Armstrong: NBA game is more than just analytics

Jack Armstrong
3/20/2013 2:11:30 PM
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March Madness is upon us and there are some interesting topics as well in the NBA to discuss. Here's a quick look at a few subjects.         

1. Kentucky loses in NIT: I guess the NCAA Selection Committee was right. While I understand due to Arena conflicts Kentucky had to travel to Robert Morris to play, but come on.  The talent level isn't even close.

While there was a wonderful atmosphere and I truly enjoyed watching the game, it's the case in point why the big boys avoid at all costs going on the road when they can.  The big schools pay teams like Robert Morris to come to their arena in non-conference games.  I'm happy for Robert Morris.  They deserved and earned the win.                       

2. Ben McLemore (Kansas): Make sure you check out this 6'5" freshman for the Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament.  He has become one of my favourite frosh players to watch this season.  He's very skilled, shoots the three-pointer well and has good explosiveness in his game. 

McLemore is a guy that scouts will be watching closely as the games get bigger round to round.  He's got pro written all over him.                        

3. Andrew Bynum (76ers): This week, the centre was shut down for the season without even playing a game.  What a mess. Philadelphia went all in with him and it's been a disastrous season for them as they sit 9th in the Eastern Conference behind Milwaukee for the final playoff spot.

He's a free agent at the end of the season and my advice to the 76ers, who are obviously going to feel lots of pressure to justify bringing him in, and any other team that kicks those tires is 'buyer beware'. 

Injury prone Big's who also have an immature streak in them are a risky proposition. I'd say sign him to a short-term deal and make him prove it.  It always seems like teams throw money at potential, particularly with big guys. 

The league is different than it was 20-30 years ago. Yes it's great to have a dominant big man but he's got to be the 'right' guy.  You can win games in other ways, just look around the league.

4. Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets have now won 13 games in a row.  I watched their win on Tuesday night in Oklahoma City and it was a terrific effort. With all the deserved attention towards the Miami Heat, people outside of the NBA have forgotten about this streak.

Denver are playing great ball and hitting their stride at the perfect time.  They are an ideal 'George Karl' team which plays equal opportunity, up-tempo and unselfish basketball while playing together. How about the performance of Andre Miller on Tuesday?  He still gets it done at an extended age. He could start for a bunch of teams as their point guard, but he's perfectly content to come off the bench and help produce wins. He scored 20 points, grabbed seven boards and had nine assists against the Thunder.  The guy get's it.                                      

5. Toronto Raptors Article: If you haven't read the Grantland article by Zach Lowe make sure you check it out, it's an intriguing read about the Raptors and their use of new technology and advanced statistics.  I've said this before and I'll say it again, I'm a fan of analytics and it has its place in the game.  I view it as a supportive/secondary piece to the evaluation of the performance of your players and your team.

It's like putting butter or sour cream on your potatoes or salt and/or pepper on your steak. It's a wonderful additive that completes the experience but the key is the steak.

The bottom line is that NBA is really in the 'people business' and the best coaches, executives and organizations have that figured out. The value you put into the relationships, discipline, leadership, skill development, motivational, tactical direction and group dynamics are the most important element in place and always will be.

Players need to be inspired and you need complete 'buy in' and understanding/acceptance of roles.  That takes great people skills and eye-to-eye communication.  

When I think of coaches like Red Auerbach, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Chuck Daly, Lenny Wilkens, George Karl, Don Nelson, Jerry Sloan & Red Holtzman to name a few, I think of men who knew how to articulate their vision, define roles and get wonderfully talented individuals to sacrifice their personal agenda for the good of the team/organization. 

People motivate and connect to other people and that always comes first.

In my opinion, it's no one's business what the Toronto Raptors do or don't do with their analytics. The bottom line is do they win?

What goes on in house--stays in house.  In the words of the great Vince Lombardi, 'What you see here, discuss here and what goes on here stays HERE when you leave here.'  Maybe I'm old-fashioned (no I'm not, I'm right), but I don't need analytics folks trying to sell their vision of how the game should be played in a public fashion.

I'm absolutely stunned that you second guess your own coach you should support him 100% at all times. You have his back in public.  If they want to do that in private, go right ahead, but stand on your own two feet and stare down the coaches and executives and tell them they're wrong. I'm cool with that.  That's how organizations grow, with creative discussion and exploration but do it has to be done in private.

It seems like owners of teams today are putting lots more stock in this area than is applicable and that's dangerous.  Lot's of these owners relate to the analytics end of things from their other successful businesses and yes, there is a place for it but it seems like many NBA, NFL, MLB & NHL owners and executives are buying into something on a greater scale than they should because they truly don't understand what really matters in terms of team building and how to put the pieces of the puzzle together in a proper fashion.

It's a dangerous path which I feel leads you to lots of statistical reasoning which is both useful and helpful yet not the solution.  The solution still lies in the quality and approach of the people you have.  That will never change.

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