Monday, May 5, 2008

NY Times on the new breed of basketball statisticians

Great article in Sunday's New York Times magazine about Mike Zarren, the statistical analyst for the Celtics.  The story explains why Danny Ainge hired the 32-year-old Zarren:

Ainge hired Zarren simply because he wants any advantage worth having, and Zarren’s insights are “more information on every decision we make,” Ainge says. “Mike is a much smarter guy than I am. I’m open to smarter people than me. It still comes down to my instincts. I have to make the choice, no matter what my scouts say, no matter what the models say. I don’t think it’s realistic to think that a statistical model will ever be foolproof in basketball because there are so many variables, but I do think it can help us.”

The story goes on to outline how Zarren contributes: 

There are two channels through which Zarren can help the Celtics. The first is by assessing potential deals and draft picks, which means bouncing information off of Ainge. The second channel is strategic advice, which means going to Coach Doc Rivers, whom Ainge says is “skeptically receptive” to Zarren’s insights. You sense that Zarren has gained credibility within the Celtics not because the basketball people adore his regression analyses but because he adores the sport. “Most geeks are not basketball guys,” Zarren says, “and most basketball guys are not geeks. You have to be both to be successful in this developing field.”