Updated: March 2, 2013, 9:00 PM ET

1. Special Dime: MIT Sloan Conference, Day 2

BOSTON -- Themes have a way of getting stale.

For instance, there might never be a better book on Stat Geekery than Michael Lewis' "Moneyball." But it's a decade old now, and the old "scouts versus statheads" debate that drives that book's dramatic tension drives a lot less tension circa 2013.

By the seventh annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, new themes were needed. Also, a conference that was once held in a couple of basement classrooms has swelled to nearly 3,000 attendants. Time to shine.

In response, MIT Sloan offered several new topics, approaches and voices (absent were mainstays such as Jeff Van Gundy and Bill Simmons) -- who managed to serve up the usual number of zingers, barbs and memorable exchanges. Here's what we'll remember:

The good, the bad and the ugly of interior defense

Statheads have their favorites. In Major League Baseball, quants always adored Adam Dunn and J.D. Drew, while they had little use for David Eckstein and Juan Pierre.

In the NBA, Kevin Martin has long been the NBA's Adam Dunn. Then last season, Linsanity was as frenzied at MIT Sloan as it was at Madison Square Garden.

This year's pin-up boy at MIT Sloan?

Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders.

Kirk Goldsberry and Eric Weiss tackled one of basketball's greatest mysteries -- how to approximate a player's value as an interior defender. They found Sanders is a premier rim protector whose D can swing games.

Sander-sanity notwithstanding, the real fireworks in the session came when the researchers unveiled David Lee's dismal defensive heat chart. As if the visual wasn't enough, Goldsberry loaded video of Lee unfurling a welcome mat for all comers.

David Lee
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsWarriors center David Lee is a terrific rebounder, but does his man end up burning him too often?

Cue laugh track.

The comedy was laced with intrigue. Goldsberry also noted that many elite rebounders -- Lee, Kevin Love and the like -- tend to play bad interior defense. A subject for further investigation: Do they let drivers to the rim, intentionally, in the name of creating more rebounding opportunities? "If you can get 20 rebounds a night," notes Goldsberry, "you can get paid David Lee money."

Welcome to the era of optical tracking How many different kinds of basketball data get people at a conference like this excited? At this conference in recent years … more than you can count. This year, though, it's really all about SportVu's optical tracking. The exciting stuff all comes from those infrared cameras that are spread around the court in half the league. Goldsberry, a cartographer by trade, calls it the finest time-and-place data he has ever worked with.

This is the dataset of geek dreams. The trick, circa 2013, is that the most interesting conclusions require smart teams of highly paid people. It's a jungle of data -- you need a guide to get around.

The cutting edge of hoops data is available only to the most elite researchers and teams, and stars in the big research presentations. Meanwhile, out in the hall a booth displayed the newly revised nba.com/stats. Many millions of fans have more advanced data than ever. That could end up mattering even more.

Stan Van Gundy on Dwight

In a panel titled, "It's Not You It's Me: Break-Ups in Sports," Van Gundy laid out the Dwight Howard saga this way:

"Dwight had, as I knew, been saying things in the locker room … After the lockout, and I said right away, 'You need to fire me. Just get it done. We can't have this hanging over.' I wasn't interested in trying to keep my job. I think as a coach, what you want is to succeed.

"So when the rumors came up, I went back to them again and said, ''Look, this is a problem in our locker room. It is not helping our team. Do one of two things: Make a statement. Not one of those, we have confidence in our coach bulls--- statements that means you're getting fired in the next week. But make a statement -- either fire me right now, get it done, or extend my contract.'

"They wouldn't do anything. Our management wouldn't do anything. So my only thought was, 'What's the best thing I can do to get our players' minds off of this to get everything out in the open and let us play?'

"Now, the hard part is we did that, and Dwight only played two more games before he had back surgery. So we don't know if it would've worked, but that was my thinking -- that this just needed to be cleared up out in the open and let all the players know I know what's going on and we're going to get past all this."

Van Gundy also sounded off on being fed advanced stats without proper context, about the possibility that the Celtics might be better without Rajon Rondo, on how luck played a part in the Magic's 2009 Finals team and on why the NBA isn't a video game.

''Nobody won the lockout"

NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver made waves by saying nobody won the lockout. The perception is that convincing players to play for half of basketball-related income (whereas they used to make 57 percent) -- was a huge victory for owners.

Was Silver intimating the owners are still hungry for more?

Maybe not. This collective bargaining agreement was no blowout -- it was a close-fought nail-biter. Say what you will about Billy Hunter, but he was both tenacious and bolstered by genius economist Kevin Murphy, and celebrated lawyers Jeffrey Kessler and David Boies. There was an honest attempt by both sides to determine the real market value of the players' services.

And … think about Silver's position. If he says anything that remotely resembles taking a victory lap, he'd be giving the players bulletin board material for the future. Of course he has to avoid that.

