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DenButsu
03-05-2010, 09:33 PM
There are already a few stats threads going on in the NBA forum, and we're probably about to get a flood of stat-geeky articles on our RSS feeds and twitters, since the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is opening up this weekend, and a lot of NBA writers and analysts will be there (or be keeping tabs on it from afar). So I thought it would be good to have a main thread where interesting (but perhaps not "new thread worthy") articles coming out of that conference could be posted.

And I thought this interview of Dean Oliver by Henry Abbott (http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/13972/the-state-of-basketball-analysis) would be a good one to open the thread with as a general overview. (And by the way, be sure to click the link to the conference itself to see the lineup of speakers there - pretty impressive group they've assembled).



The state of basketball analysis

Saturday marks the 2010 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (http://www.sloansportsconference.com/2010/), which is also commonly referred to as (thank you, Bill Simmons) Dorkapalooza.

This conference, now in its fourth year, is a funny thing. On the one hand, it's a curio. Most of the NBA is not here, and some meaningful parts of the NBA is convinced that nothing that happens here really matters.

On the other hand, it's undeniably the epicenter of some very smart NBA thinking, and it's no wonder this year's conference has moved to a bigger venue and is still very very very sold out. I have talked to more than a few agents and executives who never bothered to come in the past, but after hearing about it, were determined not to miss it this time around.

If you're here, it feels like this conference matters.

But does it?

To help us understand the import and role of advanced statistics in today's NBA, I turned to Dean Oliver, who is one of the field's founders. He wrote one of the field's core books, "Basketball on Paper," and is the Denver Nuggets' director of quantitative analysis.

I heard the other day about an NBA executive who couldn’t fathom why he’d attend the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. How could that possibly help his team win? What’s your reaction to that?

My reaction to that is what team is it? What’s their record?

In all seriousness, that’s a common sentiment. This is something that’s new over the last six or seven years. It hasn’t been a part of basketball. Anyone who has been in basketball for the long-term is used to making decisions without this kind of analysis. Historically, some people have made very good decisions.

But it’s like the stock market in the 50s and 60s. The stock market used to function without these kinds of numbers, and some people did very well. But once this kind of analysis was introduced, there was a new way to inform decisions, and it changed things, and some new people were able to get in and do well.

It’s about having good ways to make decisions, to make decisions with input from the numbers, which have an independent opinion. If you can ask the right questions, you can find it’s wonderful to have an independent opinion to complement what you’re doing.

Does it feel a little bit cultural? Sometimes I feel like basketball is the realm of the jocks, some of who object to nerds elbowing their way into the conversation.

You say cultural. I say territorial. But I think those kinds of labels are not helpful.

There are quants who used to be jocks. There are jocks who could be quants. It’s a matter of opening your mind. Think what Billy Beane did in baseball! He was a baseball guy who was open to a new way of looking at things. Or [Nuggets vice president of basketball operations] Mark Warkentien. He’s been in basketball for a long time, but he’s willing to listen, which allows you to incorporate more information into the process.

It’s an interesting time. Just a couple of weeks ago, I looked at teams that have stats people integrated into the decision process. (Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Oklahoma City, Portland and I may have included Orlando -- I’m not certain what they do exactly.) It was seven or eight teams. They had won 60% of their games, and that’s counting Houston, which has only won half their games because they’re missing Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady wasn’t playing.

The teams that don’t have quants won 40-some percent. And it was pretty linear … the more or less they had someone integrated into their decision making, the more or less they were at the extremes of winning and losing.

Now, is that because teams with smart GMs have quant people, and teams with smart GMs do well anyway? Or is that because the quant people are making a difference?

The question of correlation vs. causation is hard to speak on -- I don’t know what the other teams do exactly. We all play our cards pretty close to our chests. But at the places I’ve been, I feel I’ve made a difference. I think it should be causal. It could be that these are just GMs who are open to different opinions, though.

So the influence of this analysis more on personnel or coaching?

