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How Sports Stats And Analytics Have Changed The Game

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Professional athletes might be the most carefully measured professionals out there. People around the world can know how you're doing at your job with a couple of clicks: They can see how many times you meet your goals, how efficient you are at it and exactly how well youre doing. And, the game is changing fast.

Baseball players have ditched so-called small-ball to swing for the fences every time. Basketball players fire from well beyond the three-point line instead of shooting jumpers closer to the basket. Across sports, game play is shifting to be as optimized as possible, and it all ties back to the recent boom in sports analytics.

"People have a thirst for data when it comes to, you know, sports stats, advanced stats and analytics," said John Tobias, statistician at ESPN and sports analytics professor at University of North Carolina Charlotte. Tobias is also the founder of Strength in Numbers, a nonprofit that teaches sports analytics to minority and female high school students. He knows better than most just how important stats are for fans. "I think a lot of times when it comes to stats, I think it kind of proves your argument because, you know, you can have like an argument, but then you have to base it on something," Tobias said. As the known universe of sports stats grows every day, the development of analytics and advanced metrics has become a crucial tool not just for fans, but for teams and players, too.

Take it from Liz Wanless: Shes a professor at Ohio University who teaches sports analytics, and before she entered academia, she was a professional shot-putter who was an All-American in college. "This obviously looks very different from when I competed, but with the advance of technology to measure what athletes are doing, there's more data to collect with the understanding that if we can quantify fitness measures, performance measures, those types of things, is that that gives us a leg up in what we are doing," Wanless said. That chance for a leg up has offered a new path for teams in smaller markets and allowed owners looking to field a team on the cheap to still succeed against clubs with larger budgets. In some cases, its turned around the fate of long-suffering teams.

In basketball, the Golden State Warriors spent over a decade as one of the worst teams in the league, missing the playoffs 17 times in an 18-year stretch. But in the early 2010s, they found two young stars who happened to shoot three-pointers well: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The Warriors looked to take advantage of this through analytics. They were one of several teams that improved their data collection to figure out where and when they shot the ball. They quickly realized that other than shots very close to the basket, it was more efficient to take a few steps back and try to score three points instead of two. But, theres a bit more to it than that.

Seth Partnow is the director of basketball at the sports analytics site StatsBomb. He's also a former director of basketball research for the Milwaukee Bucks, and the author of a whole book on basketball shots called The Midrange Theory. He told Newsy that the more data teams got about shots, the more the trade-off in stepping back to the three-point line made sense. "Once we started to get that, that data in... was when people really started to realize that, yes, efficiency, accuracy, you know, at least in NBA players, drops off some from like 17 feet to 24 feet, but not nearly as much as enough to overcome the extra point you get from that," Partnow said.

Saying Golden States new approach worked was an understatement. The Warriors won three championships in five years. In those other two years, they still made the NBA Finals and also set the record for most wins by any team in a season ever. Steph Curry has now made more three-pointers than any player in NBA history, and he did it in five fewer seasons than the previous record-holder.

Now as teams invest more heavily in analytics, basically every team has joined in, with NBA teams attempting roughly twice as many three-pointers now as they did in the year before Curry entered the league in 2009. But, its not necessarily the case that teams are better these days; theyve just discovered a new tool. James Dator, a senior staff writer at the sports site SB Nation, has written about the proliferation of the three-point shot in the NBA. He told Newsy the Warriors werent the first team to shoot a ton, but they turned it into championships. "The big thing that the Warriors were doing wasn't necessarily that they were taking more threes," Dator said. "The difference is they were more accurate doing it because obviously they had two amazing shooters in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson still do, for that matter.

Photo: Pixabay, Moos-Media , Omni Idiomas




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