Telling stories

There are stories (like, say, Kobe hit shots that prove he's a killer in crunch time) and then there are data (count the misses, and not just the makes, and many have more efficient numbers).

This is the conference for the data people.

And you know what they're finding? Stories matter.

"It's a little counterintuitive," says the president of the Cleveland Browns, Alec Scheiner. "You actually have to use anecdotes to drive analytics."

Why is that? Because the essential challenge for stat geeks in 2013 -- according to one expert after another, in panel after panel -- is not coming up with smarter ways things might be done. It's in coming up with successful ways to convince skeptical powerbrokers to adjust. Showing spreadsheets to people who hate spreadsheets is just no way to gain influence.

How this could work hypothetically: Instead of giving a coach data that, say, Kwame Brown has a low block rate (based on data, as in every possession of his career) the experts here believe the trick is to remind the analytics-skeptical coaching staff of a big dunk Brown might have given up, or to call up video of his failing to protect the rim. Smaller sample size, bigger impact.

Dimes past: Feb. 17 | 20 | 21 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | March 1-2 | Sloan/MIT, Day 1

2. Five Good Questions with Aaron Barzilai

By Tom Sunnergren | ESPN.com/TrueHoop

After an October practice, Doug Collins said he would rather "blow his brains out" than embrace the data revolution that is steadily gaining influence within basketball.

A week later, the 76ers hired Aaron Barzilai as the team's first director of analytics.

Collins is, fortunately, still with us, and Friday, so was Barzilai. From a leather seat off the main corridor of the 2013 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, the energetic, loquacious quant talked about the problems in Philly, his role in correcting them and the value of simplicity.

Q: There's a perception that the Sixers don't value analytics.

A: I don't feel like I'm there just to be there, so they can talk to the media and say, "We value analytics." I definitely feel that they're interested in hearing what I have to say, and my contributions and my input are going to be a contributor to our decisions.

Q: How is working with Doug Collins?

A: Different people absorb information in different ways. I think that Doug Collins is an incredibly sharp guy who knows a ton about basketball. I think that part of my job is to understand how to give him the information he's looking for in a way that's easily digestible. ... What you really you need to do is boil it down to what's important.

Q: The Sixers shoot more midrange jump shots, the least efficient shots in the game, than any team in the sport.

A: The No. 1 thing affecting our situation this year is the absence of Andrew Bynum.

Q: How does information get from your head to the basketball court?

A: Everything filters through the coaching staff. If Coach Collins is encouraging someone to do something, I can't be whispering in the other ear, "Don't." The message has to be consistent. These are the shots we want, this is how we're playing the pick-and-roll, this is the rotation. It needs to be simple and easy to remember, especially in split seconds when the players are out there making these decisions under pressure.

Q: What's a misconception about analytics?

A: A lot of people imagine you've got some supercomputer you borrowed from the NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] -- it's what they use for their hurricane model -- and you run some ridiculously fancy model. I prefer simplicity. I like to be able to say, "These are facts."

3. Numbers And The Communications Breakdown

By Aaron McGuire | ESPN.com/TrueHoop Network

BOSTON -- A two-day rush of panels, sessions and stat geekery drew to a close with the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference's yearly tradition: a star-studded general discussion on basketball analytics. It was a wildly entertaining group, with ESPN's Pablo Torre moderating a free-flowing discussion with Stan Van Gundy, Zach Lowe, R.C. Buford, Kevin Pritchard and Mike Zarren.

The panelists covered plenty of ground. There was Van Gundy eloquently dismissing analysis based purely on statistics, comparing that to playing "video games." There was the thought-provoking summary of Zarren, Boston's assistant general manager, explaining the NBA's title race: "You can do everything right and not win … but you can't do everything wrong and win."

There was discussion about the current arms race brewing within the league, as forward-thinking teams try to strengthen their analytics to gain the biggest marginal advantage.

However, there was one quote from Buford that carried the night and expressed in short the biggest roadblock that advocates of advanced statistical work face in their pursuit of greater influence with a team, player or coach.

"We've got people doing good numbers. But we need people communicating good numbers."

Boom. What took the conference two days to express took Buford two sentences. The problem is no longer a want of data -- there are NBA datasets that approach the limits of any team's potential analytic capabilities. The problem is no longer want of personnel either -- there is a surplus of brilliant analysts trying to break into the business.

The real issue is finding the right people to distill the analytic capabilities of this new order of thought and make it easy to digest for coaches, players and the layman fan.

It's the challenge of finding people like Kirk Goldsberry who disregard the extraneous and instead turn complex location analytics into easily explained color-coded maps that offer insight into a player's shot selection.

Overall, gaining the ability to communicate effectively is a more solvable issue than a lack of data, but it's a clear and present obstacle that needs to be addressed for teams.

Until then, statisticians and analysts need to keep battling to take the next steps in enabling organizations to reach their potential.

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