Nets assistant general manager Bobby Marks, Springfield Armor general manager Milton Lee, assistant Armor operations assistant Adam Ratner, and statistical analyst Scott Sereday were among about 2,700 attendees at the two-day Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Though all 30 NBA teams had representatives in attendance, the conference resonates only with some around the league. “I don’t even know what conference you’re talking about,” Jason Kidd said when I asked him about Sloan, noting that he’s “just focused on coaching.”
Sloan, at its heart, is a trade show that blends the academic with the athletic. Mostly white, mostly male college students, from mostly affluent backgrounds, wore suits to blend in with mostly white, mostly male league executives. Researchers peddle papers in the hopes of enticing people with hiring power to snag them. There’s a horde of media (the ESPN cloud, which this site’s former intonation Nets are Scorching was a part of, is technically designated as “Sponsors,” since the World Wide Leader Sponsors the conference) and the occasional high-level sports fan that’s just there to learn. But most everyone is there to impress or be impressed, to give someone a job or get one, and your willingness to converse likely hinged on which side of that fence you stood.
That’s not to say there weren’t fun moments. Legendary coach Phil Jackson made fun of Shaquille O’Neal’s weight. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey admitted in a moment of panic that he’d called Mark Cuban to ask for Dirk Nowitzki when Morey thought he’d lost Dwight Howard to the Golden State Warriors. (Cuban, funnily enough, knew that Howard was going to Houston before Morey did, and assumed Morey was simply taunting him.) Former Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo admitted he was tanking. Malcolm Gladwell took a journalistic plunge into new NBA commissioner Adam Silver, ultimately befuddling Silver for the better part of an hour and forcing him into uncomfortable admissions of semi-guilt.
But beyond that, here’s three ways Sloan related — or could relate — to the Nets:
- 1) Sleep pays off. How important is sleep to performance? How much does it affect teams on a broad scale? Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, who’s consulted for three NBA teams on the science of sleep, presented solid evidence that sleep makes a bigger difference than you might think.
For example, teams traveling from the west coast to the east cost — thus losing three hours of sleep time — perform significantly worse than teams in similar situations that don’t travel, and road back to backs significantly reduce a team’s chances of winning. He added that the optimal sleep time is 8.2 to 8.4 hours per 24 hours, ideally in one sleep session, and that a 25-year-old male who sleeps for four hours per night for one week has testosterone levels of a 36-year-old.
Czeisler says that smarter teams practice later in the day, which allows players to sleep more and play more optimally. The Nets normally practice in the late morning and early afternoon, though some of that is due to traffic congestion in New York and New Jersey. An interesting thought nonetheless.
- 2) How to improve Brooklyn’s shoddy rebounding. One of the consistent themes around the Nets this season is that they’re one of the league’s worst rebounding teams, night in and night out; when they’re losing, it’s considered the reason, when they’re winning, it’s a quirk. One research paper, “The Three Dimensions of Rebounding,” broke down rebounding to a science: alleging that rebounding was about “positioning,” “hustle,” and “conversion,” and adjusting for those three things, it found that Kevin Garnett was one of the league’s best rebounders, even for his position.
Before doing a deeper study, I’d hypothesize that the Nets struggle in the “hustle” demarcation, which isn’t really about “hustle” as much as it is increasing your ability to get into other player’s space.
- 3) Also in attendance: Casey Wasserman of the Wasserman Media Group, which oversees Arn Tellem, agent to Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Jason Collins, and Bojan Bogdanovic.