MIT’s Sloan School of Management is hosting their sixth annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (SSAC) this weekend, an event that brings together panelists and guests who discuss the importance of the increasing role of analytics (ie. all that Moneyball stuff) in sports. The conference has attracted hundreds of NBA owners, GM’s, coaches, and even some players throughout the years, not to mention numerous columnists and media personalities. The event has sold out 2,200 tickets this year and is now hosted in downtown Boston, away from MIT’s campus, in order to handle larger crowds. ESPN sponsors it, and the conference is even streamed live on-line. Bill Simmons dubbed the SSAC “Dorkapalooza,” but still attends—in fact, he’s actually been a panelist more times (5) than either Rockets GM Daryl Morey who co-chairs the event (4) and baseball Sabermetrics godfather Bill James (3).
So what have you been missing? Here’s a complete list of the panels, a complete list of research papers that are being presented, and a complete list of the Evolution of Sport presentations. What will interest most fans reading a pro basketball site, however, will be links to what’s already been written about the presentations and discussions that were specifically geared toward the NBA. Here you go:
Basketball Prospectus’ Why We Use Stats: BP’s Kevin Pelton explains that “Using statistics is a tool to understand basketball better--and one of many. In my opinion, that's where the dividing line is truly drawn: Not between those who use stats and those who don't, but between people who are interested in learning more about the game and those who are not.” Here here.
Sporting News’ Building an NBA team at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference: SN’s Sean Deveney discusses the findings of a research paper presented by Robert Ayer of MIT, who broke down teams’ top-3 players into specific roles (clusters) and analyzes which combinations produce the best team results. It turns out Lin, Carmelo, and Amar’e don’t fare very well in this regard, whereas a dominant center paired with a “multi-faceted, high scoring wing, with high assists for his position and a great 3-point shooter” is a terrific duo to start with.
Off the Dribble’s Mapping the NBA: OTD’s Joshua Brustein discusses the work of Harvard geography scholar Kirk Goldsberry, who turned every shot taken in the NBA for the past 5 years into a color-coded chart based on the points/shot for each of the 1,284 shot locations. The real insight to be gained from such a chart comes when teams use it to answer questions like “Where do the most steals occur? Where are the Pacers bad at defending against offensive rebounds? Where does Kevin Garnett tend to commit fouls?”.
ESPN’s Fact or fiction: Basketball analytics: There’s a 3-minute video with Henry Abbot and John Hollinger being really awkward while discussing free throw distractions, but the fact-or-fiction below it with 5 panelists is worth a read. They discuss wether fans should be unhappy if their teams aren’t investing heavily in analytics (5/5 fact), whether communicating analytics to coaches trumps the most cutting-edge data (4/5 fact), and whether analytics is getting out of control to the point fans should ignore it and just watch the games (5/5 fiction), among other topics.
Boston Globe’s Numbers don’t lie, teams use advanced analysis: BG’s Christopher Gasper looks at the role of advanced analytics within the Celtics (huge), mentions that 27 NBA teams have representatives at the SSAC, says that the behind-the-scenes “Moneyball” guys employed by teams “are no longer outside-the-box thinkers. They’re the box,” and points out that hockey is much further behind basketball in using analytics.