Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter – @SethPartnow
Author and basketball researcher Seth Partnow covers the NBA and basketball analytics for The Athletic. He is the former Director of Basketball Research for the Milwaukee Bucks. His book, The MidRange Theory, dives into topics from shot selection to evaluating prospects to considering aesthetics and ethics while analyzing box scores.
Before joining the Bucks Seth was the lead writer and managing editor of The Nylon Calculus, a basketball analytics website. Seth previously worked as an educational consultant focusing on issues of cross-cultural communication and learning styles in Alaska. Though a very different context, this experience honed the skills needed to successfully navigate the often difficult divide between data science and statistics on one hand and sport-specific expertise on the other. Seth is originally from Anchorage, Alaska and has a B. A. in Economics from Carleton College where he played basketball and a J. D. from University of Minnesota.
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Take some notes and get some great insights as you listen to this episode with Seth Partnow, author of the MidRange Theory, and Former Director of Basketball Research for the Milwaukee Bucks.
What We Discuss with Seth Partnow
- Growing up in Anchorage, Alaska shooting baskets on a neighbor’s driveway
- Watching the Great Alaska Shootout
- “The business sometimes takes precedence over how do we get the kids to learn how to play basketball?”
- “The best way to not lose close games is to not play close games.”
- Getting a degree in economics, working for a startup, getting a law degree, and playing poker professionally
- Moving into educational consulting and at the same time starting to write about basketball
- Getting some early support from writers Chris Herring, Zach Lowe, and Kevin Arnovitz
- The opportunity to work for the Milwaukee Bucks as Director of Basketball Research
- One of his first insights was identifying players who could defend the rim at a high level and suppress shooting percentages in the lane
- “A model is the product of a hundred tiny decisions. All of which are value judgements about what’s important in basketball.”
- Why NBA teams shoot a higher % on corner threes than above the break
- Player positioning on the court and why there are trade-offs for every decision
- Noticing when something looked different on film and then investigating whether there might be a trend or pattern developing
- “It’s just a matter of figuring out what question you want to ask and then how to ask that question of the data.”
- “You’re trying to communicate complex ideas succinctly” when sharing insights with the coaching staff
- Coaches are like CEO’s and don’t have time for all the details
- Can analytics help individual players make better decisions out on the court?
- Teams should get into their offense earlier in the shot clock to be more efficient
- Why NBA teams don’t press more often
- “There is no such thing as a can’t miss prospect.”
- What skills/stats from a player’s college career translate to the pros
- What does it mean to be a clutch player and which players are clutch?
- When it comes to last second possessions, taking losing in regulation off the table is a massive improvement in your win probability
- Should you foul when you’re up by three in the closing seconds?
- Figuring out what actually matters and being able to read cues
- “If you’re ever in a situation where you’re asking do we need a three here, the answer is yes.”
- Advice for using analytics as a high school coach
- Understanding incentives and the role they play in coaching
- The challenge of using defensive metrics
- “We kind of create these abstractions of what happened, but that’s not actually what happens. And so always remembering that you’ve removed some context, you’ve removed some detail and sometimes those details matter.”
- The difference between top 5 guy and a top 15 guy
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THANKS, SETH PARTNOW
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TRANSCRIPT FOR SETH PARTNOW – AUTHOR OF “THE MIDRANGE THEORY” & FORMER DIRECTOR OF BASKETBALL RESEARCH FOR THE MILWAUKEE BUCKS – EPISODE 644
[00:00:00] Mike Klinzing: Hello, and welcome to the Hoop Heads Podcast. It’s Mike Klinzing here without my co-host Jason Sunkle tonight, but I am pleased to be joined by Seth Partnow from The Athletic, former Director of Research and Analytics with the Milwaukee Bucks and author of the book, the Mid-range Theory, Seth, welcome to the Hoop Heads Pod.
[00:00:18] Seth Partnow: Should I be insulted that he hasn’t joined us today or
[00:00:23] Mike Klinzing: Jason, so here’s why you should not be insulted. Jason has now has four kids and he just brought home his fourth child, which is his daughter who was born. Five weeks ago. And so he was on our first episode, but when the episode ended, he was holding his daughter in the basement of his house with his dog running circles around him.
So he decided that it might not have been the best option for him to continue. So that’s why Jason is not with us.
[00:00:53] Seth Partnow: So now I feel like
[00:00:56] Mike Klinzing: no, no, no need. We, we joked on the first one that he’s, he’s been understandably absent from our, from our interviews over the last month or two. So he’s got to kind of work his way back in to to the swing of things.
So, first of all, welcome. Glad to have you. Thank you. All right. Let’s start by going back in time to when you were a kid, tell us a little bit about how you got into the game of basketball when you were younger and sort of where you developed your interest in it.
[00:01:20] Seth Partnow: You know, that’s a long time ago, but I think when I was about, and if either of my parents listened to this and why would they?
They can correct me. I think when. I want to say eight. I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and we lived in a house in one part of town. And then when I was about eight, we moved to house in another part of town. And my next door neighbor had a really nice glass Blackboard in his driveway. And he and it turns out he had played at UC Davis back in the day.
But gentlemen named Mike Freeman shout out Mike Freeman, if you’re, and, and so I just started, he was very friendly and, and, and, and always let you know the neighbor, the kids on the street, you use the hoop. I was really the only one that took advantage of it a lot. And so that’s sort of how.
Kind of came to do basketball, I guess. Just shooting in a driveway.
[00:02:12] Mike Klinzing: What’s the driveway basketball season in Anchorage, Alaska. How long does that last?
[00:02:16] Seth Partnow: lWell, it depends on how on, on, on how much you like shooting a cold wet ball. But it, it varies by year, but you can really count on it from May to September probably.
But the good news is, is that it stays late. At least from, from like June to August, it stays late basically 24 hours. So the, the limit on how late you can go is it’s your neighbor saying, Hey, we’re trying to sleep. Stop.
[00:02:44] Mike Klinzing: That’s funny. That’s good stuff. Were you an NBA fan?
[00:02:49] Seth Partnow: I became one I’m an, I think it was you know, you have the games on TNT.
That was back when the, the, the Superstation. So you got, I saw a lot of Hawks games, but also what was the WGN? Yeah. So got to see a lot of Bulls and, and this was late eighties, early nineties, not a bad time to get, to see every Bulls game.
So, yeah, I would say, I mean, at that time I was probably more split between the NBA and college basketball than I, than I am now. There used to be a, they used to be a tournament that they helped get held every year. Thanksgiving and Anchorage called the great Oscar shootout. And up until they changed kind of the, the rules for preseason attorneys in like the mid nineties it was a really a destination tournament because I think, I think at one point the rules would be like, you could only, you could go to Hawaii Alaska or Puerto Rico only once every four years.
But like each of them, you could go every four years for, for like extra extra games earlier in the season. And then they changed it that you could like go to one every other year or so. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but basically it went from, Hey, Alaska has this sort of exemption to you’re picking between like Alaska or Hawaii.
[00:04:11] Mike Klinzing: Yeah.
[00:04:11] Seth Partnow: So, but the long, long winded way of saying, like, we we got really good teams up there, so that w we saw some really good players up there. I mean you know Pervis Ellison play like you Louisville the year. He was the number one pick my freshman year of college. When I wasn’t actually there, we had a UConn when they were pre-seasoned top five pops, possibly pre-season number one with Ray Allen you know, so that we hit, it was like great teams up there.
So we get to see a lot of pretty high quality college of basketball in person, despite being in Alaska. So it was split, but then at a certain point, like the college game became through my mind substantially less aesthetically pleasing than the NBA. It’s completely different.
[00:04:54] Mike Klinzing: I think I’m right there with you.
I’m a little bit older than you. I’m 52. And growing up for me, sort of in the heyday of college basketball. And I would say I was definitely clearly on equal ground with college basketball and NBA basketball and ice, and know all the guys coming up through high school and then no, when they were in college.
And now I look at college basketball and I barely know anything, guys, the best players are obviously either there for a year or now they got other options for places that they can go. And so you don’t get to know them in the same way. And then you just look at the NBA and how, just how good those players are.
And then you watch a college game and it’s, it’s kind of jarring actually in some ways to watch a college game after you used to watch it so much NBA just cause the guys are so skilled that you go back and watch college. And you’re like, oh my gosh. Like, and you forget how good those players are. And I played, I was a college basketball player, but you just, it was a different, it was a different time without question, growing up in Alaska, how’d you.
How’d you work on your game besides in the driveway, trying to get better and improve. Cause I know you at least took a shot at college basketball too. So just how’d you, how’d you work on your game in Anchorage, Alaska?
[00:06:02] Seth Partnow: I went to some camps in the summer, played at a ton at a certain point, I actually played both hockey and basketball growing up.
And at a certain point you just kind of have to pick one or the other cause at the same season. And I decided perhaps wisely for, I think it was, I think I was 12 when I was either 12 or 14. And it’s like my body feels terrible after every hockey let’s and now now with like sore ankles and hips and knees, like, okay, well maybe, maybe he didn’t matter.
Maybe basketball was bad for it too, but so no, I just played a ton. Whenever we played, it led lunch at school. We played afterschool. Sometimes there was some open gyms. I went to actually the neighbor whose hoop I learned on, he had kind of a regular game at like a middle school twice a week that he let me in one of my high school teammates come play at which was a very different game.
I mean, obviously we’re playing with guys who were were we’re high schoolers playing with guys who were 35 and up. So it’s a very, very different game. Like much more cerebral, much more skilled, much. There were some good players, some good athletes in that game, but obviously people on the way on the, on the backside of that, rather than on the way up, like you would get in like a more of high school open gym.
So that was, that was that was an interesting learning experience, certainly in terms of, of learning, like, not just like the skills, but sort of how to play. Cause, cause these were guys who had been playing for 20, 30, 40 years. So there was a lot of well you set the screen, you slept there and, and you know, you could look for that, pass there and dump it in, kick it, pick it out, repost all sort of those subtleties that you don’t really learn if you’re just playing with teenagers all the time,
[00:07:56] Mike Klinzing: Kids miss out on that stuff today because they don’t get an opportunity to play against older players.
Everybody’s going through the travel and AAU system where you play against your own age. In a gym with a referee with your mom and dad in the stands with a scoreboard, with a coach and kids, I think missed out on some of the things that you’re describing that helped you to become a better player. I think help kids in past generations, that’s how they learned the game, as opposed to the way we learned it today, where you’re just with a skills trainer and you’re working on more of those skills in isolation, and then you’re playing against kids your own age.
And I think it’s just, it’s interesting when we talk to different coaches about how they view that in terms of development, they talk a lot about how kids are probably more skilled. If you just put them in a gym and put them through a workout that kids look better, there’s a lot more kids that can shoot the ball.
There’s a lot more kids that can handle the ball, but when it comes to their basketball IQ and their feel for the game, I think a lot of coaches feel like it’s not quite what it was because kids aren’t having those experiences that you had.
[00:08:55] Seth Partnow: No, I, and I think this is, this is there’s a broader kind of across sports.
I’m a big soccer fan. And you know, my day job is in part working for a soccer data company. It’s called stats bomb. A big criticism of why like the, the U S despite soccer being a hugely popular sport at the youth level year, hasn’t produced that many world-class players is just that it’s, it’s, everyone’s coming up through this very regimented business, not put like kids in, in Brazil, aren’t going through a pipeline, they’re playing soccer.
And I think that’s a. You know, what you’re describing with the AAU circuit is yes, there’s some, there’s some training and some development in some kind of sorting on to all star teams and stuff that is happening. But first and foremost, it’s a business for adults to make money on. And so the business sometimes takes precedence over how do we get the kids to learn how to play basketball?
