Andre Miller has now officially signed with the Spurs (and they also just announced that Ray McCallum has been placed on waivers), but even even so, chances are he won't end up as the most significant post-trade-deadline hire for the Spurs. That's because San Antonio just added Kirk Goldsberry, who chose to break the news himself in an interview on Monday's The Bill Simmons Podcast. And it's likely that he will have more of a lasting, long-term impact on the franchise, even though he'll never score a point or play a minute for the Spurs.
(If you just want to get the Goldsberry part, which I *ahem* recommend, fast-forward to the 42:00 minute mark. Before you ask, no, he doesn't talk about the Spurs at all.)
Goldsberry, formerly of Grantland.com (here's his archive if you're curious about his work) is one basketball's brightest analytical minds and a specialist in "spatial and visual analytics" according to the brief bio on his website. You probably know him best for his innovative and intuitive shot charts
but really he's a jack of all trades when it comes to breaking down the game and a fantastic writer to boot. For example, here's a story he wrote on Kawhi Leonard's defense last year. Here's him previewing the 2013 NBA Finals (spoiler alert: It ends badly). Here's him interviewing The Red Mamba. Here's his Reddit AMA. Here's an interview with him (sort of) on this very website.
Goldsberry had been mostly dormant since ESPN dissolved Grantland late last October. He did some work for another boutique website under "The Worldwide Leader" umbrella -- Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight -- but was seemingly off the grid in 2016, even on social media. Now we know why. He's going to from "talking the talk," as it were, to walking the walk, working on a real life NBA team where his opinions and analyses will have real impact.
Goldsberry was first noticed by Simmons at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, where he's been a regular guest speaker and presenter. An archive of his work can be found here. He'll hardly be the first public analytic expert hired on by an NBA team. Dave Berri from Wages of Wins was hired by the Kings and John Hollinger was hired by the Grizzlies, and there are probably lots of examples I'm forgetting or simply unaware of. Famed NBA gambler Haralabob Voulgaris has done consulting work for an NBA team in the past as well.
The Spurs have hardly been luddites when it comes to analytics. They were even named "the best analytical team in professional sports" at Sloan in 2015, though Gregg Popovich claimed to not know a thing about it. R.C. Buford was also honored with a lifetime achievement award for being one of the first in the NBA to truly embrace analytics. The Spurs have been at this for a while, especially in the bio-metric department of late (here's a story on their work with Leonard by ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh), using data collected from the SportsVU cameras and Catapult body sensors and other similar technologies to monitor player health and fatigue in an effort to be proactive in preventing injuries and developing more efficient body mechanics and whatnot. They beefed up their medical staff two summers ago, hiring Marilyn Adams as a director of rehabilitation and Xavi Schelling as "applied sports scientist."
It's unclear how much Goldsberry will interact with PATFO on a day-to-day basis, but he seems like Pop's kind of guy as a former academic who taught for six years at Harvard and Michigan State. Presumably he has smart thoughts and opinions on things outside of basketball and is enough of a wit to participate in the give and take that Pop demands in his program.
From the outside looking in, the move seems like a response to what the Warriors are doing in their analytic department, headed up by Kirk Lacob, son of owner Joe Lacob. The Dubs haven't been shy at all at promoting their fondness for data collecting and incorporating of that information in all facets of their operation. The Spurs may have won the Sloan award, but it's clear that Golden State has the edge in that area for now. It's unlikely that anything Goldsberry can come up with will have much influence in the short term, but hopefully his input can be of use in the coming seasons, where the gap between the Warriors and Spurs threatens to just get wider as Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili hang 'em up.
The good news is that Goldsberry's hire shows the Spurs are trying, that they'll always be committed to trying, looking at any and all avenues to get better. As a fan, that's all you can ask for. The bad news is that with the Spurs being as clandestine as they are, we'll hardly ever see or hear from Goldsberry again, and that's a shame. Hopefully our loss will end up being the Spurs' gain.