August 22, 2012 in Cover Story, Hoop Convos
There are few things better than getting philosophical about the game of basketball. In ‘Hoop Convos,’BallinMichigan will do just that, engaging in (hopefully) meaningful, free-flowing conversations with compelling writers and thinkers who love the game as much as we do. This week, we’ll have three special conversations, all related to the advanced stats movement in basketball and its ties to the state of Michigan.
Getting basketball coaches to buy into new-fangled or complex statistical measures is often a difficult task. For Net Value Sports, though, it’s an easy sell: talk about defense and coaches will listen.
Net Value, based in West Michigan, is a startup business specializing in statistical analysis on the defensive end of the court. Launched with seed funding through Start Garden, a Grand Rapids-based venture capitol fund founded by Rick DeVos that awards seed money to entrepreneurs who make proposals for business startups, founder Marc Andreas hopes his company will help shed statistical light on the often statistically neglected defensive half of the basketball court.
The company has already made initial to the Orlando Magic and Cornerstone University to provide services to those teams. Below, Andreas describes his vision for the company and discusses his methods.
Just give a little bit of the background for Net Value — when did you start it and what was your inspiration behind it?
Net Value is a brand new business, just started this year and we’re still in the development stages. The concept is an idea I’ve floated around as a basketball fan, player and coach over the years. When I watched the movie Moneyball, that really helped motivate me further to get the ball rolling.
The other big factor was the Start Garden venture capitol fund here in Grand Rapids. When I started putting the idea together a little bit more, I got connected to them and they liked the idea enough to fund me $5,000 in seed money and that’s what actually allowed the business to get started.
What types of statistical work or services do you provide to teams? And do you kind of tailor those for different levels, depending on whether you are working with high school, college or pro teams?
Because we’re so brand new, right now we’re only working with three teams — one in the NBA, one in college and one in high school. It is definitely different with each. We’re working with the Orlando Magic, we’re also going to work with the Cornerstone University women’s basketball team this season and we’ll also be helping the small Christian school where I coach, Potter’s House here in Grand Rapids. I coach JV girls and the varsity coach is a good friend of mine. One of the reasons he hired me is to help his team with some of these advanced statistics or ‘statistics beyond the boxscore.’
There are people who have gone out and done advanced stats work, and it’s very good work. But I haven’t yet found anyone who does the type of advanced stats we’re working on. The advanced statistics of Net Value really come from the concept of, as a player, coach and fan, the game is really built not just on how many points you score, but how many points you give up. What I’m doing is helping teams, player by player, analyze their individual defensive performance. That’s really what doesn’t exist in the boxscore at any level.
The Defensive Player of the Year award in the NBA is really mostly an opinion contest. There’s really very little statistically that goes into the award. Tyson Chandler won the award last year, and he’s a good defensive player, but even the player who had the most blocked shots in the league, Serge Ibaka, didn’t win the award. We all know good defense is more than just blocking shots, and I’m not arguing that they picked the wrong guy, but I think it’s often based on a lot of hunches or opinions or feelings rather than actual statistics.
What I’m doing is measuring players at an individual level that create a ‘net value,’ which is the net of how many you score vs. how many you give up.
For example, when the Pistons traded Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson a few years ago, it looked like a good trade on paper — Iverson scored more points and even had a higher shooting percentage and more assists per game. But I’d argue that the net value of Billups is much higher than Iverson, and now looking back with hindsight, you can say that that trade was a major step down for the Pistons.
I look at things like net points scored, net rebounds and net possessions. Those are some of the categories I look at and we have proprietary formulas that measure the value of those metrics to create a single player rating, similar to how the NFL uses a quarterback rating. That rating helps create a value for a coach to evaluate players based on a more holistic perspective of basketball. At the NBA level, it creates a value for the general manager. Teams will be able to compare that rating to salaries and see how much value they’re getting for the salary they’re paying.
