In the movie “Moneyball,” Brad Pitt is cast as the man who revolutionized professional baseball with modern statistical analysis.
A similar storyline is playing out in the NBA – and two teams have drafted a pair of BYU statistics students in the effort.
Nick Martineau spent the summer crunching numbers for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Martineau is a former point guard for the BYU basketball team and a current grad student in the BYU statistics department.
As Martineau finishes his degree this year, he will continue to provide various analytics for the Cavaliers, such as player evaluation, team strategy and draft preparation.
“Nick is going to continue to work with us and he’s doing a great job,” said Ben Alamar, a senior analytics consultant for the Cavaliers. “We’re lucky to have him.”
Zach Bradshaw just wrapped up an 8-month internship for the Charlotte Bobcats, a team owned by Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. The Bobcats sent Bradshaw to Las Vegas this summer to observe the NBA summer league. At the conclusion of his internship last month, the team hired Bradshaw as a part-time statistical consultant while he finishes school.
“I loved being in a basketball front office and gaining first-hand experience working with team executives, communicating results to them,” Bradshaw said. “Being close to team executives was a great part of it. The NBA is the NBA.”
Martineau and Bradshaw are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sports analytics at BYU. In the field of sports analytics, BYU professor Gil Fellingham is a pioneer and his colleague Shane Reese is a rising star.
“There are few institutions that have more than one person that does serious work in this area,” the Cav’s Alamar said. “Wharton is one of them, BYU is one of them, and I think I might be hard-pressed to name more schools that have multiple people working on sports analytics issues.”
Starting this year, Fellingham is teaching a new BYU course on sports analytics. One year ago he launched a sports analytics research group that employed five students part-time. That experience helped Martineau get his foot in the door in Cleveland.
“The students get experience in analytics and, whether they go into sports or not, this is a fun way to learn it,” Fellingham said. “There is a growing job market in analytics – insurance analytics, business analytics and marketing analytics. Organizations have all this ‘big data’ and don’t really know how to analyze it.”
The 25 students enrolled in Fellingham’s course this semester are diving into data from BYU’s athletic teams. A large focus of the project is intended to help the strength and conditioning coach tailor workouts to athletes who play different sports and positions. To do so, the students build a database of physiological measures and then analyze which metrics are predictive of actual performance on the field.
Two cross country runners in the class cooked up a project of their own. The NCAA championship race will take place at a frequently-used course in Terra Haute, Indiana. The students are compiling and analyzing the pacing of past winners on that course. By analyzing past winners’ formula for victory, they hope to help their team train in a way that’s customized for the course they will run.
“The students come up with the ideas and I refine them,” Fellingham said. “Then we go talk to coaches, and they go to work.”