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Some NBA coaches reportedly fear, disdain growing analytics movement

Jan 26, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT

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Lionel Hollins went out of his way to denigrate the role of statistics in basketball, and the Memphis Grizzlies let him go.

That likely wasn’t a direct cause and effect, but it undoubtedly played a part. It’s quite possible, had Hollins been more open to analytics, he’d still be coaching the Grizzlies.

Instead, he lost his seven-figure job and has not found a replacement.

Understandably, coaches are worried – especially the coaches who, like Hollins, don’t like using numbers.

Sean Deveney Sporting News:

One veteran head coach, who asked for anonymity, said of this year’s coaches meetings: “There were guys who were just plain p***** off about it. Because what is happening is, I have to know what makes a guy tick, I have to know when one of my players can’t stand the other guy, I have to know when I can get on his a**.

“There are no numbers that are going to tell us that. When someone comes in and tells you that you ought to be listening to the numbers and letting that tell you how to coach, no one is going to be happy about that. But you have to be afraid they will just go and get somebody cheaper and tell him to follow the numbers.”

First of all, I don’t want to paint all coaches as anti-statistics. There are some that make great use of analytics and some that don’t. In a field of 30 head coaches with multiple assistants per team, not everyone shares the same beliefs.

But the “p***** off” coaches are right: Coaching NBA players takes a feel numbers don’t capture. No coach should make decisions on just the numbers.

But no coach should make decisions on just his gut, either.

Any coach who relies completely on only one method is wrong. It doesn’t matter if he relies on numbers or gut. To coach well in the NBA today, you must be willing to embrace any tool that helps you do your job better.

Jeff Van Gundy, who worked under the statistically inclined Daryl Morey with the Rockets, explains how coaches should handle stats. Van Gundy, via Deveney:

“Morey realized, I think, that there was some art to the job of coaching and it wasn’t just a number-based approach,” said Van Gundy, who is now an ESPN NBA analyst. “But I found the numbers that he presented to make you really self-evaluate.

“Let’s say they brought up a scenario, and the numbers said you should obviously do something, and your philosophy was something else. It made you sit there and analyze why you believed what you believed. I think that’s good. Now whether you changed your philosophy or not, that’s really secondary. But it did make you think.”

I suspect this is how most coaches approach it, because any that fall too far from that thoughtful middle ground won’t remain coaches much longer.

  1. cmehustle - Jan 26, 2014 at 6:33 PM

    Hell yes they do! Ever notice in baseball that big time managers are getting fewer and fewer. The GMs are the big dogs there. I can see the same thing happening in Basketball and if coaches are smart they can see the writing on the wall.

    • imakcds - Jan 26, 2014 at 7:56 PM

      Baseball and Basketball are 2 vastly different sports, each requiring vastly different physical and mental skills.
      Emotions play a big part of basketball, the adrenaline rush is almost constant, as is the physical exertion, whereas in baseball, a robot would be more successful, calm concentration, pinpoint exacting movements.
      There is NO comparison, and I’m sorry you actually believe what you wrote.

      • zackd2 - Jan 26, 2014 at 9:38 PM

        Saying no comparison is kind of silly. Sports are sports, there’s time for adrenaline and time for calmness in all of them.

        Don’t FTs at end of close games take concentration? 3 pointers require pinpoint mechanics? Team defense require each player doing his part? PG running a legit offense requires vision and accuracy?

      • cmehustle - Jan 26, 2014 at 10:41 PM

        @ imakcds Holy Christ dude did you even read the article lol? There was literally nothing in your rant that came even close to what they were talking about in the article. Let me help you. There is a big time analytics movement in basketball. You may not understand what that means, but this is one area where Baseball actually has the lead in sports. You may have heard of a movie called money ball. To break it down in lamens terms for you its basically where numbers determine who plays and what you do in certain situations. In baseball its basically made managers irrelevant, because you simply do what the numbers determine. Now in basketball, pioneered by John Hollinger, and adopted by Daryl Morey and some others, they have basically taken moneyball and applied it to basketball, hence coaches not really liking it and more so fearing it. So me a favor, read that again and then comment, Im interested in what you have to say after your actually informed.

      • nbascreed - Jan 27, 2014 at 7:44 AM

        What Kurt and his PBT ilk fail to realize is that baseball and basketball from a big data perspective are TWO totally different enterprises. Kurt has said brandished his stats bona fides numerous times on here (I believe 9 undergraduate hours???).

        I’ll let him tell you why baseball advanced stats are so much more actionable than what we see in hoops or football. Kurt….

      • Kurt Helin - Jan 27, 2014 at 7:14 PM

        Baseball is simpler for analytics to work because of the one-on-one pitcher/hitter situation that is central to baseball. It makes it easier for people who don’t really get analytics to see how it works. It’s more complex and fluid to make it work in basketball (and football, which has a smaller sample size of games and plays) but things such as the Sports VU cameras and regressions can help provide some real insight. What teams use it heavily for in the NBA right now is to see what lineups, what player pairings work, but there is more too.

