Ed. Note: Danny is a high-schooler in Boston. We sent him to the Daryl Morey-driven Sloan Sports Analytics Conference to cover for us. This is his story.
I woke up yesterday morning, threw on my suit, and caught the 6 AM train into Boston with my Dad. I played hookey from school to catch the tenth annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
It's special to step into a room of nearly 4,000 people and sense you probably have the lowest I.Q. I should be worrying about the algebra quiz I bombed last week, not whether or not the "hot hand" exists and if there is enough "statistical power" to prove it.
It's a weird, Ryan Howard-esque brag to say I was one of the youngest in the building. With my age came great naivité. It's an understatement to say I was a little fish in a big pond.
In his opening remarks, Rockets GM and conference founder Daryl Morey addressed me and all the other youngins by recalling a quote from Bill James, a baseball writer and statistician who later spoke in the Moneyball reunion panel.
"Really the thing that makes this conference special is the buzz of the young people, the buzz of the new. It's the young people who are going to change the world and I really believe that," the Father of Analytics said.
I'm pretty sure I'm not changing the world any time soon, but it is cool to report about the people who are revolutionizing the scope of the sports landscape.
Among the roughly 3,900 in attendance, an all-star lineup of free agent head coaches sat front row in all the panels. Scott Brooks, Tom Thibodeau, and Vinny Del Negro were the shepherds and every spectator was a sheep as flocks of people swarmed the coaches before and after every presentation.
Following the opening remarks and the Moneyball Reunion, former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy stole the show. On the "Analytics in Action" panel, he discussed his days in Houston with Daryl Morey, biometrics, and how to dethrone the Warriors with Shane Battier, Sue Bird, and Dean Oliver.
Van Gundy and Battier talked about their pregame scouting reports in Houston. Daryl Morey would hand a detailed report full of metrics to Van Gundy before each game and liked to summarize them in layman's terms.
"I told Shane, ‘I looked at this shit. Kobe is good,'" Van Gundy said on the stage as the crowd responded with laughter.
Battier took a more intellectual approach and credits analytics for extending his career when his athleticism deteriorated.
"I believe it was extremely significant. Dare I say it changed the course of my career," Battier said. "In Houston, I learned how the sausage is made. It changed the way I played and looked at the game."
Van Gundy was also asked about any fights he had with GM Daryl Morey about personnel decisions. He and Morey vividly described a situation with Steve Novak.
"They thought if Scott Padgett was on the roster, I wouldn't play Novak. They cut Padgett and I still didn't play Novak," Van Gundy said. "We tried to go small with Novak one game at Utah and he got bent over by Carlos Boozer. We saw a lot more of Chuck Hayes from there."
In a later panel titled "Negotiations: Past, Present, and Future," Daryl Morey participated in a fun round of rapid fire questions with other panelists David Falk, Jeff Pash (NFL), and Michael Yormark (RocNation)
Who comes to mind as the best negotiator you’ve known?
Morey: Danny Ainge
The worst mistake a negotiator can make is to ____.
Morey: Not listen
The next collective bargaining negotiation in which league will lead to the most games cancelled:
Morey: I have to avoid that question, I would answer normally, but…
Would you rather negotiate against a great negotiator or horrible negotiator:
Everyone else: Great
Your biggest weakness as a negotiator:
Morey: I would say that with tight deadlines you can lose the listening aspect.
You have two job candidates applying to the Rockets: best data analytics person ever or someone understands the sport best?
In general, what is more important: being right or being nice?
Morey: Being right
What is the most effective trait of being a good negotiator?
Stay tuned for more coverage of the 2016 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on The Dream Shake