The Mavericks aren't generally regarded as an analytics-driven organization to the same extent as the rival Rockets down I-45. But in response to recent comments from Hall of Famer Charles Barkley dismissing the advanced stats movement, Mavs owner Mark Cuban told KRLD-FM 105.3 that the team has been using analytics to some extent since he bought the team in 2000.
Cuban's former statistics professor at Indiana University, Wayne Winston, has played a big role in that regard for the franchise and analytics apparently played a role in playoff victories in 2005 and 2011, according to the Mavs owner.
"We started using advanced plus/minus to help us, and it started to help us quite a bit," Cuban said in the interview. "It eventually helped us come back from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs against Houston, based on what the numbers said. Putting JJ (Barea) in the mix in the championship run had a lot to do with analytics."
But advanced stats apparently haven't deterred the team from acquiring players who aren't beloved by the analytics community. Cuban said the team was confident that Monta Ellis would fit because of better coaching and better teammates than he'd had at previous stops.
It really didn’t matter what the analytics were because we knew that we could make him better. You use analytics as a way to identify guys, and you use the eye test to confirm or not whether they can be an asset to your team, and vice versa, you use the eye test to say this guy looks good, but then you see in the numbers if you are missing anything. So they have to go hand in hand.
Analytics has been around for a while but it's become much more prominent recently in discussions of the league and analysis of teams and players. Cuban said that's in part because of a generation of owners.
Now the old school guys have sold their teams to hedge fund guys, data driven guys, guys who understand numbers, understand investing, and understand trying to hire the best people possible in order to win. These guys are much smarter in that area, and because of that, they bring in GMs who are data driven, as well.
Cuban also acknowledged in the interview that teams get less of an edge from using analytics because everyone is essentially doing the same thing now. That's probably true to a large extent but there is still some vocal opposition to decision making driven by advanced stats within the league as well as from retired players like Barkley. Lakers Coach Byron Scott's distaste for high volumes of three point attempts, for example, seemed to be based on a gut feeling as much as anything else.
Although Cuban disagreed that the analytics debate had gotten personal, it seems pretty clear there's been some hurt feelings involved--even setting aside the normal internet vitriol. Some NBA observers have noted a connection to players dislike' of being viewed as commodities. Rockets GM Daryl Morey, a frequent sparring partner of Cuban's, has been criticized for creating just that perception. And being viewed as just a cog in a machine is galling for workers in any environment.
@SherwoodStrauss It goes beyond sports. When someone wants to Moneyball your office, that means they are going to fire a bunch of people.— Jonathan Tjarks (@JonathanTjarks) February 13, 2015
Cuban's comments indicate that the Mavs front office at least uses analytics as one of many tools to assess the team. That's a good cue that the debate has probably gotten out of proportion.