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September 27, 2011

The Pistons Embrace Analytics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 6:31 pm

I missed the news a couple of weeks ago that the new coaching staff of Lawrence Frank in Detroit will include Charles Klask, who had served as the Orlando Magic’s scouting information director. The responsibilities of that nebulous title included providing Stan Van Gundy with statistical analysis.

According to’s Zach Lowe, the addition of Klask is just part of a change in how the Pistons will utilize statistical analysis under their new ownership group. Lowe talked with Robert Wentworth at Saturday’s New England Symposium on Statistics and Sports, an academic-minded one-day program held biannually at Harvard University. Wentworth is a partner for Platinum Equity, the private equity firm whose founder, Tom Gores, purchased the Detroit franchise earlier this summer. He expounded on the team’s plan for using advanced statistics. You guys just hired Charles Klask, who did this kind of work for the Magic and [Orlando head coach] Stan Van Gundy. How did you settle on him as the right guy to start this movement within the organization?

Wentworth: That was all Lawrence Frank (Detroit’s new head coach). He was out there beating the bushes and had come up with Charles as the guy who will help do all that game preparation. But he’s not the sole resource we’ll end up with at the end of the day. So you plan to hire more folks with this kind of background? Or spend more resources on this kind of research?

Wentworth: That is a pretty good assumption. There are various ways you can approach this, either through hiring in-house or using outside resources. Charles is going to focus on working with the coaching staff on a day-to-day basis, and we’ll continue to look at how statistical analysis can help us on the basketball operations side — in free agency and all of that.

I’m not sure I have an exact count on the number of teams that employ an analyst at this point, and this situation points out why such a strict definition is less than ideal. The Magic will continue to use analytics, surely, but Otis Smith told the Orlando Sentinel the team will replace Klask from within.

Using that broader sense, I come up with 19 teams that have displayed considerable interest in modern statistical analysis. There are another four that have shown an awareness of the latest developments by sending representatives to the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, for example. That leaves seven teams–less than a quarter of the league–who do not apparently value analytics whatsoever. Even that number to shrink further as more teams change hands and new ownership groups with analytical backgrounds take over, as we’ve seen within the last year in both Detroit and Golden State.

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