If that makes sense?
[00:09:59] Mike Klinzing: No, it makes total sense. I think that a lot of it is money driven and a lot of it is adult driven, as opposed to it being kid driven the way it would have been in the past, where a kid goes out and picks up a ball because it’s fallen or because they’re playing with the neighbor or because they’re in somebody’s driveway.
Whereas now it’s mom or dad saying, Hey, we’re getting in the car and we’re taking you to basketball practice, or we’re taking you to soccer, prep, soccer practice, and you’re going to have a coach there, and this is the way we’re going to teach you. And there’s only one way to do it because this is the way the coach wants it done, or just the way the parent wants it done, as opposed to.
The creative way that kids may have learned that game in the past, or like you’re describing with soccer in Brazil where kids are just picking up the ball and they’re playing in the street or they’re playing on a field and there’s nobody instructing them on what to do. They just have to kind of figure it out.
And I think that’s something that’s been lost in basketball. I’m not sure exactly what the, what the overall impact is on the game, but I definitely know that the development system that we have today is much different and I don’t know what the impact of it is, but it’s just a different way of going through and growing up in the game.
When you think back to your time, As a high school player. Do you have a favorite memory as a high school basketball player? Something that stands out?
[00:11:12] Seth Partnow: I mean, that’s, that’s an easy one. I think I referenced it in the book a little bit. We played my senior year. We played a tournament in in San Diego.
I think it was, I think two is hosted by Torrey Pines. And if we’d have won our first round game, I would have had the guard Stephon Marbury and the second round, which would not have gotten, not have gone well for me.
[00:11:29] Mike Klinzing: Hey, it might’ve shown
[00:11:32] Seth Partnow: it. It would have been, he was like we, we watched kind of all of their, he’d done.
Ugly. But in one of the constellation games in the tournament, I got pretty hot. I think I remember I hit something like six threes in the second half of a game. And so my, my coach always pronounced my name SEF. My name is Seth and he had, and he had handwritten the roster that he sent into the tournament.
And so somehow in like the game notes and like the program, my name would be changed from Seth Partnow to Sepik Parthenon. And just as, as I’m hitting these shots, I’m running and I hear the announcer just struggling with whatever this name is supposed to be and just that. So that’s my favorite memory of playing in high school is just hearing the guys just give up and say three.
[00:12:28] Mike Klinzing: That’s good stuff. That’s funny. It’s always nice to be able to bang home six threes and a half, nothing wrong with that.
[00:12:35] Seth Partnow: I still remember this one of them. I got fouled on. I didn’t, it didn’t get called and I banked it in from straight on, which people who follow me on Twitter will think is funny, because nobody hates the banked in three more.
[00:12:47] Mike Klinzing: So I’ve coached. I have a daughter who’s a senior in high school who she stopped playing as a freshman, but she. AAU and travel basketball as a kid. And then I have a daughter who’s in sixth grade, who’s doing the same thing. And I always say to my assistant coaches in girls basketball, that there’s a bank three corollary in girls, basketball that you never want the game to be close enough at the end where a bank three can beat you.
So that’s my, that’s my bank three corollary for girls basketball, because I feel like, especially in the youth level, you just, all these crazy things can go on and you can do tons, right? And sometimes the ball just doesn’t go in. And then other times you get beat by a banked three. So my goal at the end of my goal at the end of the games is always to avoid the situation where you could get beat by a banked three.
[00:13:31] Seth Partnow: I know that that, that applies to the NBA level too. Cause you know, the best way to not lose close games is to not play close games. Absolutely.
[00:13:39] Mike Klinzing: No question about that. You just get yourself a 10 point lead quarter things, look a lot things, look a lot better coming down and stretch what your clutch numbers look like.
[00:13:48] Seth Partnow: You know that the best clutch number is zero for clutch minutes because the game wasn’t closed. Correct. Exactly.
[00:13:54] Mike Klinzing: You’re good enough that you don’t have to play. You don’t have to play clutch minutes.
[00:14:07] Seth Partnow: The guy who was my coach at, at Carlton guy Callan literally just retired like two weeks ago, basically I was, I was went to, went to his kind of retirement thing in, in Northfield.
And he had, he had been the coach, I think for three. For that seems that doesn’t even say 34 years. I think he was the coach there and just got his 500th win this year. And, and his stepping back and he and his wife were going to do some traveling. And so it was, yeah, it was, it was fun to get back.
And, and you just see it, you mentioned about the, the, the training I was remembering back, it was it’s, Carlton’s a D three school. We had our best player was a six, eight All-American who he obviously could dunk easily, but we, we didn’t have a ton of guys who could dunk easily. And then we’re at this dysfunction and the current team is playing captains practices.
And like everybody on the team is just one, two. Ram. It’s just that, and that’s, that’s different training than we had back when we were the kids are like the same size as we were. It’s just get all, but, but we knew how to play better, obviously. Cause we had just, no, I’m kidding. They would kill us.
So they would, they would, they would murder us.
[00:15:35] Mike Klinzing: It’s a different level of athleticism. No question. No question. Did you ever at any point consider coaching?
[00:15:40] Seth Partnow: Not really. So when I, when I finished, I graduated with a degree in economics. I, Carlton’s a pretty academically rigorous school.
I was I was a bad D three player. In that I like if I had of stated like if I’d committed myself and worked really hard and got in the gym and in the weight room, I could’ve played 10 minutes a game my senior year. And I decided to. Do college a little more instead. And, and that was probably a more enjoyable.
So I played my first two years, so or was on the team is probably the better way. But so at that point, like continuing like life with basketball as anything other than a fan, wasn’t really. On my radar, looking back, I, if I did, if it was something that I decided I wanted to do, I probably, it was the kind of thing where I probably had the connection through the school, through through the coaches at the school to get a look as an intern or GA or something somewhere, but it didn’t even occur to me thatthat’s something one could do.
There’s a, there’s a kid who or is a guy he’s not a kid now he’s probably about 30. Well he’s no he’s yeah. He’s in his early thirties. Joan or her skew is an assistant coach for the Kings who his first two years, he, he w he, he was at Carlton and played there and he knew he wanted to coach.
And so he like, through, through coach calender, just retired, like basically got his name out there to everybody and kind of did the thing where he is it. GA and then hooked up with a G league team and did like was the, the intern at a G league team and then got a gig as in the film room with the WNB team and then moved up to like an assistant coach with that.
And then and ended up back at with the Lakers as in a film role and then with the Kings in a film role. And that was an assistant coach. So like, yes, that, that path probably was something I could have attempted, but it didn’t even occur to me that that’s something one could do. What were you thinking.
I had no idea. I still have no idea, I graduated with a degree in economics and I the career center at school was pushing everyone towards management consulting. Because I think that’s where you could get the big alumni donations on the back end. So I didn’t, I didn’t that that didn’t seem like a great life.
So I worked for, I worked for a startup. I worked for a startup for a couple of years. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but people who are old enough to remember that the startup economy got pretty Rocky you know, right around mid, mid 2000. And I was part of that. I wasn’t really loving the job anyway, but I got laid off and, and didn’t know what to do with myself.
So bounced around and like temped for a while, and then decided to go back to school, went to law school, which I wouldn’t recommend, unless you’re sure you want to be a lawyer. I was a lawyer for a little bit. I didn’t like being a lawyer. I, but while I was in law school and early in my, I decided discovered I had a talent for playing poker.
So I kind of, I quit my law job and played poker professionally for a couple of years. All the, while I was still doing like basketball stuff, I was, I was Watched we played very regularly. Actually the best I ever was at basketball was probably the summer before I started law school.
I randomly, I was playing noon ball at like one of the local health clubs. And I just stayed after. Cause I had, had quit my job just to take the summer off before school. And you know, it was shooting around afterwards and you know, all the, the bunch of like very tall Guys, walk in and start like warming up and shooting.
And it turned out it was like a regular game for a bunch of like Minnesota area, like lower level NBA prospects and European European like yearly level guys and stuff like that were from the area. And they, they were one of they had a regular game and they had nine. So they were like, well, come on.
And I was by far the worst player on the court but I played really well, made some shots, didn’t do anything stupid. And and you know, some well we play at these times keep coming back. And I, so I played in that game like three times a week, that whole summer, worst player on the court every day.
And I got so much better at basketball that summer, just like to, just to hold my own. I had to, I had to play out of my mind. It was so much fun. And like it was the best shape of my life and was actually like. Good at basketball, like good for, for what felt like the first time. And, but that was it was a fleeting moment in time.
It’s like real estate, right?
[00:20:16] Mike Klinzing: You buy them, buy the smallest house in the best neighborhood. That’s the way you go. That’s the way you got to go about and approach it. How’d you get how’d you were going to be good enough to be a professional poker player. Where were you playing poker that you were able to even discover that?
[00:20:27] Seth Partnow: I mean, I was just, I just kind of was messing around online and, and was playing in like some small tournaments and playing in some cash games and it’s like, Hey, I’m winning more than I’m losing. And then I’m winning a lot more than I’m losing. And then I’m paying my grocery bills through this.
And then, so and, and so when I, when I eventually had, had quit my law job, I was playing part-time but I was making I had it, it was a good law job, but I was making more money playing poker than I was. Law job, which I hated. So I, that was, it was kind of easy calculus. I didn’t like, I didn’t, I wasn’t actually planning for it to be like for three, I wasn’t planning on doing it.
Like full-time, as long as I did, it was sort of, well, I know I can make enough money to support myself while I’m looking for the next job and the next law job just didn’t kind of didn’t happen. And you know, so then I certain point, oh, even before kind of the U S cracked down on all that, all of the poker, I kind of burned out on it and decided to do other stuff right.
Got into kind of doing educational consulting in Alaska, which was, was a, a reasonably low lift jobs. So that was when I started writing about basketball. Like I was saying earlier, I had been. It get involved with basketball. You know, I’d been watching a bunch of playing fantasy playing. If, if you remember what if sports, I loved that I was in a super involved like dynasty keeper salary cap fantasy league.
That was actually the claim to fame of that league is actually three future NBA heads of analytics played in that league. So, and then none of us do it at the time. It was that it was a, you know it was sort of a random connection that one of the guys had at from his college days, he ran into somebody he knew from his college, they said summer league and kind of was able to pitch that team, some stuff.
And, and so two other guys got a job with them and one of them is still in the league. Keith Barsky is the the vice president of something or other strategy or in research, I think is his title with the Raptors. So have so that was when I started writing about basketball. I knew I had some people who were already in the league who I could bounce stuff off of.
And these, Hey, is this, am I just like, completely full of it as a city? Good. And so it was helpful to have like, no, this is like, this is. So you’re doing okay. It was nice to have that, but then I, when I started writing in that was right when the NBA’s tracking data came out and it seemed like I was kind of the first person to use the publicly available stuff in a interesting way.
And so that meant that like both kind of like more prominent writers Chris Herring was like, what is it, Chris Herring whose Knicks book? I hope you’ve read this
[00:23:16] Mike Klinzing: phenomenal book.
[00:23:18] Seth Partnow: He was, he was kind of the first like really high pro like profile national writer to like, I like showed him some stuff and he’s like, you did this.
This is really good. And that was a, and then some other folks, Kevin Arnowitz and Zach Lowe there were, were very supportive early on. So I kept at it. And then at a certain point in that really early on, like, I started getting like random messages from like, Guys at NBA teams. This was when like the analytics departments were fairly nascent and in some cases it was a scout who knew how to use Excel.
