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The Basketball Podcast: EP202 with Seth Partnow on Analytics

RELEASE DATE : 09/02/2022

In this week’s coaching conversation, author and basketball researcher Seth Partnow joins the Basketball Podcast to share insights on basketball’s evolution in the age of analytics.

Partnow covers the NBA and basketball analytics for The Athletic. He is also a special Advisor to the CEO at StatsBomb. He is the former Director of Basketball Research for the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Mid Range Theory book dives into topics From shot selection to evaluating prospects to considering aesthetics and ethics while analyzing the box scores, Partnow deftly explores where the NBA is now, how it got here, and where it might be going next. Check out the book here: The Midrange Theory

Before Seth Partnow’s time in the NBA, he was lead writer and managing editor of The Nylon Calculus, a leading basketball analytics website. Seth previously worked as an educational consultant focusing on issues of cross-cultural communication and learning styles in Alaska. Though a very different context, this experience honed the skills needed to successfully navigate the often difficult divide between data science and statistics on one hand and sport-specific expertise on the other.

Seth Partnow

Listen Here:

Seth Partnow Coach Quotes:

“It’s the same thing you do in practice every day; you’re not trying to be perfect, you’re trying to be better. Studying the game from a statistical lens is about knowing more than you did yesterday, not knowing everything and not having the perfect answers but gaining advantage by bits and pieces and asking the right questions.”

“If you’re trying to get better, sometimes you have to realize there’s things you’re doing now that aren’t as good as they could be.”

“It’s easy to ask, is there a better way after a loss? Because the feedback is pretty clear . . one of the biggest pitfalls that you can fall into [is] not improving upon success and anticipating that what happened will continue to happen forever.”

“It’s what basketball is – you take and make good shots and prevent the opponent from doing the same. You don’t foul on defense, you protect the backboard, and you take care of the ball. And I think that that’s the genius of the four factors is it’s distilling those really basic tenants to a more objective scale that really allows you to do great things.”

“A lot of it is what set gets us which shots? . . we ran chin five times, how many times did we get a quality look . . At lower levels of basketball, that’s a little bit of a qualitative judgment, rather than being able to come up with an estimated expected shooting percentage or something like that. But you don’t need that; you just need to know . . good shot, okay, shot, bad shot. And then if you cross reference that with how you got there. If you’re tracking who was in the game or what set did we call, that’s already just a ton more information.”

“You want to know, from the moment the ball leaves the shooter’s hand, am I happy with this possession? Reducing it to that level can tell you a tremendous amount about the process of your team’s offense, or flip it around, the process of your team’s defense. And that’s really what you’re going for.”

“How you’re actually tracking things is important. Because if you’re judging it just based on shooting percentage, you’re missing a whole category of shots. . with the defender three feet away. Those shots are generally deferred. That’s a good defensive outcome in most cases. But if you’re just looking at shooting percentage, you’re eliminating the best defense you played by the guy deciding to not shoot. So that’s why getting to . . the outcome of the possession wasn’t the ball going in or not. It’s did the opponent get a good shot? Or not? Did we get a good shot or not?”

“If I get my two guard . . situations where he’s attacking close outs from the last left wing, he’s great. If he’s isolating against the set defense from the top of the floor, not so much. You can start to identify those patterns. And then, maybe you want to do some drills to improve his ability and isolation from the top of the floor, but you also want to run sets that put him in situations that he already performs well.”

“It’s not the four passes . . that was the thing. It was we made these plays, created an advantage, put them in rotation and got our best driver to attack a close out. That happens off of one pass or seven. It’s still a good outcome. So you’re not really caring about the number of passes so much as you are getting to that spot in your offense.”

“A sub-lesson for coaches is, if you want a player to try something, you have to give them permission to fail. And then it’s not on them, it’s on you. And that’s okay, because that evaluation has value in and of itself . . a player trying something and failing is actually pretty valuable. It’s really good information that you get.”

“My advice for coaches starting out is, pick a smaller number of indicators that you’re looking at. And get reps taking those in and making decisions and iterate on that. And as you learn more, you can add more ingredients to the pot.”

Seth Partnow Breakdown:

1:00 – Why We Will Read Your Book
3:30 – Cognitive Biases
7:30 – Ask Questions
9:00 – Analytics are…?
11:00 – Dean Oliver’s 4 Factors
15:00 – Open Shots
19:00 – Chin Example
22:30 – Advantage of Advantage
26:00 – What is Changing
30:00 – Short and Long Term Success
34:00 – Ball Screen Decisions
38:00 – Improving Players
42:00 – Defensive Metrics
45:30 – Lineup Balance
48:30 – The Mid Range Theory
52:00 – Added to the Next Book

Seth Partnow Links from the Podcast:

The Midrange Theory

Goodhart’s Law

Zak Boisvert

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