Has the NBA Analytics Revolution Hit Its Tipping Point?

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Has the NBA Analytics Revolution Hit Its Tipping Point?
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Via fslsteel.com

Shocking news came out Thursday as the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that ESPN analyst John Hollinger will be leaving his writing job to take a gig with the Memphis Grizzlies:

There was a mad scramble for greater confirmation of the report. Eventually, ESPN's Marc Stein followed with some substance, including a concise quote from Hollinger himself:

It's incredibly difficult to leave ESPN, but the chance to work for an NBA team and the Grizzlies' new ownership was an irresistible opportunity.

It will be incredibly difficult for me and for so many of his readers as well. John Hollinger was a daily staple, as respected in this business as one can be. He helped usher in a new, more analytical way to view and understand basketball. That he's taking his talents to an NBA team means something. 

You'd better believe that he can help the Grizzlies.

Though certain angry commenters might not accept this, Hollinger actually does watch the games. For Memphis, he doesn't just bring an analytical model or statistics of his own invention. Hollinger also brings a keen eye and a scout's astute wisdom. 

Read his player profiles if you're in need of convincing. Every season, Hollinger compiles a digital almanac of every player of note in the NBA. There are all kinds of tidbits, many of them wholly divorced from the numbers.

This is where stout pick-and-roll defense gets noted. This is where inconsistent effort gets noticed. The man brings stats to the table, but those numbers are joined by a deep reservoir of non-stats-based knowledge. 

Principally, it means that the famously insular NBA world is looking to the outside for help. Sebastian Pruiti caught the attention of many NBA aficionados by breaking down basketball strategy on his blog, NBA Playbook.

Those of us who followed him had no idea that the Oklahoma City Thunder were also paying attention. Pruiti was snatched up by OKC in September to do video work for the team. Though I personally knew Sebastian and knew that he was good at his job, it was still a shock to see him absorbed into the NBA fold.

In the future, moves like this won't come as much of a surprise. The barrier between the NBA outsider and NBA insider gets blurrier with each passing day.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey was considered an outsider because he came to the Rockets with no playing experience and because he wasn't related to an owner. Now he holds court every year at the annual Sloan Conference.

The job movement also goes both ways. Amin Elhassan used to work for the Phoenix Suns. Now he provides grounded, incisive analysis for ESPN.com. It might not be so uncommon in the future to see the next John Hollinger emerge from the kind of position John Hollinger just took. 

The "Moneyball" revolution took the NBA by storm, and now it's making the sport more inclusive. In short, the league is becoming smarter and more meritocratic.

Though I'll certainly miss Hollinger's columns, I thank him for how he changed the game. I wish him well as he changes the game in a whole different way.

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