By Jake Anderson
The game of basketball has changed in so many ways since it was first invented in 1891. The game is faster, players are more athletic, and looking at older games it doesn’t even look like the same sport. The 3 point line, which wasn’t established in the NBA until 1979, now gets fans more excited than dunks. Players such as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and many more revolve their games around the 3 point shot. We have also seen the evolution of the point guard from pass first, 6 foot tall, short shorted point guards, to 6’3″ athletic beasts like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall. The game that most people say is simply about putting a ball into a basket has become much more complex and nothing proves this more than advanced stats.
I’m getting ahead of myself. The title “Lawyers Quit Their Day Jobs” doesn’t entail anything about the evolution of basketball or advanced stats. You probably haven’t heard the names Nate Duncan or Danny Leroux in your life, but they are changing the way basketball is analyzed and are pioneers in the basketball world. The funniest thing about it is that while they have no real background in basketball, they have become some of the most prominent basketball journalists in the sports world. In fact, they both have backgrounds in law and were lawyers before deciding to, well, quit their day job and venture into the unknown world of basketball. When people talk about high paying jobs or not doing things for the money they say, “You don’t need to become a doctor or a lawyer to be happy.” However, if one was in it for the money they would pursue those professions. Why? The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that lawyers earned an average salary of $130,490 a year, or $62.74 per hour, in 2011. Compare that to the salary of a sports writer: the average annual salary in 2013 was $49,000 according to SimplyHired.com. Most people would call a person who decided to do that crazy, especially with all the hatred that has be unleashed against “the media” in recent months. Not only that, but ESPN, easily the most dominant sports network in the world, laid off approximately 100 analysts, anchors, and reporters over the past week. Safe to say, it isn’t the best time to be alive if you’re a journalist.
With that knowledge under our belts, take a look at this.
I’m not going to bore you with what each stat means, but they are things that haven’t been recorded before and are quickly becoming the most important stats to keep track of. This is what has given teams advantages over teams who don’t use advanced stats. In the modern game there is so much film and stats that help teams get the half second edge they need. The usual stats you’ll hear on an ESPN halftime show are team field goal percentage, 3 point percentage, free throws made, team rebounds, etc. This looks like a foreign language to most but it is what separates a good team from a bad team. There is truly a method to the madness. I did my research and I found an article from ESPN where hundreds of reporters were hired to investigate each team from the major leagues (MLB, NHl, NFL, NBA) to see whether teams buy into advanced stats or not. They split all the teams into 5 tiers: all in, believers, one foot in, skeptics, and non-believers.
A small disclaimer: Having good players is still the most important part of having a good basketball team. One could have a team of all the all-star starters that have no coach, no offense, and don’t use advanced stats play a team of all the players who got no minutes this year that have Gregg Popovich, the best offense, and use all the advanced stats and the team of all-stars would win every time, no doubt. I say this to say there are exceptions to the claims I’m making.
With that said there are some extremely interesting and accurate generalizations that can be made.
-The most efficient offense in the league and two of the top 3 teams in the league were both in the “all in” category: the Rockets and the Spurs.
-The other two teams in the “all in” category were the Mavericks because of billionaire owner Mark Cuban and the 76ers because of new GM Sam Hinkie, who happened to be the right-hand man of Daryl Morey, the GM for the Rockets, also in the “all in” category.
-In the “believers” category you get most of the playoff teams this year (in fact ⅞ teams in this category made the playoffs) and along with them the two favorites to reach the finals, the Warriors and Cavaliers, who both have dominated their first two rounds by sweeping both of their opponents thus far.
-There are only 6 teams (out of 18) who made it to the playoffs in the “skeptics” and “non-believers” category.
A footnote: the playoffs include 16/32 teams in the league so that means that most bottom-half teams in the league don’t use advanced stats.
-Perhaps most notably, by far the worst 3 teams in the league (Nets, Knicks, and Lakers) were the only 3 teams in the “non-believers” category.
-Not only that, all of the teams who made it to the playoffs in the “one foot in,” “skeptics,” and “non-believers” were out of the playoffs in the first round, with the exception of the Wizards and Raptors who were eliminated in the 2nd round.
A quick side note: The Cubs attribute their World Series win and star-studded team to a heavy usage of advanced stats (it was in a recent 60 Minutes so I thought I would include it).
Also, if you’re interested in the rest of the leagues analyzed, I’m sure the rankings will be just as telling. Here’s a link:
Back to my two favorite lawyers, Nate Duncan and Danny Lacroux. They have become so adept in the new field of sports analyzing that they have created an NBA Twitter show. Even beyond raw game stats, they have become pros at analyzing team front offices, salary caps, free agencies, and so on.
The most interesting and ironic thing about the title is that their show actually isn’t a “real show” at all. It isn’t on television and they don’t have a producer or cameramen. They have two cameras that they set up in Nate’s home, and their show is broadcast on Periscope, the livestream app from Twitter. Their show is designed for a very specific niche of basketball watchers who want a more in-depth watching experience. They livestream during the whole game but their viewership goes up by the thousands during halftime and after the game.
There are a few annoying things about watching during the game. Their feed lags about 10-20 seconds behind the game that one would be watching. If your tv allows you to rewind the game to sync up, it works but most people don’t want to take the time. On average I would estimate that they get 200-400 viewers during the game and upwards of 12,000 viewers total per episode including halftime and postgame analysis.
The most interesting part of the show is how interactive it is. If you’ve ever used a livestream feature the person livestreaming can read live comments and respond live. For the show to be interactive is the most unique thing about it. Overall I think it’s really inspiring to see people truly leave something that provides stability financially to do something they love that is new to them.
They have a patronship program that allows people to donate a monthly amount which gives special benefits just for those people. If you want to donate to this new awesome thing they are doing you can. Here’s a link.