Rand: Younger Saunders thrives on basketball analytics

  • Updated: July 2, 2014 - 12:21 AM

Ryan Saunders was officially hired as a Timberwolves assistant coach Tuesday, a move that seemed to be a formality once his father, Flip, added head coaching duties to his title of president of basketball operations.

This market has seen more than its share of father-son combos — enough to toss around the word nepotism without much caution: Rick Adelman, Tubby Smith, Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner, all in the present or recent past, just to name four. It’s an interesting dynamic, to be sure, and one that can create a certain amount of healthy skepticism.

At his introductory news conference Tuesday, Ryan Saunders talked plenty about forging his own identity separate from his dad, which he feels he was able to do in Washington by staying on the Wizards staff the past two-plus years after Flip was fired.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to us, though — and the thing that makes this a merit-based move more than just a name move — is Ryan Saunders’ background in analytics. He is the co-founder of Game Time Concepts, a program that uses in-game analysis and statistical probabilities to provide real-time results.

Game Time Concepts is used by NBA and NCAA teams, and it’s clearly part of Saunders’ belief system. Questions consistently turned to statistical analysis Tuesday, and Saunders was clearly in a comfort zone.

“I’m able to put numbers into how basketball minds can use them,” Saunders said. “Knowing what plays work, what defensive coverages work, as the game goes.”

Saunders cited a specific example of John Wall’s turnover tendencies in Washington as an example of how numbers and information can help improve a player’s game. Wall had a tendency to turn the ball over in transition, but knowing about the tendency helped him make better decisions in games, Saunders said.

“Analytics has really become prevalent in basketball and sports in general,” Saunders said. “The fact that you can do them in real time now, make adjustments and changes as the game goes on, that’s kind of where it’s starting to go.”

Saunders is more than a numbers guy. But in a league in which margins are thin — the Wolves’ infamous poor stretch last season in close games helped doom them — one or two possessions can be huge. If Saunders brings an edge that helps the Wolves in those spots (or helps someone like Ricky Rubio improve overall), he will prove to be more than just his father’s son.

MICHAEL RAND

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