Every franchise in major U.S. sports leagues, without exception, utilizes analytics as a foundational tool to construct, manage and coach their teams. Analytics, defined as information resulting from the systematic analysis of data or statistics, has become a common sports vernacular term and ubiquitous in its influence on the hiring practices of team owners and presidents.
But close observers of the NBA over the past decade have seen its misuse, or overuse, arguably alter the sport for the worse. This is not a get-off-of-my lawn rant. I consider myself open-minded and a progressive thinker, willing to embrace new concepts and technology. Yet it’s confounding to watch player after player that has no business camped out behind the three-point line simulating Pop-a-Shot as if they were at Dave & Busters.
Such as the Milwaukee Bucks’ supremely gifted 6-foot-11 forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is virtually unstoppable in the paint, as well as going downhill in transition or on the move in half court sets. Yet facing the Nets in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals series, in which the Bucks trail 3-2 after blowing a 17-point lead and losing by 114-108 in Brooklyn on Tuesday, he has imprudently and unproductively hoisted ill-timed threes. It is a result of someone using an algorithm to spit out numbers that justify the 26-year-old two-time league MVP, five-time All-NBA selection and four-time All-Defensive honoree abandoning common basketball sense and launching a shot he misses over 70% of the time.
In his eight-year career the Greek Freak has attempted 1,308 shots from behind arc during the regular season and made just 376 for a percentage of .287. In his 52 playoff games Antetokounmpo is 46-161. Somewhere in basketball heaven, legendary innovators such as the Boston Celtics’ Red Auerbach, HBCU pioneer John McClendon, one of the father’s of the sport, and New York Rens icon John Isaacs, are rolling their eyes at seeing men nearly seven-feet tall being pulled out of the paint and anchored to the corner.
Which is what Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer frequently does with center Brook Lopez to space the floor and have the big man wait in one of the corners to jack up a 22-foot three. Lopez is a career .340 regular season three-point shooter. In one of our many conversations throughout the years before his passing in 2009 at the age of 93, Isaacs, sharp and well informed as he hit 90, said to me at the offices of the Amsterdam News: “The object of the game is to score the ball however you can and stop the other team from scoring.” If it is perceived as an oversimplification of the game, it is also indisputable. And simplicity shouldn’t be construed as lacking creativity. What’s evident is if the Bucks are going to come back and win their series against the Nets, Antetokounmpo and Lopez must continually punish the Nets inside.
The use of analytics also seemingly determined Budenholzer’s decision not to have Antetokounmpo, one of the league’s best defenders, guard the Nets’ Kevin Durant in Game 5. The result was an epic 49-point, 17-rebound, 10-assists masterpiece by Durant. Maybe more teams should adopt the philosophy of allowing analytics to confirm what their eyes tell them and not the other way around.