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San Antonio Spurs Turn to SAS for Sports Analytics

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Posted August 20, 2010 By Paul Shread     Feedback

The four-time NBA champions are just the latest sports team to catch analytics fever.

The San Antonio Spurs are using SAS Visual Data Discovery to gain an edge over their NBA competitors.

The four-time NBA champions and SAS aren't saying how the team is using the business analytics software, and Craig Duncan, SAS manager for sports and entertainment, said there's a reason for that.

"Sport teams that use SAS in an effort to obtain a competitive advantage on the field do not share many details for obvious reasons," Duncan told eCRMguide. "SAS, as a key strategic partner to these teams, is held to strict confidentiality on this topic. You can be certain, though, this is an extremely popular topic with teams these days and you should expect more press releases like this from SAS with other teams across all sports in the months ahead."

The Spurs released the following statement from Basketball Operations Assistant Brian Pauga: "We're continually working to advance our performance, and analytics are critical to the equation. We relish the single view that SAS provides — pulling data from multiple sources to ease our analysis and reporting."

Baseball has long been known as the most stats-crazed of sports — and Duncan said SAS has its shares of baseball customers — but he added that basketball is catching up fast.

"I attended the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference this year and can tell you that the NBA had the largest presence out of any major league," he said.

"These days more than ever, it is all about optimizing player performance over the life of their contract," while controlling costs like player salaries, salary caps and luxury taxes and minimizing risks such as injuries and player and team performance, Duncan said.

He mentioned a few stats that basketball teams tend to study, such as plus/minus numbers, top five man units, shot selection and shot clock usage. He cited another example from "The House Advantage," a book by Jeff Ma.

"One example from the book is how pro teams use a player's college statistics to predict the probability of success in the NBA," he said. "With so much riding on these draft picks, teams now more than ever are turning to analytics to help them better predict how their investment will pay out down the road. Once again we are talking about optimizing performance over time, controlling cost and minimizing risk for these teams.

"SAS has been helping other industries, for decades in some cases, address these same business challenges," he added. "Sports teams may have taken longer embrace the use of analytics as a competitive advantage, but they are catching up fast."

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