Insight can be useful for both. My guess is that so far it has been more on the personnel side but I don’t have a good enough sense of what the other teams do to say for sure.

I remember a couple of years ago I saw you at the draft lottery, which is during the playoffs, and you pointed out that just about all of the teams still doing well were teams with analysts. It seems like it makes a difference. And yet there’s a lot of doubt. Do you get tired of people asking whether or not what you do matters?

I think that’s an important question. If people are asking that question, it shows they might be willing to change.

A lot of things people do can be quantified. People say all the time that you can’t quantify heart, for example. When people say "can’t" that means they have already ruled out the possibility.

But in fact, measuring things is just another way to try to make decisions right, and I think we can measure a lot more than some might think we can.

So how do you measure heart?

I haven’t had to yet. I have been told many times you can’t, usually in a dispute about a player. But it would be a worthwhile quest. I’ve thought about it. It would be an intense analysis. You’d have to think about how heart translates into performance, and then see if you can describe elements of that.

It seems to me that wins are easy to notice. So things that consistently lead to wins ought to be noticeable in some way.

Wins are easy to notice. How you get to wins is not easy to evaluate. Doing a quant job is hard. You have to accept that the win comes from eight or nine players doing a ton of different things all over the floor. The coach and his staff all do their jobs. The advance scout has given a strategy the team should use … parsing out all the responsibility for that win is very very hard.

Occasionally people will find something that looks crazy, in PER or adjusted plus/minus or whatever, and use it to condemn the entire enterprise. That seems unfair.

It’s also unfair that, from the other side, people use one mistake to condemn an executive. It happens both ways. One single event never means anybody’s horrible. I think we need to give everybody a wide berth to make a mistake or two, or have things that look funny sometimes.

Is it inevitable that a decade from now this kind of analysis will be much more commonplace?

Inevitable is a strong word. But we might be able to say it’s inevitable that eventually there will be more of this.

You mentioned seeing me at the draft lottery. Two seasons later, we’ve had now almost three seasons of seeing teams with quant people having success. That’s a trend that’s hard to ignore. You’d think that at some point people would just start following that trend blindly.

DenButsu
03-07-2010, 08:35 PM
Here are a bunch of articles at TrueHoop that came out from the conference.

Well worth taking the 30 minutes or so it takes to read through them all, if you're interested in seeing what's on the minds of some of the better basketball analysts around:


Key moments at MIT

I heard a ton of raves and very few complaints about the 2010 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. (Although, worth noting ... roll through Twitter coverage of the event, and you'll find scattered gripes about how there was only soda, and not bottled water, at lunch. What's amazing is that the tiniest of inconveniences for a very few people is now a quasi-media event.)

But what here mattered? Probably a lot. There was more going on that one person could see. Many people have suggested that next year it might make sense to make this event two days long.

Certainly in the days to come there will be a lot of great coverage from all over the place. An early list of key moments, as told by TrueHoop Network bloggers: ...

<<<lots of links>>>

...http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/14093/key-moments-at-mit




Basketball analytics: the users
By Kevin Arnovitz

The basketball analytics panel is always one of the best-attended and most engaging panel of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Last year, the debate crackled when the panelists revisited the Jason Kidd-Devin Harris deal. This year, the participants took inventory of the state of basketball analytics in the League, and made particular note of how many NBA organizations had sent representatives to the conference (by one count, 16 of the 30 teams).

Jared Wade was there and relayed his impressions of the panel at Hardwood Paroxysm. One especially fun portion of the discussion surfaced when Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Portland Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard gabbed about a recent game between Dallas and Portland that came down the wire, when the expectations of the data diverted from the actual outcome on the floor:

...http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/14071/basketball-analytics-the-users




Bias in officiating
By Kevin Arnovitz

In addition to the lively panels, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference features the presentation of research papers by up-and-coming thinkers in the field. Brian Robb of Celtics Hub attended one such presentation today, "Whistle Swallowing: Officiating & the Omission Bias." An omission bias can best be defined as a referee's willingness to make an incorrect call rather than make an incorrect non-call.

