New Commissioner Adam Silver ’84 Talks Stats

Writer: 
February 18, 2014

In the fall of 2012, Adam Silver ’84 was tapped to succeed long-time NBA commissioner David Stern. For nearly eight years, Silver had been the league’s second-in-command as deputy commissioner and chief operating officer, involved in everything from collective bargaining and television agreements to the development of both the NBA’s Development League (the association’s minor league branch) and the WNBA women’s league. Earlier, he was NBA chief of staff and president and COO of NBA entertainment.

As he begins his tenure at the helm of the NBA, Silver knows analytics will continue to play a major role in the league’s future. According to Silver, fans now can access the league’s entire history of statistics—featuring a mind-boggling 4.5 quadrillion stats combinations that had been available only to team and league personnel.

In his eyes, this analytics movement benefits everyone, from franchises looking for an edge to broadcasters who want to add depth to their commentary and to fans who want to know more about their favorite players. “Analytics are valuable in many areas of the game and our business,” Silver said in an e-mail message in December.

“From a team standpoint, our basketball departments are using advanced data to analyze their teams’ on-court trends, consider players to add to rosters, and decide which lineups and players to use. From a business standpoint, our fans have a seemingly insatiable desire to acquire a deeper understanding of the game. One of our biggest pushes over the past few years has been to make these new statistical fields available to the media and the public. We saw it as an opportunity to increase fan engagement and bring them closer to their favorite players and teams.”

Silver said the new, sophisticated SportVu cameras—which have been installed in arenas across the league to track all kinds of data, including the efficacy of passes and how fast a player travels—are an important part of the league’s statistics-based movement. That may be coming true at the college level, too. Last November, the Blue Devils became the first college team to use SportVu cameras, installing six of them inside Cameron indoor Stadium and in its practice facility. “It’s been going great for us.... it offers a lot of complementary basketball statistics that puts the numbers we’ve always looked at into a better context,” says Kevin Cullen ’07, basketball director of information technology. At each practice, players get ranked according to their activity on the court. “These extra statistics have allowed us to improve that formula and come up with a better means to rank the players.” Cullen says coaches and trainers alike are benefiting from the data.

Silver said that’s the same route the NBA is taking. “Beyond SportVu cameras, we already have almost half of our teams using biometric devices on players in practice to gather additional information on their overall health and help them maintain peak performance on the court.”