Analytics, the application of statistical analysis, has become a force driving many of the personnel and strategical decisions carried out by executives and coaches in sports. Beginning with former New York Mets manager Davey Johnson’s use of computer programs while he was a second baseman with the Baltimore Orioles in the early 1970s to quantify players’ impact or lack thereof, today analytics is a divisive issue that has spurred a debate as to whether algorithms or the eye test have more efficacy in shaping a team.
Knicks president Steve Mills has long expressed he will markedly employ the use of advanced statistical analysis to construct the team. He has referenced the book, “Basketball on Paper: Rules and Tools for Performance Analysis” by Dean Oliver, as a source of influence on his thinking.
On the surface, Mills and first-year general manager Scott Perry seem to want to follow the current NBA trend of building a team that fundamentally operates a space and pace form of offense in which mid-range shots are minimized and three-point shots have a much higher value. Furthermore, while they are very early in their tenures, they have taken on an overall philosophy of offense being the primary focus, as most front offices have seemed to embrace, as opposed to erecting a team on a foundation of defense.
Mills’ predecessor, Phil Jackson, was not an enthusiastic proponent of analytics, particularly offensive analytics, which is perhaps why he chose Frank Ntilikina with the eighth overall pick in last June’s draft, passing on guards Dennis Smith Jr. as well as Donovan Mitchell, players who at this stage are clearly more capable scorers than the Knicks’ rookie from France.
And analytics is perhaps why Mills and Perry gave up on 23-year-old Willy Hernangomez, trading the 2017 All Rookie First-Team center to the Charlotte Hornets after he had a promising campaign a season ago. The 23-36 Knicks have 23 games remaining this season, beginning tonight against the Orlando Magic on the road. They are on pace to draft in the top 10 in June.
Mills and Perry are demonstrably intelligent men and have a plan to build the Knicks. They also know that many championship teams and dynasties have been designed without the reliance of advanced statistics. Analytics are highly useful and should be an essential element of evaluating players and systems.
Nevertheless, it should not be the overriding factor in determining how a team will be assembled and determining the systems coaches and players are compelled to run. Basketball is still a simple game in which eyes and instincts are the most useful apparatuses.