How the Toronto Raptors are using technology to improve the team (and find it’s flaws)

A fantastic piece from Grantland

It is a very impressive piece of work. “Most teams are using spreadsheets or just using our reports,” says Brian Kopp, executive vice-president at STATS. “The Raptors go a step beyond that, which only a few teams are doing, and their visualizations are the best I’ve seen.”6

That does not mean it has been an easy sell to the team’s coaching staff, though Sterner and Nori are enthusiastic about analytics and have helped craft the ghost defense. Everyone likes the ghost system, but some of the larger analytics-related issues have caused friction between the front office and some of the coaches — even if everyone involved is mostly polite about it. “It’s always going to be a challenge,” says Ed Stefanski, Toronto’s executive vice-president of basketball operations. “A lot of high-level coaches have come out against analytics, but it’s the wave of the future, and you’ve got to jump on.”

Bryan Colangelo, the Raptors’ GM, had already set Toronto on the SportVU path before hiring Stefanski in the fall of 2011, and Stefanski credited Colangelo with pushing the Raptors in the right direction.

The coaches, even the most receptive ones, seem to view analytics and SportVU mostly as a tool to confirm what they already think and know. Some samples:

Dwane Casey, Toronto’s head coach: “It’s a good backup for what your eyes see.” Casey added, “It may also shed light on something else,” a sentiment both Nori and Sterner echoed at points. “But you can’t make all your decisions based on it, and it can’t measure heart, and chemistry, and personality.”

Sterner: “It helps reinforce your gut. Most of the time, your gut is pretty much right.”

Nori: “More than anything, it’s a tool to help confirm what your eyes see.”

The analytics team agrees that most of the new knowledge will be along the margins — that coaches leaguewide get most of the big, systematic things right — but that the analytics will nonetheless offer more in the way of new discoveries that might contradict what we think we know. “A lot of coaches will say how great it is that analytics confirm what they already see,” Boyarsky says. “The fact of the matter is, that’s not really true.”

An example: The analytics team is unanimous, and rather emphatic, that every team should shoot more 3s — including the Raptors and even the Rockets, who are on pace to break the NBA record for most 3-point attempts in a season.

So basically the Toronto Raptor’s computers are analyzing and second guessing the play and coaching of the Raptors.  Amazing the amount of variables they are dealing with.

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