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Two Seniors are Bringing NBA Level Statistics to the Newman Basketball Team

This year, the Newman boys’ basketball team has received a boost of new statistical analytics from Seniors ShuZheng Zheng and Srijan Duggal. The two have dedicated much of their time to helping the basketball team by tracking all sorts of statistics from games and practices.

“It started out as Srijan and I looking for a science project. I love basketball, and we started to research the statistical side of basketball. We approached coach Tillette with the idea, and he loved it,” said ShuZheng Zheng.
After extensive research, Shu and Srijan figured out the first step: marking up the court with tape into twenty-six different areas to track shooting. Dividing the court up into different zones would allow them to track where players are shooting well or making passes. They then film each practice or home game in the Palaestra, and go over the tape on their own time and record who does what.

The data can be quite complex. For example, Shu explained to me the different pressure levels they track. The “drill” pressure level is during practice, where there is no pressure on the shooter to make the shot. The “scrimmage” pressure level is during a scrimmage, or a drill with consequences for missing. The “game” pressure level is the real deal: game shooting and passing. The two also track passing at different pressure levels, as well as “advantage passes,” or passes to open teammates.

The two present the data to Coach Tillette and the players on a weekly basis. Recently, Srijan has been focused on data visualization, like heat maps. Shu has been focused on tracking the data in the long run, even from before the project began. All of this takes a good bit of their time, which has not gone unnoticed. “First thing, their dedication was unbelievable.” Coach Tillette said. “The time that they spent labeling the floor and coming to practices and filming. And then providing the stats (to the players.)”

Shu and Srijan’s work have brought a debate from higher levels of basketball to Newman. The discussion of the value of new-wave statistics in basketball has engrossed NBA media over the past ten years. The debate continues as to the right place for statistics in all sports.

Coach Tillette says he is a believer in statistics, but there has to be balance between statistics-based and traditional offenses. “Stats can sometimes be misleading…” he said. “Sometimes they mask more than they reveal. But if used in the proper way they are helpful. They were helpful for me to look at and to be able to form some judgements about how we’re shooting the ball and how that helps our team.”

Senior Courtney Rothschild said he makes a conscious effort to embrace the data. “I thought I was a better corner (three-point) shooter than I was. So I take less shots from the corner now,” he said.

Talking about analytics as a whole, Coach Tillette said, “I think it has a place. It’s not a be all end all. Like the Moneyball idea has to rely just on stats. I think also you have to be able to, as a leader, have judgement involved when you are looking at things. There still is the eye test. Still have to be able to make informed judgements about individuals, and then use the stats as an instrument or tool.”

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