While analytics may be the buzz word around the NBA these days, it is fair to say that despite some naysayers, teams have embraced the concept. The Houston Rockets lead by General Manager Daryl Morey were the first to adopt the use of analytics and even their players like Shane Battier bought in.
Battier is now retired and working as a commentator for ESPN but during his playing days he would often pour over exhaustive scouting reports that included analytical analysis to become a better defender. Earning the nickname the "No-Stats All-Star" by the New York Times, Battier's defense was always brought up in his matchups against Kobe Bryant.
Their battles happened when Bryant was in his true prime and while Battier never truly stopped him, he did try and make life difficult for the Lakers star. With all of the news surrounding analytics, Battier produced a video for the knowledge forum Big Think, about how much he used analytics to guard Bryant.
Here is a transcript:
Before I really learned analytics I tried to guard a guy, Kobe Bryant, who in my estimation was the toughest competitor that I ever played against. And all I had to rely on was the old eyeball test scouting report. Kobe’s got a really good right hand. You have to keep him out of the painted area. He’s a great finisher. So yeah, any Joe Schmo fan could tell you those things. But after studying and going through the school of analytics I knew exactly to a tee who Kobe Bryant was. And I knew as a defender trying to stop him Kobe’s worst case scenario and my best case scenario was to make him shoot a pull up jumper going to his left hand, all right. The average possession of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008 was generated .98 points per possession, .98. So you took the average possession of the Lakers. They were going to score .98 points every time they had a possession. And so Kobe Bryant only shot the left handed pull up jumper at a 44 percent clip. So every time that he went left and shot that pull up jumper he was generating .88 points per possession.
Well that’s a tenth of a point less than the average Laker possession. And so if I could make him do that time and time again which is a lot tougher to do than to say, I’m shaving off a tenth of a point every single time. I’m actually making him detrimental to his team. And the way you have to look at it is all these tenths of points, all right, add up. They add up here, they add up here, they add up there. And all of a sudden those tenths of a point become points. And in the NBA as we all know the margin between wins and loses is very, very thin. So those tenths of points matter. And that’s all it really is. It’s no different than playing the stock market. You’re trying to shave percentage points off your risk. And if you can accumulate enough, guess what? You’re going to do very well. And so guarding a guy like Kobe Bryant, understanding exactly who he is, what his weakness is, made me a much better defender and allowed me to stick around the NBA for 13 years.
While there is still some disagreement among NBA personalities, coaches and even fans of how much analytics actually matters, players like Battier are showing that when used correctly, they can make a world of difference.