It would have been tough for TrueHoop to have covered the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference any more than we did. And yet, despite all that, the huge point we really haven't captured is that this conference was a point of no return for the NBA. Kevin Arnovitz and Henry Abbott discuss.
Arnovitz: One of the questions I'm not sure we've answered is what has happened over the past 12 months that caused the attendance at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference to go from 400 to a thousand attendees plus a 400-person wait list.
Abbott: The real answer here is going to make me sound the nerd who picks a fight the jocks, which is a bad position to be in. But I think this might be case of the real truth being that people who understood the power of geekery were always right. It was always the right direction, and teams that took advantage early were on to something that is helping win games, and now everybody else is going to have to run to catch up. I'm not saying everything every stat geek has ever said is gold. But I am saying that smart analysis, even from laptops, over the long haul, matters in the way that a good pair of running shoes matters in winning marathons. It's not going to run the race for you, but at the same time, you can't come to the starting line in penny loafers. Anyway, getting to your question -- when something's really happening to help people win games in the NBA, word gets around. (Also, it's a legendary networking opportunity, so there are also just a lot of schmoozers.)
Arnovitz: Last year, the substance of the sessions and presentations was enlightening. We learned a lot, and the conference framed some really important issues in very smart ways. That was true again this year, but the event also felt bigger -- not just in attendance, but in import. It seemed to make a mark. Most NBA teams were represented. That's a profound endorsement.
Abbott: We should disclose we're aware, that to many of you, we sound like total dorks here.
Arnovitz: And maybe a little bit tribal. But I think this stuff has relevance beyond stat heads and NBA front offices. If I'm a fan, I want my team to be one of those 16 in attendance. That would demonstrate a commitment not only to smart thinking, but to winning.
Abbott: You put your finger on it. That might be the mark this conference left. It's now clear there's a lot of force behind what's happening here. It's powerful to see smart alpha dogs like Mark Cuban and Jonathan Kraft vying to more closely align themselves with this movement. It now seems like the teams who don't do this stuff will soon be exposed as backward. It's happening. Get on board.
Arnovitz: Getting back to the question of "why this year," advancement in technology grows exponentially. 2009-10 might be the season when that curve really started to veer upward. We're seeing that trend everywhere, not just in sports.
Abbott: Back up there when I was talking about running shoes -- anyone wearing penny loafers who sees a competitor humming along in their Nikes ... they're going to quickly get some new shoes, and they're never going to run in penny loafers again. When ideas spread like that, quickly and in one direction, things happen fast. The stat geek population curve is steep.
Arnovitz: There is a level of certitude, or at least confidence. Last year it feel like the general tone was, "Hey we're really on to something." This year, the collective spirit of the conference was, "Maybe we haven't won yet, but we're up 18 in the fourth quarter."