Bucks using “facial coding expert” to help judge mental make up of draft picks, players

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We’re big fans of on-the-court analytics here at PBT — from the moment Dean Oliver wrote “Basketball on Paper” through today there has been a statistical revolution that has swept through the NBA. It provides a window into the game and helped efficiency become valued over volume (among many other steps). The best coaches and GMs blend numbers — for an easy example, which lineups work and which ones don’t — with the eye test based on years of watching and analyzing players and games, to come to their conclusions on everything from in-game minutes to draft picks.

But the dated, missing-the-point comeback of the non-analytics crowd — “numbers can’t measure heart” — has some truth to it. Analytics won’t tell you how a personality fits in a locker room, or which guy has the drive to put in the minutes off the court to improve his game.

The Milwaukee Bucks are trying to change that.

They have brought in a “facial coding expert” and his analysis was part of the reason the Bucks drafted Jabari Parker No. 2 last draft over the tempting Dante Exum. It’s all detailed in a fascinating piece in the New York Times.

So in May, the team hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks.

The approach may sound like palm reading to some, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout this season…

Hill measures the players on the seven emotions and categorizes smiles, for example, four ways: true, robust, weak and micro. Consider Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. According to Hill, Westbrook shows a high number of weak smiles or “satisfaction,” and enough “true” smiles, which equate to “joy” and contribute to what has been a highly effective season — averages of 28.6 points and 7.4 assists per game.

Before you mock Hill and this idea completely, you should know the NFL and major corporations have used this for years (much of Hill’s work is on focus groups for companies putting out a new product).

Does it work? My psychology minor in college does not exactly qualify me as an expert. I have no idea. Maybe it’s the NBA version of former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt paying a Russian psychic big money to channel “V Energy” to help the team. The Times interviews people who are skeptical and the issue for them is a legitimate one — there is a lot of noise in the results. Coaches read body language/facial expressions too and that can change how a player is used or developed, and that’s just one example.

I do know most teams thought Parker should go in the top two spots in the last draft and was considered the most NBA-ready player of the high picks in the last draft no matter what his face was saying. His play before the knee injury proved that scoring 12.3 points and grabbing 5.5 rebounds a game, while running away with the Rookie of the Year crown. (That race is now wide open.)

In the ultra-competitive NBA arena teams are going to look for any edge. Maybe this is an edge. The hardest thing to read about any 19 or 20 year old is their mental makeup and how driven they really are — they all have been coached to say the right things, but what are their real intentions? Especially since once they get to the NBA they are going to have a different level of money and attention then they are used to, can they be professional and work through that?

Maybe Hill and his face reading metrics can help with that.

You can bet on this much: After this article the Bucks are not going to be the only team calling him before the next draft.

D’Angelo Russell says weather played ‘major part’ in picking Warriors over Timberwolves

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D'Angelo Russell wants to play with Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns’ Timberwolves were reportedly interested in Russell last summer.

Why did Russell join the Warriors instead of Minnesota?

Russell, via Chris Hine of the Minneapolis StarTribune:

“I thought the opportunity here was amazing … ” Russell said after Warriors shootaround Friday. “It was definitely something I was considering very strongly. But then when this opportunity came, the weather is way better, so that helped me.”

“I did my first winter in New York and that was tough,” Russell said. “So to get the opportunity to go somewhere where it’s warm again, I think that played a major part in my plan.”

I don’t blame him one bit.

Russell grew up in Kentucky then finished high school in Florida. He spent his first couple NBA seasons with the Lakers.

He also played collegiately at Ohio State and a a couple years for the Nets. In other words, he spent enough time in cold-weather locations to know how miserable they can be.

This is an issue that will always hinder teams like the Timberwolves. It doesn’t mean they can’t attract free agents. It’s just a disadvantage.

There will always be players who don’t have multiple max offers. Minnesota can separate itself with money, playing time and other considerations.

But good for Russell for playing himself out of that group and earning a max contract in the Bay Area.

Kyrie Irving (shoulder) out for Nets-Pacers

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Kyrie Irving missed the Nets’ win over the Bulls on Saturday.

He’s not healthy enough to play the Pacers tonight.

Nets public relations:

Kyrie Irving (right shoulder impingement) is OUT.

Brooklyn (5-7) lags behinds Indiana (7-6) in the Eastern Conference’s middle morass. The Nets must try to catch up in the playoff race without their best player.

But it’s a long season. Brooklyn has plenty of time to gain ground. Spencer Dinwiddie is capable in relief, and the unselfish Nets can create ball movement while Dinwiddie rests.

I’m more concerned about next week. A segment of Brooklyn’s schedule:

  • Nov. 24 at Knicks
  • Nov. 25 at Cavaliers
  • Nov. 27 at Celtics

That’s the team Irving spurned in free agency, the team Irving requested a trade from and the team Irving just left after pledging to re-sign. Those are juicy matchups. Hopefully, Irving is healthy enough to play in all three.

Ray Allen says he would’ve returned to Celtics if they signed Kevin Durant in 2016

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Ray Allen left the Celtics on bad terms in 2012. He finished his career with the Heat in 2014.

But Allen apparently could have come back with Boston in 2016… if Kevin Durant signed there first.

Allen, via Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston:

“I had a conversation with (Ainge) and I told him this was my last-ditch effort. I would’ve went back,” Allen said on WEEI’s “Ordway, Merloni & Fauria” radio show.

“This was when Kevin Durant was a free agent. He was thinking about going to Boston. And I said, ‘Hey, if you guys land Kevin, I would certainly look at lacing them back up one more time and try to make something good happen here in Boston.’ “

This is a fascinating “what if?” – for the Celtics on the court and for Allen’s legacy in Boston.

But it also probably didn’t come close to happening. Durant said his top two choices in 2016 free agency were the Warriors and Thunder. Even Allen himself said he never neared a comeback.

Still, it’s interesting – after all the animosity – Allen even spoke to Celtics president Danny Ainge about returning.

European coach berates his players: ‘You’re good guys. F— you’ (video)

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Remember Luigi Datome? He spent a couple seasons with the Pistons and Celtics.

He makes an appearance in this wild video featuring Fenerbahce coach Zeljko Obradovic (warning: profanity):

A partial transcript the best I could muster:

YOU’RE GOOD GUYS. IN YOUR EYES, YOU’RE GOOD GUYS. F— YOU, EVERYBODY! F— YOU, OK!

F— YOU, GIGI DATOME. OK? SHAME ON YOU. AND YOU…

Festivus isn’t for another month, but someone is already ready for the airing of grievances.