Chasing Perfection Book Review
Excellent Book on NBA, Analytics, Constructing a Team, and More
One of the keys to starting—or progressing—a career is to stay current on industry trends.
The increased use of data and data analysis in all aspects of sports business is not just a trend, but is revolutionizing the way leaders of nearly every aspect of the business are doing business today and plotting their firms’ future.
Which brings us to this addition to the sports Career Library series, Andy Glockner’s Chasing Perfection: A Behind-The-Scenes Look At The High-Stakes Game of Creating An NBA Champion.
Glockner, a former Sports Illustrated and ESPN writer and currently Executive Editor at The Cauldron, takes readers on an insiders’ tour of the way NBA teams and players are working to find ways to improve performance on the court, based on their actions and training on and off the court.
While the topic of the book is NBA basketball, the lessons transcend just that league. Its true message is that professionals look for every advantage, and the next generation of advantages is going to be found using both macro and micro level improvements based on data collection and analysis.
This tale begins in the book’s prologue, which name drops some of the most important players in the game— Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden—as they prepare for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. And how one of the players there picked up a tip from one of the other players that dramatically improved his shooting performance.
Glockner does not reveal the mystery player’s identity until page 233, but the reader cannot help but be intrigued by this anecdote and it sets the stage for a real page-turner of a book.
To give a flavor of some of the topics discussed in the book, here are some highlights from each chapter:
- A Brief History of Basketball Analytics: Glockner introduces some of the pioneers in the field of basketball analytics, including Jeff Sagarin, Wayne Winston, Dean Oliver, John Hollinger and Roland Beech. The chapter also touches on the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, where the statistically inclined congregate each year. It is a good overview of the early basketball statistics movement, and anyone interested specifically in that part of the sports business world would be well served by following up by reading the books and articles described and doing additional research on the key player in basketball analytics.
- The Basketball Technology Revolution: The quest for compiling useful data—and the technology that enables the quest—is introduced. Second Spectrum is one of the competitors profiled. (As you will see throughout the book, Glockner traveled to meet with key industry leaders.) Other companies and products described include SportsVu, MOCAP, Synergy, STATS Inc. Again a treasure trove of names and contacts for a person interested in pursuing career options in that area.
- Analytics Believers and Doubters: Profiles of teams and how they are integrating statistical approaches to player personnel decisions and on court strategies are the focus here. The Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Philadelphia 76ers are used as examples to discuss major trends in the NBA including an increased reliance on three point shots and the phenomenon of “tanking.”
- The Hunt for Future Perfected Players: While the book is about the NBA, this chapter explores how college basketball teams and USA Basketball are also using a statistical orientation to seek a competitive advantage in the never-ending search for players and their deployment on the floor. The section on John Calipari’s Kentucky team is fascinating. And the portion of the chapter featuring USA Basketball’s Sean Ford and how he works with Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo to build the men’s national team’s program is valuable.
- Faster, Stronger, More Explosive: This chapter is an in-depth look at biomechanics and creating the faster, stronger more explosive athletes in its title, while also focusing on injury prevention. Glockner visited P3—Peak Performance Project—in Santa Barbara, giving readers access to the latest developments in this area.
- The Tricky Art and Science of Turning Data into Wins: Topics of this chapter include the implementation of decision-making and communication within the team setting. Comments from former NBA analytics personnel like Dean Oliver and current ESPN employees Tom Penn and Ben Alamar are frank, as they can speak more openly than current team/league employees. Golden State Warriors assistant GM Kirk Lacob also shares his insights.
- How the NBA’s Best Teams Were Built: Here Glockner provides details on four of the top teams in the NBA—the Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets, and the Cleveland Cavaliers—and how each took a different path in assembling their team and fitting those pieces together to develop a playing style. Knowing how the 2014-15 season ended for each of the teams makes the section feel like a historic nugget, though it was written just a year ago.
- No Single Path to Mining Talent: The players are the stars of the book and this chapter shines a light on examples of players who improved or adjusted to create or extend their careers: Andrew Bogut, Khris Middleton, James Harden, Nikol Vucevic and Channing Frye. Each has faced obstacles and made adjustments and Glockner relates the story of each with concise writing that gives even an unfamiliar reader a sense of each player’s progression.
- The World’s Most Perfected Player: After sharing thumbnail profiles of players in the previous chapter an in-depth treatment of one player’s remarkable career ups and downs, injuries and rehabs, and changing role. You will have to buy and read the book to find out who the player is, but the treatment is satisfying.
As indicated earlier, this book has thought-provoking material for anyone working in the sports industry. Chapters seven and eight, in particular, are an excellent reminder that there is more than one way to build a successful organization and that hiring and training employees is a multidimensional process that needs to be reevaluated on an ongoing basis.
For those readers seeking careers in the front offices of any major sports team or league, the book is a primer on understanding the complexities of roster building and data management of the modern front office.
And even if your role or career aspirations do not involve analytics, reading Chasing Perfection will help you better understand the way the sports industry is moving.
Andy Glockner can be followed on Twitter @AndyGlockner.