Isiah Thomas believes advanced analytics has done more harm than good and often limits players on the court, minimizing their abilities.
It's maddening to watch
For the past decade, advanced analytics have made their way to the NBA, and its impact is apparent more than ever before. Every NBA team has adopted strategies on what playing style they will implement, players they would draft/sign, and even run their entire organization based on different advanced data. The global digitalization that has now made its way in every aspect of our lives has done the same to basketball, especially the NBA.
Even though some would argue it brought different benefits to the game, former NBA player Isiah Thomas believes it limits players and their natural abilities on the court. While making an appearance on the Boardrooms podcast with Kevin Durant, he broke down the main problems with the impact of advanced analytics on the game today.
"It's maddening to watch it because I see so many players could be so much better than what they are allowed to be under this confined system of play that analytics has convinced everybody to play the same way. All the GM's think the same way; they all read from the same script. They all read the same material, they all run the same plays, they all eat at the same time, they all shoot at the same time, they all fly at the same time, and they are all the same size."
Too much conformity in the NBA
Thomas makes an interesting argument about how everything is uniformed nowadays, and most teams have adopted a system where shooting threes is a priority and necessity. That comes from the numbers that advanced analytics provide, which implies shooting threes is the best way for a team to win games. In that case, you have players who can do other things, maybe even better, and help their team in that way, but coaches limit their abilities for the sake of the system even though it might be contra-productive.
"Analytics may be good in society, but analytics in sports only makes everybody conform to act and think the same way. What makes champions, champions is when they have a different style playing against a different style. If Kevin Durant was just a guy shooting three-pointers and a guy that made layups, he would be alright. The fact that he uses all five scoring areas makes him one of the most efficient scorers we have seen in the history of your game. His ability not to conform is what made him great throughout his life."
Thomas is not the first former player to speak against advanced analytics, saying it doesn't show the entire story. Jamal Crawford said the mid-range game doesn't get enough recognition even though it's a more efficient shot than a three-pointer. Josh Smith believes the numbers don't show certain things players can do on the floor but ultimately help your team win the game. All of those arguments are valid, and it's evident everyone is trying to play similarly because that is the trend the Warriors initially started after winning their first championship in 2015.
Whether that will change or not remains to be seen, but there is an evident distance in how the game is perceived by GMs and scouts, even some coaches and players who actually play the game and have that real-time experience. If they find some middle ground and players get an opportunity to utilize their skillset more frequently and more naturally, maybe we'll see a change in the overall playing style in the NBA.