The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference is as much about the business of sports as it is the playing of sports. For every panel expounding the newest statistics or and spatial analyses, there are...

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1. Jermaine O'Neal:

Weekly Average: 14 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks in 27 minutes of play

Jermaine O'Neal gets the top spot this week after another incredible stretch of games, including a phenomenal game against San Antonio in which he racked up 22 points and 13 rebounds, most of which were in the crucial minutes of the 4th quarter and in OT that almost single-handedly gave Phoenix the victory. O'Neal was more productive per minute this week than any other player on the team, and the most efficient as well going 17/30 from the field, and 10/10 from the line.

2. Goran Dragic

Weekly Average: 14 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steals in 36 minutes of play

Dragic had another very good week statistically, and although he didn't quite average a double-double for points and assists as he had the prior couple, he was still right there. Dragic should be the best player on the team every week, and he would have been once again if not for an incredible showing from O'Neal.

3. Wesley Johnson

Weekly Average: 12 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist in 27 minutes of play

Smilin' Wes has officially arrived! Johnson has emerged as the spot up three-point threat that the Suns have been missing all season. He has shown the scoring ability from deep and the defensive prowess that earned him the #4 pick in the draft just a few tears ago. Not only that, he has proven to be a very adept rebounder and has even scored some of his baskets by creating off the dribble; to the surprise of many who had witnessed him struggle with his ball-handling over the past few seasons. If Wes can keep this up, the Suns may want to offer him a brand new contract this off-season.

4. Luis Scola

Weekly Average: 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assist in 19 minutes of play

Scola seems to be adjusting to his new role on the team, which has been slightly reduced with the increased minutes for Markieff, as well as sharing some time with Beasley and Marcus as well. Still, Scola has been nothing if not consistent in what he brings to the team. Although his numbers were down slightly this week, he is one of the few players you can bank on night in and night out.

5. Marcus Morris

Weekly Average: 9 points, 3 rebounds in 17 minutes of play

Although Marcus barely knows the plays at this point, he has already stepped in and produced while registering significant minutes in the last two games. Marcus went 9/17 for the week including 5/8 from three and 4/6 from the line. Marcus outplayed Keef in terms of production and efficiency in his first full week as a Sun. Let's hope the brothers push each other to improve even more.

6. Markieff Morris

Weekly Average: 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists in 27 minutes of play

Markieff has stepped up his game since the arrival of his twin, and is playing more productively as well. Keef went 14/30 from the field overall this week, which is much more efficient than he's been playing in the past. His three-point attempts are also down. he only registered five shots from beyond the arc this week and he made two of them, so hopefully this is a sign that he is becoming more aware of what his bread and butter should be. One area I would really like to see him improve upon though is his rebounding.

7. Marcin Gortat

Weekly Average: 8 points, 8 rebounds, 1 block in 26 minutes of play

Gortat simply hasn't been himself lately. Despite posting respectable numbers from the week, his averages were inflated by one good game scoring wise (14 points against the T-Wolves), and one good game rebounding wise (15 rbs vs. the Spurs). But overall, he has been very inconsistent in both production and efficiency. Gortat went only 9/29 from the field for the week, and only 5/10 from the line as well. Marcin has been struggling despite getting plenty of minutes to find his rhythm, and at times just doesn't seem engaged in the game.

8. P.J. Tucker

Weekly Average: 4 points, 6 rebounds in 20 minutes of play

Tucker found his minutes reduced a bit this week with the emergence of Smilin' Wes at SG, and also the arrival of Marcus at SF. Still, Tucker finds a way to impact the game even without registering much on the stat sheet, which is why he has remained in the starting line-up to this point...although this could still certainly change in the future.

9. Kendall Marshall

Weekly Average: 3 points, 3 assists in 14 minutes of play

While Marshall certainly has a long way to go, he isn't doing things to hurt the team when he's out there and is proving to be more that capable of running an NBA offense. Not only that, for all of the concern over his lack of scoring, he did manage to shoot 4/10 from the field which certainly isn't the worst percentage on the team, and he seems to be getting more comfortable in taking the open shot when it presents itself.

10. Michael Beasley

Weekly Average: 3 points, 1 rebounds, 1 assists in 13 minutes of play

Beasley barely sneaks in to the top 10 list this week just edging out Jared Dudley who was slightly less productive and less efficient from the field despite playing more minutes. Beasley didn't have a good week at all, going 5/14 from the field...but it was still better than Dudz who shot a terrible 6/19 while doing little else to help the team despite averaging over 20 minutes this week. I wouldn't count on Dudley playing this poorly again, but unfortunately, it seems that Beas has regressed back into his earlier self with his poor shot selection and turnovers. Fortunately, Lindsey Hunter has plenty of wings to help take his minutes if he continues to slide.

So there you have it. Feel free to share your opinion in the comments below!

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The big issue with the use of a analytics is to translate a mountain of data into something usable in a real-time environment by the coaching staff.

Sixers coach Doug Collins is among the still-large contingent of heavy skeptics, preferring to manage the game and the players his own way to get the best out of them. Though analytics scream from the hilltops that 3-pointers, layups and dunks are the most efficient scoring opportunities for an offense, coaches like Collins have to apply that to their current roster of players. Just how efficient can your offense be if your wings can't MAKE the 3-pointers, and your bigs can't beat the defense to the rim?

Another example: data analysis tells you that a player A has a really poor shooting percentage in a certain area of the court. Easy solution: tell player A to stop taking that shot.

Sounds easy, but it might not be so easy in real life. A coach has to play five guys at the same time, and get them to think about the best way for the whole team to score every time. A coach also has to teach his players to react to the defense, get the ball to the right person and allow that person to make a play.

