I spent the past weekend at the 2014 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. It was my fifth straight year attending and, as always, there are many interesting matters discussed as it pertains to the use of statistics in sports. While analytics if the focus of the conference, there are always some discussions that are more wide-ranging in nature, so Ill try to cover as much as I can, with this write-up providing a more general overview of the conference before I post the second part, which will focus more specifically on the hockey content. NBA COMMISSIONER ADAM SILVER NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was impressive in a one-on-one interview with Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell grilled Silver and, for the most part, he was forthcoming with his responses. Now, when Gladwell hammered away at the greed of some NBA owners, foremost among his concerns was the Dolans in New York, getting tax breaks as they arent required to pay property taxes on Madison Squate Garden, one of the most valuable pieces of land in Manhattan. For as much grief as Gladwell takes in some quarters for the pop science in his books, he was a great choice to interview Silver because he wasnt afraid to ask the commish difficult questions, yet did so, with follow-up queries, without the interview getting uncomfortable or contentious. Some of that goes to Silver, who was forthcoming in his responses or, when defending the tax positions of billionaire owners, was clearly speaking from the commissioner playbook. There are times its transparently difficult to defend the indefensible. BASKETBALL ANALYTICS Silver talked about the removing disincentive for teams to win and this was a big topic at the conference. It speaks to the situation in which the NBA finds itself this year, with a handful of teams competing for the title and perhaps twice as many aiming for a top lottery pick. Houston Rockets GM, and Conference Co-Chair, Daryl Morey plainly stated that the NBA has to find a way to eliminate tanking incentive. New Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive joked with Boston Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck, on a panel about Ownership Perspective, that Silver said the Celtics were tanking, to which Grousbeck quickly replied, "And what you are you doing?" The Kings are currently 23rd in the NBA standings, the Celtics 27th. Former Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo even caused a stir when he admitted to tanking. "I tried to tank a couple of years ago," he said on the In-Game Innovations panel. "It didnt work." Colangelo made it clear that he never told player or coaches not to do their best to win but, as anyone seeing how teams are constructed would understand, management can put together a roster that is less likely to win games. Former coach Stan Van Gundy is not a fan of the tanking. He ripped the Philadelphia 76ers, with Sixers GM Sam Hinkie in the audience, saying, "What the 76ers are doing is embarrassing. Cant put out that lineup and think they can win." Boston Celtics Assistant GM Mike Zarren, a panelist every year at the conference, has proposed a wheel format that would replace the current draft and its a fascinating theory, definitely one that would remove the incentive for tanking, but there are practical issues at play too. Silver loved the idea initially, but acknowledged that there will be some hurdles to overcome if that kind of solution is going to happen in reality. Silver also mentioned how NBA players have approached the league about a mid-season break for all, noting how All-Stars dont get a break and the grind of the season can be taxing on the leagues best players, logging more than 30 minutes a night, night after night. This was particularly interesting, given all the recent complaints in NHL circles about the Olympic break. The most shocking admission from Silver was that he acknowledged how gambling and point spreads increase interest in games that might otherwise be mismatches. This is no secret to the world at large, but the nature of all league commissioners has been to dismiss out of hand the benefits that the league might receive from gambling. When discussing how much teams ought to be spending on analytics, Colangelo put the range between $250,000 and $500,000 per year. When you consider the size of contracts in professional sports, its not unreasonable to think that an analytics department could lead to decisions that would save at least that much. One of the great developments in terms of NBA statistics is the emergence of SportVu data. Among the countless things tracked by the SportVu cameras, they can track how far a player has run -- Trail Blazers SF Nicolas Batum is up to nearly 160 miles for the season -- and Grantlands Zach Lowe, moderating the Basketball Analytics panel, wonders if that kind of data will really prove to have value in terms of injury prevention. The detail of this tracking data is so new that its difficult to know, but its easy enough to see how, someday, knowing the specifics as it relates to a players workload could result is more efficient usage in order to