NY Times on "Quantifying Basketball's Intangibles": Why Not Start with the WNBA?

. Monday, June 15, 2009
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Something mysterious happened this weekend that I am struggling to figure out:

I had no interest in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Perhaps it’s because I was just busy with other things this past weekend. Perhaps it’s just because the whole thing started to feel anti-climactic, but not necessarily inevitable. Perhaps it’s because I don’t particularly like watching arrogant people succeed (really, do we need more of that in the U.S. right now?).

I hope this does not make you think less of me as a basketball fan.

But in between procrastinating on work with fuzzy or distant deadlines, I spent some time reading the responses to Phil Jackson’s tenth championship and Kobe Bryant’s first without Shaquille O’Neal…as though we really needed to hear more of that storyline.

And yet, I somehow found something interesting to think about in WNBA terms.

There was a story in the New York times about the NBA’s experimentation with a new statistical tracking system during the NBA Finals, which they plan to pilot further next season before implementing fully in the 2010-11 season:

The system will be useful on the offensive side. On Thursday, the goal of the trial run was to measure the velocity of passes and the precise distance of field goals. But the effect may be more prominent on the defensive end, where players are measured in a limited method that hardly stretches beyond blocks and steals.

The cameras attempt to break down how effective Mickael Pietrus is while guarding Kobe Bryant, and compare Derek Fisher’s defense with that of his backups, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown.
For those of us interested in analyzing defense statistically, this could be a huge advancement. So much more to reflect on and argue about. Fun all around.

But then I wondered why this isn’t being piloted in the WNBA. Which brings up a question that some of us come back to repeatedly – should the NBA see the WNBA as an opportunity to pilot new ideas that might improve the professional basketball experience?

I say yes.

If the NBA is serious about moving in this direction, why not invest in setting the system up in the WNBA’s NBA cities and working out the kinks? It would seem to do two things – a) see if the system works and b) give basketball enthusiasts another reason – albeit perhaps superficial – to pay attention to the WNBA.

Jayda Evans opened her blog today by writing that the WNBA is moving at "a ho-hum pace" in a time in which ho-hum is simply not enough to generate buzz for a relatively new league. But what if the WNBA was at the cutting edge of how we watch and think about basketball in addition to providing women the opportunity to play ball professionally in the U.S.?

Might not work, but I wonder if that was ever discussed as a potential idea.

Transition Points:

Note on the Finals: I still think the notion that either Shaq or Kobe has won a title “alone” is somewhat absurd – Shaq won “alone” with Dwyane Wade and a host of other talented though aging veteran players and Kobe won “alone” with Pau Gasol and one of the most talented rosters top to bottom that we’ve seen in a while. Both Wade and Gasol are locks for the Hall of Fame as far as I’m concerned…so hopefully the mainstream media will soon dispense of this story. Win “alone” with Maurice Williams and then maybe the conversation will have some merit…