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Volume 21 No. 26
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Plugged In: Todd Essman, RealGM

Data and analytics are currently all the rage in basketball, but digital outfit RealGM has been at the forefront of the sport’s knowledge revolution for more than a decade. The company operates a public-facing website that analyzes players and team salary cap situations; it also has an enterprise-level offering that provides scouting and transaction analysis for 21 NBA clubs. Todd Essman, the company’s chief operating officer, has been with RealGM since 2000 and has helped the group become one of the most influential independent voices within basketball.

Analytics are really about finding new ways and new opportunities to separate yourself from the competition.

Photo by: REALGM
On the next wave of player analytics: There’s all sorts of opportunity in off-court measures such as psychological profiles on players, their intelligence, their character, their medical history. Our view is to seek out as much information as possible, anything and everything. The off-court stuff is kind of new, but you’ll hear a lot more about this going forward. Things like personal websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook accounts and those kinds of things have really changed the picture in terms of getting a fuller understanding of a player.

On tracking player medical histories: We leave it to teams to tell us how they want to evaluate that stuff, but what we do is track every possible component of an injury and give teams the raw data. It comes down to every possible nuance: the type of injury, treatment, healing time, body type and so forth. But it’s a huge new thing to be able to capture and analyze that data. As we get more and more histories, we’ll get a clearer picture of what’s likely to happen to a particular player. It’s getting really detailed.

On when analytics can be used for predictive modeling in injury recovery: We have injury histories going back about four seasons now. Even that is a study in and of itself, figuring out how much history you need to get really good predictive modeling. But we’re getting to a point where we have a 75 percent confidence level [on predicting outcomes], and once we have seven or eight years of data, you might be able to really nail down determinations of how likely certain treatments are going to work. ... In the near future, we’re really going to be tightening our grip of understanding this.

On managing the limitations of the NBA’s current salary cap and collective-bargaining agreement: Trades have definitely become more difficult, structuring contracts, understanding them, making them work for teams for their salary cap plans going into the future. A lot of usage on the team side now is less about playing with potential trade scenarios than simply researching, understanding, and analyzing current and past contracts.

— Eric Fisher