I spent the past weekend at the 2014 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. Dorance Armstrong Jersey . It was my fifth straight year attending and, as always, there are many interesting matters discussed as it pertains to the use of statistics in sports. While analytics if the focus of the conference, there are always some discussions that are more wide-ranging in nature, so Ill try to cover as much as I can, with this write-up providing a more general overview of the conference before I post the second part, which will focus more specifically on the hockey content. NBA COMMISSIONER ADAM SILVER NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was impressive in a one-on-one interview with Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell grilled Silver and, for the most part, he was forthcoming with his responses. Now, when Gladwell hammered away at the greed of some NBA owners, foremost among his concerns was the Dolans in New York, getting tax breaks as they arent required to pay property taxes on Madison Squate Garden, one of the most valuable pieces of land in Manhattan. For as much grief as Gladwell takes in some quarters for the pop science in his books, he was a great choice to interview Silver because he wasnt afraid to ask the commish difficult questions, yet did so, with follow-up queries, without the interview getting uncomfortable or contentious. Some of that goes to Silver, who was forthcoming in his responses or, when defending the tax positions of billionaire owners, was clearly speaking from the commissioner playbook. There are times its transparently difficult to defend the indefensible. BASKETBALL ANALYTICS Silver talked about the removing disincentive for teams to win and this was a big topic at the conference. It speaks to the situation in which the NBA finds itself this year, with a handful of teams competing for the title and perhaps twice as many aiming for a top lottery pick. Houston Rockets GM, and Conference Co-Chair, Daryl Morey plainly stated that the NBA has to find a way to eliminate tanking incentive. New Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive joked with Boston Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck, on a panel about Ownership Perspective, that Silver said the Celtics were tanking, to which Grousbeck quickly replied, "And what you are you doing?" The Kings are currently 23rd in the NBA standings, the Celtics 27th. Former Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo even caused a stir when he admitted to tanking. "I tried to tank a couple of years ago," he said on the In-Game Innovations panel. "It didnt work." Colangelo made it clear that he never told player or coaches not to do their best to win but, as anyone seeing how teams are constructed would understand, management can put together a roster that is less likely to win games. Former coach Stan Van Gundy is not a fan of the tanking. He ripped the Philadelphia 76ers, with Sixers GM Sam Hinkie in the audience, saying, "What the 76ers are doing is embarrassing. Cant put out that lineup and think they can win." Boston Celtics Assistant GM Mike Zarren, a panelist every year at the conference, has proposed a wheel format that would replace the current draft and its a fascinating theory, definitely one that would remove the incentive for tanking, but there are practical issues at play too. Silver loved the idea initially, but acknowledged that there will be some hurdles to overcome if that kind of solution is going to happen in reality. Silver also mentioned how NBA players have approached the league about a mid-season break for all, noting how All-Stars dont get a break and the grind of the season can be taxing on the leagues best players, logging more than 30 minutes a night, night after night. This was particularly interesting, given all the recent complaints in NHL circles about the Olympic break. The most shocking admission from Silver was that he acknowledged how gambling and point spreads increase interest in games that might otherwise be mismatches. This is no secret to the world at large, but the nature of all league commissioners has been to dismiss out of hand the benefits that the league might receive from gambling. When discussing how much teams ought to be spending on analytics, Colangelo put the range between $250,000 and $500,000 per year. When you consider the size of contracts in professional sports, its not unreasonable to think that an analytics department could lead to decisions that would save at least that much. One of the great developments in terms of NBA statistics is the emergence of SportVu data. Among the countless things tracked by the SportVu cameras, they can track how far a player has run -- Trail Blazers SF Nicolas Batum is up to nearly 160 miles for the season -- and Grantlands Zach Lowe, moderating the Basketball Analytics panel, wonders if that kind of data will really prove to have value in terms