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The fight for analytics is over – let Charles Barkley yell

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Analytics won long ago. Charles Barkley's credit can take the loss.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

"When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk." – Barack Obama


At the higher levels that we call analytics, math is hard. I like to think that I know how to interpret the metrics, but a lot of the stuff that the geniuses do over at Nylon Calculus escapes me. You'll probably never see me churning out my own metrics to measure efficiency or luck. I know this because I've tried: math is hard.

That's why I don't blame Charles Barkley for refusing to accept analytics. I think he's wrong and a worse analyst for it, but at the end of the day, there will always be hardliners that deny something they don't understand. A bigoted perspective perhaps, but one they're entitled to all the same. You just won't see my shocked face when Charles Barkley never gets a front-office job.

The integration of something as complex and unfamiliar as analytics was always going to be an an uphill battle just to be heard out. Those who fight in the name of math will have to claw and fight their way for a seat at the table. That means converting anyone and everyone into a believer, so you can understand the outrage and the personal attacks when prominent figures on television start spewing retrograde arguments about how stats are baloney. Make no mistake, this was a shot fired by Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey:

What'll win out in the end is success, and that's directly tied to knowing what works. At this point in time, we can safely say that analytics have already been accepted on that front. Moneyball was a success story, with sabermetrics dominating modern baseball analysis. The NHL had one of the greatest stats wars in recent memory, and it ended with the bloggers getting hired.

Basketball's metrics have never generated such strife as in hockey. As Moreyball and other metric-informed approaches continue to win small battles and find success, teams will pick out the good from the model and analytics usage will progress.

Lest we forget, the Memphis Grizzlies had their own internal stat war not so long ago. Lionel Hollins as incumbent head coach clashed with management over the use of analytics, and Rudy Gay represented the common enemy of efficiency and analytics: long twos and isolation offense. We know how that ended: the more math-accepting Dave Joerger has replaced Hollins, Gay is gone, and former ESPN stat guru John Hollinger holds office in Grizzlies management. Also important - the Grizzlies have only gotten better since then.

The non-believers will remain, most likely forever. But analytics already have their seat at the table. The discourse will continue to leave blood on the sidelines as the losers get tossed aside, left to yell nonsensical things like "What analytics do the Spurs have?" to a crowd that grows more and more disillusioned by the day.

At this point, the fight for analytics isn't one of convincing people to believe, but one of laying siege to the few remaining hardliners like Barkley. He can remain stubbornly entrenched in his beliefs, yelling at whoever will listen, and watch his credit dry up.


(P.S.: I do like watching Charles Barkley on TV.)