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Coach: Potential NBA Talent (Part 1)
Posted By Anthony Macri On October 13, 2011 @ 12:36 pm In All,NBA Draft | No Comments
In this multi-part series on evaluating potential NBA talent, Coach Macri will explain a typical process for the breakdown of players and what kinds of things the average fan should consider watching college games with an eye on who their team might select. In this week’s article, he provides an overview of the interplay between advanced analytics and observation.
With the lockout likely to stretch into the winter, one place many NBA fans turn their attention is to the college game and specifically the professional prospects their team may eventually have when things are resolved. For many fans, the part-science / part-art of evaluating players is confusing and rarely straightforward. Front offices seem to miss often enough that the process can resemble a table game at a casino, which is rarely a gamble their fans are willing to take.
Finding value at different points in the draft is critical, and it requires an ability to evaluate potential talent and assess it in relation to current personnel, style of play, contract situations, and a host of other factors. As college basketball teams kick off their season tomorrow, a quick summary of effective ways to appraise potential talent seems appropriate.
With the recent release of the movie Moneyball, questions about the use of advanced statistics and analytics as opposed to the “old” method of visual assessment have arisen in the NBA as well. The reality is that a strong front office will use a combination of these approaches to make conclusions about players. In my own personal “assessment matrix,” I often use advanced analytics to either confirm (or refute) observations or to give me a foundation from which to start the observation process.
For example, using a tool like Synergy, a company that records and catalogs every single televised NBA game and most if not all college games, a scout is able to discover statistics about a specific observation. Consider a talented college player who shoots 38% from three. Using that information alone is not enough to categorize him as a shooter: in observation, a scout might notice that the player is constantly shooting threes in drive and kick situations as a spot up, stand alone shooter, but when he is asked to shoot either off the dribble or while moving off screens, he seems to struggle. Synergy can help to confirm or refute that observation with actual statistics about results in statistical spot up situations vs. off the dribble or on the move situations.
Similarly, advanced quantitative analysis might suggest a player who is undersized has a higher rebounding rate than expected, even if his total rebounding numbers are average. Through observation, a scout may be able to assess why that is the case and how his production might transfer to a higher level.
One item that is often overused, or at the very least overestimated, is the so-called “measurables” that we see at the NBA combine. While it is nice to know things like full court sprint speed and wingspan, standing reach and standing vertical jump, most of the data collected does not transfer directly or indirectly into play on the floor, which is really the goal of good evaluation. Building a team to pass the eye or paper test is not the same as building one that can compete and succeed on the floor.
Strong observation-based evaluators often come to the same conclusions as advanced analytic researchers. However, there are still conflicts that rise up, mostly because one side or the other refuses to believe there could be a flaw in their initial approach. Talent evaluation is never exact or precise, though it is certainly better now than it was in the past. The best front offices find a way to integrate the “new” and “old” way such that they complement each other, often having the two sides work independently at first, comparing results, and then bringing them together to corroborate each other’s viewpoints, finding consensus. In those times where there seems to be a fundamental disagreement, it often has to do with a difference in the premises by which each side is operating rather than radically distinct conclusions.
Next week, we will consider what strong talent observation looks like: what exactly should an evaluator look for and how we should value a player’s skills as assets for an organization.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Mondays at 3PM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @CoachMacri.
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Coach Macri serves as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, working with a variety of NBA players on their skills and game understanding. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.
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