Philadelphia 76ers President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo announced today that the team has made several updates to the basketball operations department, including the promotion of Ned Cohen to Vice President of Basketball Operations and Chief of Staff, as well as a re-structured analytics department, which will be led by Vice President of Analytics and Strategy Alex Rucker, and supported by Director of Applied Analytics Dr. Lance Pearson and Sergi Oliva as Director of Basketball Analytics and Innovation.
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The team could use that expected value system to build an “ideal” NBA defense irrespective of the Toronto scheme, but doing so today would be pointless, since part of the team’s job is to sell a sometimes skeptical coaching staff on the value of all these new numbers and computer programs, says Alex Rucker, the Raptors’ director of analytics. “You need that coaching perspective,” Rucker says. “But we are still looking for where the rules are wrong — areas where there are systemic things that are wrong with what we do on the court. But any system needs to comply with what the coaches want, and what the players can do.”
Yet, advanced statistical analytics have taken off in basketball, with more influence than in any sport other than baseball. Given the above, however, how much should they dictate the decisions that teams make? “In any discipline, if you can get it down to something unbiased at a decision point, I think that’s fundamentally correct. When a general manager makes a decision about a player, you do want that to rest to a certain extent on analytics,” says 37-year-old Alex Rucker, whose KBAR Consulting is under contract as the Toronto Raptors’ advanced statistics experts. “I will say, however, that I have never once subscribed to the notion that you can build a team by the numbers. It’s still one factor of several … There are other things that matter a great deal in terms of building a team that you can get at elements of analytically but, at the end of the day, there are still some qualitative things that are critically important. You can’t capture them, no matter how many cool, expensive cameras I have taking pictures.”
“[Advanced statistical analysis] has definitely picked up tremendous momentum in the last decade as we have all looked to peel back another layer of the onion,” said Colangelo, the Raptors’ president and general manager, in an email interview. He added that he had a particular fondness for financial modelling and win projection. “Honestly, once Daryl Morey was hired as GM in Houston, everyone’s antennae were raised even higher and the use of analytics has become much more mainstream. “ … Blogs, chat rooms and message boards are literally buzzing on the topic and just about every NBA team has a dedicated analytics team looking for some sort of competitive advantage. Let me tell you that stat geeks are alive and well in our business.”