When many think of professional sportsmen, they often think of their flashy suits, big cars, and their large entourage of followers. But many players understand they are in a serious business. Evidence of that is the newest must hire for players: their own statistician, one who can help them learn what they are doing wrong and what they are doing right.
A recent report at The New York Times notes that players are getting more serious than ever about the mechanics of their sport with a story on the work of Georgetown numbers man Justin Zormelo, 30.
Zormelo has compiled stats for some of basketball’s biggest players such as the NBA’s top player, Kevin Durant. He is also advising Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics and John Wall of the Washington Wizards.
As the Times explains it, Zormelo, who works for the players, not the teams, is a one-man stat book. Zormelo “studies film, pores over metrics, and feeds his clients a mix of information and instruction that is as much informed by Excel spreadsheets as it is by coaches’ playbooks. He gives players data and advice on obscure points of the game–something many coaches may not appreciate–like their offensive production when they take two dribbles instead of four and their shooting percentages when coming off screens at the left elbow of the court.”
Not all corners of the locker room are pleased with the work of private statisticians, though. Some coaching staffs are none too pleased they exist.
“Ideally, you want to have all the basketball X’s and O’s coming from your coaching staff,” the Times says that former coach of the Golden State Warriors, Eric Musselman, told them.
Coaches may feel that their own efforts are being undercut by outside statisticians telling players to do things not approved by coaches. But in this age of free agents, unions, et al, it seems to make more sense for players to take their statistics more seriously as individuals instead of solely as a member of a team. Certainly there is a fine line between being concerned only about oneself and considering oneself a member of a team, of course. Players are always in a constant struggle to square that circle and a personal statistician is an example of that struggle.
Portland Trail Blazers player, Dorell Wright, made an important point about the advice he gets from team coaching staffs. “When I’m getting advice from my coaches, they’re letting me see things, but it’s more about the team. When you get information from different people, it can only be a positive.”
Still, folks like Zormelo note that while their work is intended to help improve players as individuals it is not meant to hamper teamwork.
“I take a lot of time to figure out different formulas for efficiency,” the statsman says. “I’m trying to stay a step ahead.”
As the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo says of Zormelo’s work, “I’m just trying to get better. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
All this is of a piece, though, with a more technical and even scientific look at sports. Technology, statistics, and mechanics are figuring more prominently in sports of all kind every year and Zormelo’s work can only expand as players in other sports look for ways to achieve their personal best.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org