Feb 27

Audio: Terry Stotts Talks Analytics On ESPN The Mag Podcast

By caseyholdahl Posted in: Blazers, Nuggets

You've no doubt read the article in ESPN The Magazine detailing the Trail Blazers' use of advanced statistics that came out last week. If not, you can read Jordan Brenner's piece here.

ESPN The Magazine's editor, Chad Millman, followed up with Stotts on the ESPN, The Magazine Podcast to discuss the story and delve a little deeper into Stotts' thoughts on the use of data in basketball. A few of the more choice quotes from Coach ...
"Well, I think there's a great value in analytics and what can be derived from them. I also think it's important to give analytics a context. I approach it as information that I can choose what to do with it but I prefer to have the information at my disposal. And a lot of times it confirms some of my suspicions, sometimes it will bring out something I haven't thought of, sometimes I might dismiss it. But I think it's important to have the information. The expression 'Numbers don't lie.' There's value in the numbers.

"One thing I think is very difficult for basketball in comparison to football and baseball is those two sports have static events. There's an at-bat and something happens on that at-bat and you can quantify each at-bat and same thing with football with, even though there's 11 players on the field, you have a down and yardage each time and it's a very static event. Basketball is a free-flowing, with different matchups and different set of circumstances, perhaps every time down the floor. Trying to quantify what happens in basketball is very difficult. But as much as people have done throughout the past few years, I think it's been very helpful."


How difficult is it to incorporate any advanced analytics in the heat of a game?

"I think it's difficult. Advanced, you look at, to give you an example, James Harden, we were making a case where in games where he shot more than a certain number of threes, their record in games he shot a certain amount of free throws he had this record, so we thought hey, it would be better if he beat us with threes than (at) the free throw line. Lo and behold, he kicked our butt from the three-point line. So sometimes it comes back to bite you.

"I think it's difficult to get too in-depth during the course of a game. A lot of time it's the gut instincts. I think it's partly the game plan going into that game, that you do your preparation based on scouting and analytics or whatever else and your teamed and their team and you come up with a game plan and discuss things you might consider though the course of a game so that you're not making knee-jerk decisions during the game."


Do you have a cheat sheet that reminds you to play this guy with this guy? What if situationally you're not allowed to use those player combinations?

"Well, you're not always, Rick Carlise and I would sit down and do a rotation sheet, a minutes sheet for possible rotation of players through the game, so you have an idea of what you would like to get to through the course of the game. But a lot of times a team will go on a 9-0 run, there will be foul trouble, a team will put (in) a lineup that doesn't match well with what had thought you were going to do, so a lot of times the best-laid plans fall awry because of the situations of the game. But you ask if I have a cheat sheet, I really don't have a cheat sheet. I use a mock cheat sheet before the game just to make sure I have an idea of how I want to rotate the players. For the most part I'm able to stick to it sometimes, but the other times kind of have to make decisions on short notice.


Do you get the sense there's a bit of a sea change or that coaches are going to have to become more accepting of analytics as they go about their jobs?

"I think coaches are open to analytics, and like I said, most coaches like to have information and it's a question of how they use it. But what cannot be lost in the message is the passion. Basketball is an emotional sport; you play it with passion and desire and heart and you don't want to get bogged down in analytics at the expense of some of those intangibles of playing the game. That being said, I think, just like almost in every profession, there's so much more information that everybody's disposal that you don't want to be left behind in the Information Age."
After the segment with Stotts, Brenner came on the podcast to discuss his story further. At roughly 32 minutes, the podcast it might be a little much to listen to at work, though it would be a great option for your evening commute.


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