Post-game Reactions

Some leftover thoughts, notes and quotes from the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at MIT

• Mike Zarren, the C’s assistant GM and associate team counsel, says the C’s only have two people who scout college hoops full-time.

• Steve Pagliuca, part owner of the C’s, told a story about visiting Red Auerbach’s office in Washington, D.C. shortly after his group purchased the team in 2002. “[Auerbach] hadn’t changed anything in his office since the 1950s,” Pagliuca told the crowd. “He had rotary phones and about 500 letter openers.” 

Red offered the new guys two pieces of advice:

1) No cheerleaders. “Nothing but trouble,” Red said, according to Pagliuca.

2) Auerbach wanted the C’s “to go out and sign instigators, not retaliators.” 

A few years later, Pagliuca went back to D.C. to argue for the merits of cheerleaders. Auerbach again objected. Pagliuca mentioned that the team could sell the rights to sponsor the dance team for $500,000. Auerbach’s response: “That’s a no-brainer.”

The Celtics hired some cheerleaders.

• Pagliuca discussed how the ownership came in with a long-term plan and stuck to it. Even as the team struggled, they were determined to stick to the plan and avoid the panic move of trading for an aging player with injury problems that could hurt the team over the long haul.


Danny Ainge always said his long term plan was to stockpile young assets and deal them for an established star or two to pair with Paul Pierce. And he did that. But there’s a chance that in doing so, Ainge (and the rest of the front office) inadvertently saddled Pagliuca with exactly the sort of team the ownership didn’t want. 

Of course, the C’s won the 2008 title, and the bone spur and strained tendon that have ravaged KG’s right knee were impossible to predict precisely.

• Pagliuca on pace: “We want to run. Doc believes in the transition game and getting up the court.” The Celtics rank 22nd in pace factor, meaning only eight teams play more slowly. 

• During the panel on performance enhancing drugs, Steve Kerr said that in 15 years of college and pro ball, he saw only one player—a college teammate at the University of Arizona—use illegal PEDs. The player did so in an attempt to bulk up for the draft but got hurt. “It back-fired,” Kerr said.

• This isn’t about basketball, but I found it interesting, even if some might find it obvious: During the PED panel, Dr. Kim Blair, director of the MIT Center for Sports Innovation, said the NASA-engineered Speedo swimming suits that caused such an uproar at the ’08 Olympics helped lesser swimmers more than good ones. “It had a leveling effect,” he said.

• Darrell Armstrong ate lots of candy before games, according to Steve Kerr.

• Kerr also told the story of when Tom Gugliotta collapsed on the Suns bus and stopped breathing. Gugliotta was taking a heap of legal supplements he bought at GNC, and something in the combination apparently caused him to collapse—possibly from a seizure, according to this archived Arizona Republic story. Scary. Now that Kerr is the president of basketball operations in Phoenix, he has a rule for the players: Whatever you’re taking, tell the team.

• Mark Cuban is a huge advocate of adjusted plus/minus.

This will merit a more complete post in the next couple of days, but it’s clear that there is a debate in stat geek circles about whether adjusted plus/minus is even relevant. Cuban is a big, big believer that it is, and he uses it as part of his evaluation of both players and coaches. 

He told the audience during one Q-and-A session that adjusted plus/minus was one reason he hired Rick Carlisle to coach Dallas. The numbers Dallas had (mostly courtsey of Wayne Winston) showed players improved their adjusted plus/minus after being traded to Carlisle-coached teams.

• More from Cuban: Fans would “be shocked,” he said, at how often players just forget what play the team is supposed to run coming out of a timeout. 

• Cuban and Dean Oliver (the Denver Nuggets’ stat guru) both agreed that it’s obvious which teams use advanced stats and which don’t. The consensus seems to be that the following clubs have embraced adjusted plus/minus to varying degrees: Houston, Boston, Oklahoma City, Denver, Dallas, Portland, Orlando, Cleveland and (perhaps) San Antonio. 

Cuban can spot the non-believers easily: “There are times when another team puts five guys on the floor and you get excited,” he said. And later: “I can tell immediately if a team is using stats based simply on their line-ups.”

• Houston GM Daryl Morey agreed: “You watch the defense of the other team, and based on what shots they are trying to take away, you ask, ‘Do they know what shots are the most efficient?'” In other words: If your team is playing Houston, and your defensive guys are focused on preventing Houston from taking 20-footers, Morey is laughing (quietly, of course) about your team.

