It used to be called stats, not it’s called analytics, at least according to Andy Elisburg, who was recently promoted to senior vice president of basketball operations and general manager of the Miami Heat .
In a recent interview, Elisburg said that advanced stats, or analytics, is not a new trend but modern technology has made it easier to find and break down information. Specifically, Elisburg downplayed the new SportVU technology that will put cameras that track players and accumulate data in every NBA arena.
“It’s a piece of the puzzle, but it’s not necessarily the whole puzzle. At the end of the day it’s information, but you’re also dealing with people. People that change at various points in time. That may change what the information is. Statistics are very important because it’s a good predicator of what can happen. But it’s not the only thing,” Elisburg said. For instance in free agency, you have to look at the information and see what happens when you take a player from one team and then put him on another team. That’s a changed circumstance. You’ve now changed the environment, so how does that change the result?”
I’m not sure anyone is saying SportVU will change the way the NBA is managed, though we can already see some “money ball” trends taking root in the way teams approach free agency (efficient three-point shooters came at a premium this summer).
Where SportVU can make a major impact, just like most technology, is in the efficiency of gathering such data. Normally, teams hire people to track players during games and maintain their own advanced stats. Coaches and scouts have been using these stats for years. SportVU can make obtaining those numbers easier.
“Over the course of the regular season it will probably help more because you’ll have more information that you wouldn’t normally break down because of the preponderance of games. You may see more trends than you would have seen otherwise.”
Unlike us bloggers and fans that have a propensity to latch on to advanced stats, coaches and GM’s have to find a way to put the numbers to use. Coaches still have to coach, and GM’s still have to find players that fit a system and a locker room.
“At the end of the day, this business is still about being able to extrapolate all the various information that’s out there and at some level make decisions,” Elisburg said. “The thing with people is that they constantly change. Players are people. They’re not numbers. And people are always evolving.”
The comments by Elisburg in many ways mirror those of Shane Battier from earlier this offseason.
“It’ll take time for someone to take the data and make it digestible for players to understand, ‘OK, this is what I really need to work on.’ The game is not changing. It doesn’t change the way it’s understood, described and analyzed. The game is still going to be the same, it’s just going to be a different nuance.”
Battier, considered one of smartest players in the NBA, said he won’t look at the data. Instead of looking at numbers when he struggled during the NBA Finals, he simply started aiming left when his shots tended to sway to the right.
Nope. I think it will be awesome when I retire, whenever that is, when I step away, to look at the numbers and see how I ranked, but I’m psycho enough to where that will cloud the way I play. That makes it less instinctual, to be honest with you. I rationally understand what’s good for me, obviously the threes, the paint shots, and I stay away from corner twos like they’re the plague, but I don’t want to know anything else.
I think the tendency of NBA people to downplay the technology has to do, in part, by a natural aversion to technology that can do your job. After all, if you told me that there is an algorithm that can yank quotes from other stories and put them together and add commentary in some sort of comprehensible and (hopefully) entertaining chain, I would be skeptical too.
There is little doubt that SportVU will change the way we analyze and watch the game in some way. Even if it is just more advanced graphics used by networks showing games and one more thing to help us in the stands understand the game. Whether or not it will change the way players play, coaches coach and front offices acquire players in the long run is yet to be seen.