The Extra Pass: Recapping the 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference


The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was held in Boston this past weekend, the eighth in an annual series intended to bring the sports world and the advanced statistics community together to discuss common areas where the two fields can share and benefit from an increasingly abundant amount of raw data that measures athletes performing at the highest levels.

There were plenty of panel discussions and research presentations attended, so here’s a summary of the highlights of what went down over the two-day experience.

– Tanking and the draft that seems to incentivize it were ongoing topics at the conference, and on the basketball analytics panel Friday, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo admitted to trying to tank for a high draft pick a couple of seasons ago. However, he wasn’t exactly able to achieve his desired result.

– One of the more interesting and honest discussions came on a negotiation panel that featured a professor from the Harvard Business School moderating a talk between Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Warriors GM Bob Myers. The two NBA men were very open in discussing their personal shortcomings where negotiations are concerned, and Morey and Myers shared some unique inside information on how the Dwight Howard free agent frenzy last summer affected each of their respective franchises. (Hint: It caused Morey to actually call up Mark Cuban to try to trade for Dirk Nowitzki.)

– The most interesting research paper presented from a basketball perspective may have been the one to address the Hot Hand theory, which has been widely debunked in the past. The new research took into account information from SportVU cameras that wasn’t available to previous researchers, and the conclusion was that the Hot Hand does in fact exist, and that players believe in it and act accordingly. Perhaps not surprisingly, J.R. Smith was one of the textbook examples.

– Not everyone at the conference was 100 percent on board with advanced statistical data and its immediate implementation, at least not without first evaluating who exactly is putting it all together. Stan Van Gundy was amazing on the basketball analytics panel, and explained frankly and in detail why the data may not mean much to those actually running the team from a basketball standpoint if it’s only being assembled by statisticians, as opposed to those who are highly experienced in the game itself.

– NBA Commissioner Adam Silver appeared at the conference on Saturday, and had an extended conversation with Malcolm Gladwell about a variety of topics. The draft lottery system and the perceived issue of tanking were among the more interesting, and while Silver continues to define tanking differently than the rest of us, he at least appears to be very open to looking at ways of changing things so that losing, in any capacity, won’t be at all incentivized in the future.

Potential top-three pick, Texas C Mo Bamba, declares for NBA draft

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Slovenian point guard Luca Doncic and Arizona center DeAndre Ayton are considered frontrunners to go 1-2 in the upcoming NBA draft.

No. 3 is more up for grabs – with Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, Texas’ Mo Bamba, Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr., Oklahoma’s Trae Young, Alabama’s Collin Sexton and Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. in the mix.

Bamba is committing to the competition.

Texas release:

University of Texas freshman forward Mohamed Bamba has declared himself eligible for the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft and will not return to school, the University announced Tuesday.

Bamba – 7-foot with a 7-foot-9 wingspan – is an elite rim-protector. He’s also fluid enough to stifle opponents on the perimeter. He brings an awesome defensive package. Considering his size, he rebounds and finishes predictably well.

But his offense his otherwise raw. He attempts a fair number of jumpers, including 3-pointers, which suggests a capability. But he shoots poorly on those attempts and has displayed minimal court vision as a passer.

He’ll also turn 20 in May, making him the oldest of the top 2018 draft prospects. Mamba will carry some physical advantages to the NBA, but how much was he dominating college opponents because he’s more physically advanced?

Bamba carries risk, but an NBA team will almost certainly bet on him sooner than later in the draft.

Former Mavericks marketing manager: Mark Cuban oversaw business side, still doesn’t get it

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Sports Illustrated detailed a predatory environment – including sexual harassment and domestic violence – in the Mavericks’ business office.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban denied much interaction with the business side, expressed outrage this occurred and vowed to fix the problems.

Melissa Weishaupt, whom Sports Illustrated cited anonymously in its initial article, says Cuban hasn’t responded appropriately.

Weishaupt in Sports Illustrated:

I’m using my name because I’m still not sure the Mavericks get it. Since the story broke, owner Mark Cuban has repeatedly claimed he oversaw only the basketball side of that franchise, not the business side.

Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. You own 100% of the team, Mark. The buck stops with you. When I worked on the Mavs’ business side, all marketing, promotional and broadcasting decisions went through you. Nothing was decided without your approval.

I am using my name because I am convinced that Cuban still doesn’t recognize the culture he’s helped create or the plight of the women who still work for him. From where I sit, Mark’s response was to rush in like some white knight in a T-shirt and jeans and yell, Don’t worry, ladies of the Mavs, I will help you with paid counseling and a hotline you can call!

Now you want to help? We are not fragile flowers. We don’t long for counseling. (As for that hotline: I’ve spoken with a dozen current and former team employees; we have no idea what this is or how to find it.) We want equitable pay. We need to be treated with respect. When deserved, we ought to be given the same promotions as our male counterparts.

This problematic culture exists throughout the world. It would hardly be a shock if it still exists within the Mavericks, even after a spotlight was shined on them. In fact, there are indications it does.

If Cuban is sincere in his desire to provide better conditions for the women working for him, he should listen to people like Weishaupt. He can defend himself if he disagrees with her claims, but he also shouldn’t act as if he automatically knows all the solutions to these problems.

Report: Pistons interested in hiring Chauncey Billups to work with Arn Tellem in front office

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Update: Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

Of course, this doesn’t preclude the Pistons from eventually hiring Billups. They could claim they weren’t interested while Van Gundy held the presidency then became interested in Billups later.

But such a sharp statement seems unlikely if the Pistons planned to go that route. They’d probably leave the door open wider than this.


Pistons owner Tom Gores made it sound as if president-coach Stan Van Gundy would lose his front-office title.

The rumored replacement? Former agent Arn Tellem, who’s an executive on the Pistons’ business side.

Tellem could also have new help – like Chauncey Billups.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

That would certainly turn heads in Detroit, where Billups is still beloved after playing for the Pistons and leading them to the 2004 championship. His reputation remains sterling there, because he was traded before the major downturn of that era.

For a team struggling to fill its new arena, Billups could make a splash (just like the Blake Griffin trade was designed to).

But if Billups and Tellem aren’t ready to build a winning team, the good feelings would be short-lived. Detroit-area fans have proven they support good teams and not otherwise.

To Billups’ credit, he has worked to position himself for a front-office job. He was a very smart player and good communicator, and he has always eyed an executive, rather than coaching, role. The Cavaliers nearly hired him last year. He and Tellem might be up for the task.

It’s a substantial one. The Pistons’ roster is expensive for the next couple years, and Detroit is down a first-round pick from the Griffin trade. The top two players, Griffin and Drummond, don’t fit seamlessly.

The Pistons could easily make the playoffs next season, especially if Reggie Jackson is healthier than this year. But greater success will be hard to come by no matter who takes over.

NBA fines Rockets’ Gerald Green, Celtics’ Marcus Morris

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Rockets star Chris Paul preemptively volunteered to pay Gerald Green‘s fine for shoving Gorgui Dieng, who had just pushed over Paul.

Of course, the NBA gave Paul something to follow through on.

The league also fined Celtics forward Marcus Morris.

NBA releases:

Houston Rockets guard/forward Gerald Green has been fined $25,000 for shoving Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident took place with 10:13 remaining in the Rockets’ 129-120 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 18

Boston Celtics forward Marcus Morris has been fined $15,000 for verbal abuse of a game official, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident occurred at the conclusion of the Celtics’ 108-89 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday, March 18

I couldn’t spot Morris’ incident on video, but Green definitely earned his fine. Fortunately for him, he was just supporting a teammate who understand how to value role players.