• Two guys Cuban, Morey and Portland GM Kevin Pritchard mentioned as the prototypical “We’re totally fine with this guy jacking an open 15-footer” guys: Juwan Howard and Ryan Hollins. 

• Cuban: “Some guys in our sport are morons. You want to dump them on another team.” Cuban said teams try to conceal the fact that some of their guys are “morons” in a scheme he called “protect the moron.” He suggested that teams should “out the morons.” 

Cuban returned to this theme later in discussing Gerald Green: “Oh my God,” he said. He then talked about Green’s athleticism before concluding that Green “just doesn’t understand the game of basketball.”

The crowd laughed.

• Bill Simmons argued that the biggest change in the NBA over the last few years is “the emphasis on getting a team of good guys.” He pointed to two examples:

1) The lack of interest around the league last summer in Nate Robinson; 

2) The Thunder’s (though he would not use that name, of course) decision to draft James Harden over Tyreke Evans. To be clear, Simmons was not arguing Evans is a bad guy, just that Harden is a better fit for Oklahoma City. “He’s a guy who won’t steal shots from Kevin Durant.”

• Daryl Morey is clearly skeptical that there is any such thing as a “clutch” player. He said Houston does not really factor “clutchness” into any personnel decisions, though the team does track how players score against the league’s best defenses. 

• Wayne Winston is a former Jeopardy! champion. I did not know this. 

• Kevin Pritchard (Portland GM) on the definition of an assist: “If you ask 30 different scorekeepers, you get 30 different answers.” Not encouraging.

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Zach Lowe

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  • rondoislove

    About that last part.. I’ve always wondered exactly what is counted as an assist.

    Weren’t you guys going to do “disturbing Sheed stat of the week” every Monday? I was waiting for this week’s. 🙂

  • Rocci

    Poor Gerald Green…I hope he defies the odds and becomes successful someday. He may not have the IQ, but he played hard. I wonder how he’s doing in Russia.

  • Rocci

    Ah what am I talking about, this is the internet, of course I can look up Gerald Green…here’s his profile if anyone’s interested.


    Russian stats are kinda funny – apparently he’s racked up 16 losses in 8 games!

  • GranTur

    Loss is probably turnover.

    I wonder what the shield thing is lol

  • jonathan

    “This isn’t about basketball, but I found it interesting, even if some might find it obvious: During the PED panel, Dr. Kim Blair, director of the MIT Center for Sports Innovation, said the NASA-engineered Speedo swimming suits that caused such an uproar at the ‘08 Olympics helped lesser swimmers more than good ones. “It had a leveling effect,” he said.”

    I feel the exact same principle applies to the recent rule changed that have led to small and quick point guards putting up numbers we haven’t seen in years. And on a wider level, it’s helped the second tier players look like stars. Kobe, Lebron, Wade, etc would be great in any era. Danny Granger would not.

  • Pingback: Throwing some dimes: Gerald Green’s a moron : Celtics Town()

  • DeVelaine

    The “shields” are rebounds. This took some playing with Google Translate to figure out, however. Looks like they’re trying to call them “boards,” and depending on the translator, the same word can be used for board, shield, and panel.

  • cmoney

    the stat world largely scoffs at the idea of an “assist”. It’s a fairly meaningless stat. Just like all shots aren’t created equal, neither are all assists. A discrete alley oop or an expertly run 2v1 break, that’s a lot of value. Swinging it to a guy who buries a contested 20 footer isn’t really a good thing. Plus there’s the problem of passes that lead to drawn fouls and FTs.

    For advanced stats guys to make use of passing data, they’d need the type of shots they lead to, they’d need to count FTs, etc.. it probably just isn’t worth it. For instance, with someone like Nash, it’s not the gawdy assist #s that make him so valuable. If you dig a little deeper, you see how much his team’s eFG% improves when he’s on the floor. That’s a far better indicator of value.

  • What Can I Say?

    This is crazy!

    Kevin Pritchard (Portland GM) on the definition of an assist: “If you ask 30 different scorekeepers, you get 30 different answers.”

    I used to “trip” watching Kevin Garnett play and be handing dimes out and then look in the Box Score scratching my head. Where are the assists?

    LOL @ Gerald Green. Mark Cuban is a little cocky SOB. Actually, he isn’t all that little.

    Tom Gugliota sucks. I don’t know or care to know his plus/minus either.

    I vaguely remember hearing an NBA on NBC announcer reporting that Darell Armstrong drinks a ton of coffee before the games when he played in Orlando. Sugar Rush

    Great stuff.