Robb explains the nut of the findings by Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim, who wrote the paper:

...http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/14063/bias-in-officiating




Will coaches listen to stat heads?
By Kevin Arnovitz

It's one thing for an NBA organization to commit itself to collecting and analyzing advanced statistics, but it's quite another to get the coaching staff to buy in. Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub attended the panel on Saturday at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on coaching analytics. Lowe reports that much of the discussion on the panel focused on the Dallas Mavericks' playoffs successes and failures while Avery Johnson implemented the findings of Wayne Winston, who was working for the Mavs as a consultant:

...http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/14056/will-coaches-listen-to-stat-heads




What geeks don't get
By Kevin Arnovitz

The marquee panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Saturday was titled, "What Geeks Don't Get: The Limits of Moneyball," moderated by Michael Lewis. There's little doubt that the analytics movement in sports has strong momentum, but are there elements that practitioners of advanced stats are missing? M. Haubs has an insightful dispatch from the session at The Painted Area. Among the highlights of the discussion:

...http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/14043/what-geeks-dont-get




The price of anarchy
By Henry Abbott


On Hardwood Paroxysm, Rob Mahoney of The Two Man Game writes about a paper called "The Price of Anarchy in Basketball" presented by Brian Skinner at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. The paper wrestles with reality that giving the ball to your best offensive player every time down the floor is not the best offensive strategy.

Mahoney writes:

...http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/14038/the-price-of-anarchy




The value of a blocked shot
By Henry Abbott

On the NBA Playbook, Sebastian Pruiti describes a presentation by John Huizinga and Sandy Weil, who made a big impression at this conference last year with their paper which strongly questioned the existence of the hot hand.

This year they have examined blocked shots and have found that they are not all created equal.

For instance:

...http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/14032/the-value-of-a-blocked-shot




Performance Enhancement: The present ... and the future
By Kevin Arnovitz


I don't come to this panel without prejudice. My general view of performance enhancing drugs tends to run counter to most fans and sports journalists. I don't explicitly support PEDs in sports, but I do see them as neither good nor bad. They exist in every realm of modern life. Kids are prescribed adderall; more and more adults are taking neuroenhancers to give them an edge. Athletes are looking for every edge to give them a competitive advantage -- and PEDs are just one aspect of that. (You think LASIK hasn't had a beneficial effect on certain athletes? Is that natural? Doesn't it distort historical records?)

We can debate the moral and ethical issues surrounding this debate, but efforts to enhance human potential are a part of the evolutionary process. Always have been, always will be. The discussion about PEDs will probably seem quaint in a generation, as we ...http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/13991/performance-enhancement-will-future-athletes-be-formula-one-or-nascar




The Next Generation of Sports Management and Ownership
By Henry Abbott

The 2010 MIT Sloan Sports Conference is far bigger than in years past, with around 1,000 attendees and a waiting list of about 400. In its first three years it was at MIT ... this year it had to graduate to the very swanky and spaceship-looking Boston Convention and Exhibit Center.

So, what are people like Mark Cuban, Michael Lewis, Daryl Morey, Jonathan Kraft, Bill Simmons, Avery Johnson, Adam Silver, Steve Kerr and Kevin Pritchard talking about here? TrueHoop and the TrueHoop Network are going to try to fill you in on a lot of the highlights throughout the day.

One of the first panels of the 2010 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is about those who will lead professional sports teams in the future. In a last-minute substitution, Daryl Morey moderates the panel, which consists of:

* Brian Burke President and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs
* Stephen Pagliuca Managing Partner and Executive Committe Member of the Boston Celtics
* Adam Silver NBA Deputy Commissioner
* Matt Silverman President of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays
* Randy Vataha President of Game Plan LLC (specialists in the buying and selling pro teams)


The ostensible topic is the next generation of sports ownership and management, but as you'll see, the conversation rolled to all kinds of interesting places.

