According to a SportingNews article, half the teams in the NBA
employ a dedicated statistician who helps with in-game decisions, trades, drafts, etc. Interestingly, the Suns are not
one of those teams (one of only three playoff-bound teams that do not employ a statistician).
I would imagine that certainly the coaching staff and others in the organization look at statistics in making decisions, but how much more helpful is it to have someone like that on payroll, an expert in the field, whose sole job is to crunch the numbers and figure out correlations? Personally, I think statistics can be a powerful tool if interpreted correctly.
Advanced statistics are now so common in basketball discussion that the argument has shifted from whether or not they’re useful to deciding just how useful they are. It’s no longer surprising to learn that a team employs a stat guru, and there will only be more to do so in coming seasons.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, Dave Biderman gave the exact figures on how many teams employ a stat guy, and it turns out they tend to be successful franchises on the court, too:
According to interviews with every team, The Wall Street Journal found that half the league’s teams this season have at least one of these statisticians who helps make in-game, draft-day and trade-deadline decisions. … The list accounts for all six division leaders, including the Orlando Magic and Dallas Mavericks, who have a data analyst traveling with the team.
These 15 teams that have invested heavily in statistics have combined to win 59.3% of their games this season. The 15 teams without such analysts have won 40.7% of their games, and only three—the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks—are on pace to make the postseason.
ProBasketballTalk’s Rob Mahoney took this article to say that "having [advanced statistical] information available is helping the stat-savvy teams win a whole bunch of basketball games," which is true in that it certainly doesn’t hurt to have that data on hand.
However, it’s worth noting that the more likely relationship is a correlation between good teams and those who are willing to investigate and put resources into innovate strategies in all aspects of the franchise, not just statistical work. Instead of statistical analysis making teams good, we have a situation where teams that make good decisions throughout the organization also invest in stats work.
That’s not to say employing a stats guru doesn’t help. But it’s just one indicator of a successful organization, and those teams’ winning percentages don’t explain exactly how much difference it makes.