reduce the chances of injury. To counter, Van Gundy vehemently disagreed with playing time limits because he felt it was a lot of guesswork and cited the Washington Nationals decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg in 2012 as a random determination. "How did they come up with 160 innings," asked Van Gundy. "Why not 170?" Van Gundy insisted that professional sports come with a risk of injury and that not playing obviously reduces that risk, but only because no one will get hurt when they arent actually participating. As the old-school NBA guy, Van Gundy also insisted that there is no substitute for watching film, and that the only numbers he trusts are ones that his own people keep. The trouble with this approach, of course, is that if the only statistics that matter are kept by internal sources, then biases are more apt to creep in than if it is a league-wide measurement. No one pointed this out to Van Gundy, but it could also be said that the value of statistics isnt so much in learning more about your own team. It can certainly help, but helping to provide value and context for players throughout the league is where statistics can provide much more information. As ESPNs Director of Production Analytics Dean Oliver noted on another panel (re: college football playoffs), "A human can see a game better than the numbers can, but the numbers can see every game." While I use some of Van Gundys comments to echo a point made by Steve Kerr, the former Suns GM, who noted that getting buy-in from some coaches remains an issue, its not as if Van Gundy is a total dinosaur and its enitrely possible that a coach views the game differently than those tasked with building long-term. As Van Gundy stated, "When youre coaching, youre coaching to your personnel, not to an analytics philosophy," and theres some measure of truth in that, because theres no point in having an analytics stategy that doesnt fit your personnel. As part of the In-Game Innovations Panel, George Karl was quite progressive in his thinking, but acknowledged that he had a track record that allowed him more flexibility, contrasting with younger coaches who can get crucified (by media, fans) for trying to be innovative. Misaligned goals is a common problem for professional sports teams and its part of the reason that there was a panel at Sloan this year entitled Inside the War Room: Building Alignment from Front Office to Field. It featured Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff and Heach Coach Mike Smith and its an issue that is pervasive when it comes to applying analytics to professional sports. Its one thing to have Mark Cuban as your owner and the organization falls in line because the owner takes a clear position and its another to have a general manager trying to keep his job and a head coach trying to keep his job and they arent necessarily pulling in the same direction to achieve their respective goals. Furthermore, as Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted, "We live in a day and age with so much more information," he said. "The challenge is communicating that information to the team." Stevens admitted that some players, like Rajon Rondo, would devour the analytics because thats the way hes wired ("He could be here," Stevens joked.), but that other players arent wired that way, so it falls on the coaches to try to get their point across in a way that will appeal to players on their terms. Its not easy to get players to buy into stats. On my flight home from Boston, I happened to read a feature on Tom Brady during which Brady made a couple of seemingly contradictory statements, one of which was, "I would say I perform at a much higher level as a player now than I did when we won Super Bowls." The other was: "Theres one stat that matters, and thats wins." When youre a player, wins are what matter; thats the objective. What analytics will tell us, though, is that Brady is precisely right that he is playing better now than he did when New England was winning Super Bowls, the last of which came after the 2004 season. That his team hasnt won the championship does not mean that Bradys individual performance has declined, a position that is taken altogether too often when evaluating the performance of individual players. A lot that is beyond the control of one individual goes into whether a team wins or loses a game, let alone a championship. As the Godfather of Analytics, Bill James offered a measured response for coaches, particularly as it applied to in-game innovation. James said that coaches are control freaks, but chaos can be useful, so the best coaches learn to appreciate the chaos. This was followed by Morey telling a story about when Jeff Van Gundy was the coach in Houston and Morey had printouts for all the plays that the Rockets would run, with measures for efficiency and Morey didnt recognize the code for the most effective play, so he asked Van Gundy. "Thats Random," said the coach, "when the (called) play breaks down." Sometimes all the analysis and planning goes out the window and you just have to let the players play. BASEBALL ANALYTICS Stepping aside from the NBA for a