Analytics or big data was why NBA teams changed the way they play. After more teams started paying attention to advanced stats, it has affected how coaches design plays, how the front office decides to draft and how players think on the floor. However, not all players are sold on it.
Brief history of advanced analytics
Analytics was being used way back, but it only gained popularity in recent years. The numbers only showed basic stats such as points, rebounds, and player averages back then. When the video tracking tool Sportsvu was introduced in 2010, it allowed teams to access all sorts of data they could collect and monitor. In 2017, the NBA shifted to AI-focused analytics that can instantly create insights and predictions from player tracking information.
Analytics became a favorite among teams because it works and numbers back it up. Phoenix Suns’ and Houston Rockets’ high-octane offense all use big data. San Antonio Spurs’ switch everything defense also relied on analytics. The advanced player tracking system helped LeBron James be more successful on the court. If it helps teams achieve their goals efficiently backed by numbers, why are some players still not sold on it?
Josh Smith is against analytics
Former NBA star Josh Smith joins those who are against analytics. In an interview published on Ball Don’t Stop Podcast, Smith says he doesn’t trust people who have never played basketball in their entire lives.
“As a player, how can you listen to a person that never played basketball? They don’t have a feel of what’s going on and little aspects of the game.”
It’s the old vs. new generation debate once again. Smith has a point: an engineer doesn’t take orders from someone who isn’t a professional engineer. Besides, big data tells teams the players who shoot well despite a hand in their faces. It doesn’t tell them how they got the information. For players, it’s instinct and heart, while analytics claim they are patterns and numbers.
Smith isn’t the only one who voiced some concerns about big data. LeBron James, Charles Barkley, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, and even Kobe Bryant all expressed themselves against analytics. Here’s Kobe’s take on it via Larry Brown Sports.
“What numbers don’t tell you is they don’t tell you the emotion. I don’t like analytics. You see the numbers, but the numbers don’t tell you how or why they are the way they are. You have to be able to feel that, to sense that. Tendencies.”
What’s missing in analytics is the heart of a player. It doesn’t reflect players' instincts, tendencies, and pure desire on the court. Not everyone could understand when a player is ordered not to take a higher percentage shot for a contested 3-point shot because that’s a better option.
Big data is here, and it will continue to evolve and influence basketball decisions on and off the court in the future. Analytics changed the game and gave perspectives that were once unknown to all. The players, meanwhile, have to adapt to the future and everything it brings to the game.