So it’s like, Hey, I’m trying to figure out how to do this. Can you it’s like, yeah, well, sure. And you know, at a certain point, these, these can you do me a favor, became conversations and these conversations then turned, and then I got offered like li early 2016, I got, kind of offered a job with the Bucks.
And so my family, we moved to from Anchorage to Milwaukee where I still live and that they. I was old enough at the time and had enough kids at the time that the entry level intern job, wasn’t something that I was going to be able to take. So they were the team that sort of created a position that was at a level that I could say yes to and took that job and did that for three years.
And as I’m sure you’re aware the professional and professional meeting, like I consider college basketball, professional basketball as well in this sense. And that that’s a hard lifestyle. And it’s especially hard lifestyle to drop into already kind of having a fully formed family.
So it’s like, absolutely. It is the epitome of the boil frog slowly or. Frog in a pot of boiling water, like my wife and I jumped in joked with her eyes open into a pot of boiling water. And it’s like, oh wow, this is hot. So after, after three seasons, it was time to do something different for family reasons, as much as anything else.
I was when I, when I left the Bucks, my kids were five and three and I had been missing a lot of stuff and you know, wanted to still do basketball stuff. And I had, I was fortunate enough that I had talked to some of the folks high up at the athletic when they were just starting. And so when I was thinking of doing something else, I kind of reached out through a friend who, who worked there.
And if I was, if I was thinking of making a change, would you be interested? And they were like yes, hell yes, kind of work, work something out pretty easily and, and made that move and, and sort of. Did that for, you know did that full-time for, for a couple of years. And then last summer I was started to branch out.
Now I worked for a data company, still contribute to The Athletic and kind of also had time somewhere in there to write a book.
[00:26:12] Mike Klinzing: All right. We’re going to dive into the book. All right. So I want to go, I want to work backwards to sure. When you first start writing about the league, what are some of the things that when you first start looking, writing, you’re looking at the data that becomes publicly available for the first time.
What are some things that you’re seeing and what was your process like for trying to put maybe what you were seeing visually with what the data was saying? What were some of the first things that you noticed, or the first trends that you tried to spot? Or just, what was your process early?
[00:26:47] Seth Partnow: So one, there’s a couple, there’s several different ways that it sort of happened.
Like one was, that was, that was around the time when people started talking about rim protection, as a thing, like people had talked about protecting the paint, but specifically like rim protection, like making guys miss the rim. And we finally had data to sort of look at that like block shots are, are just a little too binary to, to really you block a shot or you don’t sometimes, sometimes the shot doesn’t go in and they credit you for a block when you never touched it.
But if you look at like, if you can see these are all the shots I defended at the rim, and these are how many they made, whether I touch the ball or not now all of a sudden over a decent sample, it turns out that’s, that’s a pretty repeatable skill year after year. So you have a pretty good sense of who is actually is the best at suppressing opponent shooting at the rim.
And in those early days it was a lot of who you expect it to be. It was Andrew Bogut. It was Ray Hibbert was like the master of it. Draymond green was surprisingly good at it. And then there were some other guys whose reputations probably exceeded their abilities. Like Deandre Jordan was actually for the first couple of years of tracking data was actually kind of mediocre in terms of, of suppressing opponent shooting.
So that was so, but messing around with that and trying to find a way to, eh, contextually compare one player to another. I came up with like a, a point saved metric, which I think was, I think it was pretty good actually. It’s actually in some ways being limited to the public. Made it easier to get to a certain spot.
I found when I tried to recreate it and make it better with like the full data we have at the NBA. It, there was, there was actually too many hard decisions to make and I felt like I was making the metric worse by adding more info, which is just funny.
[00:28:40] Mike Klinzing: Sure. I’m sure that probably happens though.
Sometimes. Right. You can just get, you could just get buried in data and it’s like, Hey, maybe we just need to cut this back to the main.
[00:28:50] Seth Partnow: Well, there’s sort of a myth that using data is objective. And it’s like, eh, like, oh, this, this model clearly says that, well, that model is the product of a hundred tiny decisions.
All of which are value judgements about what’s important in basketball. So it’s, that’s not objective it’s consistent in that it expresses like this opinion about how basketball works, but that opinion about basketball work, how basketball works isn’t in any way objective. So like more data making stuff that gives you more chances to make mistakes, even if like a higher degree of description or prediction as possible.
So, but anyway, that was, that was sort of one avenue because I knew that was a topic. Another one is I was just kind of managed your, see, I was looking into some stuff and looking at like, Kyle Korver seemed to be open on a whole lot of his corner threes. And I was like, oh, that’s really weird because Korver was a great shooter.
How, why is he so open on his corner, threes? I wonder who else is wide open on their, all their corner threes? And then I started looking, I was like, oh, everybody’s wide open threes. That’s why, that’s why the corner three is better. Not that it’s a foot and a half closer is that it’s they’re all catching shoot assisted uncontested threes, like 88%.
It might be a little different. Now, now that players are, are shoot a little more aggressively, but like if something like 88% of, of coroner three attempts were in contested above the break, it’s closer to 50 50. So like, if you want one reason why corner threes are more efficient, it’s that and the Basketball reasons for that.
If the guy’s not open, you don’t throw it to him in the corner. So cause what, why do you want the ball in the corner?
[00:30:33] Mike Klinzing: And there’s a lot less angles for that ball. You get to the corner.
[00:30:35] Seth Partnow: Right, right. But there’s also a lot, a lot fewer angles for a defendant to recover to that, which is, I think why it tends to be more open.
So that was that. And then like coming off of that, looked at some other stuff and it’s like, oh, I bet you that’s why like both bigs and like the best wing players actually, don’t take a lot of corner threes because why do you want you’re big in the corner on offense. Why do you want your best player in the corner?
You kind of, you want your big, like in the middle or the top of the floor for, for floor balance reasons. Right? So that’s changed a little bit. Teams have started to find ways to get their center. If they have a stretch five to get them to the corner. But in general, it’s still like if bigs are going to shoot threes, they they’re, they have to be able to shoot above the breakthroughs, not just corner threes, because why do you want it?
He can’t offensive rebound from there. And he’s your big, so he’s probably slow. So why do you want him on the baseline when the shot goes up?
[00:31:30] Mike Klinzing: It’s trade-offs right. Yeah. I mean, there’s, trade-offs in everything where you look at it. If you’re going to put, if you’re going to put your big outside the three point line, then you’re inevitably given.
Offensive rebounding or you’re just you’re you’re you’re you’re in terms of spacing the floor. Yeah. There’s always, there’s always, there’s always give and take, depending upon where you’re going to put certain types of players, what their ability is to shoot the ball.
[00:31:52] Seth Partnow: But it’s great. If your big is like above the break, that’s great for defensive floor balance, you might be giving up offensive rebounding, but you’re not gonna have rim protection.
If the, our team like tries to fast break, so that’s good. So that’s, and so that’s why the bigs being able to shoot above the break is pretty important. So that’s, so those are the, both, all this stuff about the corner three was just sort of, kind of by accident. And then the other way is I didn’t do watch a ton of basketball and the way I’ve described it is, is the I don’t know if you know how, like an experienced card player can spot a mark.
So basically you, if, if you flip quickly through a deck, like the, the marking will flash you, won’t like be able to see like what the difference in the pattern is, but you’ll see something was deceased, something off. Yeah. Yeah. And so that’s you, what you watched enough basketball, sir. And especially NBA basketball, which there are sort of ways certain things are done and th and times like, huh, that looked different.
Let me watch that again. Is that a thing? Is that a thing he does a lot? Is that a thing anyone does a lot. Is that good? Is it bad? And so just kind of seeing those oddities there are there’s things that are unexpected and trying to figure out if there’s a way to, to interrogate the existing data, to find out more about it was the start of a lot of, sort of.
You know, oftentimes it was just nothing. It was just a weird thing that happened once, but sometimes it was genuinely a thing. And that led to some kind of interesting observations I thought.
[00:33:29] Mike Klinzing: When you started getting calls from people in the NBA, front offices, where you, what, what’s your reaction when you get that first phone call from somebody in an NBA front office, are you like, why are they coming to me?
Are you like, Hey, maybe I’m really onto something. What was your first initial reaction?
[00:33:47] Seth Partnow: I was like, well, that’s cool. Hey, maybe you’re onto something. It was actually, my wife was, was like, okay, so obviously you’re getting a job in the league. And I was like, no. And she’s like, no, the amount of time you’re spending on this, you’re getting a job with,
[00:34:04] Mike Klinzing: and it’s not this non-negotiable, we’ve all been there.
[00:34:07] Seth Partnow: This is happening. And so, and she was right as tends to be the case. And so, yeah, so I mean, if the, yeah, the first couple of times is that, and then I sort of realized, I know more than some of these people do. Like some of these people are genuinely my peers and some of these people I’m, I’ve learned more about this from a, like a statistical standpoint then.
So I didn’t like the level of kind of do I belong here once
[00:34:34] Mike Klinzing: I actually got, went away pretty fast, that went away pretty fast.
[00:34:37] Seth Partnow: I mean, that was more in some other areas. But certainly in terms of like, am I good enough at the analytics to do NBA analytics? That like, that was never a question by the time I was actually in a position for it to.
[00:34:53] Mike Klinzing: When you take the job with the Bucks and you go from having just the publicly available data to the data that teams have access to what was, how much, I mean, we talked about it a second ago that sometimes the data can be overload, but how much data is out there that the teams have access to that the public doesn’t that was immediately eye opening for you coming into a new position.
[00:35:20] Seth Partnow: So for a lot of stuff. So the public stuff that you get that that’s derived from tracking data like on nba.com is, is it’s a level up than you get from, like the NBA is a little bit more detailed. You get this, this sort of information on every shot, in detail, but on, on aggregate, it tells a very similar story.
So that part, but it’s, it’s some of the other stuff is especially you dig deeper into whether it’s like pick and roll coverages or you know, there, there there’s stuff. That’s sort of there’s events that have been pulled out of the. Of the datas the, the CEO of second and spectrum likes to describe it as, as pulling basketball words from the data.
And so that’s one level, but the next level down is just like finding stuff from like the movement of players on the court and creating insights from that. And that was, that was both difficult and fun. I can it’s foreign it’s long enough ago and coaching staffs ago. General managers that go, that I can I’ve it’s I’m not giving anything away to talk about it.
I like a project we did was sort of, we were looking at again, is looking at corner threes. It’s like, okay, we, okay. Teams close out the corner, three shooters. The teams that are best at limiting quarter to threes versus the teams that are worst, where is that guy starting from? And we found that there was about a, like the, like there was an average point on the floor where like all players started their close out to a corner three from, and the best teams started about two feet closer to the corner, maybe a foot and a half.
And the teams that gave up the most corner threes, more what’s going on three attempts were about a foot and a half, two feet further away. So just that, like that, that, that was really, that was an interesting kind of almost thing was strategic application. It’s like, alright, if I’m here, I can get there in time to not the guy won’t shoot.
But if I’m here like a half step, the other direction, And that, that, that was some really like how you actually put that into practice is you know, that’s, that’s complicated and certainly was above my pay grade, but that’s the kind of level of detail you can get into on stuff. And there’s there’s, there’s examples of that kind of thing all over, all over the game.
It’s just a matter of figuring out what question you want to ask and then how to ask that question of the data
[00:37:41] Mike Klinzing: When you get an insight like that, what’s the conversation like, so that it eventually trickles down to the coaching staff, where does it go? And that obviously I’m sure that over the course of the last seven or eight years, there’s been a greater acceptance amongst coaches GM’s of the value of analytics, I’m sure.
