Two weekends ago I took a flight out to the city of Boston to attend the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. It was a two day conference where the demand for tickets were very high (I had to register for tickets in October) and it consisted some of the most brilliant minds in sports. Getting to see some of the people you see on TV is always always a surreal experience, and that’s what I felt when I got to see the likes of Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe in person. People whose work I look up and try to be like everyday. It was truly an honor to be able to see them give advice and talk about their experience in the industry.
It wasn’t just all analytics, as some important people in sports management also participated and spoke at the conference. But the main takeaways from this conference were based in analytics.
Here are some observations from my first time at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
Basketball analytics is getting better and better each day
With the amount of different basketball metrics and advanced stats being talked about everyday, it’s easy to forget that there was a time where the term “PER” or “eFG%” were not commonplace. In terms of development, its safe to say that basketball analytics is growing more and more every day. In the conference itself, I got to see different ways people are analyzing the game. One of my favorite talks was one regarding a new way to track and group offensive possessions based on specific player movements (you can read the paper here).
Another great talk was by Seth Partnow, the former editor of Nylon Calculus who is now with the Milwaukee Bucks. He took a look at a very popular opinion in basketball these days: shooting more three-point shots than midrange. Partnow did a great job of breaking down what are some of the common “myths” that are associated with rise of three-point shooting in the NBA.
Basketball analytics is making bigger and bigger strides every day and it was very intriguing to see the new work that is being done to help improve the game.
Some other basketball talks were not analytics-based but were still very interesting. Nate Silver, the editor in chief of fivethirtyeight.com, sat down with NBA Commissioner NBA Adam Silver and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on separate occasions during the conference. Both interviews were very intriguing, especially with the commissioner giving insight in the league possibly expanding as well as tackling the issue of tanking.
Other sports have began to embrace it as well
Although I personally went to the conference to find more about basketball analytics, I was also interested in learning more about other sports and how they are embracing advanced stats. It turns out that more and more sports beyond baseball and basketball are beginning to use advanced metrics to look into player evaluation. Sports like soccer and hockey are beginning to use it more and more each year. There were some great panels and talks regarding these sports, including one that asked the question about how English Premier League teams can spend smarter to help them gain an advantage.
There is still a lot to be learned
Despite all the new advances being made, there is still a lot for people to learn about analytics. Especially those like myself who want to get a chance to be in the industry. Along with a solid understanding for the game there are numerous programming and database skills to be learned. Although I didn’t know much regarding that side of the analytics world, attending the conference gave me a great base to start with.
The two days at the conference flew by, but it left me excited for the prospect of going next year and re-connecting with some great people I met at the conference. Sports analytics has been a cool bridge for me personally between sports writing and being a computer science major, so attending the conference was certainly a good primer into a world I potentially want to get into.