After all, that’s why he was asked to join other basketball types — a former NBA coach, two former NBA executives, and Celtics executive Mike Zarren — on a panel discussion titled “basketball analytics” at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, the top gathering of analytic-minded sports figures in the country.
Stevens admits he is a numbers guy but believes the culture of the organization is the number one priority. He also admitted that there are plenty of intangibles in sports that can't be measured by any sort of algorithm or stat sheet:
Stevens then explained that while the numbers aspect fascinated him, his favorite part of the book (Moneyball) focused on a player (Lenny Dykstra) whose biggest strength (toughness) couldn’t be tallied on the stat sheet.
“That may speak to some of the things you can measure,” Stevens said, “but there’s not much you can measure there other than, this guy has got some mental fortitude to get a hit when it matters.”
Stevens’s answer runs counter to the folklore that he’s a math whiz who used analytics to become the winningest coach in NCAA history through his first six seasons.
It was a timely fairy tale as the statistics revolution has swept through the game and observers have tried to rationalize how a 30-something coach could lead a small Indiana private school to NCAA title games in 2010 and 2011.
Stevens has helped fuel this myth by once saying that he’d create a statistics division at Butler if money were no object, and by making the first full-time, statistical-based hire in the college ranks when he brought aboard Drew Cannon, a numbers guru who had been writing advanced analytics articles.
The aforementioned Cannon, the highly publicized numbers whiz that Stevens brought on with him at Butler and is now with the Celtic Organization, explained that Stevens is more of get as much intel type of guy as opposed to relying on purely analytics coach:
“Brad isn’t so much a ‘numbers guy’ as an ‘I want every piece of right information’ guy,” Cannon said.
“If you can explain it with video, with numbers, with something you heard the kid say at lunch — whatever is going to get him the best information.”
One skill that Stevens does have that helps him greatly with the analytics is his ability to synthesize massive amounts of information quickly and implement the most important parts.
Although Stevens even admits that in the NBA, like with most other professions, there really is no substitute for on the job experience:
“We’re talking about 29 other teams that have been in the NBA for years and years and years and they know more simply from experience than I’m going to be able to learn from film or a stat sheet in six months,” he said.