How analytics can help the Rockets

With ideas capable of upgrading organizations and making life easier for coaches, players, and team executives, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference is somewhat of a dream scenario for those who make their living in the business of sports. Words like “groundbreaking” and “innovative” don’t begin to do the presented research justice. But at the same time some of the separate findings contradict one another, making it difficult to weed through the results and select what might be constituted as the “right” way. One paper, titled “Experience and Winning in the National Basketball Association”, suggests that keeping a starting five intact from year to year increases postseason win totals. “NBA Chemistry: Positive and Negative Synergies in Basketball” indirectly challenged these findings by saying if the New Orleans Hornets had traded Chris Paul to Utah for Deron Williams before the 2010-11 season, both franchises would’ve benefited.

Now, a quick disclaimer before we dive deep into what I’ve found that could be helpful to the Rockets moving forward: Just because cutting-edge data says probabilities increase within the vacuum of a given situation does not mean anything is guaranteed or promised. It must be kept in mind that these numbers were berthed when thousands of players participated in hundreds of thousands of possessions, and that everything moving forward is technically separated from everything that happened in the past. The purpose of analytics isn’t to find absolute answers—sports is an entity ultimately decided by human error—but to make the long road to a championship a bit less foggy. [read more…]

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I haven’t updated this series since October 15, 2010, a gap of close to two years. There’s no point in trying to rehash all that we’ve learned during that span – too much has happened.

But there was a pretty interesting development over the weekend, at this year’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which merited some documentation of sorts.

Since the fall of Yao, and the end of any realistic hope of title contention, many had wondered why management refused to allow evolution to take its natural course.  When the life of good teams runs its course, they get bad, get high draft picks, and build back up.  Even when the pick itself isn’t kept as part of the team, it’s usually used as part of a trade to bring in talent (see: the rebirth of the Boston Celtics.)  High lottery picks are the currency of NBA markets.

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A reader, Zero, has been watching Rockets prospect Donatas Motiejunas from up close:

The first thing that you notice is the guy’s energy. D-Mo rarely stays still. Despite his size, he’s dynamic, quick on his feet and he loves to run the floor (he had a sweet runaway dunk during the game I saw). On the offensive end he’s got some really smooth post moves, and oftentimes manages to shake off the defender and go for an easy layup – I can really picture him becoming a great post player once coach McHale starts to work with him on these skills. (I know that’s overreacting, but I swear some of his moves in the paint reminded me of the Dream). In addition to attacking the basket, he can shoot it from distance and seems quite confident from the foul line (I didn’t see him take many free throws, but he did make all of them).

But despite being the primary option (he easily led the team in scoring that night), he also made some nice dishes to open teammates and you always have to appreciate a big man with decent court vision, so that’s definitely a plus.

Click for the full write-up.

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There are few basketball visuals I find more fascinating than the specter of a swingman defending a small point guard.  Scottie Pippen’s full-court pressure of Pacers guard Mark Jackson in 1997 immediately comes to mind.  Lebron James on Derrick Rose last season is the most recent example.

The implications are obvious.  We are telling you that, despite your size, you are the key to your entire team’s success, therefore, we have decided to assign this much larger man to defend you.  You, at maybe 6 feet, will now have to operate against a man close to a half foot taller than you, who is longer, stronger, and probably just as quick.  The swingman-point guard situational switch is the only matchup in basketball which sees such a striking size disparity.  The swingman has conserved his energy with the intent of killing you.  With your physical tools rendered useless, you must now use your mind.

Last night’s affair against LA saw one of these matchups when defensive specialist Courtney Lee switched onto point guard Chris Paul to close out regulation (and overtime.)  I immediately pushed forward to the edge of my seat.

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Links, videos, and notes from 03/04/12

I talked Rockets on ESPN 97.5’s Game Day yesterday morning.  If you missed it, you can access the podcast here.

Here is my writeup for ESPNLosAngeles on Blake Griffin’s subpar performance last night.

Now, to the actual game:

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