Welcome to the 'Summer of Analytics'


PHOENIX – Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby labeled this the “Summer of Analytics” and by doing so provided a direction for the franchise. But where last summer’s goal was to enhance the training staff’s operations in attempts to make it not only ahead of the NBA curve but world class, this one wasn’t clear until Phoenix brought in someone to lead their endeavors.

Ryan McDonough is in as general manager.

Welcome to the “Summer of Analytics.”

Phoenix has the tools, including the $10,000 data-tracking cameras Zach Lowe detailed for Grantland earlier this year. Now, it’s up to the scouting and the to-be-hired coaching staffs to utilize them.

“We’re going to try to be at the cutting edge of all that,” McDonough said at his introductory press conference on Thursday. “We’re always trying to find the next big thing.

“On the NBA personnel level, I’ve have just started to meet with our staff here but I know there are some smart guys in place here and they have a very good reputation,” he added. “But yeah we need to embrace all the new trends that the good teams in the league are embracing.”

McDonough cited the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets’ three-point shooting this season as an example of where the game is trending. He also mentioned adjusted plus-minus, corner threes and two-for-one opportunities as examples of how analytics have become valuable. All that will be a key part in the interviewing process as the team continues its coaching search, McDonough said.

Building through the draft

Based on his history, McDonough’s own strengths lie in identifying talent and star-potential, and it’s also obvious that drafting is the biggest part of building a franchise in his eyes – he called it the “lifeblood” of a team.

“That’s how you have sustainable success over the years,” McDonough said.

McDonough has drafted prospects whose talent wasn’t the reason they dropped to the winning Celtics. Rajon Rondo had subpar basic statistics and wasn’t on the winningest of teams coming out of Kentucky after two seasons, and Jared Sullinger’s back problems helped the Celtics land him – while he underwent back surgery during his rookie season, Boston had prepared for that possibility heading into the draft.

So what does the Suns’ new GM look for in players?

“It’s probably what’s inside him, his work ethic, his toughness,” McDonough said. “That’s why we’re going to have our scouts here going to practice, we’re going to have them talking to college head coaches and assistant coaches and gathering all kinds of information. Toughness and intelligence can be a little tough – the physical skills are sometimes easier. We do have a limited evaluation window.”

Personality traits in draft prospects will be evaluated but so will analytics. McDonough said one of the tougher things in scouting is learning about application of the math, which by the way, is difficult considering the slower pace of the college game, among other things.

“The college scouts need to understand it,” McDonough said. “We need to develop a great model that we have studied guys in the past and seen which stats have translated to NBA success and maybe which ones have not.”

Finalizing the staff

As for scouting, McDonough added that he’ll get to know the staff that’s in place right now and consider adding his own guys to the mix. He said he preferred a small but trustworthy group on his scouting staff while working for the Boston Celtics.

During his interview, McDonough told Babby and owner Robert Sarver he is against hiring scouts who are specialists. No scout will be pigeonholed as a college scout, international scout or D-League specialist.

“What we had in Boston, what I generally preferred, is a smaller model,” the new Suns GM said. “You have a few guys who are master evaluators who know all the players, who can compare a guy who just got bought out in Europe to a guy who is available in the D-League to an NBA level free agent who is at home working out. You need to weigh all that.”

What style will the Suns play?

Boston’s teams of late have been more well-known for their defense, but McDonough made sure to emphasize that balanced teams win championships. He said the roster obviously has much to do with the style, but the value of analytics comes in how

“I mentioned the value of the three-point shot and the emphasis teams are putting on that,” McDonough said. “I think one of the other things analytics has shown is pushing the ball up the floor and getting into the offense early, and also turning turnovers into points on the other end of the floor. In Boston our guys did a great job of walling off the paint … we turned a lot of that defense into offensive opportunities.”

  • Scott

    No more silos? That seems reasonable.

    As for the rest … pushing the ball up the court, getting into the offense early … that sounds like SSOL Suns. So while the Suns should obviously know and use this tactic, I was disappointed that last year it was rarely done unless Dragic did it all by himself.

