Why I Was Late to the Analytics Game

As a high school and college player in the 80’s, ESPN had just been invented. Basketball film study was limited and done with VHS tape and incredible amounts of snail mail from coach to coach. Player visibility and much of recruiting was largely limited to in-person visits. Not only that, in the late 70’s, the NBA had just barely secured itself after dangling over a precipice wrought with disaster and ruin (luckily two guys named Magic and Larry came along to revive and renew a nation’s love of this quintessential American game, but I’m doing a 45-cut when a straight line drive is at hand).

The point is, players and coaches of my generation were not raised on film sessions. Certainly not on analytics. The eye test – and of course, conversations with other coaches – were the only sources of irrefutable knowledge and evaluation available on a player besides the basic box score.

The Moneyball Oakland A’s illuminated a trend that had been growing across all sports: finding and using data to better inform decisions. Not to replace the eye test, but to create a relationship that supports how team and player-related decisions are better made in the front office and by the coaching staff.

Once we started Hoopsalytics and began to get quantifiable data on the actions and metrics we were most interested in knowing, everything changed. Basketball, especially with the 3pt shot, is more than ever a numbers game. Combined with ultra-current, old school broadcasters who are able to discuss and dissect the game using current basketball analytical terminology, the way the game is consumed is changing. Instead of the late, great, Chick Hearn saying the last few minutes of a close game was “Nervous Time”, now we have the ability to actually know, through data, the best-5 lineup, or 2 or 3-man combinations, in the last 5 minutes of a game. And what players have the best +/- in the last few minutes, changing Nervous Time to “Hey, as a coach, I’m happy to be able to have that information. I thought I had to leave #5 in late, but he’s actually shooting his worst percentage near the end of the game and his overall player impact is not strong…”

It’s not just games. In practice, the analytics brush is heavily applied throughout, including Shot Quality percentages, Hot Spots, Rim Run points per action, high post entry’s points per possession and more. The kids understand the language. Basketball analytics was once code known to few that is now available to the masses. As a coach and basketball lover, I choose to be part of the future.


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