10 years ago you would have come with that data and you probably would have been scoffed out of the room. Now I’m sure that coaches are more receptive. That being said, I’m sure there are varying degrees of acceptance in terms of, okay, this makes sense. This doesn’t make sense. So just what’s the process from going to the analytics department, making a discovery that they think is valuable that they think can help the team to actually getting that to be executed on the floor with the coach and the players.
[00:38:31] Seth Partnow: That’s the secret sauce? I don’t know that’s I mean, my job was, was much more a communications job than it was a technical job. Absolutely. And it, it people ask me what the difference between like, writing for like at the athletic and doing stuff for the NBA, the differences, like format, the differences, like bullet points versus pros, not so much.
It’s like you’re trying to communicate complex ideas succinctly. In a way that the, the non-technical but subject matter expert, not in tactical basketball person, basketball fan can understand. And you know, it may be simple to say that it’s actually, it’s, it’s, it is still a challenge to do it because especially the deeper you get into some of this stuff, you, you only have so much attention in terms of explaining how you got there before you lose somebody, but you have to convince them that you got there in a way that is like replicable and legit to, for, for them to trust what you’re telling them.
So that’s a very, that’s a very. Line to walk and there’s no like one answer it’s, it’s you know, it’s, it’s it’s, it’s a little bit like feel for the game, right? You gotta, you gotta get reps and you gotta shoot situations. And there are things I like, I will fully admit that they were, they were probably opinion stated too forcefull early in my tenure.
And there were probably opinions stated to forcibly before I got there that I’d already kind of put put, put people on edge. So if you, one thing I definitely learned is if you express it as a basketball concept, it’s much easier to get buy-in in that if you express it as numbers,
[00:40:19] Mike Klinzing: Did you have a go-to guy that you knew that if you went with clear communication, that then that coach would sort of be an advocate with the rest of the staff to try to get it implemented?
Was. Just how did that work? Was there, was there a go-to guy I guess is my question.
[00:40:37] Seth Partnow: Oh my it’s it, how, how every coaching staff takes that information on differently? I, I found it was you know, there’s, there’s some folks who are assistant coaches still with the Bucks now w on Mike Budenholzer’s staff who we’re very, very easy to kind of be on the same page with, because I think they were the, they were kind of on a, they were film guys at the time we started working together and they it was easier for them to understand that like the qualitative stuff that they were looking at and the quantitative stuff I was looking at, weren’t actually different things like, and a lot of their qualitative stuff was actually quantitative.
It’s like, oh, this guy like this guy shoots X percentage or something, that’s what’s numbers. And a lot of the, a lot of the, the quantitative stuff is, is qualitative. And that you’re making judgements about like, what is good and what isn’t like based on, on, on these numbers. And so they. They understood that we were kind of doing the same thing and, and that it was important to merge it all together and kind of feed it up.
Because you know, this is, this is never something like, it’s very difficult to go directly to the head coach and cold with like, because that’s a CEO of a company like there, they have too many things going on to be in the weeds of this stuff. So picking out the important bits, like, alright, this is something that would help us, that other thing would help us.
The medical team has got something. Our team psych has got another thing. You know, the player agent told me this, I like, there’s all these things that are working together. Then you’ve got to and you know, the front office says, Hey, we want to give up, get more of a, either get more of a look at this guy because his his contract is coming up or we want to showcase this guy cause we maybe want to trade him.
So you’re balancing all of these things and, and trying to balance winning tomorrow night against getting your team ready to be, be ready to be flexible enough for the playoffs and get your young guys ready and manage the minutes. So this is a lot like basically this is a lot of things that a coach is worrying about and so they, they don’t have time to like evaluate chapter and verse of like you know, something that analytics department brings up. So it’s got a, you got to boil it down and, and it’s gotta be sifted through. And like people ask like, so how would you go to a play at or tell? I was like, I wouldn’t, like, there are teams that have analytics folks who do work directly with players, but that’s a defined position.
That’s an like an assistant coaching position. And then like, those are there are people who have like, like Dean Oliver who wrote basketball and paper is an assistant coach for the wizards now. But he, he, he played college basketball before he kind of. You know, he played at Cal poly.
So he has that like the, the other folks who are, there’s two other bench coaches in the league, who I think are, are, are dedicated, like have a, a legitimate, like coding analytics background. And they all, they have like playing backgrounds as well. So. Being able to bridge that is a specific skillset, but for someone who’s like strictly like an in-office analyst, like you don’t, you don’t talk to players because I mean, we talk to players, but you know, Hey, you want to try this?
It’s like, there’s a limited bandwidth that players have to take on messages and execute them at game speed. And, you know the coach has to decide, which are the most important depending on the player can be between like one and 10 things some players can take on more, some players can take and just need like one swing thought.
And, and it’s, so it’s up for the coaching staff and starting from the head coach to decide which players need, which things and which things they’re going to present to them. Like, I can bring the information to you, but you’re balancing that with 10 or the things. And that’s why you get the big bucks to decide which of those is most will help most when you both tonight and over the next formal.
[00:44:45] Mike Klinzing: Did it ever go the other direction? Where would a player ever come to the analytics department with questions? Did you ever have a player come to you with, Hey I think I’m seeing this or this is what I think is going on. Do you have data to back that up? Did players ever come to you?
[00:44:59] Seth Partnow: They did not. I think that. my guess is that’s something that’ll start happening more. This is something that has happened in baseball now that we’re like three to four generations deep into like sabermetrics is that the players have all grown up with this. So they know like, okay, they they’re very familiar. They know everything about spin rates and launch angles.
And so that’s a language they already speak. And I think it’s we’re not too far away, especially if like the wearables and tracking type stuff starts to filter in more into colleges and more into grassroots that this becomes a thing that players are used to seeing about themselves.
That then that that’ll start happening more. But as of right now, I’ve heard of it. I’ve heard of it in like with a few players, but for the most part, no, and that’s fine. Like there’s there, there at some level, this, a lot of the stuff we do is maybe slightly too abstract. To, to be taken unvarnished directly to a player.
Like the stuff that gets to players is like, if we do tendency stuff, like stuff that was hard to do when you’re just charting games you know, for example, all right, this player, when he’s getting a pick and roll on the left side he rejects the screen 23% of the time, which is the highest in the league.
Like, okay, that’s, that’s something. Okay. I don’t lean into the screen. That’s a, that’s a, but that’s not. So that’s part of like a standard report. If a coach wants that on standard report, not like something you would go, like, it’s not something I would choose to go to a player. Hey, we’re playing Trae young today.
And Trae really loves to reject strings. Like that’s okay. Like, okay, what am I going to come through? The coaches filter exactly. Like there’s 17 things we have to there’s. There’s like, like I don’t want it to, I, I’m certainly not in a position where I want to tell people how to defend Trae young.
[00:46:57] Mike Klinzing: okay, let me, let me ask it this way. If you were an, obviously you’re not, but if you were an NBA player, knowing what on the analytics side, what’s something that you might want to know from your analytics department that you think could be valuable to them as a player. What’s a question that a player might want to ask.
[00:47:22] Seth Partnow: I mean, just I think getting some, I think I would probably want a better understanding of why the nerds think some things are good shots and others what are the factors that go into that? And you really, what you’d find is that they’re about they’re, they’re almost exactly what you think they are.
And it’s, it’s just kind of the weight you put on them. I don’t know. There’s there’s we, we can start to get into stuff about, decision-making like there’s almost, there’s some like reads it, like, what’s my, what’s the read here? What are the options? What, what is kind of the, what’s the theoretical value of each of those options?
And then, I don’t know, like, just knowing like, all right. If I I’ve got a choice between the skip pass to the corner or dumping it off to the guy in the dunker spot, like all else being equal, which one of those is better? Like that seems, that seems like something. If I was at life, I was like a. Primary ball handler.
I kind of want to know because that’s theirs, that’s an empirical question rather than the theoretical one.
[00:48:34] Mike Klinzing: Like, and it’s something that you’re going to face all the time, right? It’s a situation where you’re going to be in. It’s repeatable where yeah. I’m going to see that over and over and over again.
And a percentage wise I can make the better play more often than my expected results can be better now.
[00:48:48] Seth Partnow: Like it know the first thing to do. And then the first thing he tells us when I throw it to one, the one that’s open, like turnover bad. So don’t throw the one that’s going to be turnover. Right, but all else equal, which one of those is the better choice?
Does it matter who the players are? Do you have time in the moment to decide, Ooh, that’s that’s Kyle Korver in the corner versus that’s Andre Roberson, the corner. Does that change my decision? Yes, it does. Because one of them is going to shoot and make it the other one made or mind not shoot.
And then a record scratch that guy. Doesn’t shoot the shot in the corner, burns burn shot, clock time. That kills you like every there. This is, so this is one of my, I think one of the things that I quote most often that I, one of the first things I learned from getting the full tracking dataset is that however you want to define initiating offense.
Every second earlier in the shot clock you get into your offense is worth one point of offensive rating. So it’s like, okay, it’s a hundredth of a point per possession, but if you can consistently get into your offense, like two seconds earlier, over the course of a game, that’s basically an extra. That just doing that is worth an extra pocket.
Now the spread between teams in the NBA is actually like, that’s about as big as spread as you’re going to find, but still that’s, that’s good to know that there’s kind of free money. Just like get into your stuff that little bit earlier. Yes,
[00:50:10] Mike Klinzing: it is. I got a question about that. So this is something that I think when I look at NBA basketball, and I think back to Rick Pitino, coming to the Boston Celtics and bringing his full court press to the NBA and he never really had much success.
And part of it may have been just because his players never necessarily bought into it. But what I hear you talking about slowing teams down, as far as getting into their offense, if you could make a team work to get the ball up the floor where they’re just crossing the half court line at the eight second mark, where they’re not necessarily getting that eight second turnover.
They’re not even started into initiating their offense until 16 seconds. Why do you think more teams or is there data to show or support or not support picking up more full court to delay exactly what you just said to a delay teams, getting into their actions, which obviously from a defensive standpoint, you’re going to be making them more inefficient if you’re forcing them to start later in the shot clock
[00:51:17] Seth Partnow: So I think it’s. I think it’s something teams do as an adjustment, like in the playoffs. I think like the game, one of the, of the Celtics serious, for sure. And they kind of sprung that on Boston was like, oh, wow. And then Boston kind of part of the reason you don’t do it is you saw some of the adjustments Boston took.
If you, if the guy with the ball is like, is, is, is elusive and fast, you might essentially be turning a dead ball possession, which is very pro defense into a fast break possession, which is very pro offense. If you just, if you do it wrong or you might you might pick up fouls 80 feet from the basket, which if you’re in the bonus is turning is basically, oh, that’s a layup.
Here you go here, have a layup. I slapped you. Because you know, NBA players shoot 80% from the line. It’s tiring. So it’s something that is hard to execute over 82 games. Also it’s probably a good way to get. Ball handler defender killed. Cause because all of a sudden Steven Adams is going to be standing at the top and you know, and there’ll be just a one-time wear like your, your big is like trucking back to get back on defense and so he’s not communicating, he’s not up at the screen and you get your head knocked off. So so there’s a number of reasons, like, is it something that teams could do more, could do selectively? Is it something that I like to see when like a team like, wants to try to walk the dog down the floor to save, save time and he pressure up and make the guy pick the ball up and run clock?
I love it. I also, like, I enjoy like, like Ja Morant’s one of the first players I’ve seen do this is like, I think someone’s told him about this because like, he’ll walk the dog in the second quarter. Like, so he started like there in their offense at like 20 in the half court at like 22 in the shot clock.
Cause they roll the ball down the floor and he doesn’t touch it. And the shot club doesn’t run. So I, so yeah, no, I think it’s, I think it’s something teams do as an adjustment, but I’m not sure that I’m not sure
[00:53:18] Mike Klinzing: As a steady diet for 82 games.