...http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/13989/the-next-generation-of-sports-management-and-ownership

DerekRE_3
03-07-2010, 09:00 PM
Good stuff Den. When I get the time I'll look through this more closely.

DenButsu
03-08-2010, 04:24 AM
Good stuff Den. When I get the time I'll look through this more closely.

Yeah, you and... uh, well, looks like pretty much just you. :laugh2:

Well, I guess if just one person here gets something out of it, it was worth it.

Kind of surprised (/disappointed), though. I'd have thought the basketball fans here might be a bit more interested in breaking down the game in different ways, and especially in how all this stuff will affect (and is already affecting) coaching, scouting, etc. in the NBA.

Lakerfrk
03-08-2010, 04:41 AM
This thing is amazing. I want to go!

tredigs
03-08-2010, 05:01 AM
Thanks for this thread. I know that some Owners/GM's swear by advanced quant analysis, while some still give them a blind eye, but I had NO idea this conference existed. Right up my alley, I'll have to bookmark this for tomorrow.

Hellcrooner
03-08-2010, 11:09 AM
Stats .

You cant meassure things with stats really.

But i guess thats why Americans hate soccer because its impossible to follow trough a Boxscore.

How do you put down chemistry in a stat.?

Or your star being a drugadict?

Or one of your player banging the wife of a team mate?

How do you measure coach bad decisions or good decisions in a game?

ChiSox219
03-08-2010, 11:17 AM
Stats .

You cant meassure things with stats really.

Yes you can.



But i guess thats why Americans hate soccer because its impossible to follow trough a Boxscore.


There are a lot of reasons Americans don't take an interest to soccer, I've never heard the box score excuse.

Personally, I'd rather watch basketball, football, hockey, and baseball before even considering a soccer match. I don't hate the sport, I just find the other sports more entertaining to watch and play.

DenButsu
03-08-2010, 12:09 PM
Stats .

You cant meassure things with stats really.

But i guess thats why Americans hate soccer because its impossible to follow trough a Boxscore.

How do you put down chemistry in a stat.?

Or your star being a drugadict?

Or one of your player banging the wife of a team mate?

How do you measure coach bad decisions or good decisions in a game?

Stats can help illustrate the mechanics of how things work.

For instance, we could measure your posting with statistics. Say, for example, we might be able to measure your ability to stay on topic in the NBA forum by tallying the ratio of your posts that gratuitously promote Spaniards and/or denigrate Americans to your posts that don't. :rolleyes:

ChiSox219
03-08-2010, 12:12 PM
Stats can help illustrate the mechanics of how things work.

For instance, we could measure your posting with statistics. Say, for example, we might be able to measure your ability to stay on topic in the NBA forum by tallying the ratio of your posts that gratuitously promote Spaniards and/or denigrate Americans to your posts that don't. :rolleyes:

Zing

Hellcrooner
03-08-2010, 12:16 PM
Stats can help illustrate the mechanics of how things work.

For instance, we could measure your posting with statistics. Say, for example, we might be able to measure your ability to stay on topic in the NBA forum by tallying the ratio of your posts that gratuitously promote Spaniards and/or denigrate Americans to your posts that don't. :rolleyes:

Yadda Yadda Den-San.

You could get some surprises if you did so.

Hellcrooner
03-08-2010, 12:16 PM
Stats can help illustrate the mechanics of how things work.

For instance, we could measure your posting with statistics. Say, for example, we might be able to measure your ability to stay on topic in the NBA forum by tallying the ratio of your posts that gratuitously promote Spaniards and/or denigrate Americans to your posts that don't. :rolleyes:

Yadda Yadda Den-San.

You could get some surprises if you did so.

