Colorado Avalanche: Is Roy’s Stance on Advanced Stats Uncommon?

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May 20, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Former NBA player and current TNT television personality Charles Barkley prior to game one of the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs between the Atlanta Hawks and the Cleveland Cavaliers at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Former NBA star Charles Barkley is probably one of the most vocal opponents of using analytics as a measuring stick for team success that you’ll find. Similar to the NHL, the NBA has also tried to mimic the success of advanced stats used in baseball during the “Moneyball” era. In baseball, with a larger number of moving pieces determining success, this can be of incredible use in determining player deployment.

Barkley believes that determining what makes up a good team is not decided by numbers, but by talent. As a former player, he argues, his ability to distinguish between good and bad play is more keenly honed than any statistician could attempt to emulate.

"“The NBA is about talent. All these guys who run these organizations who talk about analytics, they have one thing in common — they’re a bunch of guys who have never played the game, and they never got the girls in high school, and they just want to get in the game… Analytics don’t work at all. It’s just some crap some people who are really smart made up to try to get in the game because they had no talent.” – Charles Barkley"

While Barkley’s opinion was a bit vitriolic, he does make a point. A few seasons back, when the NBA analytics crowd swooned over the Houston Rockets’ advanced statistics (which favored their ability to limit opponent’s shots from prime areas), Barkley argued otherwise.

"“Just because you’ve got good stats doesn’t mean you’re a good team defensively. They’re not a good defensive team. [The Rockets] give up 118 points – no good team gives up 118 points. What analytics did the Miami Heat [have]? What analytics did the Bulls have? What analytics do the Spurs have? They have the best players. They have coaching staffs who make players better…I’ve always believed analytics was crap, and you know I never mention the Rockets as a legitimate contender, because they’re not.”"

The way I interpret what Barkley was trying to get at is this: former players (like Patrick Roy) have been able to see what it takes to win games from a perspective that fans and analysts don’t have. What an advanced stat line will compute can be interpreted out-of-context to the overall themes of the game.

They can’t account for many of the intangibles. For instance: how would advanced stats line interpet a teams’ dip in performance against the Nuggets while playing at altitude that they normally aren’t subjected to? How about if their star player is hurt and missing from the roster? Barkley, like Roy in his comments, devalue the statistics then because they don’t tell the whole story. As a coach, Roy is privy to more of the calculation than just the numbers.

To a degree, I completely agree with Roy and Barkley. As Roy pointed out, shooting from bad areas to improve the look of your statistics is most likely not going to help you win games. Therefore, if the criteria of the stats don’t take in certain fluid complexities to the game, then why take them seriously?

On the other hand, it’s hard to argue that advanced statistics aren’t indicative of a greater overall trend if the sample size is adequate. Over the course of one or more seasons, the advanced stats start to tell a story when compared to other teams around the league. The story they tell about the Colorado Avalanche has not been good for several seasons now.

When the Avalanche came crashing back down to Earth last season following a dream season in 2013-2014, the analytics crowd was there to say, “I told you so.”

Next: Reaching a Middle Ground?