[00:53:20] Seth Partnow: Yeah. Like I imagine like next year we’ll see like new Orleans when, when Jose Alvarado is in the game, they’re probably good.
He’s probably going to be like pressed up on, on the opposing ball handler a lot because he’s going to play 18 minutes. So if he picks up files and gets tired, kind of who cares and maybe if they’re a backup point guard in the game, we might get some steals. We’ll certainly get to make them start their offense with like 12 on the shot clock.
So that’ll be good for us.
[00:53:47] Mike Klinzing: No, that makes a ton of sense. And I think you see it, as you said, throughout the playoffs, when you’re talking about. Making adjustments and just putting different coverages out there. And especially when you’re dealing with superstar players, you got to give those guys different looks because they’re just so good.
They’re so talented. There’s they have such a high basketball IQ that you keep showing them the same thing over and over, and they solve it. Doesn’t take them very long to solve it and figure out what they want to do.
[00:54:13] Seth Partnow: These guys have played so much basketball, so much like a guy who’s been in the NBA for six years.
Think of how much basketball they’ve played. Think of how many times they’ve seen everything. And it’s like, you’re not going to surprise them. Like, well, you might surprise them once. But yeah, if they’re, if they’re someone who’s good enough to handle the ball at the NBA, they’re going to figure it out pretty quick.
[00:54:35] Mike Klinzing: All right. Let me ask you about, we just had the NBA draft lottery and I think if there’s one area of sports that continues to be probably the most confounding, I’m guessing the front offices, especially the NBA draft. If you go back 15 or 20 years ago, there were occasionally players who were drafted into the top 10, who didn’t work out.
But for the most part, guys were in college for 3 or 4 years.
[00:55:02] Seth Partnow:. I’m going to stop you there. And, and, and, and so it’s actually, it’s been pretty consistent. It hasn’t really, yeah. Like we, we tend to you might, I don’t know if you have to bleep this on your pod, but the shit, the shit happens factor is we forget like every player, every player has bus potential.
There is no such thing as, as a can’t miss prospect. And so you go back and you can find it. You find you guys, every, every draft there’s on average, going back, I’ve looked at it, going back to like the mid nineties. And it’s been pretty consistent that like there’s, there’s, there’s a 20, a quarter of the guys picked the top five are busts are, are just not.
And that’s that hasn’t changed. All right.
[00:55:52] Mike Klinzing: So with that being said, with that being said, thank you for correcting me and making me making me come through with some accurate information. How do you, what are teams looking at? Is there, I guess let’s start here. Is there things from the college level that are translatable to the NBA and then conversely, are there things that players do in college that don’t translate nearly as well?
So is there a particular skill that when you see it in a player in college, you’re like, oh, that’s going to translate really well and converse these there. Something that maybe doesn’t translate.
[00:56:33] Seth Partnow: So. Shooting percentage is something that, that is you, you don’t, we don’t have nearly as good information about like the context of a player shots in college.
And we don’t like, and part of it is we don’t know if like their college team used them in, in like the right way or something. Like a player who I, who I had a tremendous year this year, who I’ve been a big fan of since his college days Robert Williams, like they, they, they, when he was at Texas a and M they basically never, ever ran spread pick and roll because they had another big who they ran a lot of their offense through.
And, and so he kind of just kind of. A lot. And so his, his offensive numbers in college, weren’t representative of how he’d play in the NBA. In terms of things that do translate like free-throw percentages. When we look at it’s almost a free-throw presented in, in some ways, depending on how you slice it is more predictive of whether a guy will be able to shoot threes at the NBA level than their three point percentage in college.
Because again, we don’t know what kind of threes they were taking. Like where they you remember Derek Williams from Arizona? Absolutely. He went number two, number one, number two in the draft because he shot like 50 something like in large part because she shot like 52% from three, his last year of college.
But you get in the data. First of all, he took like one and a half a game and there are all wide open toes to the line threes where you compare that to someone else who’s taking pull up 26 footers hand in the face, off the dribble. Like, it’s a very different shot profile. So how do you compare those two?
So, so free to represent. And then, then the big one we were talking about like, okay, the guy’s tremendously skilled, but can he play kind of the, the sort of the best proxy we have for, can he play his steals? Like it, seals is actually an India, again, depending on how you slice it. Steals is often more predictive of a players on offensive success at the NBA than their defensive success, because it’s, it’s the theory is it’s representing some combination of like athleticism, functional athleticism, some not like combine athleticism and functional athleticism and ability to read the game that, that basically says, Hey, this guy can get this guy gets to the ball.
This guy makes plays on the ball. And, and so that’s, that’s. It’s just kind of important. We, Hey, we got the ball more than you did because our guy, like two and a half times a game as the best steel guys do, like got to the ball first, that’s kind of a big deal. So that’s, that’s, you know that as a catchall, we’re not exactly sure why, but it sure seems like it means something steals.
But then you get into situations where only sometimes like the guys who play at the top of the zone for Syracuse, like they get steals, but they’re not the same steels everyone else gets. So you gotta know that the guys who play like who play at like Virginia or, or, you know under Sean Miller, Arizona player, a conservative pack line defense, like you look at like the steels and blocks tend to be like indicators of athleticism.
Aaron Gordon had pretty mediocre steal and block numbers in college. And now I think you didn’t, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know Aaron corn was a nuclear was still as a nuclear athlete, but then you realize, oh, the style of defense, they played means that yeah, he wasn’t going to get a lot of steels and blocks because they played a very conservative style.
So it it’s, it’s, it’s not a one size fits all thing, but these are sort of the things that you want to look at. And then, so then just from a perspective of, of like doing draft modeling, like, do you build that stuff in to your model or do is just something you kind of know and say, Hey, okay. He shows up in our model as, as not a, not, not a great athlete, but he also played in this system where we know it.
We know it suppresses these, these indicators. So yes, he’s, he’s exactly. I think you, we all see on, on, on film because look at these dunks or look at his dunk rate basically, and that it’s an income that would be inconsistent, a guy with huge dunk rate and low steel and block numbers.
But if you have a good reason for the low steals and blocks, then you can, you can kind of this, the whole story is like, he’s a great athlete who was playing in a conservative system and that’s that’s coherence. And then you kind of go with that. I, sorry, I rambled there for a little bit.
[01:01:05] Mike Klinzing: No, absolutely not. No, that was a good answer to the question, because I think when I start thinking about what an MBA team is looking for and how they try to make their evaluation on what the player seemingly does in college, we’ve all seen right. College players who have tremendous statistics and are just unbelievable college players.
And then that just doesn’t translate to the NBA. And then conversely. Players who have been average college players, or certainly not college players that have been stars that have come into the NBA and vastly exceeded probably what people thought their ceiling was as a college player. And I think that comes back to, and this is to me, always the hardest part to evaluate.
And I’m sure it’s hard for NBA teams to evaluate. It’s just, there’s, there’s more to it. There’s measureables, there’s analytics, there’s all these things. And then ultimately there’s what kind of a guy is that player and what kind of work ethic do they have and once they get to the league, are they going to keep getting better or are they going to plateau once they get there?
What were, were you privy to any conversations about that in terms of work ethic of players, or just trying to evaluate sort of those intangibles as opposed to the measure.
[01:02:24] Seth Partnow: So that, that, those, those were funny to me because that was, those were always sort of a Rorschach test. Like the same piece of information is if you like the guy it’s a positive, if you didn’t like like, like a plan, like, I don’t remember.
I don’t remember which like a specific player this was about, but I know this conversation happened somewhere. There I’ll give a couple examples, one like a player, like, like occasionally like gets into it with teammates on the, on the sideline. You don’t like the player, he’s an asshole you like to play, or he has competitive fire.
Right. You know you know, if, if a player has, is a musician also you know w well-rounded balanced personality, we’ll, we’ll handle pressure as well, because he’s got like he’s a balanced personality or, or does he love basketball, right? Like, and, and, and that, and that’s wholly determined by your, your.
Not wholly, but largely determined by what you think of the player otherwise. And so the same, the same piece of information can easily be made to fit the positive or negative narrative. So yeah, and, and I will say that like a lot of what you try to do using statistics, analytics, whatever is to try to shrink the zone of that sort of those intangibles, like, okay, we have this there box score stats that only tells us something it’s like, the more we can know about how he got there, how they got there and how that compares to other players and how that compares to players.
Who’ve had success in the NBA and have not had success in the NBA, how it compares to how a player might play in the NBA or dozens. Like the more you can start to get into that as you get the more granular data you can at least show it, there’s still uncertainty because you’re trying to figure out what 18 year old is going to be best when he’s 25.
And on top of like, if you just left them alone, that’s hard to say. And then there’s all the things that can happen in between, between injuries and life stuff in the wrong coach and the wrong teammates and the wrong girlfriend and the wrong agent and, and, or, or the, the right versions of that like a system where they encourage though, no, you can’t shoot a three, but shoot that three.
I know you’re going to miss it, but keep shooting it. And then three years later, your shooter that like that’s so, but try, but at least you kind of understand what we’re talking about if you know, okay, well, he he like a style thing, like, okay, he get, he got, did all it, got all his buckets by bullying, smaller players.
[01:04:59] Mike Klinzing: Eh, right. Is he gonna be able to do that yet? Is he gonna be able to do that in the NBA?
[01:05:04] Seth Partnow: Why is Luka Garza not a first round draft pick it’s like college player of the year, right? Let’s start going to work. Come on, like, like, look at, look at it. Like he’s going up against a guy who’s going to be a good second division player in Spain, and then he’s going to be trying to do it against bam out of bio.
Like one of these things is not like the other.
[01:05:28] Mike Klinzing: Absolutely. Yeah. I think the draft is always, to me, the most interesting piece of just what NBA teams have to do you think about everything else? There’s you can, you can spend hours and hours watching film of your own team of opponents, all those things.
You can get those tendencies. And those are things that are happening in the context of an NBA game. So it’s clearly transferable. Whereas you watch a player in the college level, right? The level of play is completely different and it’s, you just have no idea how that’s going to translate. It’s always fascinating to me to kind of watch the process and think about where guys are going to go.
What’s that going to look like? Let me jump to the idea of a player, being a clutch player. Tell me what analytics tells us about one player’s ability to be quote clutch and another players inability to be clutch.
[01:06:24] Seth Partnow: So this is one of those things that it’s like define term. Like, what do we mean by saying a player’s clutch?
Are we talking about, you want them to take the last shot? I can tell you that that’s not a thing. Like if you were to, so I’ve looked at this a number of different ways, never like different times square, but basically like last shot situations. However you want to define it. There’s sort of a league average.
That’s been constant over basically over since 1996, when we have first off play by play data. So I’m going to forget the, I haven’t, I haven’t done this in, in a minute, so I forget the exact, but it’s something like, I think it’s under 30 seconds shot to take the lead or tie the league overall shoots about 30% in those as the number of players, any shots, any individual player has taken, they all start to converge around 30.
Like, yeah, there’s some guys above, but they have, they’ve taken like 35 career shots and if he had like two extra, so it seems like there are a huge outlier. So like, in terms of like that situation, like that’s the shot, that’s the shot that she doesn’t go in for for everybody a lot. And it’s like oh, like if you look at it like Kobe and LeBron are both like dead on that, like line of league average fall over and they’re like them and Russell Westbrook are the ones who I think have taken the most shots in, in that situation, if I’m remember correctly.
