Now that the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference is over, what did we learn?
Our 5-on-5 writers weigh in.
1. What was the fifth-biggest takeaway from the MIT conference?
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: The psychology of missed free throws is rich and interesting, as John Hollinger explains nicely on video. Home teams miss more than you'd expect in crunch time, while road teams -- the ones subjected to all those ThunderStix and screaming fans -- seem unaffected by the pressure. The memo is that trying too hard to please can hurt, not help, in certain tasks in which more effort can mess you up.
Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: That executives and coaches firmly assert that most players have no interest in analytics unless it's formed in an easily digestible manner. Regardless of veracity, the significant dearth of player perspective in the analytical and reflective panels was striking.
Daniel Nowell, Magic Basketball: This stats business has definitely gone mainstream. I've heard tales of a grungy little conference filled with a couple hundred geeks, but this year's quant convocation drew business schools, a plethora of sponsors, bona-fide celebrities and media heavy hitters. Analytics ain't underground any more.
Tom Sunnergren, Philadunkia: Analytics that can tell us reliably who the best man defenders in the NBA are -- an area that we don't even have bad stats to argue over yet -- are coming fast. The leaps will be enabled by visual data harvested by the advanced camera systems some arenas are already being equipped with and, I'm told, we're about a year out from having a UZR for NBA defenders.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes Of Hell: There is so much ground left uncovered. Quantitative analysts are already responsible for great advances in how we understand the game, but in many ways they're just getting started.
2. What was the fourth-biggest takeaway from the MIT conference?
Abbott: You can get more offensive rebounds by running closer to the hoop.
Kharpertian: That the field of sports analytics, as exciting and innovative as it may be, is still largely made up of white, upper-middle-class males.
Nowell: I need to rethink my Pop-A-Shot mechanics. I never consistently picked a style, switching back and forth from trying to bank shots in the hoops arcade game to trying to use a nice touch and high release. All told, maybe everybody in the universe is better at Pop-A-Shot than I am.
Sunnergren: Sleep. Two important facts to know here. (1) Sleep quality is an incredibly important determinant of our athletic and cognitive abilities. (2) People in general and athletes in particular do a lousy job getting enough of it. They're working on licking this problem.
Varner: The business of sports is being measured more precisely than ever before -- from ingress/egress command centers to the incredibly scientific ways ticket prices are set. Sloan reflects a shift in how we understand our lives more than how we understand sports.
3. What was the third-biggest takeaway from the MIT conference?
Abbott: For all the talk of productivity, personality looms huge. Characters like Drew Carey, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Cuban dominate. Related: The key task for the stats community, now and into the future, is finding palatable narratives. Spreadsheets are not fun enough.
Kharpertian: That the positional revolution is getting more and more real every single day. Two different researchers found 13 and 14 positions and roles, respectively. The shelf life of the "1-5" narrative is hitting its expiration date.
Video is the future of analytics. Time and again, coaches, ex-players and former front office personnel from a variety of sports said that video will drive future analysis. Video is something that takes theoretical points off the page and gives them life, and allows the benefits of analysis to be immediately visible.
Sunnergren: To steal a line from a panelist, the next frontier of athletic training will focus on what's above the shoulders. Here's the problem now: To get really good at, say, playing quarterback in the NFL, you need to spend about 10,000 hours doing it. Unfortunately, those 10,000 hours that your mind needs to tame the complexity of the sport also absolutely wreck your body. The solution: a separation of those two things. Computer games are being leaned on now, but more immersive virtual reality practice technologies are on the way.
Varner: During his talk with Bill Simmons, Mark Cuban was steadfast in his belief that there will be a dramatic repricing of the free agent market in 2013. If this proves true, many NBA teams will become the Oakland A's that summer and hoops moneyball will assume an even more prominent role in determining team success.
4. What was the second-biggest takeaway from the MIT conference?
Kharpertian: That the future of sports analytics isn't just in the numbers. Optical tracking data, medical and athletic optimization, neurological training, and further innovations combined with the advanced numbers that track a range of abilities. We've got a bright future in understanding sports ahead.
Nowell: Related to my point above, analytics need to be made accessible now more than ever. As the complexity of analytic advancement increases, it will be paramount for people in the movement to break their discoveries down into usable, practical insights for people in decision-making capacities, such as coaches and GMs.
Sunnergren: Biomarkers. We're nearing a point where players will play games outfitted with stickers that measure and transmit, wirelessly, actionable information about their real-time health -- oxygen levels, hydration, glucose, respiration, etc. -- directly to their teams, who will then use that information to determine how capable that guys is -- in that particular moment -- of, for instance, defending Kobe Bryant. Yeah.
Varner: Everyone is looking for the statistical holy grail, and no one will find it. New numbers provide us with helpful new perspectives, but no single number provides an absolute perspective by which we must understand the game. We should be careful not to pass off any one new understanding as a kind of final understanding.
5. What was the biggest takeaway from the MIT conference?
Abbott: Optical tracking data will change everything. We have to throw away the old questions we had of numbers, and start asking enormous questions. We are going to learn things about the game that we never thought were even knowable.
Kharpertian: That Drew Carey -- yes, that Drew Carey -- is at the forefront of innovation in sports ownership. His status in a small market gives him the opportunity to experiment with different strategies, but his commitment to fan engagement is sublime -- most notably allowing the fanbase to vote out the GM every four years if they so desire. If the NBA had 30 Drew Carey's, we'd have a better league.
Nowell: The future is now. The revolution is currently on your television. Whatever cliché you want to use, and whether you're a supporter or not, these analytics are achieving breathtaking insights -- as in, right now, already -- and the only question now is what teams will make the best use of those insights and whether fans will get on board.
Sunnergren: There's a war coming. The rapidly developing biotechnologies that will give us unprecedented insight into a player's limits and capabilities -- using DNA to determine susceptibility to certain injuries, behaviors, etc. -- is hurtling toward a head-on, zero-sum collision with moral concerns such as privacy rights and how deterministic a society we're comfortable living in. Like Gattaca, except everybody's really tall.
Varner: Space is the next frontier. Everything from ticket pricing, rebounding and evaluating shooters is being thought of in new ways based upon spatial considerations. The geography of basketball is largely unexplored, or at least underrepresented, by the numbers we currently consult.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Henry Abbott writes for ESPN.com. Devin Kharpertian, Daniel Nowell, Tom Sunnergren and Timothy Varner contribute to the TrueHoop Network.