Think about how cool (and overwhelming) it would be to able to answer almost any question you could imagine about the NBA. If you could find out, for instance, Kevin Durant’s shooting percentage from the left baseline on shots he takes after dribbling the ball with his left hand at least twice.
Weil’s data was based on cameras installed at three arenas, but Brian Kopp, a vice-president at STATS, told me the cameras are currently in place at five arenas — San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City and Golden State. The Warriors stand out there, since the other three clubs are known for their early and enthusiastic embrace of advanced stats and general geekiness. The Warriors have been known mostly for ugly intra-team disputes over the last few years.
The fact that Golden State has signed up for the STATS cameras is a very good sign for Warriors fans that the team — and the new ownership group — really gets this.
• The Celtics, another team that has embraced advanced metrics, is next in line to get the cameras, Kopp told me.
And the geeks shall inherit the earth.
I go back and forth on advanced metrics in basketball. They definitely have a place, but sometimes I think they go too far. Of course, you don't know how far "too far" is until you go there, realize you've gone too far, and then take the appropriate steps back. Hence my conundrum.
The Celtics are going to be installing multiple cameras that will be able to count dribbles, analyze the space between shooter & defender, and who knows how many other things. Part of that sounds really cool. But part of that sounds like overkill. And that leads us into the current debate over how advanced stats are making a play to take over how basketball is played, covered and constructed.
Let's face facts: Stats can flat out lie to us…. but so can our eyes. You can look at Rajon Rondo's shooting percentage (50.5%) and say "wow, he shoots well." But then you dive into the advanced stats and see he's shooting 68% at the rim and then it drops considerably from there. So there's a benefit to breaking things down more and more.
But your eyes could also tell you Rondo's a premier finisher around the rim and his mid-range game struggles. How much further can we break things down. And when we DO break those things down, are we going to have an over-reliance on those microcosm stats, or are we going to keep proper perspective and use them in conjunction with other things we already know.
I guess that's where my trepidation lies. That people are going to look at one little thing… one little advanced metric that, without proper perspective, lies to you… and make concrete determinations about a player or a team.
I don't want to be the guy who lives in the past and says "the way it was was good enough so its good enough for me." I'm a firm believer in "evolve or go extinct." There's value to these advanced metrics that I, as a non-stat geek, am learning to embrace because they tell you some important things. But I also don't want to be the guy that can't enjoy the nuances of a basketball game and realize that its analysis is more than just an MIT-level dissertation.
Basketball is an emotional game. Advanced metrics strip that all away… which is good and bad. Emotions explain a lot. Emotions explain streaks. They explain good and bad performances. Advanced stats can't look at a player and see "wow, he's sluggish today… I wonder why?" Advanced stats don't see guys acting out of character… or teammates going the wrong way causing a player to have to force something. Numbers don't see the game.
We are in a revolution of basketball coverage. It's a good thing. But it's not the only thing. I hope teams and the people that cover them can embrace change without bear-hugging it to death. Just like a basketball team, or life in general… proper balance is always the key.