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Hoops Lab: Reviewing the Sloan Conference

Andre' Snellings

Andre' Snellings is a Neural Engineer by day, and RotoWire's senior basketball columnist by night. He's a two-time winner of the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Sloan: More Summit than Statistics

I just went to my first MIT Sloan Conference on Sports Analytics. How do I describe it? 

How about: WOW!

I didn't know what to expect from the conference before I attended. Bill Simmons once famously described it as Dork-A-Palooza, and that was what I thought it would be: a lot of big brain types arguing for their theories as to how best to quantify basketball, with some front office types hanging around deciding how convincing the arguments are. And to be fair, there was some of that at the conference.

But there was so, so much more!

Where to begin? Well, let's start at the top. I got to watch new NBA commissioner Adam Silver get absolutely GRILLED by Malcolm Gladwell for an hour as to the state of the NBA, whether the playoff system was broken, whether the lottery system encourages teams to tank, and  just how laughably greedy the NBA owners are:

I got to watch Phil Jackson and Jonathan Kraft speak for an hour on how to build a dynasty in the NBA or NFL. Jackson spoke on how Bill Cartwright would rough Michael Jordan up in practice to establish the tone of the team, on how close the Bulls came to drafting both Shawn Kemp AND Vlade Divac, and on how Dennis Rodman was one of his favorites because he was so weird.

I got to watch Stan Van Gundy act a straight up FOOL on the panels. He was the star of the day, like someone's drunk uncle at the family reunion holding court on how skeptical he was about basing decisions on numbers, how the 76ers are definitely tanking, and on how stupid it was for the Nationals to shut down Stephen Strasburg last season. Oh, and there was this gem:

At the conference, I learned that if a young man doesn't get enough sleep his testosterone levels fall to that of an older man, and that maybe Rasheed Wallace got so many technical fouls because he wasn't sleeping enough.

I heard former Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo admit from his own mouth that he tried to tank with the Raps to improve their draft status. And I learned that from some angles Heat forward Shane Battier and Celtics coach Brad Stevens look a lot alike.

And on top of all of the cool stuff, I learned a lot about basketball as well.

I learned that according to a new stat called EPV, which is based entirely on video tracking instead of the box scores, that LeBron James measures out as the best decision-maker in the NBA among high-volume players in 2014 (Jose Calderon on top overall) after Chris Paul held that mantel in 2013, and that, by the same measure, new Pistons Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings measured out as the worst decision-makers in the league (sorry McKeown brothers). 

I learned that according to a different video tracking study on rebounds, Pistons youngster Andre' Drummond is by-far the best offensive rebound value added player in the NBA and that old-man Kevin Garnett is by-far the best defensive rebound value added player. And that small forward Al-Farouq Aminu is the only player in the league to rank in the top-10 in both offensive and defensive rebound value added.

And of course, we got statistical proof of what any NBA fan would have guessed to be true: if J.R. Smith makes a shot, he's not passing again for the rest of the game.

All told, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was a great experience and one that I would encourage any NBA fan to do if you're able. I learned a lot, I had a lot of fun, and I got to experience the NBA on a level that I never have before. I'm already scheming on how to incorporate all that I learned in my basketball analysis moving forward and on how I can go back again next year!

Around the League

Durant and Westbrook outlook: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both high volume scorers that can dominate the ball. Historically Durant has been more of a finisher while Westbrook initiated, but Durant was so otherworldly on his solo mission last month that there was the thought that maybe Westbrook would move to a lesser role upon his return. Thus far that hasn't happened, as Westbrook has moved right back to the middle of the offense since he came back. Over the last week Westbrook has averaged 25 ppg and 9.3 apg while Durant has gone for 34.7 ppg and 4.3 apg, so thus far, everyone is happy.

With that said, there are still some reasons for slight worry among those that have grown used to Durant ‘s shot attempts channeling 2006 Kobe.  Westbrook put up those numbers last week in only 25 mpg (due to blowouts), and he shot a scorching 63% from the field so he only required 14.3 shots to score 25 points. Needless to say, neither of those are sustainable. When he's playing his normal 35 mpg and shooting his normal 44% from the field, we'll see whether Westbrook is content to keep his shot attempts low or whether he'll start nibbling more into Durant's pie.

