Moneyball for Basketball – Finding the Needle in the Haystack By Chris Mast – CEO of Lean Basketball Analytics, LLC

Written by Coach Peterman

I have coached at the NCAA Division 2 (Southwestern Oklahoma State University), NAIA (USAO), and JUCO Levels (Blinn College and Carl Albert State College) as well as high school. I just felt that fellow coaches especially young coaches need to constantly work on their “game”. Just like the basketball players that we coach. We as coaches need to improve ourselves. That is my story and why I do this blog.

October 25, 2015

Basketball coaching analytics software

In my last article Basketball coaching analytics software, I explained the incredible value of Duke product Shane Battier – the value captured not by his own stats, but by his team’s increased performance while he’s on the floor. This “intangible” value cannot be explained by a standard box score. Rather, it is quantifiable through lineup analysis – what some consider to be “Moneyball for Basketball.” Lineup analysis breaks down the overall performance of a team and analyzes the parts. It tells a coach when his or her team performs at its best. For a basic understanding: your starting lineup performs differently than a lineup featuring your 6th and 7th men – lineup analysis measures the difference between their performances.

Lineup analysis tells us that when Battier was paired with James, Wade, and Bosh, the group had a plus-minus of +6. And when Battier was paired with Chalmers, Bosh, and Allen, this group had a plus-minus of +13.6. It’s how Pat Riley and Daryl Morey knew that when Battier was on the floor, the odds for success were tilted in their favor.

Applying lineup analysis is not only helpful but game-changing because it gives a coaching staff a competitive edge; applying this knowledge on the court shifts the odds in your favor. For example, if late in a game you played a lineup that shoots one of the lowest 3-PT% out of all your lineups, would you be surprised that the potentially game-winning shot was poorly selected and didn’t go in? In the alternative, if you played your lineup that generates one of the highest 3-PT% on your team, you have done your due diligence and pushed the odds in your favor of your team achieving that better outcome. Additionally through lineup analysis, you know that odds are your best rebounding lineups can secure those rebounds your team might not otherwise grab or have your team go to the line as much as possible by playing the lineups that attempt the most free throw attempts.

There are endless possibilities to which you can apply this information to gain a competitive edge over your opponents. And best of all, this type of competitive edge is now achievable through our ClinchTM software from Lean Basketball Analytics, LLC. We tested this software with UNC among other beta-test clients including Notre Dame, Georgetown, Texas, and Stanford. UNC’s story is one of our favorites and as CEO of Lean Basketball Analytics, I’d like to share…

On January 28th 2015, we met with members of UNC’s basketball coaching staff including Brad Frederick, the Tarheels’ Director of Operations. In the meeting, we walked the staff through our Clinch software’s easy-to-use interface and explained how its incredible insight can be used. UNC’s staff was impressed with the remarkable knowledge to be gained and ended with a simple question. They asked us if we had any insight about their team from Clinch already. And our response was one that is ever so typical with our teams. And it starts with “Well, you’re not going to believe this…”

This response I’ll tell you about is found hard to believe by our teams because it’s centered on an underappreciated player possessing skimpy personal stats. It’s the Shane Battier, the “diamond in the rough”, the “needle in the haystack” who is betrayed by the classic box score. It’s the type of player who plays less than half the game because “his numbers don’t back it up.” It’s the player who our Clinch software easily identifies and enables the coaching staff to know who they are missing out on.

And so our response went, “Well, you’re not going to believe this. But you’re 8th man Isaiah Hicks is one of your best. Although he only averages 14 minutes and 6 points per game, he’s in 7 of your top 10 scoring lineups and 4 of your top 5 rebounding lineups. And you have 3 particular lineups featuring him that dramatically outperform your opponents.” The staff responded with a surprised, learned understanding; after all they saw the numbers themselves that validated our recommendation. They also responded with the warning that our insight may not be used because Hall of Fame Head Coach Roy Williams would not necessarily buy into Clinch’s numbers. And so we waited.

After our meeting, two games against Louisville and Virginia go by. UNC’s play scheme did not indicate any changes based on our recommendation, and sadly UNC lost both games. The third game was different. In this third game at Boston College, our “Needle in the Haystack” player Isaiah Hicks started for UNC! Playing for 28 minutes, Hicks achieved a new career high of 21 points playing the majority of his minutes in the 3 deadly lineups we recommended to the staff. UNC went on to beat BC by double digits, and the rest is history.

Hicks possesses what we know as the “Battier Effect” – the rare, hard-to-measure effect that very few players have. It’s the effect that propels teammates’ performances to new heights. It’s the effect that creates more opportunities for a team to succeed. It’s the effect every coaching staff wants to find. And it’s something that is easily identifiable with Clinch.

To all you coaches out there, I can’t promise that you have an Isaiah Hicks or Shane Battier player on your team. If you do, Clinch will make it very clear. Even if you don’t, Clinch will provide a competitive advantage to your team. After all, if you think it’s great to know that certain lineups score better, rebound better, assist better, or defend better, then Clinch is for you. Or if you’d like becoming aware of valuable facts such as that your shooting guard’s 3-PT% skyrockets when he’s paired with your backup point guard, then Clinch is for you. Knowing and applying this type of information from Clinch shifts the odds of success in your favor!

To all the college teams out there, we are offering a limited number of trial subscriptions of Clinch’s full package for free. This package contains all the player and lineup analysis described above as well as film help and shooting charts. We want more college teams to join UVA, Georgia Tech, UCLA, Florida, and more in benefiting from the incredible insight that our software has to offer. We have packages available for high school teams as well! To get started, click the link below, fill out the “Learn More” form, and we will be in touch. We’ll even personally walk you through it so you can see just how valuable the competitive edge can be.

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