        What the stats can do that helps any coach is make them question what they are doing and why, makes them think about and defend their guy choices. That’s a good thing. The coaches that don’t welcome that kind of questioning are more worried about their jobs than winning.

      • aboogy123456 - Jan 27, 2014 at 8:22 AM

        @zack, the difference between basketball and baseball is that basketball is a team sport. In baseball, analytics makes sense and is easier to quantify. In basketball, so much of a players stats has to do with the players around him. That’s why you see guys like carmelo anthony play so well when they are surrounded by talent in the olympics. There is so much that you can do to help a team in basketball without showing up on the stat sheet, but that’s not really the case in baseball.

    • pbtunpaidwriter - Jan 27, 2014 at 10:51 AM

      Look at how Hollinger is doing in Memphis. They’re barely a playoff team with pretty good talent. Gasol was out for a while but this team is underachieving.

      Why? A desperate coach in Joerger was willing to do anything to land a head coaching gig. No one can deny Hollinger’s or Joergers skills but to not retain Hollins after the run they had last year is absurd. Analytics should just be a part of what you do. ie. X drives to the right 80% of the time, thus leading to a change in the gameplan on defense.

      At one point, analytics said Nate Wolters was the best perimeter defender. So you have to have hiim guard Harden, right? What a joke.

  2. miamiheatdynasty - Jan 26, 2014 at 6:36 PM

    Rudy Gay hates analytics.

  3. conjecture101 - Jan 26, 2014 at 7:01 PM

    As advanced statistics, and the tunnel-visioned rationalists behind them, begin to infiltrate the very fabric of professional basketball as we know it, I am rather content in knowing that the ever-present contrarian to there absolutist philosophy, is firmly supplanted in the game’s spirit & forever will be. His name is Phil Jackson. He won 10 championships as a coach, more then any other in the league’s history, and challenged the “thought process” of basketball minds more so than any metric on a sheet of paper could ever begin to. And though, we were once told by a stats enthusiast that Devin Ebanks (no disrespect to the man,I like him) might be as good as Dirk Nowitzki or Carmelo Anthony, and that the Grizzlies might dominate the West without Rudy Gay, it is starting to become clear that winning might not be the highest priority on the agenda of this new wave of quasi-revolutionaries.

  4. gameisours - Jan 26, 2014 at 7:40 PM

    I think there’s a handful of coaches in NBA who CAN’T coach. I mean, really good coaches make difference, like Frank Vogel. He coached a very good young team and they have basically started from the bottom. Ofcourse a talent must be there too, but i think it’s more to player´s mentality, work ethic and coaching staff than just a pure talent. Many of those are thrown away – Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, Jennings – players who never had real coaching support and are not really gym rats and students of the game.
    So my conclusion is this.. older coaches, who coach only based on their reputation should be fired and places given to perspective new young coaches… Sure there can be a mistake – Kidd. Hah

    • 00maltliquor - Jan 26, 2014 at 8:31 PM

      Name the coaches that CAN’T coach, please.

      • gameisours - Jan 26, 2014 at 8:53 PM

        Cheeks, Woodson. Jason Kid apparently also.

      • 00maltliquor - Jan 26, 2014 at 9:21 PM

        Isn’t Kidd the hottest coach in 2014 at 10-1?

        Yeah, Cheeks is a bum though. Horrible signing for the Pistons. I said that even before the season started.

      • adamsjohn714 - Jan 27, 2014 at 12:43 AM

        Mark Jackson seems to think that Bogut can’t play in 4th quarters, and Brian Shaw thinks Kenneth Faried is a backup. Those are really poor decisions.

      • fanofevilempire - Jan 27, 2014 at 8:51 AM

        Mike Dantoni is not very good.

      • ryanrockzzz - Jan 27, 2014 at 9:03 AM

        Corbin in Utah is pretty awful as well.

      • lmarks77 - Jan 27, 2014 at 9:34 AM

        You can see a bad decision here and there by every single coach in the NBA, past or present. To judge Kidd in his first year is just stupid. To criticize Jackson for playing Bogut in the 4th is even more stupid when you consider how he has been instrumental in changing the team. Most of these comments seem like they are coming from junior high kids and people who think Nike shoes make you jump higher. In other words ENTERTAINMENT fans. SPORT fans know a combination of skills is what makes you a good coach. Using statistics are part of that. If you rely solely on that you will fail. You simply cannot put a statistic on emotion, heart and hard work. Now get back to doing your homework children. 😉

  5. rabbi187 - Jan 26, 2014 at 8:51 PM

    Analytics isn’t necessarily needed as a head coach, but is most definitely a necessity for a GM.

