Discussion

Debating the analytics movement

Two 'traditional' NBA executives weigh in on stats-based decision-making

Updated: March 26, 2014, 11:57 AM ET
By Chris Broussard | ESPN Insider

Analytics, analytics, analytics.

Everyone seems to love analytics. It's like you can't discuss the game nowadays without involving analytics. Every time a new general manager is hired, we seem to discuss his analytics acumen. Forget hooping and studying the game as a participant; if you really want to move up the front-office ranks in the NBA, do the math.

Sense the sarcasm? Whether I have an issue with the new analytics craze is irrelevant. But what about some of the league's executives? The guys who learned the game by playing it. The guys who study film and judge talent by seemingly archaic means like the eye test. The guys who, years ago, would have been prime candidates for GM positions but who now are being overlooked for top jobs in favor of stat guys who never played past high school -- or junior high.

Plenty of these "basketball guys" in the NBA are feeling left out. They see the conferences and magazine issues dedicated to the study of analytics and begin feeling like dinosaurs. They see the GM jobs going to analytics superstars and begin feeling like they will never get their dream job.

Every reporter who covers the league knows there are "analytics guys" and "basketball guys" scattered throughout front offices around the league. Recently, the analytics guys have been getting all the love (or at least all the press).

I spoke with a couple of traditional basketball guys -- a longtime NBA executive as well as a former star/executive -- to get their takes on the league's math movement.

1. What are your thoughts about the analytics craze in today's NBA?


Longtime executive: "Numbers have been a part of sports since the beginning, so analytics definitely has its place. However, it appears that the narrative regarding this movement is a bit one-sided. Individuals currently in charge of teams have undoubtedly used new methods to extract data. However, has anyone stopped to ask whether the data is utilized in a relevant way pertaining to our sport? Shouldn't it require experience and understanding of the sport, as well as the players in it, to know the correct application of this data? Apparently not.

"As one recent article pointed out, 'In the last two years, more than one-third of the league's 30 teams hired new faces, and among them, just two actually played in the league; eight never played at any significant level at all.' That's a little concerning."

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