I love this story about how the Philadelphia Sixers got serious about analytics a few years ago and have now become one of the great turnaround stories of the era – they won ten games in the 2015-2016 season and now, just two years later, they’ve racked up 52 wins in the regular season and landed the three seed for the East.
Rather than just throwing a statistics kid right out of college into the mix, the Sixers’ coach, Brett Brown, has made the reports his team of ten geniuses give him a central part of his decision making. It’s not a bell or a whistle, it’s the process. Brown gets the most use out of data indicating which five-player rotations work best, and when, during the course of the game.
The parallels with investing are obvious enough to smack you in the face. Which data is robust and which sets are just noise? When should analytics be overridden? What is the right way to use billions of lines of code in real-life situations? How does the presentation of data affect the coaching staff’s willingness to buy in?
From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
The Sixers trust the numbers.
They won 17 consecutive games before Monday’s Game 2 loss, the last nine of those wins without all-star center Joel Embiid. They also won their 15th straight without Dario Saric and their 16th straight without JJ Redick. Their 17th straight win was the first playoff victory since 2012.
It took talent, chemistry and fine coaching.
It also took 10 math whizzes and computer programmers, most of them with PhDs.
When the Sixers faced the Heat to start the playoffs Saturday, Brett Brown’s analytics team had broken down 1.28 billion lines of data, and that was just from this season’s games. It generated a 10-page game dossier, or “deck,” that not only highlighted the Heat’s offensive and defensive tendencies but also projected which Sixers lineup would fare best against every Heat lineup; which Sixers pairs would fare best against each Heat pair; and which Sixers fared best, offensively and defensively, against their likely opposite on the Heat — such as, say, Ersan Ilyasova vs. Kelly Olynyk.