of injury prevention. The detail of this tracking data is so new that its difficult to know, but its easy enough to see how, someday, knowing the specifics as it relates to a players workload could result is more efficient usage in order to reduce the chances of injury. To counter, Van Gundy vehemently disagreed with playing time limits because he felt it was a lot of guesswork and cited the Washington Nationals decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg in 2012 as a random determination. "How did they come up with 160 innings," asked Van Gundy. "Why not 170?" Van Gundy insisted that professional sports come with a risk of injury and that not playing obviously reduces that risk, but only because no one will get hurt when they arent actually participating. As the old-school NBA guy, Van Gundy also insisted that there is no substitute for watching film, and that the only numbers he trusts are ones that his own people keep. The trouble with this approach, of course, is that if the only statistics that matter are kept by internal sources, then biases are more apt to creep in than if it is a league-wide measurement. No one pointed this out to Van Gundy, but it could also be said that the value of statistics isnt so much in learning more about your own team. It can certainly help, but helping to provide value and context for players throughout the league is where statistics can provide much more information. As ESPNs Director of Production Analytics Dean Oliver noted on another panel (re: college football playoffs), "A human can see a game better than the numbers can, but the numbers can see every game." While I use some of Van Gundys comments to echo a point made by Steve Kerr, the former Suns GM, who noted that getting buy-in from some coaches remains an issue, its not as if Van Gundy is a total dinosaur and its enitrely possible that a coach views the game differently than those tasked with building long-term. As Van Gundy stated, "When youre coaching, youre coaching to your personnel, not to an analytics philosophy," and theres some measure of truth in that, because theres no point in having an analytics stategy that doesnt fit your personnel. As part of the In-Game Innovations Panel, George Karl was quite progressive in his thinking, but acknowledged that he had a track record that allowed him more flexibility, contrasting with younger coaches who can get crucified (by media, fans) for trying to be innovative. Misaligned goals is a common problem for professional sports teams and its part of the reason that there was a panel at Sloan this year entitled Inside the War Room: Building Alignment from Front Office to Field. It featured Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff and Heach Coach Mike Smith and its an issue that is pervasive when it comes to applying analytics to professional sports. Its one thing to have Mark Cuban as your owner and the organization falls in line because the owner takes a clear position and its another to have a general manager trying to keep his job and a head coach trying to keep his job and they arent necessarily pulling in the same direction to achieve their respective goals. Furthermore, as Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted, "We live in a day and age with so much more information," he said. "The challenge is communicating that information to the team." Stevens admitted that some players, like Rajon Rondo, would devour the analytics because thats the way hes wired ("He could be here," Stevens joked.), but that other players arent wired that way, so it falls on the coaches to try to get their point across in a way that will appeal to players on their terms. Its not easy to get players to buy into stats. On my flight home from Boston, I happened to read a feature on Tom Brady during which Brady made a couple of seemingly contradictory statements, one of which was, "I would say I perform at a much higher level as a player now than I did when we won Super Bowls." The other was: "Theres one stat that matters, and thats wins." When youre a player, wins are what matter; thats the objective. What analytics will tell us, though, is that Brady is precisely right that he is playing better now than he did when New England was winning Super Bowls, the last of which came after the 2004 season. That his team hasnt won the championship does not mean that Bradys individual performance has declined, a position that is taken altogether too often when evaluating the performance of individual players. A lot that is beyond the control of one individual goes into whether a team wins or loses a game, let alone a championship. As the Godfather of Analytics, Bill James offered a measured response for coaches, particularly as it applied to in-game innovation. James said that coaches are control freaks, but chaos can be useful, so the best coaches learn to appreciate the chaos. This was followed by Morey telling a story about