An interview with Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland


Well this is long overdue. A while ago, I wrote a fan post asking the PtR community for a few questions they might want to ask in my talk with Grantland contributor and chart extraordinaire, and you all had some pretty good ones. But what I thought was going to be more of a Q&A became a conversation and leaned towards fandom and sports journalism. The following is based off of notes taken during the conversation and my own recollection of the meeting.

Kirk Goldsberry is younger than I anticipated, which goes to show the route that current NBA sportswriting is going, especially with advanced statistics taking such a stronghold on the game. The questions I had prepared, and the ones you all contributed, were sparingly used, as my half hour with him consisted mostly of a loose conversation about basketball, the impact of stats on the sport, the way that area is accelerating in addition to some gold old fashioned career advice.

I started out by asking him about sportswriting, how he got into it and ways to improve. Kirk is a geographer by trade and focuses on the interaction between visual and geographic designs (fancy way of saying maps). His break occurred when he submitted a paper to the ever growing MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, was accepted and eventually became a Research Fellow at Harvard University working at their Center for Geographic Analysis. He was then noticed by Bill Simmons and was asked to be a contributor for Grantland, where you can check out his excellent shot charts. He published 'The Dwight Effect' earlier this year.

In talking about sportswriting, we hit on a few topics: how did you break in, any advice and any specific writers to read up on? While Mr. Goldsberry didn't outline his life's work, he essentially stated that there's a great amount of writers and wanna-be writers (guilty) in sports, especially in basketball. The sport is growing, and needs more journalists to accommodate that increase, but there are still a ton of writers out there. His analogy describing the current state of sports journalism: writing is a big building and there's a long line in the front (full of authors). If you want to get in, find a side door. Do something innovative (like our very own Cameron Archer in his many analyses on PtR) or bring a unique perspective. On who to read: great writers in general. Don't limit yourself to sports writers, even though there are a lot of great ones to choose from. By reading great works and different style, you can bring a different style to sportswriting. Cormac McCarthy and Norman Mailer were some of his recommendations.

This segued into a conversation about Pounding the Rock, where I lauded the writers and the community, one of the most vibrant I've ever been a part of. We started talking about San Antonio and the Spurs, a team which he has followed closely through these past years. I asked him about Tim Duncan and his chances of winning the Defensive Player of the Year. If you read PtR's analysis on the subject, you would agree with me thinking he's among (if not) the best defensive presence in the league. While he thought that Timmy was one of the best defenders out there, he selected LeBron James as his preferred choice for DPOY and for a good reason: he can guard every position on the floor at an above average level. What other player can do that? I had to concede that point, but continued to proclaim Duncan as a great defender, one who has the opposite of 'The Dwight Effect,' in that opponents don't shy away from attacking the rim when Duncan is nearby and instead choose to take their chances against the older defender. Duncan has surprised many a soul this year, averaging his most blocks per game since 2004-05 and his highest ever rate per 36 minutes, in addition to being top five in the league overall (would be higher if he had more minutes). In addition to still being an offensive cog in the system, Tim has anchored the defense for the Spurs. Kirk agreed that Tim's defensive presence has to be due to contesting shots even though he's underestimated as a rim protector.

We talked about Kawhi Leonard, who Kirk likes as a 3 point shooter from the corners and his rangy defense (Bruce Bowen 2.0+ SIII). I tell him that his progress this year was great, especially because he'll be defending Kevin Durant if the Spurs face the Thunder, and with his growing offensive game, he's able to cause Durant to play both ways. Ghost had provided a question about small ball against the Thunder and who would be best to put in the front court. I suggested Leonard playing Durant on the 4, which Kirk appreciated. But not as much as he likes Ibaka at the 5 for the Thunder, which could provide some trouble for the Spurs, because he can guard the interior in addition to improving his range (he can hit the corner three now, you know).

We also discussed advanced statistics and how they could apply to college ball. While I believe that the big turnover of college stars would not allow this to happen, Kirk refuted my point by reminding me of the total amount of college basketball programs in the NCAA and how many of these don't have college stars leaving school early (read: most of them). He thinks that advanced stats will be used in the college game sooner that I anticipate.

We spent a good time talking about the Spurs and how their fans are some of the best, but most spoiled in the league (my opinion as a Spurs fan). I mean, after 15 straight seasons of 50 or more wins, why shouldn't we expect such great effort and success from our organization? We aren't as excitable as other fans because our expectations are high and always expect better because we *know* the team's true potential. He has family who are Spurs fans so knows our type. I asked him about his expectations for the Spurs. He thinks they can get to the Finals, but that Miami won't be beaten. That's where he and I really disagreed, I think we can win, but I am biased.

Unfortunately, time flew and I didn't get time to ask many more questions, which I apologize for. The conversation leaned more towards nerding out on the NBA, which was great but not helpful for some of the commenters on the post.

Any questions? Comment below.

This is fan-created content on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff at Pounding the Rock.