And how bout the gratuite KObe, lebron, wade, etc promotion in 99% of nba forum posts by half users? :p

Chronz
03-08-2010, 03:18 PM
There are a lot of reasons Americans don't take an interest to soccer, I've never heard the box score excuse.
Ive used it, my entire family plays the sport, I never took. Initially because I didnt like playing 1 end and standing around, but as I grew I realized it was also the fact that its so much harder to quantify a players impact. I talked about it with my cousin the other day, I guess they have new stats these days to measure defenders and how much a player runs.

Chronz
03-08-2010, 03:23 PM
Yeah, you and... uh, well, looks like pretty much just you. :laugh2:

Well, I guess if just one person here gets something out of it, it was worth it.

Kind of surprised (/disappointed), though. I'd have thought the basketball fans here might be a bit more interested in breaking down the game in different ways, and especially in how all this stuff will affect (and is already affecting) coaching, scouting, etc. in the NBA.
I usually dont see the need to comment unless others entice me. I told skiz to post all the stuff hes been telling me here, but I guess thats why they are PM's. His point from what I gathered was the Pritchard and Morey ARENT two of the better GM's in the league, and that because only 11 teams make their statistical use public that it must not be very important. Citing the Lakers ability to win a title without the use of stats as the main reason, then degrading the Celtics title because it doesnt take stats to know adding KG and Ray Ray would get the job done. Somehow adding Pau required a more intuitive sense.

Heres hoping he breathes some life into this thread.

ChiSox219
03-08-2010, 03:31 PM
I usually dont see the need to comment unless others entice me. I told skiz to post all the stuff hes been telling me here, but I guess thats why they are PM's. His point from what I gathered was the Pritchard and Morey ARENT two of the better GM's in the league, and that because only 11 teams make their statistical use public that it must not be very important. Citing the Lakers ability to win a title without the use of stats as the main reason, then degrading the Celtics title because it doesnt take stats to know adding KG and Ray Ray would get the job done. Somehow adding Pau required a more intuitive sense.

Heres hoping he breathes some life into this thread.

hmmm

DenButsu
03-08-2010, 07:34 PM
Yadda Yadda Den-San.

You could get some surprises if you did so.

And how bout the gratuite KObe, lebron, wade, etc promotion in 99% of nba forum posts by half users? :p

"Yada yada" all you like, but it was a pretty blatant generalization about Americans actually being unable to appreciate non stats-based sports, which to me seems borderline at best (as if there's some type of defect in the "American" brain). More importantly than that, though, is that it's just plain wrong. There are a ****load of Americans who love sports that are not particularly stat-based (golf, for example, is a very big deal in the U.S.). And a ****load of Americans (a big % of the NBA posters here, in fact), who love sports like basketball and baseball but have practically zero interest in crunching the numbers.

Not only that, it didn't take more than a quick google search to see that there seems to be some serious quantitative analysis work being done in soccer - by Europeans, no less (http://www.bepress.com/jqas/vol4/iss1/4/).



I usually dont see the need to comment unless others entice me. I told skiz to post all the stuff hes been telling me here, but I guess thats why they are PM's. His point from what I gathered was the Pritchard and Morey ARENT two of the better GM's in the league, and that because only 11 teams make their statistical use public that it must not be very important. Citing the Lakers ability to win a title without the use of stats as the main reason, then degrading the Celtics title because it doesnt take stats to know adding KG and Ray Ray would get the job done. Somehow adding Pau required a more intuitive sense.

Heres hoping he breathes some life into this thread.

Yeah, I guess I just thought that some of the articles (esp. bias in officiating & performance enhancement) might generate a few more sparks.

--------------------------

About the point from your post, I think there's some validity to it, but even if a team is totally stacked, I'd argue back that they could utilize their talent to a greater efficiency and better success w/ better analysis. Maybe the Lakers last season were stacked so much better than all the other teams that it wasn't necessary for them to do that to win, but given a more level playing field where there's a more even distribution of talent at the elite level, I'd suspect that the team using quant would gain a discernible advantage over the others in terms of crafting its own game plan as well as scouting the other teams.