The times they are a changing. It is the dawning of the age of analytics and nearly every aspect of the game has become associated with some sort of highly sophisticated crunched number. The list of new-fangled metrics ushered in by the advent of Sports VU cameras and stats gurus seems almost inexhaustible in today's NBA. Whether it be distance traveled per game, points per touch, time of possession, points created by assists, opponent field goal percentage allowed at the rim, percentage of available rebounds grabbed, catch and shoot field goal percentage, usage percentage, player efficiency rating, estimated wins added, win shares, defensive rating, real plus/minus, or the SCHOENE projection system, it is abundantly clear that the sun is gradually setting on the one-dimensional nature of traditional box scores in favor of ultramodern data collection and multi-faceted advanced statistics.
As is the case in any era of progress, the league has made many noticeable adjustments in response to the way mathematical analysis and technological innovation have combined to alter the manner in which the game of basketball is being viewed, comprehended, and analyzed. All 30 arenas are now equipped with Sports VU cameras to generate player tracking data. Front offices are increasingly apt to put data-analysis experts on their payrolls, and fans are being granted greater access to various mediums of stats and information. As for the players, rumor has it some of the league's All-Stars are quietly starting to take notice as well.
In fact, according to an in-depth report from the New York Times, Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, John Wall, and the Pacers' very own Paul George (among others) have all enlisted the services of what The Times describes as "a private guide through the emerging world of advanced analytics."
Per a recent Q&A with the Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner, it is clear that the Pacers franchise is no stranger to the league's advanced numbers game. When a reader assumed that the Blue and Gold were lagging behind in the "analytics department" and then questioned if the team "has any plans of modernizing on that front," Buckner responded:
"No, the Pacers are not behind. The team has a very smart and capable analytics dude who's based in Brooklyn. Stanford grad, former Wall Street dynamo. He's worked with the Pacers for several years, he meets up with the team back in Indy at the start of every playoff series. I've met him a few times on the road and found him to be way smarter than me... which doesn't say much because most people are, but trust me, the Pacers have a solid analytics department."
While it is clear from this insider information that the Pacers are, in fact, very much up to speed when it comes to processing advanced statistics, a distinction should be made between this particular "very smart and capable analytics dude" that works for the team and the person that is being described as PG's personal "guide."
The New York Times conveys that George's hired personal statistician, Justin Zormelo, is a Georgetown graduate, reported friend of Roy Hibbert, and owner of a company called Best Ball Analytics. While browsing his company's website, one can find a compiled list of high-profile clientele along with a detailed description of, "What Best Ball Can Do For You," which, according to Zormelo, involves "helping players become smarter and more efficient through scientific analysis and smarter training."
While he may be a valued member of his clients' private inner circles, the author of the piece featured in the New York Times questions if Zormelo's outside counsel is always welcomed by management:
Zormelo, who works for individual players and not their teams studies film, pores over metrics, and feeds his clients a mix of information and instruction that is as much informed by Excel spreadsheets as it is by coaches' playbooks. He gives players data and advice on obscure points of the game - something many coaches may not appreciate - like their offensive production when they take two dribbles instead of four and their shooting percentages when coming off screens at the left elbow of the court.
When asked if his team was aware that he was seeking the aide of a personal statistician, the Celtics' Rajon Rondo responded, "Not really. But I'm just trying to get better. There's nothing wrong with that."
Little information is provided in the piece regarding exactly what advice the professional stats guru is offering Paul George, but it would come as quite the surprise if any of the tips Zormelo is deriving from his various "formulas for efficiency" regarding the minutiae of individual tendencies (i.e. John Wall leaving his feet before making a pass) are somehow detrimental to the Pacers' team goals or Vogel's X's and O's.
After all, like Rondo said, the various players contracting Zormelo are simply "trying to get better" by taking advantage of every available tool at their disposal as well as becoming more advanced students of the game.
While qualitative aspects such as leadership, passion, heart, competitiveness, and drive are all still important components of those players tagged as all-time greats, the crunched numbers associated with every facet of the game are both timeless and increasingly pervasive.
Today, Player Efficiency Rating (PER) aids the media in player comparisons, Defensive Rating (DRtg) factors into Defensive Player of the Year voting, a lengthy time of possession earns a player a reputation as a ball stopper, points created by assists implies which players make those around them better, and, in all actuality, this is but a brief list of the way innovative statistics have altered the way players are judged.
The dawning of the age of analytics is upon us. The league including arenas, front offices, the media, and fans have adapted, why not the players?
Like it states on the Best Ball Analytics information page, "Athleticism and talent are no longer enough to secure a roster spot on a professional team. If players are serious about their craft, being the best player you can be and trying to get that competitive advantage is of utmost importance."
Count Paul George among those willing to go the extra mile to, "get that competitive advantage."
Welcome to the new age.