NBA number-crunch
How Oklahoman uses stats not found in the box score

by Berry Tramel Published: April 21, 2008
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Data analysis, statistical immersion, a deep dive into numbers that can confuse all but the intelligentsia, came to baseball 20 years ago and now is mainstream.

Such number-crunching finally has come to basketball, packed in the brain and the eyeballs of people like Sam Hinkie. The pride of Stephens County.

The Houston Rockets' vice president of basketball operations, a Price College of Business alum and 1996 Marlow High School grad, seems an unlikely factor in the NBA playoffs.

A campus leader at OU, graduating summa cum laude. Went to work for Bain and Co., a global strategy consulting firm. Resigned to get an MBA from Stanford.

Sounds like a path to the Petroleum Club, if not Wall Street. Instead, Hinkie is analyzing Dikembe Mutumbo's rebounds and recommending whether the Rockets should trade Bonzi Wells for Bobby Jackson.

And Hinkie does it with stats that don't show up in the box score.

Player points per minute. Team points per possession. Rebound percentage. Not exactly the raw numbers we embrace to argue LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant. But almost surely more accurate.

For instance, is Stephen Jackson's 20.1 points a game more impressive than Tim Duncan's 19.3, considering Jackson's Warriors play much more quickly than Duncan's Spurs and thus have a lot more possessions? Hinkie's computers can tell you.

Such analysis is a cottage industry — embraced most by the Rockets in the NBA but catching on in other locales — and a quick search of 82games.com will show you how serious are some NBA stat-analysts.

Here are just a few of the stats available at 82games.com: Floor-time stats (individual player plus/minus; how a team fares with a certain player on the floor), 5-man unit stats (most-used five-man combos and how they fare together), player pairs (stats looking at team performance with each two-man pair on the court) and many, many more that frankly are too difficult to explain.

Talk of a special sauce makes Hinkie nervous. Yes, he's a numbers geek and admits it. Yes, he and his staff devour forests of NBA numbers. Yes, he thinks it's comforting to know that while he can't personally watch all 1,230 NBA games in a season, his computer can analyze all 1,230 NBA games.

But Hinkie doesn't claim those stats are the gospel. They are just one more piece to a complicated puzzle, and when you're dealing with players whose multi-million dollar contracts can make or break a franchise, every morsel of information helps.

"Every team is looking to beg, borrow or steal any ideas any chance they get,” Hinkie said.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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The Houston Rockets and guard Tracy McGrady have been assembled by an in-depth look at stats, a trend catching on with other teams. ASSOCIATED PRESS

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