when Jeff Van Gundy was the coach in Houston and Morey had printouts for all the plays that the Rockets would run, with measures for efficiency and Morey didnt recognize the code for the most effective play, so he asked Van Gundy. "Thats Random," said the coach, "when the (called) play breaks down." Sometimes all the analysis and planning goes out the window and you just have to let the players play. BASEBALL ANALYTICS Stepping aside from the NBA for a bit, it comes as no surprise that baseball would be well-represented at a sports analytics conference. After all, baseball brought us the aformentioned Mrl James and Moneyball -- the kind of objective analysis that is at the core of modern analytics. The baseball panel, which was likely the best panel of the conference -- at least the best I saw, using my Panel Analytics -- was moderated by MLB Networks Brian Kenny and that set the right tone. Kenny favours an analytical approach and the panel included Vince Gennaro, Bill Squadron, Rob Neyer, Nate Silver (of 538 fame) and Houston Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. To no ones surprise, a panel full of analytics-oriented people had an interesting conversation about advances in analytics. Even at a point when Kenny ventured towards the idea about whether there would be a way to actually measure chemistry, he did so with some obvious skepticism and I was in full agreement with Neyers point that there are plenty of teams with great chemistry that dont win and teams with horrible chemistry -- citing the Oakland As and New York Yankees of the 1970s -- that won a lot. My take is that chemistry is the kind of thing that gets awarded to winners after the fact. Sure, the Red Sox won the World Series because they had great clubhouse chemistry, but would that chemistry have been any different if they didnt win? Luhnow later said, "There is no correlation between being a nice guy or a good person and being a good baseball player." The character issue is a tricky one when it comes to sports. No one wants to work with someone that is a pain in the butt, but if that person can help you win, sometimes the decision isnt so easy. Neyer also noted how economics havent quite caught up with analytics. "Does anyone get paid for pitch-framing," he asked, addressing one of the hottest evolutions in defensive data -- the catcher who saves his team by drawing more called strikes. Neyer asked if anyone was paying for Jose Molina saving a team 20 runs with pitch framing and while the flat answer is no, there are some players that have major league jobs because they are adept at pitch framing. Of course, their value will be eliminated once the robot umpires take over but, in the mean time, its an area in which players can gain an edge. One of the ongoing memes between those in analytics and old-school people is the idea that the spreadsheet nerds need to watch the games. Of course, no one has ever suggested teams not watch games; the real value comes in using new data and applying it while watching games. For example, Luhnow said that the Astros incorporate information from their scouts in their "best in class" projection system. He also said that the Astros have five analysts with advanced degrees and they have all spent a lot of time in the clubhouse. Baseball isnt merely about analytics for teams, though since, with all teams using them, there are fewer advantages available; they also use them to increase fan interest. Squadron noted that predictive analytics can increase fan engagement, including for use in fantasy sports. Taking a page from Adam Silver, Ill also acknowledge that predictive analytics increase the engagement of the gambling audience too. One of the pieces of new technology that MLB Digital Media showcased, was this tracking technology that would provide data on the routes run by fielders to get to batted balls, designating a straight line as 100% efficient and comparing a fielders actual route taken. With more information, there will be better ways to evaluate fielders and provide a more comprehensive value to players overall. There is so much potential with the player tracking data in the sports that are willing to use it. MORE CONFERENCE NOTES New England Patriots President Jonathan Kraft: "Statistical analysis in football primarily takes place in the offseason." Kraft also told a 2000 Draft Day story about how, in the fifth round, Bill Belichick was holding Tom Bradys name card and asking how the Patriots could pass him over, saying he provided too much value, but the Patriots had Drew Bledsoe, didnt need a quarterback, so they used their two fifth-round picks that year on TE Dave Stachelski (one catch for five yards in his career) and DT Jeff Marriott, who never played in the NFL, before relenting and letting Belichick have his guy in the sixth round. Both Kraft and Calgary Flames President Brian Burke (more on him in the hockey edition) talked about how important it