bit, it comes as no surprise that baseball would be well-represented at a sports analytics conference. After all, baseball brought us the aformentioned Mrl James and Moneyball -- the kind of objective analysis that is at the core of modern analytics. The baseball panel, which was likely the best panel of the conference -- at least the best I saw, using my Panel Analytics -- was moderated by MLB Networks Brian Kenny and that set the right tone. Kenny favours an analytical approach and the panel included Vince Gennaro, Bill Squadron, Rob Neyer, Nate Silver (of 538 fame) and Houston Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. To no ones surprise, a panel full of analytics-oriented people had an interesting conversation about advances in analytics. Even at a point when Kenny ventured towards the idea about whether there would be a way to actually measure chemistry, he did so with some obvious skepticism and I was in full agreement with Neyers point that there are plenty of teams with great chemistry that dont win and teams with horrible chemistry -- citing the Oakland As and New York Yankees of the 1970s -- that won a lot. My take is that chemistry is the kind of thing that gets awarded to winners after the fact. Sure, the Red Sox won the World Series because they had great clubhouse chemistry, but would that chemistry have been any different if they didnt win? Luhnow later said, "There is no correlation between being a nice guy or a good person and being a good baseball player." The character issue is a tricky one when it comes to sports. No one wants to work with someone that is a pain in the butt, but if that person can help you win, sometimes the decision isnt so easy. Neyer also noted how economics havent quite caught up with analytics. "Does anyone get paid for pitch-framing," he asked, addressing one of the hottest evolutions in defensive data -- the catcher who saves his team by drawing more called strikes. Neyer asked if anyone was paying for Jose Molina saving a team 20 runs with pitch framing and while the flat answer is no, there are some players that have major league jobs because they are adept at pitch framing. Of course, their value will be eliminated once the robot umpires take over but, in the mean time, its an area in which players can gain an edge. One of the ongoing memes between those in analytics and old-school people is the idea that the spreadsheet nerds need to watch the games. Of course, no one has ever suggested teams not watch games; the real value comes in using new data and applying it while watching games. For example, Luhnow said that the Astros incorporate information from their scouts in their "best in class" projection system. He also said that the Astros have five analysts with advanced degrees and they have all spent a lot of time in the clubhouse. Baseball isnt merely about analytics for teams, though since, with all teams using them, there are fewer advantages available; they also use them to increase fan interest. Squadron noted that predictive analytics can increase fan engagement, including for use in fantasy sports. Taking a page from Adam Silver, Ill also acknowledge that predictive analytics increase the engagement of the gambling audience too. One of the pieces of new technology that MLB Digital Media showcased, was this tracking technology that would provide data on the routes run by fielders to get to batted balls, designating a straight line as 100% efficient and comparing a fielders actual route taken. With more information, there will be better ways to evaluate fielders and provide a more comprehensive value to players overall. There is so much potential with the player tracking data in the sports that are willing to use it. MORE CONFERENCE NOTES New England Patriots President Jonathan Kraft: "Statistical analysis in football primarily takes place in the offseason." Kraft also told a 2000 Draft Day story about how, in the fifth round, Bill Belichick was holding Tom Bradys name card and asking how the Patriots could pass him over, saying he provided too much value, but the Patriots had Drew Bledsoe, didnt need a quarterback, so they used their two fifth-round picks that year on TE Dave Stachelski (one catch for five yards in his career) and DT Jeff Marriott, who never played in the NFL, before relenting and letting Belichick have his guy in the sixth round. Both Kraft and Calgary Flames President Brian Burke (more on him in the hockey edition) talked about how important it was, in capped leagues, to get useful contributions from players on entry-level contracts. Former Bulls and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson: "(Rodman) had an engine that never stopped...but it took him to the bars after too." Jackson also said that the Bulls had to change the guards on Michael Jordan every practice, to build them back up, and cited Warriors PG Steph Curry as a current player that would thrive in his Triangle Offence. Dean Oliver, ESPNs Director of Production Analytics: "We dont under-estimate the intelligence of the sports fan." Some might argue the World Wide Leaders programming decisions, particularly with respect to this