John Calipari hiring an analytics director is smart, necessary, strictly for his players


Yesterday, we told you about Kentucky head coach John Calipari’s decision to add a new member to his coaching staff: Joel Justus, a former Elon assistant and UNC-Wilmington player that now has the title Director of Men’s Basketball Analytics.

In and of itself, that addition is not really newsworthy.

Advanced analytics and the study of tempo-free statistics in basketball is a growing field and, quite frankly, it’s necessary for any basketball coach at any level to have a grasp of the basics, at the very least. I could spend the next 300 words in this space providing you examples, but this is really all you need to know: Brad Stevens was one of the foremost proponents of advanced stats in college hoops, which got him to two national title games at Butler and, eventually, the head coaching gig with the Boston Celtics. And you know who he took with him to the NBA? Drew Cannon, a then-23 year old stats guru.

The numbers don’t tell you everything you need to know about a player or a team, but any coach, player or media member that ignores them aren’t doing their job correctly.

Which brings me back to John Calipari and Joel Justus.

What makes this hire so interesting isn’t that Cal made it, it’s the explanation of why he made it. The Louisville Courier-Journal was at a luncheon that Cal spoke at earlier this week, and here is what he said:

“If you’re playing 20 minutes, what will your NCAA stats look like? Terrible for NCAA stats, so we’re going to have big data stats, per-minute and efficiency stats that we can send to NBA teams.

He added: “Our NCAA team stats should look pretty good.”

That’s not all:

Calipari said that by having players on the court for only 19-21 minutes per game, he expects to play at a faster tempo and press full-court more.

“I have never coached this way, but I’m going to and I’m studying and I’m doing everything I can to try to make this thing work, so every one of these kids eats,” he said.

Cal is so devoted to the idea of playing a platoon system — and, if not a platoon, guaranteeing that at least 10 guys are playing major minutes — that he made a hire specifically designed around showcasing strengths and weaknesses when it comes to efficiency — per-minute and per-possession — stats.

Cal says that this is so that he can prove to NBA teams that limited production doesn’t mean limited ability with his guys, but I’m not buying it. Every NBA organization has a team of scouts that understand how basketball works. They’re not stupid. They know that Kentucky is loaded, and they know that limited playing time could end up equaling limited production. They also understand advanced stats; every NBA team has a subscription to and a Synergy account.

No, this hire was made by Cal with his player’s in mind.

He brought aboard a staffer whose sole purpose in the program is to prove to the myriad of lottery picks on this roster that they aren’t hurting their draft stock because they are only averaging this many points and that many rebounds.

Justus has a job at Kentucky simply because Cal wants to make sure that his team buys into the way that he wants to play, to help make sure that everyone is happy even if they aren’t getting the playing time or the number of shots that would like.

It’s brilliant, really, and probably necessary.