Photo via @BaxterHolmes of The Boston Globe. Drew Cannon (in order from far left), sits next to Jim Larranga, Danny Ainge, Mike Zarren, Austin Ainge, and Brad Stevens.
ORLANDO- Butler’s former one-man analytics department, Drew Cannon, was spotted sitting with Boston Celtics director of basketball operations Danny Ainge, assistant GM Mike Zarren, and coach Brad Stevens prior to the Celtics summer league game Monday at the Amway Center.
Brad Stevens confirmed to reporters following the game that Cannon will join the Boston Celtics staff, though it hasn’t been determined exactly in what role.
“I don’t know exactly where everything stands, but I think he’s definitely going to be on board in some capacity. Where that is and who he reports to, I’m not exactly sure yet,” Stevens said.
In this fantastic profile for Sports Illustrated, Pete Thamel explains part of the role Cannon fulfilled at Butler, where he made $1,000 per month while working on his MBA:
Cannon’s greatest value is with lineup analysis, as Stevens terms his work “unreal.” “It includes every player, pairs of players, groups of three, big lineups, small lineups, etc.,” Stevens said. Cannon will also include the offensive and defensive efficiency of Butler’s players from previous matchups with an opponent, which Stevens said, “Will help me determine probable sub patterns, late game lineups, etc.”
From the data for pairs of players, groups of three and entire lineups, the biggest benefit of Cannon’s work has been figuring out who plays well together. Hypothetically speaking, guards Rotnei Clarke and Chase Stigall may have poor offensive and defensive efficiencies when playing together, but if paired with forward Erik Fromm those statistics improve.
As the year has gone on, Cannon has come up with lineup “rules,” and Stevens tends to stick with them unless fatigue or foul trouble force him to go in a different direction.
Cannon, 23, started his work in basketball analytics at the age of 15, when he began an internship with recruiting guru Dave Telep. He developed statistical formulas that helped evaluate how a high school player’s success would translate to the next level.
After writing for KenPom.com, developing his own scouting service, and graduating fro Duke with a degree in statistics, Cannon was approached by Stevens to be a graduate manager at Butler. Stevens is a numbers guy himself and has always seen the competitive edge they can provide. In his introductory press conference, Stevens told CelticsTown founder Jay King:
“As far as the analytics go, I’m certainly thrilled and excited about all of the information that we have to grab,” he said Friday. “I’ve never really had that before. We have a mountain full of information. The key in coaching is whittling it down to what can help you prepare, and what can be applied on the court without overdoing it. It’s a simple game in a lot of ways, and playing with a clear mind’s important.”
The Boston Celtics have always been on the cutting-edge when it comes to basketball analytics. Assistant GM Mike Zarren is nicknamed “Numbers” for his proclivity for advanced statistics, while the organization is one of 15 NBA teams to install the SportVU camera tracking system.
Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers was never big into the analytics movement and, at times (mid-range jumpers anyone?), it showed on the court. Now, the Celtics analytics team has a new coach who trusts and works with the data in innovative ways, and he’s even brought along his own personal stats guy.
Welcome to the Analytics Age, Boston Celtics fans.