Sports are getting more sophisticated by the day, and those Billy Beane and “Moneyball” get all the credit in baseball, basketball's stat-heads and analytics leaders are a little more subtle.
But they are out there. And there are more of them every year.
While the Spurs recently hired a new European trainer, Xavi Schelling, to head its department of applied sport science, essentially innovating their training techniques, the Dallas Mavericks made a huge makeover of its analytics department.
When asked how many people he added to the department, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said “I don't even know. We have all these interns and remote, virtual people. It could be 20 for all I know.”
Cuban is playing coy, of course, because he's an incredibly talented and successful business man trying to brag without giving away all of his business secrets.
Quite simply, Cuban isn't happy with how last season ended for his team. It's the reason he went aggressively after Chandler Parsons.
Cuban has had Roland Beech, the founder of 82games.com, in charge of a department to analyze advanced stats. But, over the offseason, he expanded that department from three people.
Cuban and Beech have been making news since 2011, when they shocked the NBA world by their use of J.J. Barea to beat the Miami Heat. While some criticized the choice, Cuban told Deadspin at the time that he put faith in his stats people.
“the stats they used in the article dont show match ups by lineup against lineup. IN a playoff series, while the information isnt perfect, the longer the series, the better the information. So we knew which lineups worked against which of their lineups. We also then had to build in substitution patterns and expected responses to change. Things that Coach Carlisle is great at. Its a chess match.
"Plus, Using stats arent always about putting your best combination out there, but sometimes about trying to get them to put their worst combination of players on the floor and then getting them to do things they are least comfortable with,” Cuban wrote to Deadspin. “net, net, as I always have said, the one thing that stats, no matter which stats you use, dont take into account is coaching. Making the right decisions with the stats is more important than knowing what the numbers are.”
What will it mean now?
Cuban said even he is surprised how much he learned this offseason and how much he used analytics to attack the free agent market.
“This is so much more like the stock market than I ever imagined it would because all the old-school owners are gone,” Cuban said. “All the old guys that hired old-school coaches and Gms that didn't get into it, they're not in the game anymore.”
Did the Spurs win because of analytics?
Well, Cuban thinks so, despite all of the cliches about Gregg Popovich being old school.
“The concept that San Antonio would beat the Heat because Danny Green and Patty Mills were sprinting up and taking pull-up 3s; that's what won the championship for them,” Cuban was quoted as saying. “Like when you look at San Antonio, one of the things that was interesting is their guys sprint faster tan any other team on fast break. And then when you look at why, it's because 'Basketball 1-1' says you protect the basket when you get back in transition defense. Well, if you're sprinting two guys down to the corner 3, which is the best shot in basketball, you make the defenders make a choice. And then if you practice sprinting into a corner 3 like Patty Mills and Danny Green did, than all of a sudden you have an open 3. And if the guy can hit 40 percent on an open 3, that's a good shot.”
So, Dallas wants to do more of that. Be smarter, play smarter, beat teams through analytics.