BOSTON — If you’re a stat-head, either amateur or professional, Boston is the place to be this weekend, as the city hosts the seventh annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference all day Today and Saturday.
The two days will include discussions about several sports and several aspects of them (not just what happens on the court or field). But as usual, there will be a large NBA presence, headed by conference co-founder Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets. The “Basketball Analytics” panel will include Mavs owner Mark Cuban, Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren, ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy, and ESPN.com’s John Hollinger.
Other panels will include NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver, Celtics owner Steve Pagliuca, MSG president Scott O’Neil, former Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard, and former player Donny Marshall. And among the attendees will be representatives from more than 20 of the 30 NBA teams.
Some of the more interesting basketball talk will take place in the rooms where research papers are presented. There will be several NBA-related papers this year, including a couple that deal with chemistry and complementary players, a topic that has never been easy to quantify.
The latest tool in basketball analytics is STATS’ SportsVu Optical Tracking data. SportsVU uses cameras in the arena to track the ball and the 10 players on the floor, which allows teams to go far beyond the boxscore.
This year, a group from USC will present a paper (click for pdf) that uses Optical Tracking data to “discover the non-linear relationship between shot location and its impact on offensive rebound rates, implications of the height of where rebounds are obtained, and estimates of where players should move in order to improve rebounding rates.”
Yeah, the whole thing is a little nerdy, and Kevin Love probably doesn’t need to study any metrics to average 14 boards a game. But analytics doesn’t have to take away from the subjective aspects of the game we love. It’s a part of the conversation and, taken in context, can only help teams and players make better decisions.