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Why Analytics Matter for the U.S. Olympic Men's Basketball Team

Jerry Colangelo has a monumental task at hand when he leads the charge in putting together the 12-person 2016 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team. And because the USA Basketball officials are selecting a roster without the benefit of an evaluation camp, advanced analytics are key.

“I think in basketball it’s a matter of using analytics as a great tool,” Colangelo, the managing director of USA Basketball’s men’s national team program, said last month at the Team USA Media Summit in Beverly Hills, California.

“Most often when you have experienced basketball people who have been around the track, they understand how to evaluate talent. You take that experience and you take analytics; most often the analytics will justify what you thought in the first place.”

USA Basketball has a pool of 31 players in contention for this summer’s Olympic team, including all-time greats such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant, as well as rising stars among the likes of Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis and Klay Thompson.

Some of those players might drop out of contention before the final decision is made in late June — whether it be for injuries, contract reasons or even just fatigue after a long NBA season. However, the loaded roster means there will be no easy decisions for Colangelo and his partners as they put together the team that will go for a third consecutive Olympic gold medal.

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Colangelo didn’t reveal specifics of the model USA Basketball is using, noting that the model isn't even finished yet, but he boasted of its thoroughness, saying, “we can retrieve all the information that’s ever been done, if you will, and use that as a tool if we get right down to a nitty-gritty decision of some kind, like combinations of some players.”

And indeed those player combinations are where Colangelo expects analytics to be particularly useful once the team begins play in Rio de Janeiro.

“I think certain players play better with certain players,” he said. “Sometimes it’s water and oil, and sometimes it’s anything but that. So this is kind of a new venture for us in terms of the analytical approach.”

Colangelo said he also expects analytics to come into play when preparing game plans. Team USA will avoid traditionally strong countries Argentina, Lithuania and Spain in the preliminary round, but international competition is as fierce as ever going into the Rio Games.

“There are things you can pull from analytics that make your situation better,”Colangelo said. “I mean when you look at shot charts and when you look at end-of-game situations, there’s so much that we’re throwing into this model.”

From GameChanger and Chrös McDougall.

Basketball, Basketball Stats & Scorekeeping