And it’s just like absolutely dead on the line of, of having converged to the, the, the, the the sample mean as we would say. So that, so on that like narrow slice of it clutch, isn’t a thing amongst the set. Like, I’ll say it this way amongst the set of players who are deemed to be good enough to take that shot does not seem like there’s a lot of differentiation just in terms of.
He’s going to make that last shot more than the next guy.
[01:08:18] Mike Klinzing: It’s almost a number of shots that they take because in order to be able to even have the opportunity to take a clutch shot, you have to be a guy that can create and get to that spot or get open, or be the guy that your team wants to be in that position.
So it’s almost like the raw number of how many attempts do you have tells you a little bit more about the, about the, about the clunkiness?
[01:08:40] Seth Partnow: Yeah, no, he, he played for 20 years and had the ball in his hands a lot. So he took a lot of those shots. So so, but then we started to talk about like some other, like if you, if you broadened clutch out and then you, you mean you, we can, we can see, we can watch this is I, it’s something that drives me crazy watching playoff games, but you know, five minutes left in the close game.
What it, what do most teams do? Walked the ball down the floor and dribble out dribble at half court for 10 seconds. So what kind of shots are you getting off? Those puzzles? You’re getting mid-range pull-ups so yeah, the guys who are better at mid-range pull-ups are going to be better relatively better when that’s the only shot anyone’s taking.
Then if you know that that’s less true for a team that just sort of does the S w Y consider the smart thing kind of keeps running offense, which up until like a week ago, it said like Phoenix does.
[01:09:45] Mike Klinzing: So what’s the thought process? Why, why would you get down into that late clock situation at the end of the third quarter?
And the team gets the ball with 22 seconds left on the shot clock. Why do they come down? This is what I, this is the question I always ask. I’ve asked myself in that situation when I’m sitting there and I’m watching a game on TV or I’m in the arena. And I see that I was asking myself, if this is the best way to score a bat, Then why aren’t we doing this for the entire game?
And the answer obviously is it’s not the best way to score a basket, but what’s the thought process? Why do teams do
[01:10:16] Seth Partnow: so it’s so you’re in, in most, in most possessions that you’re not actually trying to, what’s the best way to score a basket. It’s what’s the best way to outscore the other team. Now for most of the game, those that’s the same question.
Like we take the best shots, we’ll score more, right? We’ll figure the defense on the other end now in a situation like that, I mean the best way to outscore the other team is not let them shoot it. So like you get back. So the Mo like the worst case scenario, scenario zero, zero. Yeah, exactly. So that’s why end of the fourth quarter, like, okay.
Tie game under the fourth quarter, why did they just dribble the clock out and take a, take a you know, a contested pull-up well, losing in regular, taking, losing and regulation off the table is a massive improvement in your wind probability. So like, there’s, there’s an interesting, like, it’s an interesting thought game that, that, you know the nerds occasionally have when we get together, which is okay.
We know it’s very, like the most, like the most important thing. And that like tie game end of the fourth quarter is the shot. Like the ball in the air at 0 0, or whatever, like, or, or, or thereabouts, how good does the guy have? How good a shooter does the guy have to be? If you get an open corner three with 10 seconds on the.
Cause like, ah, yeah, that’s a great shot, but you’re still going to miss that shot 60% of the time. And now you’ve now you’ve given the opponent. Even if you make it, the opponent has a chance to tie. And if you miss it, like the six out of 10 times, you miss it, the opponent now has a chance to win and regulation.
So how good a shooter, how good do you have to be at making that shot for that, for it to be right, to take that shot versus like I’ll throw the ball back out to our, to our main creator for it to be theoretically. Correct. And that’s a, it’s a, it’s a tough problem. Is there an answer to it? I don’t have one, like we’ve gone back and forth because, because then you get it and you get into a little bit of the, this the psychology of okay.
Like, okay. You know, I know I’m not supposed to shoot this, but I am open, so I’m going to shoot it. Okay. If that’s your thought process, is your shooting percentage, really your shooting percentage you, if you haven’t like, if you’re in a situation where I had to kind of, I know this isn’t the right thing or.
Like, I ha you have to think that, that, that plausibly affects the shooting percentage of a player now, and then you go on even further and now it’s like a thing. So now P teams know that, Hey, the guy it’s wrong for the guy in the corner to shoot. So we’re going to run and jump every time. Well, if it happens a bunch of times, then all of a sudden the guy in the corner knows I I’m just going to shoot this.
Cause they ran, ran and jumped. Now he’s shooting his normal shot. And so it’s the mass changes again because of like the familiarity with the situation. So it’s, you can layer and layer things on top of it. And it’s it’s and the answer is, I don’t know, but there’s a lot to think about.
[01:13:12] Mike Klinzing: definitely when you’re considering what the right approach, the right strategy.
That’s always one that I think is what what’d you find in a situation where teams up three. And they’re on defense. The obviously do you file or do you let them play out their offense and try to shoot that three to tie it up?
[01:13:32] Seth Partnow: I mean, the correct play is to foul because taking the one possesion tie off the board, executing that is harder.
And I think my strong impressions, I don’t think teams practice those kinds of situations enough. I don’t think teams practice how to give the foul. And when not to give a foul in a were up three, when you were going to foul situation.
[01:14:00] Mike Klinzing: The Marcus Smart play with the Bucks, right? Where you only got two, you only got two free throws, but that could have very easily call the three shot foul.
[01:14:06] Seth Partnow: Let’s just act like if you’re up three and a guy catches the ball inside the arc, why are you not tackling. Like it just, you see either you see teams run, run, like like it’s just the running a sideline out of bounds. The number of times I see a team enter the ball to a guy in the elbow and run like a split X or something like that.
It’s like, get you to just run through his back. Like oh, we, oh, sorry, you shouldn’t do free throws my bad that they can’t possibly hurt you. So like, and it’s not like, and it’s not, it’s not the sort of thing where you practice a specific given scenario. It’s just like in general, if we’re trying to give a foul to avoid the three here are win here.
You know, we’re going to practice when to do it when not to do it just for a little bit. Yeah.
[01:14:51] Mike Klinzing: I think that’s, that’s something that’s interesting. I think that’s a debate that I hear. Oftentimes whether you look on social media or wherever, or just coach discussion, With high school coaches. I think there’s a ton of discussion about, should you foul, should you let it play itself out?
And I think one of the worries, and this is exactly what you’re describing with NBA players. So you can imagine it goes 20 fold for high school players that you have no idea what they’re, what those kids are going to do and how they’re going to fall. Right? It’s like I could go tackle somebody and get called for an intentional foul.
And now I’ve put my team in a really, in a really bad spot.
[01:15:29] Seth Partnow: Not just, I mean, frankly, it’s not just the high school players, the high school refs also. Right.
[01:15:35] Mike Klinzing: True. No question about that. No doubt about that, but it’s always, that’s always a situation where anytime that comes up, if you’re sitting with somebody else watching the game on your couch or at a bar or any arena or whatever, inevitably.
The people that are, you’re sitting with, everybody’s turning to each other going, do you fall here? What do you do? Do you let them, do you play it out? You filed the file.
[01:15:57] Seth Partnow: And if, if you can and it’s, but it’s, it’s again, just like, I don’t think, cause it’s, it’s something that happens often, but not like super commonly.
So I don’t think anyone has, I don’t think it will most like that’s one, one situation where like most players don’t have enough reps to like intuitively understand, all right. I can foul him and he can’t get a shot off.
[01:16:23] Mike Klinzing: Well, and you also have to have, you’re taking into account, as you said, with the high school, but NBA is the same way, right?
If I’m in an NBA setting and I’m going through and trying to put that into practice, right. I don’t know. I don’t know what the reps going to call us. I can practice it and I can still look and go, oh, maybe that. What have been called a shooting fall, or maybe that’s just, there’s, there’s a lot of variables that go into that for sure.
[01:16:46] Seth Partnow: Yeah. No, I think in, in general, I think that this is I, this is, this is I this is, this is me getting hot takey, I think. But I think that there’s something like baseball people do where it’s like, okay down three to two in the eighth inning bottom of the eighth one out man on second you know, left-handed Le left arm, left-handed throwing left fielder and they they come up and like, do you send the runner or not?
And they come up with all the, and they like talk through all these scenarios, like endlessly. I, I’m not sure that that it’s as much a part of basketball coaching to. Predecide like end of game stuff. Like, do you file, do you have to shoot a three here? Can you go for a quick two? Can you when do you use your timeouts?
I don’t know if, if that, if that like it, because there’s too much going on in the morning,
[01:17:41] Mike Klinzing: it’s a lot less dynamic.
[01:17:43] Seth Partnow: Well, no, but there’s too much going on in the moment to make the decision in the moment. So you, you have to almost run a bunch of those scenarios, a bunch of times in your head even to figure out, okay, this is, this is how we handle that scenario.
And then, and then like be able to, I’ve already decided that when the scenario occurs in a game and I kind of feel like that’s something that doesn’t happen enough at, at because I, I th you know, I generally am very deferential to coaching just because it’s hard. That’s, one’s one spot where I just, I see a lot of things that I think are just like objective mistakes.
Like in terms of like timeout usage and where to go for three and, and you know, when to start fouling and, and stuff like that, you know what I mean? Yeah. Special situations
[01:18:31] Mike Klinzing: because they were killer scenarios that have been repeated in games. We’re like, okay, we’re down, we’re down six with a minute and a half to go, as it makes sense to keep playing.
Or does it make sense to fall at this point?
[01:18:41] Seth Partnow: Yeah. It’s, it’s there’s there’s, most of coaching is like cooking, it’s a pinch of this, a dash of that taste it out as, how does it, how does it, how are we going? Like a lot of these, these, these more like discrete scenarios or more like baking where you you know, a third of a cup of this and then that.
And so you can, you actually can come up with a recipe and sticking to it will over time lead to better results.
[01:19:08] Mike Klinzing: You see it a little bit with the NFL, right? With third down you know, going forward on fourth down and the charts and things that they referred to
[01:19:16] Seth Partnow: you if I feel no, but, but, but those charts and stuff are an attempt to have decided beforehand.
Correct. But when you actually have time to think about it in a deep pressurized emotionalized situation, correct, like it’s, it’s it’s, it is not possible for 90 something percent of, of even like the most experienced, highly intelligent high feel, high understanding individuals. Like doing that in the moment is too big.
An ask considering all those things in the moment. It’s too big an ask.
[01:19:52] Mike Klinzing: Yeah. I agree. There’s moments where you’ll, you’ll you’ll watch and you’ll look at it and you’ll be like, why did, why did they do that? And they just went too fast. Yeah. And you forget, you forget when you it’s it’s I always say it’s really easy to coach from the couch or coach on the bleachers.
It’s super easy because you might only see one thing you might be looking at one thing, whereas that coach is looking at twenty-five things and you end up making the best choice that you can in the moment. And sometimes it ends up being the wrong choice
[01:20:22] Seth Partnow: Right. And so this is something really interesting.
I was reading. Are you familiar with with Douglas Mavs? He is yeah. So, so something I was in his book that I w that that is about simplifying. I think it was his book where he was talking about, they did like vision studies of like, just. Good professional soccer players versus elite ones.
And you were expect, you kind of would expect, okay, well the elite one sees everything. So he’s looking everywhere. It’s like, no, the elite one is looking at a few things. Right. Can block and block out what’s extraneous or has learned like what the, what the tells are, what the, yeah. You know, there’s all this information and learned which parts of information matter and which can be ignored.
[01:21:08] Mike Klinzing: And so it’s the Albert Pujols against Jennie Finch, the softball pitcher. And she’s thrown under her hand and he can’t catch up to the pitches because he’s learned how to read the cues from somebody throwing overhand from 60 feet or whatever 60 feet, six inches. And now suddenly you put somebody on the mound that he should theoretically be able to hit, but all the cues are different.
