Inside Alabama Basketball Operations – Analytics! |

In this particular case, Alabama men’s basketball head coach Avery Johnson, who came from a data driven background from his time with the Dallas Mavericks, asks his Ops staffer, Colton Houston, to “spearhead” the analytics effort for the basketball team. Of course, we all know that “spearhead” can sometimes be code for “figure this out for us”, as in, “I want you to spearhead the effort to remove the snow from the parking lot.” Good luck.

But, once again, another great look inside the vast and varied world of athletic operations.

Avery Johnson spent 16 seasons playing in the NBA. He ran the point for Gregg Popovich and was Don Nelson’s protege.

To put it succinctly, the energetic, ebullient and enthusiastic Johnson had seen a lot of basketball before he became a head coach, compiling an encyclopedic knowledge of a game that has defined his professional life.

But back in his first season in charge of the Dallas Mavericks, Johnson was asked to take a closer look at his team and the league he knew so well through a different lens.

Owner Mark Cuban, the mogul who helped launch an Internet startup that made him a billionaire, began sending Johnson reams of data on a daily basis.

Flash forward to Wednesday, and Alabama was in the process of suffering a crushing 19-point defeat to Auburn. The Crimson Tide attempted 52 field goals. Only two of those shots were launched from an area outside the paint and inside the three-point line — a parabolic swath of hardwood that has become the new no-man’s land in basketball.

This was not by accident. Alabama had formulated a strategy based on risk and reward as well as probability. Across basketball, and especially in the NBA, advanced metrics are influencing how teams use personnel and play from one possession to another.  Cuban was one of the first to push for basketball’s version of Sabermetrics after one of his old statistics professors at Indiana University, Wayne Winston, approached him about an idea he had at a Pacers-Mavericks game just after Cuban bought the franchise in 2000.

This season, Johnson has rolled out ten different starting lineups and has routinely tinkered with his rotations.

“It sometimes shows up if a guy plays 36 minutes instead of 28 minutes,” Johnson said. “Maybe he is a little bit more effective in 28 minutes and obviously we look at lineups and matchups and who plays well together and who doesn’t. We look at scoring droughts and who is on the floor and who is not on the floor.”

The man responsible for spotting these trends is a Harvard grad. His name is Colton Houston, Alabama’s director of basketball operations. According to his bio on the team website, one of Houston’s many tasks is “spearheading the program’s analytics efforts.”

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