was, in capped leagues, to get useful contributions from players on entry-level contracts. Former Bulls and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson: "(Rodman) had an engine that never stopped...but it took him to the bars after too." Jackson also said that the Bulls had to change the guards on Michael Jordan every practice, to build them back up, and cited Warriors PG Steph Curry as a current player that would thrive in his Triangle Offence. Dean Oliver, ESPNs Director of Production Analytics: "We dont under-estimate the intelligence of the sports fan." Some might argue the World Wide Leaders programming decisions, particularly with respect to this statement, but having a department of Production Analytics shows the kind of effort being made behind the scenes to get accurate and reliable information to the fan. Oliver was speaking on a Big Data panel with tennis great Mary-Jo Fernandez, who was emphatic in her desire to use data to provide better analysis for tennis viewers. Fernandez showed some interesting plot data on serves by Serena Williams and how when its compared to others, that Serenas dominance on the serve (and how she achieves it) can be presented in an easy-to-understand visual format. They also use heat maps showing where a player spends most of their time in the match. In the example Fernandez cited, Serena barely left the baseline the whole match. John Hollinger, who was hired away from ESPN, by the Memphis Grizzlies as their VP of Basketball Operations: "The most important part of basketball analytics is salary cap optimization." This goes back to the point about how much teams ought to be spending on analytics. In a capped league, especially, saving money on the cap affects future moves and what possibilities are open to teams. To think that analytics cant help that process is beyond my comprehension. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff echoed Hollingers sentiments, saying that you cant separate economics from analytics in sports. During a golf presentation, there was a an interesting measure of strokes gained and lost, per shot. Presented, in part, by swing coach Sean Foley, the data showed strokes gained and lost for every shot (eg. +0.3 strokes on the tee shot, +0.1 on approach, -0.2 first putt etc.) and it revealed that its the long game that makes the bigger difference on tour. Foley also used the data to help build up Justin Rose, who was beating himself up over what he thought was a struggling approach game, only to have Foley show him the stats that said Rose was gaining more strokes on his approach than anyone on tour at the time. On this years sports betting panel, moderator Jeff Ma expressed his doubts that The Sports Boss, panelist Patrick Donovan, was using a seriously analytical approach when he started talking about getting a feel for a teams emotional level. Any time youre at an analytics conference and someone heads down the road discussing emotion, psychology etc. there are going to be a certain number of eye rolls because no one knows how to quantify that information. My experience has been that kind of thing gets awarded retroactively (ie. winners are determined to have played harder, with more emotion, etc.) Las Vegas Hotel Superbook Manager Jay Kornegay: "You guys might be very disappointed if I told you how we came up with some of these lines." Kornegay said that they dont use a complicated computer algorithm to determine lines. They have a group of handicappers in-house and they come up with the line as a group but, basically, its on feel. As Kornegay noted, "We (bookmakers) get paid for being close." More Kornegay: The Super Bowl line is geared toward public money while the rest of the year is against the sharps. Check back soon for my piece on Hockey at the 2014 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference! Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook. Jason Witten Jersey . - Whether its because of her improved play or the reason for it, Michelle Wie appears as comfortable on and off the golf course as at any time in her career. Randy White Jersey . -- During a players meeting following the All-Star break, Jermaine ONeal promised his teammates to play the rest of the regular season like he would never play again -- because he very well might not.MINNEAPOLIS - The banged-up Minnesota Timberwolves are going to get a little help.The Timberwolves signed free agent forward Jeff Adrien on Saturday to add some much-needed depth to a roster decimated by injuries.The NBA granted the Timberwolves a roster exemption so they could expand their roster to 16 players. The Wolves have lost point guard Ricky Rubio, centre Nikola Pekovic, shooting guard Kevin Martin and backup big man Ronny Turiaf to long-term injuries this season. Darian Thompson Jersey. Adrien will add some bulk to the frontcourt that has only one healthy centre in Gorgui Dieng.Adrien is a 6-foot-8 power forward who averaged 6.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in 53 games with Milwaukee and Charlotte last year. He has worked with Wolves shooting coach Mike Penberthy in the past. ' ' '
