While their widespread adoption took some time, advanced stats are now an everyday part of following the NBA. It's difficult to read about the league without hearing about True Shooting Percentage, or Rebounding Rate, or even something a little wackier like Advanced Plus-Minus. Counting rings and determining a player's heart may still dominate the NBA conversation, but more scientific metrics are very much an integral part of the way we consume the sport.
So, in a way, this next bit of news isn't very surprising. As first reported by The Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Memphis Grizzlies have hired ESPN.com's John Hollinger, the creator of Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and the most famous stats-minded basketball writer in the world, as their new vice president of basketball operations. From Marc Stein for ESPN.com:
John Hollinger, a fixture of ESPN.com's coverage of the NBA for the past seven seasons and one of the leaders in basketball's rising statistical analysis movement over the past decade, is leaving his role as a columnist to join the front office of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Best known for hatching the formula behind every player's Player Efficiency Ranking (PER) -- which attempts to quantify player performance through the use of an all-in-one rating -- Hollinger will begin work as a senior executive in the Grizzlies' basketball department next week.
"It's incredibly difficult to leave ESPN, but the chance to work for an NBA team and the Grizzlies' new ownership was an irresistible opportunity," Hollinger said Thursday.
Hollinger was recruited to the Grizzlies by new controlling owner Robert Pera and CEO/managing partner Jason Levien, who have made upgrading Memphis' analytics department one of their front-office priorities.
While Hollinger has been with ESPN since 2005, he has been an important basketball analyst for much longer. He understands the game at an analytical level better than most every writer working today, and in many ways it's surprising that it took this long for a team to give him an offer he couldn't refuse. The Grizzlies' front office has gained a great mind.
The rest of us have lost a guy worth reading every day. I haven't always been the biggest fan of Hollinger's particular approach, but even when he's been wrong he's been thoughtful and capable of challenging deeply held assumptions about the game. He's not the first statistically minded writer to be hired by an NBA team (or even full-time), but he's clearly the most high-profile hire by far. (It's also worth noting that MLB teams have regularly hired stats-minded writers since that sport's statistical revolution.)
The good news is that, because of his efforts, there's an army of statistically minded analysts ready to take his place at ESPN.com and elsewhere. Hollinger's next findings will belong to the Grizzlies, but his influence will be felt by the general public for a very long time.