Golden State Warriors Win Prize for Analytics and Should Inspire You - InformationWeek

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Data Management // Big Data Analytics
Commentary
3/15/2016
05:00 PM
David Wagner
David Wagner
Commentary
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Golden State Warriors Win Prize for Analytics and Should Inspire You

Talent is important to have in any business, but without a culture of analytics you might never get the talent to pay off.

At this year's MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, the Golden State Warriors received an award for being the sports team that made the best use of analytics. Former NBA coach and current TV analyst Jeff Van Gundy had a slightly different view. "So the Warriors do everything right because [Stephen] Curry hits 40-footers?" he was quoted, joking. Actually yes, Steph Curry's amazing production is part of the proof that the Warriors really have put together a culture of analytics worth copying in all enterprises.

First, you have to understand that the Warriors franchise is in the middle of doing some nearly impossible things. They are on pace to break the all-time record for wins by a team in a single season. The Warriors' best player, Steph Curry, is on pace to obliterate his own record for 3 point shots made of 286 in a season. Estimates have him hitting between 375 and 400 by season end. To put that into perspective, if someone beat the major league baseball home run record by as much as Curry might, they would hit over 100 home runs passing the current record of 73. If someone broke the NFL touchdown passing record by the same percentage that Curry is breaking his record it would mean 77 TDs (old record 55). In other words, that's pretty remarkable.

The Warriors got their award, because they invested in all sorts of analytics, including the SportVU camera system which tracks the location of all players on the floor and the ball 24 times every second. They use that data to gain insights into players, teams, offensive and defensive sets, and anything else you can imagine from pulling together the exact data on where every player is on the floor at all times.

But Van Gundy is right. SportVU didn't make Curry good at doing this:

Here's the thing. SportVU is not actually why the Warriors are good at analytics. What makes the Warriors good at analytics is the desire to experiment.

The crazy thing about Steph Curry is that his career looked like it was over in 2012. Multiple ankle surgeries left him with the reputation that he had "glass ankles," basically the worst thing you can say about a basketball player. But from afar, a trainer for another team felt like he could remake Curry from the ankles up. He realized that the problem was that Curry was using his ankles to change directions instead of his more powerful hip and core muscles. After two full years of changing the way he worked out, Curry has been injury free and blossomed into the best player in the league.

The full, and incredible, story is here. Essentially, Curry is strong and now never misses games. The Warriors, in addition to applying new training techniques, have also started using GPS to measure player fatigue. Despite being one of most indispensable players in the league, Curry only ranks 32nd in minutes played as part of a larger effort by the Warriors to keep all their players fresh and limit injuries.

The lesson is that the Warriors are willing to look for insights and information anywhere they can get it, even from another team, even when it involves the fragile ankles of a future star. Without Curry on the floor full-time and healthy, he never gets to the point where he is jacking three's at outrageous rates. He would probably be an assistant coach right now instead. Their best player is evidence of a culture of analytics, one that keeps players (assets) on the floor.

So when Jeff Van Gundy asks, "So the Warriors do everything right because [Stephen] Curry hits 40-footers," the answer is yes. Yes, that is exactly true. Because Curry wouldn't be on the floor to hit the 40 footer if it wasn't for a culture of analytics, one that looks at the body differently and one that looks at player usage differently.

Of course, the enterprise is a different ball game. Different analytics. Different assets. Different performance. But the experimental culture, a willingness to try anything to give you an edge is what helps you find your Steph Curry, whether your Curry is a better performing management team or an algorithm. Take a lesson from the Warriors and take a new look at your organizational "glass ankles" and you may find your new MVP.

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