The word ‘analytics’ is thrown around a lot these days in the sports world, but understanding what sports analytics really is another story. From, “Isn’t that moneyball?” to downright confusion, the understanding of analytics is as varied as its’ applications. According to Ben Alamar, “Analytics involves the tools of data gathering, data management, statistical analysis, data visualization and information systems to deliver better information, more efficiently, to decision makers within an organization.” Alamar should know, he has worked in the NBA for the Seattle Supersonics, Oklahoma City Thunder, and most recently as Senior Analytics Consultant for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers also happen to be one of our newest software partners, so we thought it would be interesting if we asked Alamar a few questions about analytics in the NBA, validating analytic tools, and how SpartaTrac™ fits into the future of NBA analytics.
Where do you think the NBA is in relation to other sports in using advanced analytics for player development and talent evaluation?
In general I believe we are, in all major US sports, at the very early stages of using analytics for player development. Some individual teams have pushed forward in this area faster than others, but there does not seem to be a serious imbalance between sports. The NBA does have certain advantages in this area as it is logistically easier to monitor the smaller rosters from an analytics point of view.
Do you think the greatest upside to analytics lies in performance improvement or injury prevention?
Player development is a highly under utilized area both with analytics and generally within teams. As analytics helps both inform and provide structure around a player development program, any analytics department/group within a team should be looking towards player development to gain some traction within the organization.
Any tool that I use must be scientifically valid. If analysis or other tools do not have a scientific basis, then an anlytics group that used them would lose significant credibility within the organization. The analytics group is tasked with, at the very lest, providing accurate analysis, and if there is not scientific basis for the analysis then there is not a lot of reason to believe it is accurate.
What are you and the Cavaliers excited about most when you think about using the SpartTrac software and Movement Signature evaluation?
I believe that SpartTrac™ has the potential to offer insight into the physical abilities/potential of players that has really been untapped by the analytics movement within sports. This data has the potential to offer teams a better understanding of where a player is and how far they can be reasonably expected to go – and how those physical abilities can impact their performance on the court. Once a clear link between the player’s movement signature and their abilities on the court is established, we will have a signifcantly deeper understanding of a player’s true potential.
Benjamin Alamar is a Professor of Sport Management at Menlo College, sports analytics consultant/researcher, and author of the book Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, and Other Decision Makers (July, 2013). He has consulted with a variety of teams in the NFL and NBA, including five seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder and with a variety of companies in sports analytics. He has published numerous research studies in sports analytics and has written on sports analytics for outlets such as ESPN, Analytics Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. Additionally, Professor Alamar is the founding editor of the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, the first peer-reviewed academic journal for research in sports analytics.