The Roundball Manifesto

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The Roundball Manifesto by Lyle Morrison

Summary

The game of basketball is in the midst of a drastic stylistic and aesthetic shift, an intellectual inflection point driven by the dawn of an analytics age of enlightenment in the NBA. A new crop of tech-billionaire owners, the influx of top analytics minds to front offices, and the technological progress sufficient to make it all happen has injected analytics into every facet of the game. Thus far the most dominant teams of the era have been those best able to wield analytics and to use it to their advantage.

But not without a cost. A controversial new style has emerged, built around the simple idea of shooting more three pointers. A new philosophy formed in the crucible of analytics, unearthed from mountains of accumulated data only now able to be deciphered. The game is almost unrecognizable from that which was played 20, 10, even 5 years ago. 

Despite the huge boosts in efficiency analytics provides teams, it has been met with a significant backlash by much of the basketball community. Players, coaches, fans, and journalists alike have all expressed their disgust and disdain towards analytics. But no matter how loudly they complain, the analytics freight train chugs further and further from the station. The toothpaste is out of the tube. Ultimately the financial and competitive stakeholders, owners and managers and their corporate partners, simply can’t say no to the results and level of control it offers. 

Thus analytics has been simultaneously vilified by its constituents who are at it’s mercy and glorified by those who use it to serve their own interests. Analytics have become a tool for the NBA bourgeoise to dataify and quantify and dehumanize the players who make the NBA what it is. They use analytics to wrest power and influence away from the NBA proletariat who are infinitely more vital to the health and solvency of the league itself. Analytics are only the latest machination emblematic of a larger struggle between players and owners.

My book seeks to define analytics and interrogate it’s underlying mathematical and statistical principles. It traces it’s spread through the NBA organism and diagnoses just how certain symptoms manifest themselves and why. It outlines the business case for why teams would deploy these tactics, and how it has distorted profit motives. It shows what the future of the NBA might look like and offers solutions for ways to avert disaster. All with a tongue-in-cheek, humorous tone that is sorely lacking in most sports-related literature. It’s a game for fucks sake. It’s not that serious.

It’s a book about basketball. But it’s also very much not about basketball. It’s about the intersection of basketball with technology, business, politics, media, and sociology. Basketball, and sports in general, provide a unique prism through which we can understand our increasingly analytics-influenced world. I hope that by helping the average fan better understand the aims and motivations of the analytics movement in basketball, they will be more understanding and perhaps a bit more wary of it everywhere else.