Rajon Rondo and Other Stars Employ Kevin Durant's Former Advanced Stats Adviser

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Rajon Rondo and Other Stars Employ Kevin Durant's Former Advanced Stats Adviser
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Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is known for being one of the NBA’s most mercurial, intellectually curious stars, an information sponge who seems purpose-built for a post-career coaching run.

His dedication to the numbers is so steadfast, in fact, that he’s actually paying someone to do the crunching for him—albeit without the Celtics knowing about it.

According to Scott Cacciola of the New York Times, Rondo is one in a growing cadre of NBA notables who have elicited the help of 30-year-old Justin Zormelo, a Georgetown University graduate fast becoming the face of a bourgeoning industry:

Zormelo spent last season living out of two suitcases in Oklahoma City as Durant’s full-time stats guru. He attended Thunder games with his iPad in tow, watched film with Durant at night and even slept on Durant’s couch. Zormelo ended their season together by presenting Durant with a five-page report full of pie charts and bar graphs.

This season, Zormelo worked with All-Stars like Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, John Wall of the Washington Wizards and Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics. 

Apparently, Zormelo's work was as fast as it was effective.

“Before the game was even over, he had everything broken down,” Rondo said. “The text was already in my phone.”

Asked whether he’d discussed his off-court studies with Celtics management, Rondo was predictably blunt.

“Not really,” he said. “But I’m just trying to get better. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Well, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with it. And knowing how serious Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has been on this front, there probably isn't.

But as former NBA head coach Eric Musselman told Cacciola, the ever-changing data landscape demands a delicate balance between forward-looking analysis and old-school notions of coaching authority.

Ideally, you want to have all the basketball X’s and O’s coming from your coaching staff,” Musselman said. “But I also think coaches are open-minded enough to understand that things have changed...

You might be like, Hey, that guy’s not teaching what I’m teaching. But at least the player is working at his game instead of sitting on his couch watching cartoons.

*Pictures Rajon Rondo sitting down with a bowl of Fruit Loops to watch Huckleberry Hound, laughs heartily*

Musselman raises a great point. If you’re an NBA coach, you’d rather have your players bringing too much information to the table than too little.

Then again, there’s a creeping worry that relying too much on analytics will result in an unfair or too-early shunning of otherwise talented players.

Take the case of the Philadelphia 76ers’ Tony Wroten, whom Liberty BallersSean O’Connor argues was given far too short a shrift, in large part because of the numbers reflected by what was, at the end of the day, a very, very bad team:

Statistics in the NBA don't tell you how good a player is: they tell you how a player produced given his role and environment. Whether basic or advanced, there's always going to be an issue that way.

We know Tony Wroten takes way too many threes despite being maybe the worst shooter in the league. In a league where shooting by complementary players is all but necessary to compete, well, you can come out looking really bad if placed in that kind of role...

…The lack of talent on the team hurts stats across the board, but I'm not sure it hurts anyone more than Wroten. As I've mentioned before, his shot locations are basically perfect. He only shoots threes or scores in the paint. He's just not that good at the execution - in either area, really.

You better believe Wroten won’t be the only one cited by luddites as an example of how the NBA numbers machine risks rendering the spontaneous sterile.

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At the same time, we wish more players displayed Rondo’s unimpeachable inquisitiveness.

Analytics are here to stay—that much is clear. What’s left, then, is what kind of balance teams, coaches and players will look to strike between the promise of positivist approaches to understanding the game and the passion that drew everyone in the first place.

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