Marc Gasol is one of the best European basketball centers I know and I do think he’s a great player. Here his words about stats, that leads me to write this article. “…Stats are killing the game…”
“We’ve got 43 wins. If we win (tonight), we’ll have 44. That’s the only number you guys (media) should care about,” Gasol said. “Stats are great, but wins and losses matter. Stats are killing the game of basketball. Basketball is a subjective game. A lot of things happen that you cannot measure in stats. Different things matter. To me, the most important things in basketball are not measured by stats.”
It is a very dangerous sentence.
I think Marc Gasol was only trying to explain to certain journalists that the basic stats are not an incontestable truth, but you have to look at many variables while looking to a players performance. And there are also some “intangibles” that are very difficult to define (even if, to be honest, very few intangibles are remaining untracked nowadays…). I went to the 10th MIT Sloan Sports Analytics confernece last year with my basketball analytics company MYagonism, and while visiting the Harvard university nearby I saw a white page with a sentence from an old Harvard president:
“There are three kinds of lies - lies, damned lies and statistics.”.
The truth about numbers and stats is that statistics can tell you exactly what you want to hear if you need it. That’s why it is really dangerous and difficult to manage stats in #sportsanalytics to evaluate performance, games, seasons. This fact is not a good excuse to become a shrimp going backward in time to return to 30 years ago and base everything only on your gut.
During this years I have had the honor to chat or discuss this sports analytics topics with great basketball analytics minds (Dean Oliver, Ben Alamar, Ermay Duran, Flavio Tranquillo, Francesco Alfier, Daniel Clay, Zach Binkley … , I met SAP, IBM, Catapult, SportVU, Microsoft, STAT, Hudl…) and It’s clear that we can easily say that: “we are now in sports analytics no further along than we were with physics when I.Newton sat under his apple tree” (like M.J said about machine learning few years ago).
But this only means that we have to work hard to improve the, already great, potential of the analytics world, we have to teach to coaches and assistants how to use stats as an amazing additional tool for their decision making process, we have to teach to players what the hell is going on with this world (since that many years ago they could have been focused only in shooting the ball through the rim). But we must avoid the possibility that the basketball world make a step-back on this path, because together with analytics come many great possibilities and innovations, not only win/losses related. Injury preventions and youth health only to name a few… Stats are not only the number of points per game, or rebounds, and there are tons of amazing minds working in the NBA, but even in many other divisions in the world, that are working hard to get the best insights out of numbers. To let their team win. I really DO NOT think that stats are killing the game. Stats and stats-related contents are becoming bigger and bigger, are one of the top driver of the fan engagement, and I think are the best competitive advantage a coach ever had (if used properly).
Stats are not killing the game, ignorance about this great world is preventing an amazing evolution to bloom out.
Paolo Raineri - CEO at MYagonism.com