Sure, the offense can be designed away from player A taking that terrible shot, but what if the defense knows their best chance to get a stop is to entice player A into taking that shot? What if player A is only taking it when the offensive possession is down to Plan C and there's only 5 seconds left on the clock?

Alternately, it matters not that you design an offensive play to generate an open three or a cutter to the basket if the players you have can't finish the play a majority of the time.

Having said all that, I have to admit I'm a stat geek. I love data. The more the better.

But what I love more than anything else is to put that data into usable context, and to communicate that data to laymen in a way that they can use and understand it. I've made an entire career and garnered many promotions over the years thanks to that unique skill. Bosses love it. Users love it. Geeks love it.

So I can understand when the ESPN Truehoop guys wrap up the MIT Sloan session with one collective outcome: the problem is no longer about gathering data. The problem now is about translating that data into a usable manner by coaches who have to apply it in real time.

It's about having someone on your staff who can understand the mountain of data created off of 360-degree cameras that record every second of every play. It's about turning that data into information, and turning that information into applicable solutions.

It's about developing a working relationship between the stat geeks and the coaches, to work through all the scenarios of option A, option B and option C of plays, both on offense and defense to get the best possible results from the current roster. It's about providing the coaches with something they can use every day to help them make the right decisions.

It's about providing the front office with the missing skillset that the current roster needs. Given the collective skillsets of the guys under contract for next season, which ones are unnecessarily duplicated and which ones are truly missing? And, if that skillset was inserted into the mix, what else is lost because of the player they replaced?

And, to what degree are we comfortable with this analysis? Building a roster isn't just about getting the most skilled players. It's also about finding a good mix of skills, that make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

From the Suns point of view, if you insert a P.J. Tucker type (all defense, little offense, best at o-rebounding and putbacks) into the lineup in place of a Jared Dudley type (average defense, limited offense, best at open threes and midrange jumpers), you know on the surface what you gain.

Is one guy better than the other? Depends on the situation: who are the other 4 guys on the floor? Who's on the floor for the other team? What's the score? What were the other 9 guys doing while Tucker and Dudley were going their thing?

All these things, and more, come into play when making decisions. Data can help here. Data can analyze all the situations in which each player has played, whose been on the floor and such. It's not just +/-. It's everything that happened around them. If a team can convert that data into some simple conclusions, a coach can use it when making the decision.

The NBA world has solved the data and the information part. The bottleneck is still in the translation to the players, coaches and basketball front office folks.

Make it simple. Make it usable.

Links

Valley of the Suns talks about a new tool to assess players' health and endurance

ESPN's day two wrap

ESPN's day one wrap

Correction from the other day:

The Phoenix Suns have sent representatives to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference for years.

Former Assistant GM David Griffin attended in 2009 (and possibly 2008), while former GM Steve Kerr attended in 2010. Per another former staff member, the Suns sent at least one representative in 2012.

Now they are going "all in" with 6 representatives, covering both the business side and the basketball side.

The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference started small. Seven years ago it was nothing more than a hundred or so people gathering on the MIT campus to discuss the latest advanced stats from around...

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Losing is one thing, but after back-to-back loses to the Celtics and Spurs the Phoenix Suns were frustrated and to be frank angry that teams felt they could come in here and just "disrespect" them on the court.

"I told you at (Training) Camp," Jermaine O'Neal told Markieff Morris after the loss to San Antonio. "Teams change the way they play you depending on your record."

That is the truth as told by a veteran who has played on good, great, and bad teams throughout his 17 year NBA career. O'Neal knows how teams operate through an 82 game season. This season in particular has been a poor one for the Suns so teams are coming here expecting a win, resting stars, and showing no respect for a team that is 20 games under .500.

"I think after a while you reach a point in the season where you get tired of being pushed around." -Jared Dudley

"I think after a while you reach a point in the season where you get tired of being pushed around," Jared Dudley told me after the game. "Losing close games, guys take that as a pride issue and we are trying to take it to the next level."

In a losing season the only way to get better is to lose games, but what about having some pride?

Having that pride sometimes results in a technical foul (or two) as evident by last night where O'Neal and Markieff Morris did not back down from situations against the Atlanta Hawks. On the season O'Neal has not been one to back down from a challenge, the same could be said throughout his entire career, and he has added a toughness to the bench that is sorely lacking that edge as a whole.

"At times, things happen like that," Interim Head Coach Lindsey Hunter commented on the chippiness. "Our guys didn't back down and as a team you have to protect one another out there. We cannot allow people to provoke us to stop playing the game. We are basketball players and we have to be that first."

The team as a whole did not back down from situations on the court with their opponent or in the huddles with each other.

As Dudley was trying to get Luis Scola to understand in the heat of the moment, they need to play more unselfish on offense. In that particular sequence Scola had a few shots at the basket, but they came off of offensive rebounds and he was trying to mute a loud Hawks run. Those are the moments where leaders step up verbally for their team, they get in teammates ears and, at times, in their faces when they see something on the court that needs to be rectified.

The skirmish was described as "only basketball related" by Dudley after the game.

There is a line between dirty, rough basketball and not backing down when challenged. With the way this season has progressed the Suns have every right to be frustrated and play unnecessarily rough basketball to express that, but that does not win games.

All good defensive teams have that balance.

As Dudley said, they are trying to make defense their "staple" while holding teams to around "80-85 points and then getting out in transition." With the current roster and the lack of a go-to scorer on the offensive end, playing tough defense is their only option to play competitive, winning basketball and score points with consistency.

Not backing down with a technical foul here and there is one way to not back down while keeping their composure enough to win a game. That is Phoenix Suns Basketball.

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