clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Knicks sent (at least) 4 people to the Sloan Analytics Conference

While many people assume the Knicks are completely uninterested in analytics, they actually seem to be at least somewhat committed to exploring statistical analysis.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Today and tomorrow, the 10th Annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is taking place at MIT. Basically, it's a place for a bunch of sports executives, writers/broadcasters, and fans (and occasionally players) to meet and talk about advances in sports analytics, hence the name. (Side note: One of the papers submitted this year is a pretty cool one that analyzes ball screen defense.)

Paul Halverson very helpfully took note of NBA teams who sent at least 4 people to this weekend's conference:

Look! The Knicks are there! Having sent four people to Boston for the weekend, they fall in the middle of the pack. A few things to note here: first, the Celtics would be crazy not to send a bunch of people to a huge conference taking place in Boston; second, SSAC is pretty much Daryl Morey's favorite thing on Earth, so there are always a ton of Rockets people there; third, Phil Jackson and Steve Mills are definitely not part of the Knicks' contingent considering they're currently traveling with the team.

Honestly though, the number of people the Knicks sent to SSAC is not as relevant as the fact that they showed something more than a cursory interest in the conference. Since the moment the team hired Phil, the prevailing theory about their interest in analytics has been that it's completely nonexistent, based mainly on the public perception of Jackson. For example, you may remember that last February, ESPN published an article ranking all 122 teams in the four major sports by their interest in exploring statistical analysis. The Knicks ranked last in the NBA and second to last overall. This is what Kevin Pelton said about the team:

Phil Jackson won 11 rings as a coach in the 1990s and 2000s, but the Zen Master's basketball philosophy is as out of fashion in 2015 as isolations and midrange jumpers, both of which are hallmarks of the triangle offense. Jackson, who privately scoffs at analytics, has tweeted, "3ptrs are not always the key" and set out to prove it in the Big Apple, where the Knicks lead the NBA in attempting midrange shots and the Eastern Conference in losses. The Knicks have deep enough pockets to spend even a marginal amount on metrics, yet, according to sources, ignore analytics altogether, content to watch Carmelo Anthony pound the ball -- and the franchise -- into irrelevance.

Seth wrote about it at the time, and I think his view of the situation is still correct. A negative opinion of the Knicks in this regard seems to rest on Phil's adherence to the Triangle offense. But as Seth noted, the Knicks had (and still have) an analytics department. Phil presumably knows that James Dolan pays those guys to work for the Knicks, and he hasn't fired them. He even allowed 4 of them to spend a weekend in Boston talking to other people about analytics!

There's no real way to argue that the Knicks are at the forefront of the analytics movement. Hell, they're not even the most analytically-inclined sports team in New York. (That honor goes to either the Mets or the Yankees, which makes sense considering baseball teams are ahead of the analytics curve in general.) However, they don't willfully ignore statistical analysis. I would go so far as to say they're at least curious enough to test out new types of analysis; I'm thinking, specifically, of how they were one of the first teams to install SportVU cameras in their arena.

Unless the Knicks replace Phil Jackson with someone like Daryl Morey or Sam Hinkie -- and going that route absolutely has its drawbacks as well -- they'll never be leading the analytics charge. But they allocate a legitimate amount of their resources to statistical analysis, and that's fine. They're not a front office full of Goose Gossages, no matter what the media would have you believe.