As the Denver Nuggets are in their push for wins before the all-star break, Ryan Elmore is a quiet asset to the team. He’s not a player. He doesn’t even play basketball. But, the University of Denver Daniels College of Business professor hopes to help the team however he can. Elmore is an assistant professor of business analytics. He volunteers to help the Nuggets run complex predictive algorithms.
“I love statistics and I love sports,” Elmore said. “So when I saw that the Nuggets hired a Director of Basketball Analytics, I thought I’d tweet him.”
Elmore sent a tweet to Tommy Balcetis. Balcetis wasn’t going to turn away free help. Since the tweet in fall of 2013, the two have built a personal relationship and Elmore’s gotten to work on some fun projects.
His first big project started with the question, “What is the probability that the Denver Nuggets will make the playoffs given their record at 20 games?”
Elmore initially used several variables, but found that the biggest predictors for a team’s success ended up being their record, the average point differential in each game and if they made the playoffs in the previous season. Using a regression model, he ended up predicting how each of the NBA teams would do.
While he captured the information at a specific point in the 2014-15 season, Balcetis can actually use the model at any point in any season to predict if the Nuggets will make the playoffs that year.
Because Elmore has built up a database on NBA teams and players, he can quickly visualize data related to other problems. He’s helped the Nuggets see what players in different positions have the most assists, points, rebounds, among other metrics, by age.
The work has some perks too. Every now and then, Balcetis offers Elmore tickets to a game.
“I really appreciate getting to see the games, especially in such great seats,” Elmore says.
Elmore is enjoying the partnership, and the Nuggets are getting some analysis they don’t have time to pursue themselves.
“We have an analytics team,” Balcetis says. “But, when smart people like Ryan want to be involved and can provide quality analysis, we’re not going to turn it away. He’s been able to produce high-quality information.”