  • Scott

    BTW, the Sixers are rumored to be about to sign Sam Hinkie to be their new GM. He’s a stats guy from the Rockets. Just based on that, it sounds like a good hire.

    And now that Krazy Kahn is gone from Minnesota – replaced by the sensible Flip Saunders – the first action is to waive Brandon Roy.

  • DBreezy

    Among other things, Kendall should be working on improving his D this summer so that he can be a guy who creates turnovers and pushes the ball into early offense. I hope he and the rest of the youngins realize that there’s a new sheriff in town, which usually means bad news if you don’t up their games.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    “It’s probably what’s inside him, his work ethic, his toughness,” McDonough said. “That’s why we’re going to have our scouts here going to practice, we’re going to have them talking to college head coaches and assistant coaches and gathering all kinds of information.”

    OLADIPO2013.

  • DBreezy

    @Rich,

    That quote was actually a response to a question about what the hardest thing to assess with a player, not a description of what McD is looking for specifically.

  • Bill-in-Tokyo

    Given this statement of principles, Kendall should plan for a new team. In fact given ” the plan” as its unfolding everyone is tradable. Younger/ more skilled draftees can replace everyone on this team if the talent is there at Suns’ picks. or if you trade for a pick like Boston did. This is a complete rebuild.

  • bill.thomas

    Belated happy B-Day to Goran Dragic (May 6th, I hope the party was great).

    I have a family-sized large set of Louis Vuitton luggage which I will gladly offer to Shannon at a good price. (And no, the last employing team does not pay outbound aircraft luggage fees under the CBA).

  • bill.thomas

    I think the Lakers could use Kahn, for sure.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    @ DBreezy…..from previous article

    I give MKG a slight edge over Oladipo…a little bigger & stronger & MGK is still only 19 yrs old.

    I give Beal the edge over McLemore…imo Beal is more consistent & has a better all-around game. Also, Beal is still only 19 yrs old….Oladipo & McLemore are 20.

    Barnes & Shabazz are very close…Barnes a slightly better shooter with Shabazz the better scorer. Shabazz’s attitude at UCLA turned me off though.

  • bill.thomas

    @hawki: But doesn’t Oladipo shoot better? MKG can’t seem to buy a bucket many nights.

  • Scott

    Oladipo is 21; just had a b-day. (May 4, 1992)

    IIRC, Oladipo’s 3 pt % is practically double that of MKG.

  • Scott

    BTW, rumor has Atlanta looking to sign Stan Van Gundy as coach.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    The new League metrics show 3pt shooting on the rise….this year both the Knicks & Rockets broke the record for 3′s attempted set by Van Gundy’s Orlando team back in 2010.

    However, in 14 of the last 17 years 3pt % has fallen in the playoffs as compared to the regular season.
    2 years ago it went from 35.8 to 34.1
    last year it went from 34,9 to 33.3.

    What does it mean ?
    It looks like 3pt shooting can get you to the playoffs, but once there, you need a balanced attack to win.

  • bill.thomas

    @hawki: For this team, a balanced attack would mean Dudz on Chicken Bones, Marshall and Crew on pizza, Beasley on munchies, whatever’s avail., and the Morris Bros. on Ribs !!!!!

  • bill.thomas

    Quite the all-out assault on what’s available. Would make Hitler going into Poland look like a toddler jaywalking to fetch a cat.

  • bill.thomas

    Ah, Michael Jordan’s illustrious career as a GM continues. Let’s not make too many trades with them, there’s always the man bites dog story where Jordan finally makes someone else look bad.

  • bill.thomas

    Bet the Fakers would trade Kobe straight up for MKG right now. Poetic justice, Bryant was originally supposed to be drafted by Charlotte till the Lakers strong-armed. And that way, Kobes could play for the one-and-only.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    @ bill.thomas

    Neither MKG nor Oladipo are considered great shooters ….their hallmarks are defense & all-around play. MKG shoots about 75% on FT’s which shows he can shoot but it takes time to become a good 3 pt shooter in the NBA. Look at Lebron….when he came in the League he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn & this last year he was over 40% on 3′s.
    If MKG was shooting FT’s in the 60-65 % range, then I would be really worried.

