Was listening to the Colin Cowherd show last week and the topic of analytics came up. He discussed how it affects all sports, some more than others. He also gave a rundown of the teams in all sports who use analytics the most and those who use it the least or not at all. It was striking that that the teams who use it the most have also had concomitant success while those who eschew it have been not so good. An interesting fact is the Lakers the Lakers didn't send a basketball operations representative for the first six years of the annual MIT Sloan Analytics Conference in Boston, the latest incarnation of which was held Feb. 27-28. In 2013, they were the only team without a representative.
The Lakers and GM Mitch Kupchak claim the team is using analytics at a very high level but a very interesting investigative article on ESPN indicates that the evidence shows the Lakers are severely lagging in the setup and use of top line analytics. Lagging not just in pro sports, but in the smaller realm of the NBA itself.
http://m.espn.go.com/nba/story?storyId= ... rc=desktop
The efficacy of analytics has been proven in baseball for many years now, starting with Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics. His methods have now been widely adopted by and refined by almost all Baseball clubs and have helped small market teams achieve success in combating money giants who can spend vast amounts of dollars on star players. It has proven so well in baseball that now hockey uses it to a large degree and it is gaining more and more traction in the NFL and NBA. Is it an end- all -be all for winning? No, nothing beats a good front office, but it has proven beyond doubt a tremendous technological aid to formulate smart, money and personnel decisions that increase your chances of success.
Analytics took center stage in NBA recently when Charles Barkley disparaged in on the TNT broadcast. Barkely's remarks held some truth. In a game like basketball, unlike baseball, a singular transcendent star like Kobe, Lebron, Magic, Bird or Durant can affect the team and their game to a disproportionate ideal. But his out of hand dismissal on analytics was also myopic. Not every team has a Kobe or Lebron or Durant. What if your team has a collection of good players, like Atlanta? Or is even at a stage where they are starting from scratch, like the Lakers, and want to make the smartest decisions on who they sign, build the most effective team they can for the moment and the future and avoid overpaying a player who will not give equal return on the monetary investment, say a Swaggy Pete? Or to avoid sending first round picks for a nothing player like Ramon Sessions or an old man like Steve Nash. It always helps to have a smart GM and organization but if you don't, especially if you don't, in these cases analytics can help in making the correct decisions. And if you do have a GM with the proper acumen, analytics certainly are a good adjunct to helping the organization to making the smart decisions, the crucial decisions, especially when you don't have a superstar to carry the load and mask mistakes. To ignore analytics is to be stubborn at your own peril. Because when you don't have that star, when you are in a position where every decision is vital to your success and rebuild, you better use every tool at your disposal.
For the Lakers, the last five years have been abject proof that their organization, their GM is far from a past master in making smart decisions. In fact, over the last five years, no front office in any team sport in America has made such a series of blunders that brought a team to such a nadir as Mitch Kupchak has. So the question is asked, is he really the guy, are we really the team that can afford to rank near the bottom of team sports in their use of analytics? It is interesting to note that the two best front offices in sports, the New England Patriots and San Antonio Spurs have used analytics for years now and it is hard to argue with those teams success. In fact the 2015 Sloan Sports Conference handed out awards and the San Antonio Spurs captured the conference's Best Analytics Organization.
People and organizations that don't adapt to changing technologies and the advantages they bring are all evident. They litter the graveyards of failure, great names that missed the boat and ended up drowned. Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb in America, planned to dominate the industry and light up New York then the country with the Edison Electric Company. It never happened because he stubbornly refused to change over to alternating electric current from his inferior direct current. Blackberry, once the undisputed monarch of cell phones now accounts for less than one percent of cell phone sales. Radio Shack, the cutting edge, erstwhile leader in retail electronics sales is no more. Bankrupt. My Space, the internet rave of social media sites more than a decade ago is wasteland of geriatrics and ghosts.
The Lakers, once the ne plus ultra of front offices in all of sports has fallen a long way since the departure of Jerry West and the senescence and death of Doctor Jerry Buss. Mitch Kupchak has still not won a title with a team that did not have a Jerry West player on it. He rode the coattails of the great Kobe Bryant his entire tenure and since age and injury have obviated King Kobe's ability to dominate the league and secure Mitch wins and rings he has shown nothing to make one envision a great new era of smart and capable moves being executed by this front office. For a team that once excelled at making the smart trade, the good signings, the correct draft picks- Bryon Scott, Michael Thompson, Bob Mcadoo, the moves that brought the Johnson and Worthy picks to LA- we have devolved into a team whose only answer always seem to be to take another teams star- Steve Nash, Dwight Howard. Splash moves that are shiny bricks thrown to hungry fans, built without the crucial mortar that puts a winning team together. In the era of the new salary cap, when star players seem to have no problem playing in small market cities, when the lure of LA and other large markets seems less and less important, is it smart to stick to that old strategy as your rebuild plan in lieu of smart drafting, smart trades and analytics?
To have a bad GM, a bad front office is a bane many teams suffer through. Bad decisions naturally follow. That can only be improved through the process of firing and hiring anew. But to not use all the technology available, to not see ahead of the curve, to not use every means available to help make the smart moves is something even more stultifying to an organizations success. It can literally turn a once cutting edge product into an anachronism. Just ask Edison Electric, Blackberry, Radio Shack or My Space. If the Lakers are indeed ignoring analytic as the ESPN article contends, will they too join that list of fading memories of what once was great?