Ben Alamar once worked for the Thunder as a analytics consultant. Analytics is the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns of data. Simply put in sports, analytics is the deep study of statistics.
Now Alamar is a professor of management at Menlo College in California, and he has written a book that soon will be available: Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers and Other Decision Makers.
The book should be a fabulous peek behind the Thunder veil. Sam Presti’s secretive organization is wondrously successful but maddeningly frustrating for followers of the team who want to learn more about how and why decisions are made. Presti seldom speaks in detail, and his lieutenants never speak at all.
But last week, Alamar spoke at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, and he sat down for an interview with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, which you can view here. It’s a fascinating look at some inside Thunder decisions. Here’s a sampling:
* In the 2008 draft, the Thunder debated between Russell Westbrook and Brook Lopez with the fourth pick. The Thunder chose Westbrook. Rightly, most would say.
“It was an analytics-supported decision,” Alamar said. “They really liked Russell, for a lot of basketball reasons. Personality, performance, everything. The fundamental question was, could he play point guard? He had not played a lot of point guard in college.”
Enter analytics. “We had to do some data collection,” Alamar said. “Look at the film. There was a time he was the primary point guard (at UCLA), because Darren Collison was injured. So we were able to use that data and other instances where he was making decisions with the basketball. And compare those decisions and results, when passes resulted in shots, how that impacted the probability the shot was going to be made.
“We compared Russell’s ability to do that to Collison’s, to the point guards in the draft, like Derrick Rose, and to NBA level point guards. We could look in the NBA and see how Steve Nash did.”