Some NBA coaches reportedly fear, disdain growing analytics movement

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Lionel Hollins went out of his way to denigrate the role of statistics in basketball, and the Memphis Grizzlies let him go.

That likely wasn’t a direct cause and effect, but it undoubtedly played a part. It’s quite possible, had Hollins been more open to analytics, he’d still be coaching the Grizzlies.

Instead, he lost his seven-figure job and has not found a replacement.

Understandably, coaches are worried – especially the coaches who, like Hollins, don’t like using numbers.

Sean Deveney Sporting News:

One veteran head coach, who asked for anonymity, said of this year’s coaches meetings: “There were guys who were just plain p***** off about it. Because what is happening is, I have to know what makes a guy tick, I have to know when one of my players can’t stand the other guy, I have to know when I can get on his a**.

“There are no numbers that are going to tell us that. When someone comes in and tells you that you ought to be listening to the numbers and letting that tell you how to coach, no one is going to be happy about that. But you have to be afraid they will just go and get somebody cheaper and tell him to follow the numbers.”

First of all, I don’t want to paint all coaches as anti-statistics. There are some that make great use of analytics and some that don’t. In a field of 30 head coaches with multiple assistants per team, not everyone shares the same beliefs.

But the “p***** off” coaches are right: Coaching NBA players takes a feel numbers don’t capture. No coach should make decisions on just the numbers.

But no coach should make decisions on just his gut, either.

Any coach who relies completely on only one method is wrong. It doesn’t matter if he relies on numbers or gut. To coach well in the NBA today, you must be willing to embrace any tool that helps you do your job better.

Jeff Van Gundy, who worked under the statistically inclined Daryl Morey with the Rockets, explains how coaches should handle stats. Van Gundy, via Deveney:

“Morey realized, I think, that there was some art to the job of coaching and it wasn’t just a number-based approach,” said Van Gundy, who is now an ESPN NBA analyst. “But I found the numbers that he presented to make you really self-evaluate.

“Let’s say they brought up a scenario, and the numbers said you should obviously do something, and your philosophy was something else. It made you sit there and analyze why you believed what you believed. I think that’s good. Now whether you changed your philosophy or not, that’s really secondary. But it did make you think.”

I suspect this is how most coaches approach it, because any that fall too far from that thoughtful middle ground won’t remain coaches much longer.