This past weekend the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was held in Boston. Prominent sports figures such as Bill Simmons, Mark Cuban, and Jeff Van Gundy gathered to discuss and lecture on important sports topics that are changing the industry. And although I was not able to attend it, the bloggers from ESPN’s True Hoop Network provided great coverage of all the interesting NBA-related topics covered. From what I’ve been reading, here are some of the highlights from the conference:
- Malcolm Gladwell, author of the book “Outliers,” spoke on the idea that sports players, just like any other professionals, need to practice approximately 10,000 hours at a skill before becoming an expert. However, because of their natural abilities, some NBA players do not practice as much as they should, and they end up paying the price. The given example was Tracy McGrady. His supreme athletic ability allowed him to dominate for a short period in the NBA. But according to his former coaches and managers, he has only practiced maybe 1,000 hours. He is now falling behind as he gets older (31-years-old), even though his former peers such asKobe Bryant (32), Paul Pierce (32), and Ray Allen (34) are still going strong.
- Advanced research is being done Drs. Brian Miller and Wesley Clapp on the mental processes involved in playing the game of basketball. By studying how some players excel at learning the game while others flounder, they are looking to change the way new talent is discovered and developed. Many potential stars could be analyzed based on their ability to learn, leading to another dimension in the scouting process.
- Sandy Weil gave a presentation on what he called the “Data Holy Grail.” Here’s a great explanation of this new technology by Brett Hainline of Queen City Hoops: “This great new data is from Stats, LLC, as they have added multiple cameras . . . to three NBA courts, with the sole intention of recording everything that occurs on the court. Players are tracked, with an exact location in x,y coordinates, as are referees and the ball. 25 times a second, software analyzes the video, and stores information about where everyone is and what is occurring. 1,000,000 entries per game with 60 some games added to their databases so far. Basic things like field goal attempts, blocks, rebounds, and assists are part of what is tracked. And that’s where it starts getting really cool — player position and defender proximity to a player are now available without having to chart and track a game by hand and eyeball estimates.” Basically, NBA analytical minds now have an endless supply of data to pour through – practically everything that could possibly be recorded.
- Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban stated that he hopes his team loses badly after Dirk retires. Why? Because he wants to avoid the “mediocrity treadmill” that many teams get on and can’t seem to step off of. Think of the Bucks or 76ers, teams that are never bad enough to start rebuilding completely, but never good enough to make an impact in the playoffs. These teams hang around and do okay, but sometimes the only way to get to the top is to drop to the bottom. if done the right way, rebuilding with draft picks and cap space to sign free agents can lead to championships. Just ask the Boston Celtics.
Visit True Hoop for more highlights from the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.