Tag: SLOAN conference

NBA Facebook

Facebook users like the NBA. A lot.

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The NBA gets it. Twitter, Facebook, not ripping down videos off of YouTube. The NBA has embraced both the Web and social media.

And that has put them light years ahead of the other major sports leagues in this arena. That was highlighted at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (and reported at TrueHoop, who killed it all weekend). Nick Grudin, who works for Facebook on the Media Partnerships team, broke out the numbers in a panel at the conference.

According to Grudin, NBA fans are most active on Facebook, and it’s not close, as 7.6 million fans “like” the NBA, compared to just 2.6 million for the NFL and less than a million for MLB. Facebook is the NBA’s No. 2 referral source for traffic, seeing nine times as much traffic as it did a year ago. The NBA embraced Facebook before the other leagues, and the league is reaping the benefits in traffic.

Team-wise it’s about what one would expect with the Lakers (6.2 million), Celtics (3.4), Heat (2.6) and Bulls (1.4) ahead of the pack.

The Lakers, Celtics and Heat have more Facebook likes than the NFL. That is the NFL. The 800-pound gorilla of American sports.

Why does this mater? Because as Grudin notes, being a fan is a shared, interactive experience. You want to talk with fellow fans about Derrick Rose’s last second shot, Blake Griffin’s dunk, a trade that your team should make, why the coach sucks, how Mike Bibby couldn’t guard you on the playground. Now, more and more people are doing that talking online through Facebook and the rest rather than in a bar.

Combine that with the younger demographics of the NBA than the other major sports — a group who embraces this online technology — and you have a perfect storm. One that could help the NBA grow its popularity over time.

Well, unless the lockout kills all that momentum.

To win big, does a team need to lose big first?

Dallas Mavericks v Denver Nuggets, Game 2
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It’s tough spot to be — right in the middle of the NBA pack.

If you are the Indiana Pacers right now, or the Memphis Grizzlies, or a host of other teams, you are in a difficult spot. You’re good, probably good enough to make the playoffs but not really be a top three seed. So you get to the playoffs, get knocked out in the first round. Then comes the draft, where you will pick in the late teens — where you can land a guy who can develop into a nice rotation player in a few years but not a star. You’re a medium to small market that will have a hard time attracting or paying for an elite talent that comes up as a free agent.

In a MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference panel Sunday, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said that middle ground is something he wants the Mavericks to avoid, according to the fantastic Tim Varner writing for TrueHoop.

Cuban confessed that once Dirk Nowitzki retires he expects the Mavericks to lose, and, if he gets his way, they’ll lose badly. (Former Trail Blazer GM) Kevin Pritchard seemed to agree and introduced a new term into our lexicons: “the mediocrity treadmill.”

There is no championship future for a middling team that is stuck in the embattled space between those who struggle to make the playoffs and those that struggle and miss. Cuban has no desire for the Mavericks to be such a team. Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan recently defended trading Gerald Wallace to the Portland Trailblazers by saying, “We don’t want to be the seventh or eighth seed.” The Bobcats have been, at best, mediocre, and so perhaps we can interpret his statement as one owner casting his philosophical lot with Cuban and Pritchard.

Varner ties those comments into what Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said earlier in the day at the same conference. When they bought the Celtics they did a study to see what worked, what teams needed to get an NBA title. The answer was three All-Star level players. And one of those stars needs to be a superstar, a “one of the 50 greatest of all time” kind of guy.

Think back to the title winners in recent years — Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, earlier Lakers, Bulls, and so on — and so on you see the patter Grousbeck sees (the 2004 Pistons are the obvious exception).

There is something to this. It takes a little bit of luck — if you are the Oklahoma City Thunder you need to luck into Kevin Durant in the draft, then still be bad enough the next year to get Russell Westbrook. If you’re the big-market Knicks you can see why you go after Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. The Heat are in there. You can see those teams building toward a title. If you get stuck in the middle with one star, you can be good. You can be entertaining. But you likely will never be a champion.

Can being too good, too young end up holding a player back?

Detroit Pistons v Atlanta Hawks

Right now, as you read this (well, so long as you read it Saturday afternoon), some of the brightest minds in the NBA are on the campus of MIT. And some bloggers are there, too (including our own Rob Mahoney).

It’s the annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, discussing the latest in advanced metrics — that fancy math you think doesn’t tell you about basketball but the best teams in the league disagree with you. And frankly, the fact they all do might make you want to rethink your position. But that’s an argument for another day….

One of the first panels of the weekend was a discussion of talent, of nature vs. nurture applied to athletes, a panel hosted by Malcolm Gladwell, the legendary author (“Blink,” “Outliers”) with the legendary hair.

Gladwell asked the panelists about the most talented player they knew that never lived up to their ability. Rockets GM Daryl Morey told the story of Marcus Banks (as reported over at TrueHoop, which is doing a great job reporting out of this conference):

Morey offered this anecdote from a pre-draft interview with Banks as a reason: (paraphrased)

MOREY: “What do you really want to do with your life?”

BANKS: “Be a male fashion model.”

Banks, the guy that was going to be the Celtics point guard of the future before Rajon Rondo never panned out. This is a glimpse into why. You need a baseline of athletic talent to make it to the NBA, but what separates players with that skill is the level is time put in on practice. Hours in the gym spent honing skills when nobody was around. Define it as love of the game, competitive fire, whatever. What matters is the time. Kobe puts it in, Michael Jordan puts it in, a lot of guys like Shane Battier put in the time to get the most out of their skills.

Then there is Tracy McGrady. We’ll let Dan Devine writing for Ball Don’t Lie explain.

But while McGrady’s abilities were awe-inspiring, his willingness to further cultivate them wasn’t, according to panelist and ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who coached the Florida-born star with the Houston Rockets from 2004 through 2007….

Noting that McGrady was as close to he’s ever seen as a basketball natural, Van Gundy went on to say that T-Mac “should be a Hall of Fame player.”

“His talent was otherworldly,” Van Gundy said.

After praising McGrady’s talents, Morey said, “I do think [that ability] got in the way of Tracy’s development.”

“Much of the game was so easy — you see this in the AAU level, where they have freakishly talented players,” he continued. “When it’s that easy to dominate at that young age because of your physical tools — his wingspan was freakish, his size was enormous, his IQ — my sense was, all that did get in the way of Tracy reaching his highest heights.”

It’s an interesting discussion — can being so good so early get in the way of really becoming a great player. I have heard this discussed more with big men — athletic 7-footers can almost coast their way through a decent NBA career in a sense. They won the genetic lottery and don’t need to love the game to excel at it. They don’t need to put in as much time as guards, for example. The best do, the best put in the hours to get better. But there are plenty of big men who do not love the game.

But next time you hear about the newest, greatest high school player with that otherworldly athletic talent, remember Tracy McGrady. And wonder where this next one will end up.