NBA: Analytics vs. Eye Test

NBA: Analytics vs. Eye Test

As technology advances, people try to use it to predict and quantify everything. Sports is no exception, as it is a huge industry. This means many people, from team organizations to analysts and fans, have been relying on statistics to make predictions.

The use of statistics to analyze the game and make decisions is called analytics. The NBA is no exception, as analytics are of interest to many in the business. Some people have a public reputation of only following analytics, like Daryl Morey and Sam Hinkie, while others appear to be strict “Eye Test” followers, such as Charles Barkley and Jeff Van Gundy.

I find myself on the side of the Eye Test because I have followed the NBA very closely for more than 10 years, and I feel that I have a very good understanding of the game. Analytics is just a computer giving stats, which is no match for someone who has a real feel for what kinds of players and teams win games in the league.

A great argument against analytics happened in the 2018 playoffs, when the Raptors somehow were the favorites against the Cavs. Someone who actually watches the NBA closely would have known that those predictions were laughable, and that the Cavs would once again dominate because of LeBron James.

The Celtics were the favorite as well, especially after going up 2-0 in the series. However, every real NBA fan should have had a gut feeling telling him/her that LeBron James doesn’t lose in the Eastern Conference.

I’m not saying that analytics are always wrong or should never be used. It is a good tool, but it can only supplement the eye test. If someone only uses analytics and tells me that one team will win a playoff series, but my eye test tells me the other team is better, I will go with my eye test every time. I’ve been right more times than not in such situations.

That’s not to say that analytics haven’t had some major victories in changing the game. The three-point revolution is a great example, as it is the best type of shot (maybe excluding shots in the paint).

However, the eye test would tell you that three-point shooting was a great weapon to have, and the number of three-point shots taken per game in the NBA has increased almost every year since the three-point line was founded.

Clearly, people knew that the three-point shot was a great weapon before relying on analytics, and I can’t think of another area of the game that is now common practice due to analytics.



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