Brad Stevens is a geek. He has a deep understanding and respect for statistics. Stevens is a guy who fantasized about employing an entire team of statisticians on his staff. In an era when old school college guys have a visceral reaction against advanced statistics, Stevens embraced them, and he won with them as a teaching tool.
On a Butler budget Stevens was only able to employ one statistician. But that person would give him 10 pages of analysis after every game. This is commonplace in the NBA, where they’ve realized that the “eye test” is only a tiny part of evaluation. And this is where the old school guys fall off the bus. They make fun of these newfangled stats (first employed in the 1950s) as if their proponents were recommending the end of film study and in-person scouting. But in the mind of someone who understands them, and someone who has the resources to mine them, advanced stats are just one more way to better understand what is happening on the floor.
Advanced stats are a tool. Stevens – like a lot of young coaches – gets it.
A little more than a decade ago Stevens was a volunteer 23-year-old at Butler. Shortly thereafter he was raised to a full time assistant. When he was 30 he was named the head coach at Butler. Now, at 36, he’s been hired to rebuild the most storied franchise in NBA history.
This is going to wake up a lot of athletic directors. It is estimated that out of 350 Division I head coaches, only 100 subscribe to kenpom. com, one the original curators of advanced stats. But if those stats were critical for Stevens – and he’s certainly not the only young coach who fully embraces them – then in their next coaching search you can bet that the topic is going to be raised. It’s also going to wake up a lot of young coaches who only currently dabble in advanced stats.
This could be the springboard for better analysis. Fans certainly haven’t fallen over each other trying to embrace the idea. They’re still a niche market. Basketball Prospectus – the site where Stevens’ statistical guru learned his chops – has gone out of business. Several of the writers were scooped up by ESPN, and there wasn’t enough interest to fill the void.
But winning is winning, and Brad Stevens won. Now that he’s shocked the basketball world by jumping to the NBA, a lot of young coaches who embrace advanced analysis will be emboldened. The job market is going to get bigger.
College basketball has been lagging behind the NBA in respect to the statistics they employ. But now that’s going to change.
Yahoo!’s Pat Forde wrote how Stevens departure opens up a coaching crisis in college basketball. But he got it all wrong. This is a coaching opportunity, and it might just change the playing field.
National writers like Forde pretend that there was a halo on Brad Stevens. They liked to imagine that he was above all the nonsense. But the nonsense of crooked recruiting and shoe company influence is institutional. Whether or not Brad Stevens is on the sidelines of Hinkle Fieldhouse makes absolutely no difference. It’s there. Cleaning up that bullshit is a different topic, and trying to link potential purity – whatever that is – to one coach is the same as trying to link global warming to one storm event. It just doesn’t add up. And if Forde had a better understanding of statistics, he’d get that.
Brad Stevens jumping to the NBA is great for the college game. It’s great for the next generation of coaches. It’s grabbed the statistical revolution which has spread throughout the NBA and its stuck it right in everyone’s face.