First Do Your Homework, Then You Can Play Ball

Shane Battier. Courtesy of Keith Allison.
Shane Battier. Courtesy of Keith Allison.

What impact does analytics have on teamwork?  Plenty, it turns out.

I happened upon an interesting blog post by Thomas Marsden of Saberr, a team-development firm.  Marsden was fascinated by a session with Shane Battier at the Wharton People Analytics Conference.  Battier is a basketball player with many distinctions.

One distinction is that Battier won a team-player award because he served as his team’s data translator.  Players on his basketball team were handed massive statistics packs about the opposing team’s behavior.  He actually read them, a behavior that was rare.  I often wonder what happens when I produce a ream of analysis and send it off to a client.  Sometimes (but not always) someone comes back to me with tough questions, follow-up inquiries, and demands for deeper dives.  In those cases I have struck upon an expert consumer.  They are like wine experts, indie rock snobs, or film buffs.  They don’t produce the product; they just really know how to consume it.

Battier is an expert consumer.  He did his homework and made interpretations in order to play better.  Other players had not done this, so he would help teammates and “drip feed information at the right moment through the game.”  He was acting as the intermediary between the statistical analysts and the front-line players.  This is a key bridging link between two cliques.  In network theory the person who causes information to jump from one crowd to the next becomes a go-to person for both cliques.

For some people, they see the shots being made.  For me, one of the greatest games on earth is watching the information pass from one person to the next.  There is a bounce, a spin, a clever move, a change of play.  I watch big people, breaking a sweat, moving my data across the court.  And when they score, it’s fist-pumps and high-fives.  Good game.

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