Analytics? We’re Talking ‘Bout Analytics

Charles Barkley, NBA Hall-of-Famer and current NBA television “analyst,” has been known to provide a sound bite or two that can help lift an otherwise slow news day. Last week during their live show, the “Round Mound of Rebound” shredded the use of analytics by teams in the NBA, particularly the Houston Rockets. Reactions were swift and hard, with Mr. Barkley squarely on the receiving end.

I don’t watch NBA games on a regular basis, so I missed the discussion, but after reading the transcript of his comments afterwards I thought, “what did he say that was so off the mark?” I understood how he got to his point – which is that winning in the NBA is about talent, not analytics – and it got me thinking about our use of analytics in decision-making.

Analytics are the driving force behind a majority of business decisions. When one business acquires another, they use past and present statistics to predict future growth. When my fuel gauge starts to get low, my car will tell me how many miles I have left until I’m empty, which determines whether I stop now or try to get home first. And we use analytics to understand our website traffic and make improvements to perform better.

Perhaps the reason so many people got upset is because Mr. Barkley seems to feel that analytics plays no role in performance; baseball fans familiar with sabermetrics (or who have read/seen Moneyball) will tell you their sport has been using analytics to drive roster and in-game decisions for decades. So who’s right?

To Mr. Barkley’s point, what I pulled from it is that championship-winning teams rely on talent to win, simple as that. Nobody’s going to say that Michael Jordan won 6 NBA Championships because he used analytics to determine the best shots for him to take. His iconic shot in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals is proof of that. There’s a quote from the movie The Replacements that I like: “Winners always want the ball when the game is on the line.”

Since this is a blog on a business site, and not a sports blog, I’ll leave the discussion to them. Here’s my takeaways:

  1. Analytics are a valuable – and necessary – tool for any business to help them improve and grow.
  2. A talented team will succeed, with or without analytics backing them up.

We leverage analytics to help us understand where we have an opportunity to do a better job. We determine which metrics are relevant to us, assign a goal and track to determine if we were successful or not. Only 1 NBA franchise can win a championship in a season; for the others, they may set more realistic goals: win more games than the previous year, make the playoffs, increase customer (fan) satisfaction, increase attendance.

Most important, we need to know we have the personnel in place to help our business achieve its goals. Without the talent, all the analytics in the world may not make a difference.

Editor’s note: The title of this post is a play on the Allen Iverson “Practice” press conference circa 2002, when asked why he missed practice. It’s a hilarious clip, and withstands the test of time.

Ryan McGrath is a Marketing Consultant with G.1440, and was a Knicks fan until 1994 when they lost in the NBA Finals to the Houston Rockets. The Finals were during basketball camp and in his 12 year old wisdom, had “Knicks” shaved into the back of his head, only the barber put the “n” backwards. He absorbed the ridicule, and swore off being a Knicks fan. He can be reached at