statement, but having a department of Production Analytics shows the kind of effort being made behind the scenes to get accurate and reliable information to the fan. Oliver was speaking on a Big Data panel with tennis great Mary-Jo Fernandez, who was emphatic in her desire to use data to provide better analysis for tennis viewers. Fernandez showed some interesting plot data on serves by Serena Williams and how when its compared to others, that Serenas dominance on the serve (and how she achieves it) can be presented in an easy-to-understand visual format. They also use heat maps showing where a player spends most of their time in the match. In the example Fernandez cited, Serena barely left the baseline the whole match. John Hollinger, who was hired away from ESPN, by the Memphis Grizzlies as their VP of Basketball Operations: "The most important part of basketball analytics is salary cap optimization." This goes back to the point about how much teams ought to be spending on analytics. In a capped league, especially, saving money on the cap affects future moves and what possibilities are open to teams. To think that analytics cant help that process is beyond my comprehension. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff echoed Hollingers sentiments, saying that you cant separate economics from analytics in sports. During a golf presentation, there was a an interesting measure of strokes gained and lost, per shot. Presented, in part, by swing coach Sean Foley, the data showed strokes gained and lost for every shot (eg. +0.3 strokes on the tee shot, +0.1 on approach, -0.2 first putt etc.) and it revealed that its the long game that makes the bigger difference on tour. Foley also used the data to help build up Justin Rose, who was beating himself up over what he thought was a struggling approach game, only to have Foley show him the stats that said Rose was gaining more strokes on his approach than anyone on tour at the time. On this years sports betting panel, moderator Jeff Ma expressed his doubts that The Sports Boss, panelist Patrick Donovan, was using a seriously analytical approach when he started talking about getting a feel for a teams emotional level. Any time youre at an analytics conference and someone heads down the road discussing emotion, psychology etc. there are going to be a certain number of eye rolls because no one knows how to quantify that information. My experience has been that kind of thing gets awarded retroactively (ie. winners are determined to have played harder, with more emotion, etc.) Las Vegas Hotel Superbook Manager Jay Kornegay: "You guys might be very disappointed if I told you how we came up with some of these lines." Kornegay said that they dont use a complicated computer algorithm to determine lines. They have a group of handicappers in-house and they come up with the line as a group but, basically, its on feel. As Kornegay noted, "We (bookmakers) get paid for being close." More Kornegay: The Super Bowl line is geared toward public money while the rest of the year is against the sharps. Check back soon for my piece on Hockey at the 2014 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference! Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook. 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Custom Arizona Cardinals Jerseys . -- Adrian Peterson remained in a walking boot to treat a high ankle sprain on his left leg on Wednesday, and coach Leslie Frazier said he will not play on Sunday against Atlanta if he cant hit the practice field in the next two days. Andre Smith Cardinals Jersey .ca. In Sundays Blackhawks-Penguins game, Pittsburgh defenceman Brooks Orpik laid a huge hit on Chicagos Jonathan Toews. Now in my view, Orpik can be clearly seen leaving his feet while delivering a moderately high hit.FIA race director Charlie Whiting has explained Lewis Hamilton was not punished for going off track at the Mexican GP because the Mercedes driver did not gain a lasting advantage. The decision not to penalise Hamilton at the start of the last race was challenged by Red Bull after Max Verstappen was hit by a five-second penalty for, like Hamilton, missing the circuits first corner.However, as Whiting revealed immediately after the race to Sky F1s Martin Brundle, data showed from Hamiltons car showed that the Mercedes driver immediately slowed upon returning to the track. Verstappen, on the other hand, was defending from Sebastian Vettel when he lost control of his Red Bull car under braking. Whitings explanation was provided in full during a captivating but highly unusual briefing at the end of the traditional pre-event drivers press conference for this weekends Brazilian GP when Whiting joined Hamilton, Vettel, Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo and Williams Felipe Massa to talk through the incidents.Hours after Whitings appearance, Ferrari announced they would appeal against Vettels demotion, stating that a number of new elements had come to light after the decision that make the decison reviewable. Its understood the appeal was lodged on Wednesday - the night before Whitings appearance. Vettel unhappy with his Mexico