Prior to his time at ESPN, Oliver worked in the front office of the Denver Nuggets as Director of Quantitative Analysis and as a consultant for the Seattle Supersonics. During his time in the NBA, Mr. Oliver assisted the coaching staffs and management by using his statistical analysis to evaluate players and trades, assist with free agency, salary cap management, and financial issues, and applied his information to advance scouting reports, defensive quantification and game plan development. His ability to extract an extraordinary amount of information from statistics and apply them to the game of basketball has helped increase the use of statistical analysis throughout NBA front offices. To learn more about his work, please visit www.basketballonpaper.com
The Tampa Bay Rebels sincerely appreciate Mr. Oliver taking the time to join us for “5 Quick Questions.”
How long have you been using stats to evaluate basketball players?
Since 1984 or so. It got a lot better a couple years later, then even better in the early 1990s.
When you worked for the Denver Nuggets, your title was Director of Quantitative Analysis. Can you give us a description of what you did for the organization?
If there was a decision to be made that could be helped using analytics, that was my job. This could be on personnel issues - trades, draft, free agency, contracts - or it could be on coaching issues. On the coaching side, it was often more on what tendencies opponents had since our coaching staff had a very good understanding of our team.
Why have we just recently heard about an increase in teams using statistical analysis as a key factor in player acquisitions and free-agent signings?
It's been happening over the course of about eight years now. It comes in waves and the wave is a bit broader right now, as fans of the approach spread to other teams. I think that spread of advocates has helped make it more widely known.
How important should statistical analysis to professional basketball teams?
Doing without it is highly risky. There definitely are different levels of analytics, with varying grades of sophistication and integration within decision-making, though, so having a token analyst or having people who aren't as good can also leave you behind. On the other hand, there are some very smart people in basketball that I've met who I feel understand how numbers see the game, even if they don't see the numbers.
Do you have to have an extensive background in statistics in order to make them work for you as a basketball coach or executive?
I think you want to have a good background in statistics, databases, and basketball. Without any one of those, it is a hard job to do. Having coached and played and now worked extensively as a scout and in the front office, I know really well the questions that can and cannot be answered with the data we have. I also know what data is more or less reliable. It takes time and experience with all sides to really understand that.