Sloan Conference (#SSAC): Some Random Thoughts

This weekend, I had the absolute pleasure of covering the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference for ESPN and the TrueHoop Network. The panels & presentations were absolutely brilliant throughout, and while I felt like an idiot at the beginning of the conference, I felt like slightly less of an idiot afterwards.

Here are some bullet points from the conference:

  • Daryl Morey noted during one of the panels that twenty of the league’s 30 teams have an analytics department. The Nets, having hired Milton Lee earlier this year, are thankfully are one of these teams. However, the impression I got from some of the guys there is that the Nets aren’t really on the forefront of analytics. Given the absolute brilliant stuff I saw this weekend, I hope the Nets continue to move closer to it than further away.
  • One of the most impressive pieces from the weekend was Sandy Weil’s optical tracking data, which looks at how well players shoot as a function of the defense on the floor. For example: a defender within three feet drops expected field goal percentage from 50 percent to 38 percent, and field goal percentage overall drops one percentage point every 1.5 feet away from the rim (within standard ranges). Absolutely fascinating stuff, and applicable to the Nets: every time Travis Outlaw takes a contested jumper, I can now relax knowing that the data confirms what a bad decision it was. (Wait, what?)
  • Speaking of Travis Outlaw, this year’s winner for the best research paper was Arup Sen, who did a phenomenal piece on the moral hazard of long-term guaranteed contracts. Sen looked at how players performed in the final years of their old contracts as opposed to the first year of their new ones, and found a significant dropoff in production. This falls in line with the conventional wisdom of the “contract year,” and I think also explains how players can get lazy after signing that long-term deal. Sen proposed that the league should be looking more toward short-term deals in the future to maximize player performance.
  • Speaking of the league looking toward short-term deals (man, these bullets really have continuity!) I had the pleasure of chatting with Bill Simmons for a few minutes. His impression was that the league’s not going to limit the salary cap as much as the length of contracts in the new collective bargaining agreement. He also doesn’t think the Nets have a great shot at re-signing Deron Williams, but gives them a chance and agreed that they had to make the deal. (His off-the-cuff odds of them re-signing him were 1 in 3.)
  • I wrote a piece on Matthew Goldman’s ideas about dynamic efficiency, which I’ve since spoken with him about. His work is fascinating, and offers up some very interesting conclusions. You can read my piece here.
  • Mark Cuban also listed TrueHoop sister site NBA Playbook as one of his favorite sites. This has added meaning for us, since the genius behind that site is none other than NaS editor emeritus Sebastian Pruiti. I don’t want to speak for him, but I know if Cuban mentioned us, the phrase “walking on air” wouldn’t have done it justice.
  • I have to say: it’s clear watching Cuban talk just exactly why he’s a billionaire. The guy is ten steps ahead of all the guys who are ten steps ahead. If the Nets truly have the Russian Mark Cuban, they’re in very good hands. Now if only they’d utilize that tracking data…
  • Sloan will soon have video from every single panel available on their home page. When they do, I highly suggest you watch every single one.