Bledsoe back on Wednesday? Another pairing where one blew up in the other's absence is the backcourt in Phoenix. Eric Bledsoe's knee injury absence allowed Goran Dragic to establish himself as a rotisserie A-lister. But Bledsoe seems poised to return to the court by as soon as this Wednesday, which raises the question of how they will interact down the stretch. Bledsoe's return is excellent news for his owners that faced a real fear that he might miss the rest of the season, as he should be back to putting up at least 85% of his production in time for the roto playoffs. As for Dragic, I think he's earned enough respect in Phoenix that he'll continue to be the lead dog down the stretch but I expect his volume to decrease and his consistency to struggle as well. I don't expect any more 40-point efforts, and there'll be more klunker games mixed in with the great ones as well.

Rondo down the stretch: All season the discussion about Rondo has been whether or not he would remain with the Celtics. But now he's healthy, the trade deadline has passed, and he personally has a lot to play for down the stretch. Rondo really wants to prove to the team and the league that he wasn't just a product of his Hall of Fame teammates, and that he's a bonafide superstar in his own rights. As his minutes restrictions relax and he gets his feet under him, I expect Rondo to flirt with triple-doubles on a regular basis on this team that doesn't have anyone else to challenge him for touches.

Holiday done: Jrue Holiday was officially declared out for the season after surgery to correct a stress fracture in his right leg. Holiday had already missed the last 23 games, so we know what to expect by now in his absence. But the absence does mean that Brian Roberts is officially rosterable for the rest of the season, and that Tyreke Evans could have value for the fantasy playoffs if he can stay healthy enough to produce.

Garnett's back spasms: Kevin Garnett has missed the last four games for the Nets with back spasms, and didn't even travel back to Boston on Friday for another reunion game. I am somewhat skeptical as to the severity of the injury, as Garnett's injury came at a very convenient time schedule-wise for the Nets to fatten up on weaker competition while Garnett got some late-season rest. Though no official word has been made on his return schedule, I don't expect Garnett to miss many more games with the "back spasms".

New Additions

Terrence Jones (56% owned in Yahoo! Leagues): I usually don't include players that are owned in more than half of the leagues, but Jones was really surging last month before he was slowed by injuries and this week he's shown signs that he may still have that in him. Before struggling against the Pacers on Friday, he had averaged 19.3 points, 11 boards and 1.3 blocks over his previous three games. If Jones can continue to flirt with this type of production, he should be owned in every league.

Amar'e Stoudemire (48% owned): Stoudemire will always be a risky play, but he has moved back into the starting line-up for the Knicks and has scored in double-digits in four straight outings. He averaged 18 points and 6.7 boards over three straight games this week before a 10-point/1-rebound clunker against the Jazz. High risk…but if you need a center that can score some points on good efficiency, Stoudemire could be worth a flyer.

D.J. Augustin (44% owned): Despite coming off the bench, Augustin remains arguably the #1 scoring option in the backcourt for the Bulls. He has averaged almost 30 minutes per game over his last four outings, and has responded by averaging 19.7 points and 3.3 assists over that stretch.

Jordan Farmar (31% owned) and Kent Bazemore (31% owned): The Lakers' backcourt continues to be a MASH unit, but at the moment it appears that Farmar and Bazemore are the best options to own. Steve Nash has been all but officially shut down for the season, Steve Blake is now in Golden State, and with each passing day it makes less and less sense for Kobe Bryant to play another minute this year. Farmar has been more effective than starter Kendall Marshall, and Bazemore had been getting a steady diet of 30+ minutes before Friday's blowout loss in Denver.

Boris Diaw (20% owned): I firmly believe that the Spurs will rest their vets more down the stretch, which means that Diaw will get more chances to perform with Duncan on the bench. Diaw has shown this year that last year's renaissance wasn't a fluke, and I trust him to produce reasonably as a borderline startable stretch center down the stretch.

Jeff Adrien (6% owned): Adrien has been getting extra minutes lately, especially when Ersan Ilyasova was suspended, and he has been taking advantage. He has averaged 10.4 points and 8.4 rebounds in his last five games and could be a decent rebound role player in deep leagues.

Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.