SBD/November 20, 2013/People and Pop Culture

Minding My Business With Suns Head Of Analytics Zaheer Benjamin



Benjamin and his wife Michelle have recently grown interested in home improvement
In the last 10 years, the role of statistical analysis in the NBA has been growing, and Suns VP/Business Planning & Basketball Analytics ZAHEER BENJAMIN is right in the middle of it. An MIT grad and former pharmaceutical industry analyst with Pfizer, the 36-year-old decided to put his talents to use in the sports world. After initially joining the Magic, Benjamin headed west and is now in his third year with the Suns. He recently caught up with THE DAILY and talked about the structure of the Suns' analytics department, his daily media habits and his recent affinity for HGTV.

No background necessary...

Nothing beyond playing pickup (basketball). I studied computer science as an undergraduate and then I got my MBA from MIT and when I was there I sort of got the data mining and the statistical analysis bug. After I got my MBA I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for a couple of years, I worked for Pfizer doing stuff like sales forecasting, customer segmentation and targeting. I liked that kind of stuff, but I wanted to apply it to something I was really passionate about, which was professional basketball.

Turning point in NBA analytics...
I think "MONEYBALL" was pretty influential, I think there's just been a greater appetite in recent years. You're seeing exponential growth in applying analytic to sports, and you'll continue to see more of that.

Arms race...
SportVU data, which is optical tracking data that all NBA teams have access to this year, is one of the first big challenges for the industry. There's going to be a lot of innovation required to get our arms around how to best store, access and analyze that data. I think it's a bit of an arms race right now. Trying to look for new data sources and new ways to analyze it. Any way to get an edge.

Structure with the Suns...
We're a fairly lean staff, in the single digits in terms of analysts. We serve as sort of a centralized resource for the entire organization. One of our biggest challenges is figuring out how we prioritize our time. It's looking for people with consulting skills but also someone who has the ability to do rigorous data analysis.

Morning media moves...
I start on my phone, I follow a lot of different sports writers on Twitter. That's probably the first place I check. I'm also a newspaper guy -- online of course. I enjoy the New York Times, one of the first things I read. I like to look at things that are going on in other industries and trying to look at ways we can apply those practices to the sports industry. I tend to be fairly broad in my consumption of industry news.

In the app store...
I'd say Twitter is the one I use the most. I think it's the best source for breaking news -- it's a good way to stay plugged in. I think LinkedIn also is quite good for staying in touch with professional colleagues.

Friday favorites...
There's a great food scene here in Phoenix. The place I like to frequent -- we have food truck Fridays here in downtown Phoenix and I like going there. Always a good spot to try a lot of different cuisines.

On the tube...
I'm a big "GAME OF THRONES" fan, eager for that to start up again. My wife and I recently purchased our first place, so I'm big into home improvement shows as well. A lot of HGTV. "HOLMES ON HOMES" we watch a good bit.
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