    Oladipo had a huge jump in 3pt accuracy this year….going from 21% as a soph to 44% this year.
    Methinks MKG would have had a big improvement in 3pt % if he would have stayed at Kentucky another year, though probably not to 44%.
    Oladipo also has almost identical FT shooting % as MKG.
    So, in the end, I give MKG the slight advantage over Oladipo based on age & body type.

    Still though, Oladipo would be a very good pick for the Suns if they remain in the 4 position.
    His mid-range game & ability to convert on the offensive glass (not to mention his defense) is impressive.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    re: Michael Jordan

    I almost got physically ill watching Jordan escort “W” around the course at last year’s Ryder Cup.
    What a Joke !

    “Yessum Massah Bush….I drives you around the golf ball course….I done drafted Kwame Brown like yas told me”

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    i’ve studied the interview, that quote i plucked describes Oladipo to a T.

    Also, (being of the mindset that Noel will not be there), of the 4 guys most talked about as being in the top 4 picked, Oladipo’s game meshes best with Dragic’s on both ends of the floor.

  • DBreezy

    @Rich,

    That quote may or may not describe Oladipo or anyone else in this draft, I was just saying that McD didn’t make the quote as a response to what he is looking for in the draft. It was a response to a question from FSNAZ’s Randy Hill about what Ryan feels is the most difficult attribute to assess when evaluating players at 12:49 in the press conference.

    Honestly I didn’t really like it when I saw this article taking that quote out of context either, which is why I commented when you piggybacked on it. In the context the article uses the quote it definitely points to a guy like Oladipo, but in the context McD used it it could apply to anyone. For example Cody Zeller is considered primarily an offensive player, but someone evaluating him could feel he has the toughness, work ethic and inside drive to maximize his particular strengths in the league.

  • Scott

    BTW, as for Cody Zeller … not to say this will happen, but it’s always possible he could turn out to be an impact player … say, like Rik Smits. Sure Cody is a few inches smaller than Smits, but he’s faster and more aggressive on offfense too. Like Zeller, Smits was not super great on the defensive end, mainly just tall, and he didn’t rebound, but he had a reasonably good influence on games for Indiana way back when.

  • DBreezy

    Like many others, I’m not a Zeller fan although I like using him as an example to point out the need for patience and thoroughness in the draft process. That said, I had always been keeping him in the back of my mind if the Suns got the Lakers pick in case he had one of those big draft day slides. When you consider that Kieff really hasn’t brought his advertised attributes of defensive toughness or grit to the league, what advantages does he really have on Cody? He might have deeper range on his shot for the moment, but I bet Zeller is more accurate from his range and Cody’s the more complete offensive player.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    Vegas has installed the Morris twins as 1 1/2 pt favorites over the Zeller bros in a 2 on 2 game.

  • Scott

    @hawki -

    That’s because they’re expecting the Morris twins to hit their 3s …? ;)

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    @ Scott…..LOL

    I got a $100 on the Zeller bros….after all, there’s 3 of them.

  • Justingut

    Pretty sure the Suns drafted Rajon Rondo, Kevin, not the Celtics. Come on.

  • foreveris2long

    It will be interesting to see who is upgraded and downgraded in the combines. I saw two reports today that have Oladipo dropping to 8 or 9 and Michael Carter-Williams moving up to 5 or 6. It matters most what McD thinks but I tend to think Williams has a greater upside than Oladipo as does T. Burke. I am willing to bet when Mc D looks at Marshall he is going to shake his head as to what were the Suns thinking when they drafted him. It will be interesting if he goes for a point guard in the draft.

  • Scott

    @Justingut -

    You’re on the internet. Why don’t you do some research on how trades of draft picks work?

    The Suns selected Rondo on behalf of the Celtics as part of a trade deal. It’s a common practice.