For the Magic, I have 30 games from the last three seasons and I’ve worked with a statistics professor at Cornerstone to measure our outcomes to calculate these true single player ratings.
One of the things that the advanced stats movement has run into in some instances is pushback from coaches or scouts or fans who don’t necessarily see a need for new metrics. How do you get buy-in from coaches you work with and convince them of the value?
In the sports world, I think it’s more rare to find the ‘numbers people.’ Most coaches aren’t numbers experts. I have found great reception from the coaches I’ve worked with so far. Cornerstone’s new women’s coach is Katie Feenstra-Mattera, she just retired from the WNBA. She’s not a numbers person or doesn’t have a statistics background, but the reason she got behind the concept and asked me to help the team is these statistics from Net Value shine a light on what goes on on the defensive end of the court. When you compare traditional statistics, it’s mostly geared toward the offensive end of the court. Our advanced stats don’t measure the offense. That’s already tracked by other stats. We integrate our statistics to show the other half of basketball. Coaches want to win and understand you have to play good defense to win.
This helps them know what players to scout, what players to give more or less playing time to, which players to scout or trade for. Net Value just illuminates this other half of the basketball court, and when you explain it to them like that, it makes a lot of sense to them.
What is your goal with Net Value and what do you hope it grows into? Do you have aspirations of actually working in the NBA for a front office someday?
My goal really stems from why I love the game of basketball — for the character it builds through the team environment. It had a huge impact on me growing up and really helped form who I am today, and now I’m seeing that with my own children. I have seven kids, all 13 and under, and some of them are just getting started playing and I’m getting to see that character building in them, so I have a real passion for helping young people as they build that.
To be honest, I don’t really have any kind of aspirations to be a bigwig in a NBA front office somewhere. I really would love to be able to help teams see new insights into their players at all different levels. The game is a very international game, so I’d love to work with international teams as well. Playing defense is hard work and it pushes players. That’s why I love teaching defense as a coach myself. I love coaching to push players to the best of their ability, and I hope Net Value can help teams at the high school, college or pro level do the same things with their players.
Often, defense isn’t talked about as a skill in itself — people talk about it as something players just have to put effort into whereas offense is talked about as a specific skill. The fact that it does take real, specific skills to be an elite defensive player sometimes gets overlooked. Do you think your statistical work can shed light on that and maybe highlight that elite defensive players are just as, if not more, valuable than elite offensive players?
Absolutely. The single player rating system takes those things into consideration, so the Dennis Rodmans or Shane Battiers of the world or Bruce Bowens, who was a great defensive player for the Spurs for a number of years — those types of players were often overlooked even though they were incredibly elite defenders. So even if Bruce Bowen only scored seven points in a game, he was a critical part of that team winning championships because of how much he could slow down Kobe Bryant or other players of that caliber. So yes, I think Net Value can help teams in that way, sort of debunking the myth of all that.
We’re probably further away from debunking that just because most common fans just want to see someone score 30 points, so Carmelo Anthony or Allen Iverson will always sell more jerseys or make more All-Star teams than guys like Bruce Bowen, but I’d argue that Bruce Bowen has significant value to his team because of his elite ability on defense. Stopping someone from scoring is as important as scoring itself.
What exactly to you provide to the teams you work with?
The work that we are doing for these teams is really game tape review. I have a team of people and we go play-by-play reviewing and coding film. So if someone is interested in this, it really doesn’t matter how far away they are or where their team is at, statistics will speak any language. We’re happy to work with teams all around the world. It doesn’t take flying me to some other city or some other country and having a high-priced consultant helping the team, we can help a team simply by reviewing game tape and running the numbers through our formulas and pointing out some opportunities.
It’s amazing what you find. Our work with the Magic for example, we’ve found certain players are better at defending 3-point shots rather than 2-point shots. So we can help coaches at any level determine which players guard which situations and which parts of the court better. That will help with matchups, with late game situations, there’s a lot that can be learned from these evaluations and just analyzing game tape.
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