The 2018 NBA Finals are set, pitting the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors for the fourth year in a row. The Warriors built themselves a superteam to reach the finals, while the Cavs built themselves around a superstar in LeBron James.
How do you beat a superteam…or a superstar? The Warriors and Cavaliers were both stretched to the limit in the conference final round by the Rockets and Celtics, respectively. Houston and Boston, who both lost in Game 7s, are frontrunners in the NBA’s analytics revolution, where teams use data to try to get the upper hand. Even though the Rockets and the Celtics didn’t reach the NBA Finals, there are still lessons analytics leaders can learn from their success this year.
Analytics in sports
In a sense, the NBA is catching up to Major League Baseball in its use of data. Whenever someone talks about the increased use of analytics in sports, credit is given to the 1990s Oakland A’s. And while those “Moneyball” teams were the first to capture the public’s attention—and certainly the first to make it to the big screen—really what the sports world is doing is just catching up to what’s been happening in the business world for decades.
The data used for analytics might look different, depending on the organization and industry it’s in. But the overall goal is the same—using that data, whether it’s three-point shots made in basketball or number of patients re-admitted to a hospital in healthcare, to help the business succeed. In sports, success means wins. And championships.
Whether it’s the NBA Finals or the World Series, teams are reaching the pinnacle of their sport by applying the same analytics strategies a non-sports entity might use in a different—ahem—arena.
Start at the top and get buy-in from everyone in the organization
The organizations in sports that have most benefitted from analytics are the ones in which everyone is on board, starting at the top. When Theo Epstein took over the Chicago Cubs as president of baseball operations, he targeted and brought in Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon to lead his team on the field because he knew Maddon was the right man to execute the organization’s plan.
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