real opportunity here. Again, not just for the basketball folks to do a better job analyzing their teams, but ultimately to grow our business by creating data that was increasingly interesting to the fans.

It was Silver who helped push for the Spurts VU cameras that will allow detailed tracking of players in all 29 NBA arenas. Not all the teams loved the idea — some felt they might be losing their competitive advantage — but the reality is how teams will choose to use the vast amount of information will be different. Some teams will almost ignore all but a few things, other teams will incorporate it into every aspect of their operations (the Raptors, for example, have special programs in place to help use the information to improve their defensive understanding and positioning).

In the end, stats aren’t going to win titles — the public face of the NBA’s advanced stats movement, Daryl Morey, has spent the last few years working hard to land superstars (he got James Harden and Dwight Howard). What do you think the numbers were telling him? You still win with elite talent.

But the league is moving in the advanced stats direction and now Adam Silver is going to be out in front of that parade.

  1. johngalt1783 - Oct 28, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    I think stats will win titles. Why and how.

    It will allow GMs to identify players whose basic stats undervalue and advanced stats more accurately reflect on a player’s true value toward winning. Advanced stats will also eliminate a lot of the ridiculous contracts that players get just because they have high usage but can’t do much of anything else well.

    Of course all teams will have access to the advanced stats but then just like in scouting there are good scouts and not so good scouts.

    In the end teams that do a better job of reading and modeling advanced stats will do better and it will lead to championships.

    • conjecture101 - Oct 28, 2013 at 2:18 PM

      You’re assuming teams were basing their decision-making on “basic stats” to begin with. The modernist thinking in professional sports tends to discount one of its greatest foundations; scouting & player development. As far as the contracts go, I think that’s wishful thinking. Baseball is decades in front of basketball in advanced statistics and teams continue to give out horrendous contracts that have bad long-term projections, and that’s in a sport where you can get far closer to isolating a player’s value than you can in basketball. I think the Grizzlies playoff appearance showed fans how far away basketball is from any kind of reliable advanced statistics. They traded Rudy Gay for Tayshaun Prince – but as they started playing superior competition – found themselves being forced to give most of the minutes to Jerryd Bayless & Quincy Pondexter because they could not score with their sabermetric-friendly lineup. Their projections were clearly flawed.

      • Kurt Helin - Oct 29, 2013 at 6:49 AM

        Just for the record, the Grizzlies record was better after the Gay trade and they scored more points per possession after the move. The idea that Gay provided outside shooting or balance suggests you did not watch a lot of Grizzlies basketball, Gay is a slasher who drove into the paint and does no score efficiently. Finally, did you notice the Grizzlies two deep playoff runs came when Gay was not on the team (the first time due to injury). That trade made them better. This summer they did not address the shooting need.

      • conjecture101 - Oct 30, 2013 at 4:08 PM

        That’s a simplistic way of looking at it

      • conjecture101 - Oct 29, 2013 at 11:35 AM

        In the 44 Games before the Gay Trade:

        The Grizzlies played Non-Playoff Team’s only 16 times (36%)
        The Grizzlies record vs. Teams that advanced past the first round of the playoffs was 9-4

        In the 38 games after the Rudy Gay Trade:

        The Grizzlies played Non-Playoff Team’s 21 Times (55%)
        The Grizzlies record vs. Teams that advanced past the first round of the playoffs was 4-3

        As you can see, the Grizzlies record after the Rudy Gay trade is completely misleading and tells us very little about
        there ability to match up against the superior teams in the NBA. In fact, the team played better against the superior teams before Gay was traded.

        When you reference the Grizzlies two “deep playoff runs,” I would hardly call winning one round against an aging, tired, pre- Kawhi Leanord Spurs
        Team – a deep playoff run. Last year was definitely their deepest run but alot of factors contributed to that including the further development
        of their young players like Conley & Gasol as well as the injury to OKC’s Russell Westbrook. While Gay may not be the best 3-point shooter, he puts much more pressure on opposing defenders than any of the players the Grizzlies were replacing him with deep in the playoffs. If you polled the best perimeter defenders in the NBA I’m confident that most of them would rather guard one of Gay’s replacements than Gay himself, especially in the playoffs.

  2. metalhead65 - Oct 28, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    it is a sad day in sports when people who have never played the game and could not tell you a players name are allowed to decide to make up stats to determine if a player is any good or not. the traditional stats for all sports worked fine for years. but because a bunch of geeks who were not good enough to play sports as kids decided to play fantasy sports they have destroyed the games we all grew up loving and playing. I don’t care what a player hits when it is cloudy and above 65 degrees out in baseball am not paying any attention to these stats. have no clue what war is in baseball or whatever the terms are in football or basketball. I let my eyes determine who is a good play or not the way is should be.

    • asimonetti88 - Oct 28, 2013 at 3:12 PM

      I’m not a huge fan of advanced metrics, but it’s not like they are a terrible thing. They are just another tool in the toolbox. It’s silly to not use them at all, they can compliment traditional scouting. In fact, a lot of advanced metrics quantify qualitative data. Remember, the NBA is a business, and investments in players are multimillion dollar decisions. As an owner, it’s a lot more comforting to have statistical data that you understand to justify those big decisions, instead of purely relying on your scouts’ words.

      • bougin89 - Oct 28, 2013 at 5:07 PM

        Bingo. Advanced stats are very useful but it’s silly to use them as some sort of bible. You still have to understand what type of player/role they play(or should play). Some stat heads will list great data but couldn’t tell you how it applies to that player or what that player is actually useful for.

    • jaerba - Oct 29, 2013 at 2:00 AM

      So what you mean to say is you’re an uneducated ignoramus.

      Traditional stats and box scores are terrible, and are what lead people into thinking Carmelo or 2012 Kobe are top 5 players, or that Joe Johnson is better than Iggy, or that Ibaka is a great defender. You still have to watch the game to find out what’s going on, but a box score isn’t going to tell you how well a player boxes out or how well they close out on their man – SportsVu cameras will.

      You can bury your head in the sand all you want, but it’s like GM and Ford burying their head in the sand when the quality movement and process metrics came out in the 70’s. Your eyes and judgment are biased and you don’t have a perfect memory, so you need to track and measure the things that happen on the court, otherwise your brain will get carried away with whatever silly narrative ESPN is spinning that week.

      That is what advanced metrics are for. Removing your biases to analyze the things you see happening on the court. Sometimes the patterns that are found are legit, other times they’re not. But it’s still a better system than guessing with arbitrary, personal judgment.

      • conjecture101 - Oct 29, 2013 at 11:49 AM

        It’s a scout’s job to be unbiased. If a scout is basing his work on an ESPN narrative he should be fired immediately. As for the quality movement and process metrics, we’re dealing with human beings here, not machinery. I agree with you that people who completely dismiss advanced metrics are just being stubborn and foolish – but the movement is more of a fad at this point than something we can rely on.

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