The birthplace of basketball analytics: Before the chaos of NBA Twitter, one message board quietly launched the stats revolution


Back in the early 2000s, Dean Oliver He was sitting at his computer. Oliver, who is an innovator “The Four Factors of Basketball Success” He is considered one of the godfathers of NBA analytics, and he was looking for others who shared the same interest in applying statistical analysis to basketball.


He saw Bill James Revolutionize baseball with Sabermetrics, but there wasn’t much being done on the NBA front. In an effort to fill the void, he created a Yahoo email list to spark conversation in which he could reflect thoughts on his friends.

“I’ve been trying to find other people who think a little like me,” Oliver said. “You want to find people who are smart enough to question you, but also naive enough to want to explore all these crazy ideas.”

Oliver slowly begins to build a community. Towards the end of 2004, ESPN writer Kevin Belton I decided to migrate the Yahoo Oliver group to a more user-friendly message board format.

And therefore , APBRmetrics message board bringing together some of the brightest minds from across the country and shaping the future of the basketball analytics space.

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APBRmetrics (Society for Professional Basketball Research) provided a different vehicle for discussion than what we see today. It was accessible to everyone, mostly free of trolls and united in the common goal of advancing the state of basketball analytics.

It was very easy to sign up, he said. Krishna NarsuCreator The LEBRON scale in the BBall Index. “Anyone can post anything.”

Dan Rosenbaum, an economics professor who left academia for jobs with the Cavaliers, Hawks and Pistons, learned from all the different walks of life that came through the doors of APBRmetrics.

Rosenbaum found the panels much different from what he was used to in a college environment. Posters were judged “on the merits of their ideas” rather than their qualifications.

“People have found places where they can contribute,” Rosenbaum said. “Not everyone can contribute to every aspect of every discussion. But I think that was part of the board’s strength.”

Daniel Myers, a bridge engineer by day who’d never taken a statistics class in his life, stumbled across the board through a search engine result. He soon found a welcoming community willing to answer his questions about basketball.

“Everyone was very friendly and non-confrontational,” Myers said. “Even if you asked a really stupid question, these people with PhDs in statistics would answer your question and not say, ‘That’s a stupid question.'”

Myers was like a lot of the members in those days. He learned a huge amount of information from reading and asking questions of field leaders, then finding ways to get involved.

In the end, he used the information he obtained to create one of the first generation all-in-one player scales, Square plus minus.

“Maybe there were a core of 15 or 20 [posters]But these were 15 or 20 of the best players in the world – the leaders themselves on the field, – Myers said.[On] Twitter, you’re screaming at this orchestra for other voices who’re also screaming to be heard.

“Because the forum was kind of a hidden gem, you get really thoughtful comments. The amount of comments won’t be that high, but the quality will be much better.”

Kevin VerriganStable Player Impact, creator of Stable Player Impact, notes that popular all-in-one metrics – from ESPN’s RPM to me FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOREPM and LEBRON – Incorporate the knowledge and techniques that have been laid out in the APBRmetrics dashboards.

“We’re basically iterating, and at this point the improvements are marginal compared to what those stats gave us a quantum leap in the beginning,” Verrigan said.

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John Hollinger is another leading analytics company. Hollinger created the Player Competency Rating Scale (PER)He served as Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Grizzlies and wrote for ESPN and The Athletic. The APBRmetrics Board has helped Hollinger “learn and know more things.”

The collegiality, intellectual curiosity, and openness of those boards was a stark contrast to what Hollinger later witnessed in the front office, where information was treated as a feature to be fiercely guarded.

“We weren’t working with teams and worrying about their information and all these bulls — so this was kind of a pure team environment where we could share things,” Hollinger said. “People can criticize or make suggestions. It was almost a safe place.

“We still have our arguments and our discussions, but it was a great time, this very innocent new era of analytics and basketball.”

The APBRmetrics Board wasn’t just for hobbyists and curious people. She opened avenues for professional advancement, serving as a sort of pipeline in the NBA’s analytics departments through the mid-2000s.

“If you wanted to get into the league at that time, you made a good website or a good blog and you posted a good analysis or you posted it or linked it there at APBR and you had a good exchange with the really smart people there,” Meyers said. “It usually takes a long time before you get hired.”

Ben Falk It was one of these cases. Falk built an illustrious basketball career, working for the Trail Blazers and 76ers and later launching the popular statistics website cleaning the glasses.

It all started after his first big break as a freshman in college, posting on the APBRmetrics boards and catching the eye of Oliver, who brought Falk to Denver for a summer internship while he worked as the Nuggets’ director of quantitative analysis.

“I don’t think I was unique in that way at all,” Oliver said. “I was looking at the APBR metrics at the time to identify people.”

It’s not just writers and CEOs who hone their ideas on the APBRmetrics board.

Youtube Ben Taylor from Thinking Basketball He would lurk, occasionally posting and pointing out ideas he had picked up from the site. Evan Zamirthe creator of NBA WOWY, has been posting his thoughts regularly.

And the Justin Kopatko He got the inspiration to start one of the most influential basketball websites on the internet from his many hours on the forums.

“I remember reading the messages on the APBRmetrics boards and thinking, ‘Wow, this is kind of cool and, at the time, revolutionary,'” Kupatko said. “I was like, ‘It would be nice if there was a place online where we could see all of these numbers — not just for the current season, but historically. “

“And that was one of the things that helped me get creative Reference basketball. “

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The format of the APBRmetrics Board has lent itself to deeper discussions that have fallen by the wayside on today’s social media platforms.

“You can get to know each other better in a place like this, unlike Twitter where it could be someone without an avatar that you don’t know very well wandering into a discussion,” Bilton said.

“And a lot of those are nuanced discussions. It’s hard to discuss what was at that point 140 characters, rather than being able to post a five-paragraph discussion and go back and forth in that way.”

Through that careful discussion, the APBRmetrics Board established the core concepts that are still applicable today. Topics discussed included the idea of ​​true shooting percentage, determining what a possession is, expanding stats per 100 possessions and many more.

“This feeling that we already knew — that people in the league didn’t know it was kind of crazy,” Hollinger said. And that made for a really fun and interesting time. I was part of a select group that got in on the joke.

That whole mental era gave, ‘Oh my God, look at all this money you’re leaving on the table! He really encouraged teams to dig deeper into this in the first place, to learn more and discover more things. A lot of things seem kind of basic now, but back then, it really changed the league.

“I think the league wasn’t open to that kind of thinking, and now, it’s almost a requirement.”

The APBRmetrics panel still exists today, and Myers volunteers as the webmaster. annual thread Soliciting statistical models for the win projection competition is still getting some traffic.

But for the most part, traffic has dwindled. It was a victim of its own success, as some of its distinguished members left to work as bands or to pursue other professional endeavors. However, her legacy lives on.

“You see the real shooting percentage in NBA 2K,” Belton said. “It’s still quite unfamiliar, but at the college level you hear advanced stats as a regular part of the broadcast. All of those things that happened are what we hoped for.”

The legacy also lives on in the work that its members continue to do.

Behind many of the deals teams make, the sites you visit, the YouTube videos you watch, the podcasts you listen to, and the articles you read are chains that lead to community members.

“Basically, it’s not just a painting,” Oliver said. “It was the people who were on it.”


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