[01:21:29] Seth Partnow: Yep. Let’s say not to not to go. This is in baseball. There’s like the tunneling thing. Like they, they, people think it’s really cool that like, if all your pitches start out in the same place and then they do these overlays where, okay, the slider goes this way and the fastball goes this way and it’s like, Does that matter or because is the, is the pit hitter reading slider because the ball is going so, or is he reading slider because he’s picking up something about the way your elbow like came up.
We were so, and so if it’s, if it’s the latter, which I think is frankly is more plausible given the time you actually have to react like, like a, well, oh yeah, the ball started there, but it’s got to be here because I know this is a slider and obviously that’s not a conscious thought that’s happening, but right, right.
[01:22:20] Mike Klinzing: That’s intuitive. That’s just, you you’ve had so much experience that your body just becomes almost instinctual at that point.
[01:22:28] Seth Partnow: So my point being there is like, yeah, there’s 25 things, but if you get the reps, you, you can, you can, okay. That doesn’t matter. That doesn’t matter. That doesn’t matter. That doesn’t matter.
That doesn’t matter. This is what matters. That’s my decision. Like it, like, if you can simplify it down, you have a better chance of, of making the right decision.
[01:22:48] Mike Klinzing: Yeah. And doing it, as you said, in a deep pressurized situation where you’ve already thought, thought through the situation that if we get into.
If we get in this exact scenario, here’s what we’re going to do. And then you just revert back to the time when you already figured that out, you don’t have to react in the moment and then you end up making a bad decision based on what the circumstances, right?
[01:23:10] Seth Partnow: Yeah. Like, and they like afterwards, it’s like, oh, I should have blah, blah, blah.
It’s like, and it’s it’s, it’s, it, it, it’s hard. And, and frankly, there weren’t the, the tools to really be able to study those things in detail are still reasonably new. Yeah, absolutely. You know, again, we’ve only had like reliable play-by-play data at the NBA level since you know, the late nineties.
We don’t really have reliable play-by-play data for most other leagues now, certainly not at the high school level. So, so how do you study like. You know, the, the, the, the scenario, if you don’t have the sort of historical outcomes to, okay, well what, what is the value of being down to here versus being down three here?
Right. You know, is like, like the, the, the change in win probability of getting the quick two, versus like in, in general the quick two doesn’t just helps you lose a little bit slower because this next one, it doesn’t actually move the needle very much, whereas like tying the game. Good. And, but you have a better chance to tie.
You can get the two and they miss a free throw. Then you make a 3d tie. It’s like, yeah. But then you go to overtime and lose half the time. Anyway, you’re not playing for overtime. You’re playing to win anyway. That’s like, I still, I’m still scarred from the tournament this year, where. Well, they don’t need a three here, which they’re down five within seconds left.
They needed three here.
[01:24:40] Mike Klinzing: Yeah, you can only, you can only bang home so many twos and then hope that the team’s going to miss. Yeah. I guess you get one out of 20 times. Maybe that works, but yeah, generally speaking three is worth more than two and you’re going to come back a lot quicker, quicker. If you’re
[01:24:52] Seth Partnow: betting on is this though, this isn’t, this isn’t like this isn’t completely accurate, but it’s closer to right than it is wrong.
If you’re ever in a situation where you’re asking doing the three here, the answer is yes. If you get into the point where you’re asking the question, you’re you might actually be too late?
[01:25:07] Mike Klinzing: Good ground rule. All right. Let me ask you this. If you are a high school coach and you don’t have access to all the data that obviously is available at the NBA level.
So we’ve got a lot of high school coaches that are part of our audience, and you want to think about. A stat or two that you found over your experience truly impacts winning. What are one or two things that a coach who has limited access to data could look at that could help them to win more games.
[01:25:37] Seth Partnow: I love this question.
It’s a great question that I, that I get, I think that you know, you’re comparing to what the NBA has as is. You know, it’s not, it’s gonna drive you crazy for sure. You’re looking for better. And so like, what’s left, like the first step of better is like, how do we like, to me, at least there’s a couple different ways.
Like, how do we do when we run, play X, Y, or Z? Or how do we do when. When this group is on the floor, this guy is on the floor, this, this combination of three players on the floor. So like tracking those things, charting those things, I feel like will give you much more information about how your team does and then give you some more like, almost process notes about, okay, well, when we, and if you could somehow do both like chart plays by what lineup is in the game, it’s like, okay, well, when we run when we run a we were in flex with our, with our, with our backup point guard in the game, we only score a 0.6 points per possession, but we were on with our starting point guard in a game.
It’s like 1.1. Okay. So let’s not, let’s, let’s run out of something else when our backups in the game or something like that. Now that’s that’s probably something you do after you’ve had the season under your belt of, of figuring out how to chart what you wanna do. But like pick one thing, pick a couple of things you want to know about your team.
And if you have the video, just chart them, have your assistant coach, have a student manager chart them. And that’s just more information that you have and don’t be afraid to change it up. If you’ve realized you’re not quite capturing the right thing, but you, if you, as long as you capture that consistently for a given number of games, you can start to see if something matters.
Or if it’s just something like, oh, well, when we all right, do you know when we make four more passes, we score more. Now it’s actually about the same. Now, if the ball revert, when we get, you know one of the things that one of the assistant coaches I worked with, and I I’m sure this is. Terminology, but he’s talking about sides.
You know, if the ball moves side is, so if the ball starts to the right side, goes to the left side, it comes back to the right side where we had, we got, we had three sides that position, like how does our, how does our offensive efficiency change when we get multiple sides? You know, again, that’s, that’s probably something that’s a little further down the road for most, but if you collect that data, then you can start to, you can start to you answer those questions.
Like, I think it’s good when we do X, Y, or Z. Well, now that I, that I’ve tracked how we actually do when we do these things. Like it’s like, you’ll be right most of the time, but you’ll be wrong enough of a percentage of the time that you’ll be glad you looked.
[01:28:27] Mike Klinzing: I think that’s one of the things that’s most interesting when you talk about, especially high school sports where you don’t have access to the same level of statistics. And so much of it is relying upon the eye test and what you think you see. I think that’s so interesting. I know that speaking for myself as a coach, speaking for myself as a parent, you’ll go and you’ll watch a game.
And the things that you think happen or that you perceived what happens or the things that you completely forgot that happened when you go back and you look at those at those things on film, I’m constantly amazed by some of the things that I see that I didn’t see live in the moment. And then you take it the next step further.
So that’s, if you go back 15 or 20 years ago, that’s basically what it was right. Watching film was just going back and using the eye test, but being able to replay it over and over again on the video and see it as many times as you want it, but nobody was really charting or putting any of this analytics piece of it.
And now you have the ability not only to go back. Re-look at it with the eye test, but you also have to go the ability to go back and put some actual meaningful data behind it and see is what I think I’m seeing, what I’m really seeing is that what the data tells me.
[01:29:43] Seth Partnow: Yeah. It’s a lot of what gets presented as analytics is like fancy models and machine learning and, and a lot of that stuff is, is, is frankly marketing fluff, like a lot of the most impactful stuff, especially when you’re sort of just getting on the curve of using statistics and using data is, is fancy counting.
You know, you’re counting some stuff that you weren’t counting yesterday and you’re looking at it and that’s when you win, that’s what charting games is. And people who’ve been charting games for as long as, since we’ve had like real. Right. And it’s just a matter of being, it’s being systematic about that.
And like having almost a hypothesis, I think this matters, I’m going to collect data and test it, and then you can you do that and you move on to the next thing. And or if it’s something that is meaningful, then you kind of keep tracking it and then like then deciding whether or not to tell your team, you’re tracking it as a whole.
Other is a whole other thing. Cause it’s like because you know, there’s the there’s a chapter in the book about economics concept called Goodhart’s law or as co, as every coach would know it, playing the. And so if you change the incentive structure so that you actually the really silly example is high fives.
Hey, teams that I find a lot wins. So I’ve worked counting every time you high five. How, how, how sincere do you think those high fives are going to be on that team? After the coach says that they’re tracking high fives or butt slaps or whatever,
[01:31:19] Mike Klinzing: not very, let’s put it that way.
[01:31:21] Seth Partnow: So it’s probably so whatever, whatever the, the even if, if, and if you could like, separate, like.
Well, yeah, the team that’s, high-fiving a lot wins because they’re making good plays. Even if you could separate that out, as soon as you say, yeah, we’re, we’re counting high fives, then it’s like, well, I’m not high-fiving because we did something good. Or to try to pick my teammate up or, or to say, I got you or to say, come on.
I’m high-fiving because coaches over there with a clipboard. And so it’s, it’s not the same thing.
[01:31:50] Mike Klinzing: Take it, take it to the same thing with sides. Right? You could all of a sudden be like, okay, we want to, the more sides we get, the more, the better, more efficient we are. Well, not all of a sudden we’re just whipping the ball back and forth over the center line because we know that’s going to make coach happy.
It’s not necessarily leading to us being a more efficient, offensive. Put it that way.
[01:32:09] Seth Partnow: W when we throw at least five passes, we score more. So I want every possession to start with three men. We’ve at the top of the floor,
[01:32:16] Mike Klinzing: old school going Hoosiers.
[01:32:17] Seth Partnow: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t, I don’t think we have time for my Norman Dale rant.
[01:32:24] Mike Klinzing: Well, that’s a different, that’s a different offense, a different, that’s a different era of basketball. It’s amazing. I tell people, I have this conversation all the time that like the game, the game that I played as a college basketball player from 1988 to 1992 resembles nothing like what the game looks like today.
I don’t think if I was involved in five pick and rolls as a player, either offensively or defensively, that was probably a lot in my entire four year college career. And I can honestly say that. I don’t think I ever drove to the basket, ended up in the lane and then. Somehow pass the ball backwards out to the three point line.
I don’t think either one of those things ever happened and the game has just, it’s changed so much in the way that it’s played and obviously the data and the analytics, and just the fact that three points are worth more than two. The fact that it took us so long to discover that is kind of amazing when you really think about.
[01:33:26] Seth Partnow: It on one level. It is on another, like, again, we didn’t have the same time. We didn’t have like good play by play date at the NBA level. We didn’t have good like shot location data. So like closer. Yes. Closer shots go in more. So, yeah. That’s shots worth an extra point more, but how, how much, how much more often do I make the 15 footer than that 24 footer.
[01:33:49] Mike Klinzing: And the skill level, especially you go back to you. Think of all right, let’s take the mid eighties, Lakers and Celtics. Like sure. If those guys had been working on their threes all the time, they would be just as good as the shooters that we have today. But the reality is if all of a sudden you said, Hey, we need to start taking 50 threes in a game.
The percentages that those guys would have shot in. You know, immediately now give them two or three years. They probably would have been able to get there. But if you said immediately, all right, starting tomorrow, you’re going to start taking 50 threes a game. Those percentages would have been pretty low
[01:34:22] Seth Partnow: Yeah. But but the flip side of it is like, if you don’t know, if you don’t have the data, it’s like, well, yeah, I make a 15 foot or more than I make a 24 footer. Do I, do I make it enough more that like that the 15 footers, a better shot, all else being equal in the absence of data, the, the answer could S could easily be.
Yes. It’s just once we, actually, once we actually had that data, we found out that like at least with the characteristics of shots as taken in the NBA, like a 15 footer is made like two percentage points more often than a three-pointer. And so it’s like, oh, the math isn’t actually close as it turns out.
