by Russell Simon
The NBA front office and media star power assembled at the 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Conference is staggering. From Phil Jackson to Zach Lowe, day one of the conference featured insight from some of the best minds in the game. The basketball analytics presentation, held earlier today, was moderated by Lowe, and featured Stan Van Gundy, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens and assistant GM Mike Zarren, and NBA analyst, former President of Basketball operations, and former player Steve Kerr.
Kerr sat down with our own Russell Simon (@RussellSimonNBA) before he went on stage, and offered up some insight on the analytics revolution that has transformed the NBA.
Russell Simon: I’m Russell Simon here for Crabdribbles and Steve Kerr, obviously the former Bull and NBA on TNT voice, fresh from Miami, where he unfortunately had to watch live the Miami Heat blow out the New York Knicks yesterday. Steve, how are you doing after the long flight, enjoying day one at the conference?
Steve Kerr: I am, it’s good to be here, and you know that Knicks game wasn’t so bad. I got to watch LeBron play up close, so that’s always a good thing.
RS: And you got to be in Miami, for sure that’s a positive.
Kerr: I got to be in Miami, and I got to see LeBron’s black mask, which looked pretty cool, yeah.
RS: You were at that game, and talking a little bit about the conference, we’ve been here day one talking a lot about rebounding and a lot of the advanced metrics that have really taken on in the NBA. Being at Sloan, you really feel like basketball is at the forefront of the analytics revolution, would you agree?
Kerr: Oh yeah sure, people are crunching more numbers than ever trying to break down individual plays, teams, gameplans, there’s so much information out there. And the trick is to try to condense and figure out what’s important to you and your team, so I’m just here trying to learn more about it.
RS: And you’ve been a player obviously in the NBA, and as a player I’m sure they hear a bit about the analytic revolution, it’s kind of hard to ignore the advanced metrics. PER has become a thing that players really follow closely. As a player, how much do you kind of focus on the numbers and look at what the analytics say about your own personal game?
Kerr: Well, players love stats. When I played, you know, every player before the game would be looking at the season stats, and after the game they’d be looking at the box score, that’s just human nature. You want to measure yourself, you want to see how you’re doing against your peers, and now there just happen to be more numbers and more ways to measure yourself. Some players don’t pay attention to the PER and the newer metrics, but I think more and more guys are starting to pay attention to them.
RS: Going forward, it really seems like the analytics revolution and advanced stats have really caught on among the fans, you’ve got guys [like] Zach Lowe [writing about] a lot of advanced metrics that the fans can really understand. How do you think analytics has changed how fans watch the game?
Kerr: For the hardcore basketball fan, it’s fantastic. I read Zach Lowe all the time, and he does probably the best job of combining actual game tape with advanced metrics. And when you have that blend, that’s when you can really get an understanding of what’s happening and what a team is trying to accomplish. So I think it’s just, for the guys who understand how to communicate it, like Zach, it’s a really good way to display what’s actually happening. For fans, that’s a really good thing.
RS: We’ve seen down in Houston with their D-League team they’ve really been using analytics, and Darryl Morey is also here at the conference. Their D-League team really focuses only on shooting three-point shots and shots near the basket. They’ve kind of isolated and don’t really shoot too many long, mid-range jumpers, which are statistically some of the worst shots you can take in basketball. Going forward, offensively, how much do think coaches kind of weigh the numbers in terms of game-planning and trying to figure out what sets their team should run?
Kerr: The biggest thing in the NBA over the past decade is everybody is trying to get corner three’s; every team is doing that now. I played for the Spurs and Gregg Popovich was probably the first coach in the league to try and do everything possible to deny the corner three. He was kind of a step ahead of everyone. Game plans are definitely designed now to run people off three-point lines, keep them away from the rim, and force them into tougher two-point shots. There’s no secret there.
Now, it’s probably time to go deeper into the game. If you shoot a ton of three’s, we know the math works out – you shoot 50 percent from two, and 33 percent from three and it’s the same thing – but what’s the deeper implication? What about the long rebounds? What about those times when you’re not pulling the ball out of the net, and you’re running a fast-break? How does that affect the defense, and the team that’s shooting all those three’s? That’s what I’m interested in.
RS: Steve, thank you very much for joining me. I really appreciate it.