  6. phaktor333 - Jan 26, 2014 at 9:36 PM

    Regardless of what anyone thinks, moneyball is in the NBA and will be here until there is a trend of futility with its use. Boston is a good place to look at where this is happening; the Celtics are flush with draft picks and moveable assets, so the team is in a position to go the conventional Knicks route or use analytics where player development is the key. I for one, am in favor of analytics because of the premium it places on finding players that fulfill specific needs on a nightly basis with consistent trends to back up it is use. Buying an all star team is becoming a wave of the past because as we are seeing in Detroit, one cannot quantify the results when the players are on the floor despite their ppg and rpg averages…the players can still meet those benchmarks and the team could still suck…especially with a coach that is not open to new ideas and methods. Miami is going to be hurting like the Lakers when its resident superstar that takes up a boatload of cap space, starts to break down and the team HAS to pay them above their present skill set value. The NBA is moving towards BUILDING all star teams and supplementing them with FA signings that will fill specific roles.

  7. ericdinosaur - Jan 26, 2014 at 10:13 PM

    This goes in line with why Kevin Love is the top PER PF in the league but has little to show for it.

    • adamsjohn714 - Jan 27, 2014 at 12:44 AM

      The rest of his team isn’t very good. And when they are good, they get hurt, like last year.

      • nbascreed - Jan 27, 2014 at 7:46 AM

        Bollocks. Replace Kevin Love with LBJ or Durant and the Wolves are solidly in the playoffs in the West.

        If Love wants to be known as a standalone superstar then he needs to learn to standalone. This horse manure about supporting cast.

      • lmarks77 - Jan 27, 2014 at 9:25 AM

        Replace Love with this or that because supporting casts are BS? LeBron left Cleveland for a supporting cast in Miami because he could not win without one. Durant still hasn’t won anything yet. They Thunder may be having success now but without Westbrook they will bow out of the post season before the championship series.

      • geechieboy21 - Jan 27, 2014 at 1:54 PM

        The supporting cast is not the reason they lose..This is a hard high scoring team that plays NO defense and that includes Loves awful defense so people need to stop blaming the players he plays with..and It’s funny how people blame his supporting cast but guys like Melo who atleast takes his team to the playoffs people dnt say he needs a bettwr supporting cast and they jus blame him.. Loves stats dnt help his team win..and Lebron atleast left for Miami to win a ring he was still getting in the playoffs in Cleveland same for Durant which Love does not

    • spursareold - Jan 27, 2014 at 11:03 AM

      PERE isn’t the be all end all of advanced stats. In fact, it’s very basic, and COMPLETELY ignores defense, which is where Love falls short in a big way.

  8. thomaskouns - Jan 26, 2014 at 11:51 PM

    It’s another tool in their ‘tool box.’

    That being said, just look how the Grizzlies and Raptors have done after trading Rudy Gay….

  9. louhudson23 - Jan 27, 2014 at 4:30 AM

    Hollins demands accountability from his players and allows the players to do the same for each other.This also holds the GM and ownership accountable.Only a handful of teams allow the Coach to be the Coach and those teams already have successful coaches. The rest don’t want accountability at any level…so Hollins has to wait till a job opens up to coach for Bird,or Ainge,or Popovich retires.Phil Jackson wasn’t hired by Buss Jr. for the same reason. Professional babysitters abound…Coaches,not so much….

    • spursareold - Jan 27, 2014 at 11:07 AM

      The indictment against Hollins is that he was totally in love with Rudy Gay as a player, but they only made the WCFs (twice) when he was injured and after he was traded. That kinda means Hollins was playing and featuring the wrong (and horribly inefficient) player. Toronto also surged after he was traded. Rudy Gay is NBA eye candy, the player equivalent of a dumb blonde.

  10. ryanrockzzz - Jan 27, 2014 at 8:56 AM

    The analytic fight is a long way from being won for either side. The problem I have with coaches, and people in general who bash analytics, is why? It’s almost like we have to take an exteme appraoch to data that can easily be presented in the middle ground. Analytics can’t be HOW you coach. They also can’t be purely how you evaluate. They have to be a piece of a more educated, thourough puzzle in today’s modern game. A statistic like TS% is a great tool in evaluating a player. USG is also good. PER is a little like WAR, it’s got some issues but overall can still be a great indication of how good (or bad) a player is performing.
    For people to say these have no place in coaching, that comes off archaic and short-sighted. Of course they have a place. But not at the expense of real coaching. There are things that can’t be quantified that a coach has to recognize and react to. But if they also fail to react to the fact that Josh Smith cant shoot a 3, and keep letting him shoot a 3, that is a fail to give respect to any statistical number out there, advanced or basic. No NBA coach should resist a chance to make their team better with these numbers. But not GM or scouting department should expect their coach to gameplan like the game is a math problem either.

  11. spursareold - Jan 27, 2014 at 11:13 AM

    Advanced statistics are why, even though the pundits write off the Spurs every year, they come back like the undead. Pop is HEAVY into this stuff, a true believer. If you’re a stats geek, you can almost anticipate his lineups, either having a really high offensive rating or a really low defensive rating, or a high differential between the ratings.

  12. jcmeyer10 - Jan 27, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    Part of the reason why Doc was out in Boston.

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