But like before, when we didn’t, we didn’t have that data like that, we didn’t know. And we didn’t really have any way to know that because nobody was watching a thousand NBA games. And like, it’s like, oh, well, yeah, this is across the NBA. This is a 42% shot and this is a 37% shot or the 37% shot it’s worth a point, a full point more.
So do the math much more efficient like that’s almost not the hard part. The hard part was figuring out that. Yeah, no, the percentage decline is just not for like the percentage of NBA players shoots like drops sort of steeply. Once you get to about five feet from the basket and then declines pretty like subtly and, and like relatively flat until you get up to about 26 feet and then it drops off a cliff again from, for the most part.
So, but we didn’t know that until we had like the data to, to there’s no, there’s no reason that was compelled by theory. It’s just, it’s purely empirical, but we didn’t have the data to be empirical about it. So nobody knew. And now that we knew, okay, it probably took a little too long to deal with the implications of that.
But it’s not surprising that people didn’t know what they didn’t know.
[01:36:14] Mike Klinzing: All right. Now let’s take this. We have, we have blown past an hour and a half, so I’m sorry. No, no, it’s great. There’s nothing. There’s nothing to apologize for has been awesome. And I didn’t even look at our, I didn’t even, I didn’t even look at the time until like two minutes ago.
So that means the conversation has gone exceedingly well, so I want to ask you though, you just talked about the data and you know, you don’t know what you don’t know, where are we with defensive metrics?
[01:36:41] Seth Partnow: Yeah. So, no, this is so, so this is it’s how do you measure what didn’t have. Is going and defense is about like, not letting things happen.
So there, there are certain, like we talked about like rim protection earlier and that’s, that’s sort of a special case because in many instances, like the best defense means the guy doesn’t shoot it all. So you can’t really use shooting percentage. You know, even for the most part, even a highly contested shot at the rim in the NBA is a decent shot.
So kind of no matter who’s there it’s, you guys will shoot guys, we’ll try to put up laps. So it’s actually, it’s kind of a pure test of of like how much the, the individual player is impacting that percentage. But that’s unusual. So almost what we have to do first is we need to come up with a way to systematically evaluate authentic decision-making.
And then once we know that, then we can start to see how a defender might alter decision-making might make decisions worse, or pushing them in a certain direction. And that’s when we can really start to, to understand things about defense. Now, there, there are metrics that can sort of say, okay, in the system, in which he plays, this guy is is probably a pretty impactful defender.
We have metrics like that now, and they’re fine, but that’s not super helpful because it’s not portable. It’s it like the part of these, like these these plus minus metrics that gets overlooked a lot is it’s, it’s not a measure of how good a player is. It’s a measure of how impactful he has been in the role in which he’s used.
And those are two very different things, because one, if the player’s good, he’s going to be good. Kind of no matter where he goes, if it’s about like effectiveness, enroll, if we put them on a different role in another team, what is the, what does the previous thing help you tell? You know, it’d probably be better than if he was good in another role than not, but you know, how sure are we that a guy who’s a great role player is going to be equally impactful when you make him your primary offensive option.
History tells us that doesn’t really work out well. You know, it’s, we see a lot of ugly shooting percentages when a guy goes from being like the third, like the third perimeter score on a, on a, on a good team to the, the, the main offensive engine on a bad team. He he’ll put up numbers, but his efficiency will be pretty terrible.
Absolutely. So. And so that, but that’s, that’s the problem with defense. It’s like, okay, he’s been good defensively, but we don’t really know how or why. So if we add him to our team, will he help us? I don’t know, with, with the sort of top down metrics now, again, there are some specific cases from a statistical standpoint, like with a big, you can sort of start to see, like, does he help you rebound?
Does he, does he, does he protect the rim? Like, those are things that seem to be portable.
[01:39:38] Mike Klinzing: Like Evan Mobley for the Cavs this year. It makes a difference. Jarett Allen, those two guys protecting the rim makes a difference in the calves defense.
[01:39:45] Seth Partnow: Yeah. Oh, and, and, and so like, I, this is I use this example in the book of when we were looking at signing Brook Lopez and it’s like, oh, he’s like, Brook Lopez sucks on defense.
Remember, remember when everyone thought that? Right. For sure. Yeah. And, and it’s partly it’s because when the, when like the hotness was all right, you want your big up to the touch up to touch and chase the bull guard out to half-court like your Kevin Garnett. Like that’s, that’s probably. Does not fit.
Brook Lopez is physical skillset. But Sarah to say, but that’s how people want a big to play. And he didn’t do that very well. But if you look at it also he didn’t like, he didn’t grab a lot of rebounds, but you look at it. His team’s always rebounded the crap out of the ball when he was on the floor, he may not get the rebound, but his team gets the rebound.
Okay. So he’s not going to keep, like, we were like, when we signed him, we had been a mediocre to bad defensive, rebounding team. He doesn’t get a lot of rebounds, but it’ll help our rebounding because he’ll at least prevent the offense of getting rebounds. And then like Yonis will get every rebound. It’ll be great.
And so that was one thing. And then we also looked and saw that like, Hey, the sec is actually when he’s enormous and pretty agile for being enormous. So when guys tried to shoot at him near the rim, the ball doesn’t go in. So we think that we can, we think he can be a functional defender in the scheme we want to play.
So let’s sign him up now. It turned out. He was an elite defender in the system. We want him to play and you know, like, Hey sometimes it’s better lucky than good, but like the information was out there to tell us, to give us some confidence that he would be at least passable and an improvement over the defense.
We had been getting previous season from the center position. And that’s
[01:41:26] Mike Klinzing: a good example right. Of the marriage between the analytics side of it and the coaching side of it in terms of understanding situations and putting players in the right position to be able to succeed. And it’s a combination of using the numbers and using your basketball acumen, to be able to figure out how to mold those two and put together the best team on the floor that takes advantage of the most situations, offensively and defensively, which is ultimately what you’re trying to do.
[01:41:53] Seth Partnow: Exactly. And this is, this is something that I think this is a lesson that I try to when, when I’m talking to analysts is to remember that the numbers aren’t the. Like the number, like to be able to look at all the games, look at multiple seasons of games at once. We, we, we kind of create these abstractions of what happened, but that’s not actually what happens.
And so always remembering that there that like you’ve, you’ve, you’ve removed some context, you’ve removed some detail and sometimes those details matter. And you need to, you need to work to understand the game well enough to know when those details matter and when they don’t, when it’s okay, that we’re not, we don’t care about this, this, like these, these instances anymore, or these things that might be different anymore, or we really care about it.
So the metric we’re using doesn’t actually apply. Like that’s, that’s just massively important for if it really in any sport. That’s why understanding the sports specific knowledge is just massively understand it important to be an effective analyst, to be an effective communicator of analysis to even if you’re performing high level graduate school level statistics, like understanding what your inputs do.
And don’t mean like, he’s like, oh, well this is this, this is all perfect and perfectly accurate. And every, and every assist is the same. And it’s like, eh, no, we know that’s not true. And so like figuring it out, like, so figuring out when, when we care and when we don’t about that is pretty important. Context is everything.
[01:43:28] Mike Klinzing: Yeah. All right. Let’s wrap it up there. I want to give you a chance before we get out to share how people can. Reach out to you, how people can find out more about what you’re doing, where they can read you on the athletic, just put together all the things that you have out there that people can, people can find out more.
[01:43:46] Seth Partnow: Sure. So the book, The Midrange Theory came out last fall. It is available, you know I haven’t seen it any bookstores recently, but it’s still available on it like Amazon and places like that. Or you can order through bookshop.org, if you want to support a local bookstore, which I think you should.
Also it’s available on audio book just came out about a month ago and the paperback is going to come out in the fall. I, which reminds me among the things I have to do is to finish writing the intro to the paperback edition of the book. No pressure there. I I’m writing a couple of times a month at the athletic It’s going to be some playoff stuff.
And then my annual player tears piece, which always makes everyone happy because I never underwrite their favorite players. And you don’t anger? No, never. So that that’ll come out right around summer league. Be really interesting one this year is going to be a lot of movement from past years at the top.
You know, wondering what to do with James Harden, what to do with LeBron James? I think
[01:44:41] Mike Klinzing: I would drop James harden. How about that? Yeah. Well, I,
[01:44:44] Seth Partnow: I mean, he, he’s going to, he’s going to be lower than he has been in the past. That’s like where like what to do with Jason Tatum and Luca Doncic in terms of where to put them amongst the elite elite.
You know, and I’m, I’m very I’m going to get off and right. It, but I’m very picky. I think this is a mistake, a lot of, a lot of. Teams make is the difference between a top 15 guy and a top five guy in terms of how good that is for your team is massive. And so I’m very picky about like the guys who are the top, like Giannis and Kevin Durant and maybe one or two others.
[01:45:21] Mike Klinzing: we gotta figure that out on the contract side, right? That’s that’s where you get actually that’s where teams get in trouble, right? Is paying, paying guy number 12, like he’s gotten number one, two or three. That’s where you get yourself in trouble, fast as a franchise.
[01:45:34] Seth Partnow: Although frankly the individual max for the most. Deals with that because like, unless the guy who’s like the 12th best player has been in the league forever and can get the 35% max, like 30% max is, is perfectly fine. It’s perfectly fine for a player at that level. So that at the end, I’ll also, I have a with Dave , he’ll have our podcast nurturer.
She wrote every week Mo was a, was a a video coordinator in the NBA for a decade with us. Okay. And, and Dave is kind of coached all over the world. So we have, we, we have a lot of fun with it. I have my own podcast on the call-in app where a couple of times a week just chopping it up with basically, they said, Hey, have the same conversations you do with your friends, just record them.
So, but so going through that, I think that’s, I think that’s oh, and you follow me on Twitter @sethpartnow. It’s you know Sometimes there’s analysis. A lot of times I’m just making fun of the announcers at the games.
[01:46:37] Mike Klinzing: That’s fun. That’s fun. That’s fun stuff. That’s what, it’s all.
That’s what it’s all about. No question about, did you record the audio book yourself?
[01:46:45] Seth Partnow: Oh no. That was somebody you had somebody else read it. Oh yeah. That would have been a deal breaker. If they didn’t want me to read it, there was not going to be an audio book. No, like I’ve I mirror and fader who wrote the, the, the Yana side of biography told me that, that liquid, they had her do the audio book.
And she said, first of all, like it took forever because she had to get the pronunciation right. Of a lot of like Greek names and stuff. Sure. It’s
[01:47:09] Mike Klinzing: It’s way easier. It’s way easier than you are. It’s way harder than you think to read.
[01:47:13] Seth Partnow: Yeah. But the other part is, is as she’s reading it, like the urge to.
Right. Like, oh, I, I really hate how I wrote that. And it’s like, I by the time you finish a book, like, you’re just, you’re so sick of those words. Like I haven’t, I haven’t re-read the book. I don’t really have any plans to reread the book. Just because like, I was so much time with it maybe eventually, but it’s like how, how, when you hear yourself recorded, it’s like, oh, I don’t love the way I sound for sure.
Now, now imagine that at 8,000 words. Yeah, no thanks.
[01:47:47] Mike Klinzing: No, thanks. I’ll pass. I’ll pass on that one stuff. I’ll pass on that.
[01:47:51] Seth Partnow: So that’s a long-winded way of saying no, I did not read the audio book.
[01:47:55] Mike Klinzing: Completely understood. All right, well set. I cannot thank you enough for taking the time out of your schedule to jump out with us and spend a lot of fun.
As I said earlier, I looked up and we were already at an hour and 35 minutes with, as a sign of a great conversation. So thank you for that. Really appreciate you being a part of the who peds pod and to everyone out there. Thanks for listening. And we will catch you on our next episode. Thanks.