    For additional reference on such trades, the Suns bought picks in past years from the Spurs, and as part of those deals the Spurs selected Barbosa and Dragic for the Suns. Those were the players the Suns asked for, so the Spurs picked them as part of the deal.

  • Scott

    @forever -

    I suppose my main concern with MCW is that he hasn’t added any weight in a couple of years, and maybe he can’t do it. 176 lbs is pretty light for any position in the NBA, and I can see where it might prevent him from battling through screens on defense and finishing through contact.

    Aside from that, he has decision-making and turnover issues, but I assume those would tend to go away with further seasoning.

    Bottom line: if he was 20-25 lbs heavier, I’d be a lot more comfortable with him.

  • Scott

    I think McD should go for whatever are the top talents in the draft, and not draft for position. If that means he gathers up another PG, so be it. I can appreciate Marshall’s talent (he’s a Cousy Award winner), but if it can be done, trading what you have for a greater talent is the name of the game.

    Not much has changed for me with this draft so far. I’m still not completely sold on all the currently rated top talents in the draft, including Oladipo, Burke, and Noel. I don’t think they’re so much better than the rest and would like them more if they weren’t the highest picks.

    My top talents are all still lower in the draft: Dieng (who is basically Noel with good knees and weight), Goodwin (my aggressive scoring SG with PG skills), and Schroeder (pesky PG with length), so if I was in McD’s shoes I would be trying to figure out how to trade down or acquire new picks, if these players continue to appear to be at mid-level on draft day. If picks could be bought, I’d be asking Sarver to open the purse.

    If the Suns keep their #30 pick, the choice is not all that clear to me. IMO, a sensible GM uses the draft to swing for the fences and finds what else they need in free agency. A swing for a “diamond in the rough” at that level might be SF Ricky Ledo (who is not in the DX mock yet). That’s because you always try to find someone who has star potential or at least starter potential, and a lot of the players in his neighborhood in the draft have “role player” written all over them.

    If you need some role players, sign them cheap in free agency. Don’t draft them if you can avoid it.

    Other possibilities would of course include anyone who has fallen from a high draft spot, or maybe a young project guy, like C Mam Jaiteh, who has a lot of deficiencies, but who is much more appealing now that he is listed at 6′ 11″, 250 lbs (formerly listed at 6′ 9″ and 220 lbs, as a center).

    Another possible pick would be Nemanja Nedovic, who is another aggressive scoring SG with some PG skills, and who is super athletic, unlike the more polished Erick Green.

    With the Suns final pick, #57, I still look for a foreign player that did not get drafted. Like if Livio Jean-Charles is still out there, he might be good for this pick. Domestic players who haven’t been taken by #57 will likely still be there, undrafted, for Summer League and training camp invites.

  • foreveris2long

    Yeah that probably is true Scott. I think my problem is assuming Suns have #4 pick Oladipo just does not seem worthy of a pick that high. I guess I am searching for alternatives. I am very curious what happens with Burke and whether Dieng moves up after the combines. I think Dieng has a nice upside. I am probably looking for reasons not to take Oladipo when he probably would be a safe pick.

  • Scott

    Oladipo may be the consensus pick at #4, but that doesn’t mean he’s the best talent the Suns can get out of this draft.

    I want the Suns to be aggressive and get all they can out of the draft. I’m not afraid of the Suns being encumbered by too many young players next year.

  • john

    Regarding whether or not a “balanced” attack is needed to win in the playoffs, I won’t go COMPLETELY overboard and say balance isn’t necessary, but the Miami Heat won last year because they couldn’t miss a three. Mike Miller, Shane Battier, and Mario Chalmers won that championship as much as the “Big 3.” Dallas dominated the 3-pt game the year before (especially late). I think you’ll find that the team that wins the 3-pt battle usually wins the series.

  • KayGee19

    about Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that the suns should take a close look at him, along with Allen Crabbe who I think are both sleepers in this draft…but now that the suns have a low second pick (Thx Lakers) I cant see them landing any of those players! Their stock will rise after the draft combine this thurs & fri, Watch!

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