The 2014 NBA Draft is as good a place as any to stage a ritual torching of straw men in the everlasting, never-useful, not-actually-real war between eyeballs and numbers. So take it away, Mark Heisler, a legendary beat man now slingin' hot takes for Forbes.com:
"They literally have Marcus Smart as the best player in this draft," says an Eastern Conference GM, who, along with 29 other teams, doesn't have Smart in his top three.
"Tell me one guy that they've found that nobody knew about . We know about the guys they've missed. Two years ago they were down on Damian Lillard. He was too old [then 21 after four years at Weber State without attracting enough interest to enter the draft]. He didn't play in a major conference. He wasn't a steals guy. He didn't shoot a lot of free throws.
"They loved Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He got a lot of rebounds and steals. He went to the line. He just couldn't shoot. How did that work out?"
There's a link to Kevin Pelton's prospect rankings, where Smart is indeed rating No. 1 in projected WARP. Full disclosure: K.P. is a longtime blog friend. He's also totally sane about the usefulness of all of this stuff, and watches more basketball than basically anyone I know. The idea that he or any of the other serious analytic folks just plugs numbers into a spreadsheet without scouting players is inane. It's as inane as thinking scouts don't look at any numbers.
For the billionth time, advanced metrics is about using a better brand of statistic than what we've been used to over the decades. It's about finding patterns to further investigate with tape and modeling. It's about modeling what succeeds and what fails and using that knowledge to inform -- not rule -- team-building. To argue otherwise is to make stuff up. Heisler's entire piece is a straw man with a few gotcha prospects, like Victor Oladipo (who Pelton rated low last year). What's the usefulness there? The brave, anonymous Eastern Conference GM picking up some points in a game no one is scoring. Good job.
That Eastern Conference GM complained to Heisler either doesn't understand how serious analytic people function, is willfully ignoring their role or just has a really awful analytic person on staff. This is not a battle. So-called Basketball PhDs incorporate advanced metrics into their roles. Quants incorporate traditional scouting techniques. The war is invented by salty old farts and the ink-stained wretches who love them. It's time to move on.
(Which is advice I should probably take instead of responding to pieces like the one Heisler wrote. Alas.)