penaltyThe conference provided Vettel with his first public opportunity to discuss his penalty in Mexico after the Ferrari driver was stripped of his podium finish over three hours after the race had finished.In an incident which was analysed in depth by Whiting in front of the assembled media and the drivers, Vettel was found guilty of moving in the braking zone when trying to hold off Ricciardo on the penultimate lap of the race. Ironically, Vettel was one of the strongest advocates for the rules surrounding such manoeuvres being tightened up in the wake of sustained criticism of Verstappen for similar perceived offences.But Vettel remained adamant he had done nothing wrong.I dont agree with the decision made, said the Ferrari driver. I gave enough room on the inside, l kept the car straight for the majority of the braking and in my opinion Daniel locked up so badly because there was no grip on the inside. I think it looked worse than it actually was. Whiting accepts Vettel apologyWhiting was himself speaking publicly for the first time since Vettel launched a foul-mouthed outburst aimed directly at the FIA race director after the four-time world champion became exasperated with Verstappens refusal to yield.Its not the first time that bad language has been used and the fact it was directed at me was unfortunate, said Whiting. There were a number of mitigating factors which built up to Sebastians frustrations but the fact he sought me out to apologise...for me, that was enough. I am prepared just to forget it and move on.The FIA investigated the outburst but decided not to levy a further penalty against Vettel after the Ferrari driver wrote a letter of apology to the governing body. I am sorry for what l said, conceded Vettel. I regret what l said, I didnt mean it and I am happy Charlie has accepted the apology. Sebastian Vettel says he doesnt agree with his penalty in Mexico Versstappens lasting advantage or double standards?Vettel wasnt alone in expressing his unhappiness with the stewards post-race verdicts in Mexico.ddddddddddddAlong with Red Bull boss Christian Horner, Verstappen felt he had been the victim of double standards when he was demoted from third place for cutting the first corner following Hamiltons let-off.But according to Whiting, the telemetry from Hamiltons W07 showed the Mercedes driver had backed off to 80 per cent throttle between turns three and four to give back his advantage. Charlie Whiting joins the drivers press conference to explain the two incidents in Mexico where Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen missed the first corner Turning to the Verstappen incident, Whiting then added: If Max had done the same thing between turns three and four, he would have certainly have lost his place. So the stewards felt he deserved a penalty because he had gained a lasting advantage. Thats the fundamental difference.With Whiting sitting directly in front of him, Verstappen responded: Of course I dont agree with the decision. If you give penalties, give it to both or dont give any penalties. A second Verstappen rule in the future?But Verstappen also argued that a blanket ban on drivers leaving the track should be imposed to avoid similar future controversy.Maybe what we should change in the future is that once you go off you should be penalised instead of the stewards interfering and giving an opinion, said the Red Bull teenager.It would be good if we could somehow automatically get some sort of slowing down, agreed Mercedes Nico Rosberg. Sky F1 pundit Brundle argued along similar lines in his post-Mexico column for Sky Sports, writing: I have believed for many years that in those situations a driver should be made to go through a penalty box area at pit lane speed limit so that he takes some serious pain for his mistake.The Verstappen rule, which outlaws drivers moving in the braking zone, was also discussed at length with Whiting clarifying the circumstances under which a penalty would be imposed: Firstly, if a driver has to take avoiding action, if a driver makes an abnormal change of direction in the braking zone and if it is potentially dangerous to another driver. If those three conditions are satisfied then the stewards will feel a penalty should be applied.Such complexity is likely to confuse rather than excite Formula 1 fans. But as Whiting reflected, simplicity is never simple in F1.The whole sport has become more complex. There are continued requests to make things clearer, but the clearer things become the longer, and the more detailed, the rules.For example, all the rules around driving could be summed up in one sentence: drivers must drive safely.But when you have a simple rule like that, you are continually asked what does that exactly mean, can we do this? and can we do that?, and the rule becomes longer and longer…Can Nico Rosberg clinch the title at Interlagos? Watch the Brazilian GP live on Sky Sports F1 on Sunday, the race begins at 4pm; Watch the whole race weekend with a NOW TV week pass - £10.99, no contract Also See: The Formula 1 Gossip column Whens the Brazilian GP on Sky F1? 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