SACRAMENTO, Calif. Gus Williams Jersey . - After going nearly a month without a victory, the Detroit Pistons now proudly own a two-game winning streak.Greg Monroe scored 24 points, Josh Smith had 21 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots, and the Pistons beat the Sacramento Kings 95-90 on Saturday night.The Pistons used a 24-14 advantage in the third quarter and never relinquished the lead in registering back-to-back wins for only the second time all season.Detroit, 5-19 this season, had lost 13 straight and was one loss shy of tying the franchise record before beating Phoenix on Friday.When youre 3-19 there is no pressure to win with that kind of record. You can play carefree, and just try to play your game, said Smith, who shot 6 of 9 from the field.Smiths game, which included seven turnovers, was far from perfect, and his teammates werent, either. Detroit missed 14 of 20 3-pointers, was outrebounded 55-43 and its 15 turnovers resulted in 20 points.But it helped that the Kings were again without leading scorer and rebounder DeMarcus Cousins, who missed his ninth straight game with viral meningitis. The Kings have gone 2-7 without Cousins, who has no timetable for a return.Rudy Gay made four 3-pointers and scored 20, and also added eight rebounds and eight assists for the Kings, who shot 35 per cent. But Gay also struggled overall, hitting just 6-of-22 attempts. Usually productive point guard Darren Collison missed nine of 10 shots and had three points.Definitely holding them to 35-per cent shooting was good, Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said. We made it tough on Rudy Gay — a great player — and Collison. We did what we wanted to do defensively.Carl Landry had 15 points and Ben McLemore 14 for Sacramento, which has dropped three straight and eight of 10.Andre Drummond had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Kyle Singler added 11 points for Detroit, which had a season-high nine blocks.With the Pistons clinging to a four-point lead, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit a 3-pointer and DJ Augustin made two free throws to make it 88-79 with 34 seconds remaining. Consecutive 3-pointers by McLemore cut the lead to three points, but Monroe had a breakaway dunk to help seal the victory.The Pistons spread the ball around offensively in the second half and played effectively on defence against the cold-shooting Kings, who opened the season with a 9-5 record but have struggled since losing Cousins.I dont think we are waiting for DeMarcus to come back. We just are not playing the right basketball right now, Collison said.Regardless when he comes back or not, we are not playing the right basketball. DeMarcus does a lot of things that are good for us and he also builds us up because he is so talented. But you never want to rely on just one guy to build you up.Detroit trailed by three points before scoring 11 unanswered to start the third quarter. The Kings missed their first nine shots and went scoreless for more than 4 1/2 minutes. Despite a 13-0 run later in the period, Detroit only led 67-60 entering the fourth.I thought we missed a lot of great looks. That third quarter really hurt us, Kings coach Michael Malone said. We shot 18 per cent in that quarter. So that makes it hard to build a lead and win games when you struggle to make shots.___TIP-INSPistons: Point guard Brandon Jennings had another rough evening offensively, finishing with three points. He is averaging 5.3 points in the past seven games.Kings: Sacramento entered the game averaging less than five 3s a game. The Kings made 7 of 14 in the opening half and finished with a season-high 11. ... Reserve forward Omri Casspi missed his second straight game with a left knee bone contusion.FATHER VS. SONBrendan Malone, the father of Kings coach, is an assistant coach with the Pistons. The two spoke for about 10 minutes outside the Kings locker room after the game, with father providing some consoling words. My son is a very good coach, hes done a nice job with this team, Brendan said. But I understand what hes up against right now, hes doesnt have his best player. Thats difficult.UP NEXTPistons: Visit the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday.Kings: Host Oklahoma City on Tuesday. Oklahoma City Thunder Store . Adding playoff teams. Monitoring instant replay from league headquarters. Possibly creating a set of guidelines to prevent locker-room bullying. Gary Payton Jersey . An offseason trade acquisition from Kansas City, Greinkes National League debut was delayed by a non-baseball injury in the spring, and he was 0-1 after dropping an 8-0 decision at Atlanta in his initial appearance with the Brewers on May 4. MARANA, Ariz. -- Its rare to hear Ernie Els describe his week at the Match Play Championship as "wonderful." Hes usually not around long enough to say anything at all. This time, the wacky world of match play is working in his favour. Even though Els has made more bogeys than birdies, even though he didnt break par at Dove Mountain until his quarterfinal match Saturday, the 44-year-old South African is two matches away from claiming another World Golf Championship. Els made birdie from the desert on the par-5 eighth hole to take the lead for good against 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, and then pulled away for a 4-and-2 victory to reach the semifinals for the first time in 13 years. "At times I havent played my best, as you guys have well-documented and know," Els said with a laugh. "But its match play. Ive just done enough to get through." Graeme McDowell was the only other player who felt lucky to still be around, only for his luck to run out against Victor Dubuisson of France. McDowell had reached the quarterfinals even though he never led a single hole while any of his previous three matches were in progress. He finally took a lead -- 60 holes into this tournament -- and wound up losing. Typical of his week, it went down to the wire. Dubuisson hit a beautiful chip from the rough in front of a corporate suite behind the 16th green to save par, while McDowell missed a 6-foot putt to lose the hole. Dubuisson saved par with another superb chip behind the 17th green, and had one more in his bag from below the 18th green to save yet another par. McDowell narrowly missed a 25-foot birdie putt that would have extended the match. "Lucky, lucky to even be here today," McDowell said. "But actually played quite nicely most of the day. It all boiled down to my putter actually let me down. I had a chance on 14 for the hole, chance on 15 for the hole, missed a short one on 16. My luck is going to run out sooner than later." Els plays Dubuisson, a rising star in the European ranks who won the Turkish Open, where Tiger Woods finished five shots behind. In other quarterfinal matches: -- Jason Day reached the semifinals for the second straight year with a 2-and-1 win over Louis Oosthuizen, who played with a nagging back injury. -- Rickie Fowler lost a 3-up lead to Arizona grad Jim Furyk, only to win the last two holes for a 1-up victory for a shot at Day. Furyk was in the same spot as Dubuisson on the 18th hole, but his first chip rolled back down the hill toward his feet. Fowwler is the No. John Johnson Jersey . 53 seed, the highest to reach the semifinals since Zach Johnson was No. 59 in 2006 when it was held at La Costa. Els long held a reputation as a wizard in match play, having captured the World Match Play Championship seven times when it was at Wentworth and featured smaller fields and 36-hole matches. This version hasnt been kind to him. He reached the semifinals in 2001 at Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne, only to lose to Pierre Fulke. Els didnt imagine it would take this long to get back, though he understands that anything can happen -- and usually does -- over 18 holes of match play. "I really had a love-hate relationship with this event, as you guys well know," he said. "I was lucky enough to get in the field a couple of years ago and beat Luke Donald in the first round. But most of the time, I lost in the first round here either on the 18th or 19th hole. Its been a frustrating time in this event." The semifinals will be Sunday morning, following by the championship match. "Im just very glad to be here on Sunday," Els said. "Hopefully, it goes good tomorrow. I still feel Ive got a really good one in me." Fowler never looked like he would need to go 18th holes the way his match against Furyk started. And then he was happy to get there. Furyk was 3 down with only six holes remaining when he made three straight birdies and won a fourth straight hole at No. 16 with a par when Fowler flubbed a chip. Furyk missed the fairway on the 17th, however, allowing Fowler to square the match. On the 18th, Furyk came up just a fraction short of perfect and saw the ball roll back down the false front of the green. His chip was heavy, and that one rolled back toward his feet and led to bogey. Fowler navigated a quick birdie putt down the slope to a concession range and escaped. "Disappointed," said Furyk, in the quarterfinals for the first time in 14 appearances in this World Golf Championship. "I fought all way back from 3 down. I had all the momentum and I didnt put the ball on the fairway on 17 and didnt put the ball in the fairway on 18. I dont feel I handed the match away, but I definitely made it too easy on him the last two holes." It was the third straight round in which Fowler was trailing with three holes to play, and he pulled out wins against Jimmy Walker, Sergio Garcia and Furyk. The only easy time Fowler had was against Ian Poulter. "Its nice to get a win no matter how it happens," Fowler said. ' ' '