The Convergence Of MLB And The NBA

What MLB can tell us about the NBA and vice versa. GMs from both sports offer insight to MLBTR. 

When he was growing up in Massachusetts, long before he was paid to run a sports team, Sam Presti looked forward to nationally televised baseball games each week. Baseball runs in the water where Presti comes from, and the weekly contests featured players he didn’t see on his visits to Fenway Park. 

“We didn’t have cable and it was my chance to see National League teams that I never got to see,” he told me earlier this year. “I loved watching the Expos teams and the Cardinals, since I was introduced to a whole new group of players.” 

Today, Presti’s interest in baseball persists, albeit in a new way. The 35-year-old general manager of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder still follows baseball for the enjoyment of the sport. But he also watches with a sense of curiosity and competitiveness that he shares with a growing number of his peers around the NBA. Perhaps, their thinking goes, basketball teams can learn from baseball’s brightest minds and best-run franchises.

It’s not that Presti’s teams have failed to compete in the NBA. Led by Kevin Durant (pictured), the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, the team finished its most recent campaign with a 55-27 record. Before joining the Thunder, Presti worked for the San Antonio Spurs, one of the league’s most successful franchises, and was instrumental in the acquisition of point guard Tony Parker. So when Presti chats with MLB executives — and he knows his share of them — we can be sure he isn’t quizzing them on Russell Westbrook's court vision or Kendrick Perkins' defense. Instead, he looks to baseball people for insight on topics that apply to both sports.

Kevin Durant“More than anything I think it helps you ask the right questions,” Presti said. “Questions about your game, your systems, your processes. I think that it’s healthy for us to ask the right questions. I think any time you’re watching another sport it definitely helps your imagination and creativity.”

There’s no shortage of creativity in today’s NBA. Many teams use objective analysis to supplement scouting reports and make decisions regarding personnel and strategy. For example, the perennially competitive Houston Rockets named Daryl Morey their general manager in 2007. A computer science graduate who grew up reading Bill James, Morey’s thirst for knowledge extends beyond the basketball court.

In that respect, he has a lot in common with Sam Hinkie. Now the Rockets’ executive VP of basketball operations, Hinkie works with Morey to construct the team’s roster, develop in-game strategies, and communicate with coaches. Before joining the Rockets, Hinkie consulted for two NFL teams, so he’s intimately familiar with the potential impact of inter-sport comparisons.

“There’s very little sharing that goes on within our sport for good reason,” Hinkie told me. “Every team is trying to do something and any foothold they might find, they don’t want to point out to anyone else.” 

But when it comes to sharing information across sports, teams aren’t so secretive. The resulting openness would be unthinkable within a single sport. And the big-picture topics sports executives explore with one another can have a significant impact on wins and losses. The potential for discussion is limitless.

“Psychology of individual players, how to prevent injuries, how to foster innovation within your organization in general, strength training,” Hinkie explains. “In a five minute conversation you pick up a lot where you think ‘that’s what they do, we should investigate more because it’s a similar challenge to the one we face.

In other words, they aren’t sharing statistical formulae — those wouldn’t actually apply to other sports — but the conversations are productive regardless. For example, Morey stays in touch with Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, who says sharing information across sports is considerably easier than doing so within MLB.

“No question,” he said. “Because if you have a good relationship with an executive in another sport and you talk about something technological it’s not going to impact his sport. I think it is sometimes easier.”

However, the search for a competitive advantage extends beyond the quest for more sophisticated technology and metrics. There’s meaning in statistics, as the modern-day fan and executive knows. Explaining this knowledge to the decision makers and players represents another challenge altogether.

“It’s being able to communicate those ideas to our coaches and our players as we try to actually take those ideas and drive changes,” Hinkie said. “I think [communication] is under-invested in, honestly. The quality of an idea relies heavily on your ability to get that point across.”

To suggest that basketball teams look up to baseball teams would be inaccurate. Though Bill James and others championed alternative thinking in baseball before similar movements gathered support in other sports, NBA teams have since developed advanced metrics of their own. But innovation in basketball often takes place privately, whereas there’s a tradition of public-sphere baseball analysis. 

Though crunching the numbers can be productive, execs can also learn from sports other than their own by watching the athletes themselves. Certain body types and skillsets thrive on a baseball diamond, while others are better suited to the basketball court, the hockey rink, or the cubicle. 

When Alex Anthopoulos watches athletes in other professional sports, he isn’t necessarily looking for the next Bo Jackson or Danny Ainge (Ainge, a former Blue Jays infielder and NBA guard who has become the Celtics’ GM, employs an analytically minded assistant GM in Boston). Anthopoulos’ scouting skills are unpolished when it comes to basketball or football, but he watches the sports nonetheless.

“I love scouting. I love evaluating. I love analyzing,” the Blue Jays GM told me. “I’m analytical probably to a fault. I probably overdo it at times. So I try to watch those other sports through a scouting lens even though I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to scout other sports.”

Not that it stops Anthopoulos from watching (he’s reportedly friendly with Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, who also knows Hoyer). Even if he’s not a professional basketball scout, Anthopoulos can apply general scouting principles to sports other than baseball.

“I try to incorporate things that I incorporate in baseball,” he said. “So if I’m watching basketball, I’ll look at athleticism, body control. You have a delivery and arm action if you pitch. I look at your motion in the NBA, how you shoot, what your mechanics are, how that may impact the rotation and spin on the ball.”

It’s not just business, though. As a general rule, sports executives have the jobs they have because they enjoy sports immensely. But one of those sports has become a job, so watching other leagues can be way of enjoying competition for its own sake.

“I’m a sports fan,” Hoyer explained. “I enjoy watching other sports, since it’s not baseball — it’s not work, and I can be on the couch and enjoy myself watching a college basketball game or a football game.”

Photo courtesy Icon SMI.


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69 Responses to The Convergence Of MLB And The NBA Leave a Reply

  1. So it WAS Anthopoulos who masterminded the Jake Gardiner/Joffrey Lupul deal…

  2. Madman2TX 4 years ago

    The NBA can’t be compared to MLB. The scandals are apples and oranges: PEDs vs crooked refs. The NBA has allowed their superstar players to run the league and their commissioner is a joke. Funny mentioning the Rockets after how Stern screwed them by nixing that 1st Paul trade a little while back.

    NBA fever…it causes sterility.

    • start_wearing_purple 4 years ago

      “and their commissioner is a joke”

      Because Selig hasn’t been? The similarity is they’re both destructive to their leagues when they exert power. I don’t follow the NBA closely but one thing about Selig is he’s also been timid when he shouldn’t thus making him a joke.

      But the strange thing is even though Selig has been a weak commissioner, through his mistakes and the scandals from his lack of action Major League Baseball has never been more stable. Both Management and Labor are happy, there is a strange sort of parity, etc.

      • Lunchbox45 4 years ago

        good post. . both leagues have their pros and cons for sure..and both commissioners have had their ups and downs.

        one thing i really like about the NBA for instance, is that they do a far superior job in branding and marketing the athletes themselves..

        • start_wearing_purple 4 years ago

          Honestly I see that as a positive for baseball, they allow individual teams to brand and market their stars. At least that’s my perception/opinion.

        • progmatinee 4 years ago

          I HATE that about the NBA. The athletes became bigger than the game or teams themselves because of all the individualistic promotion. Subsequently individual players began changing how the game was refereed. They changed what teams the league promoted and conspiracy theorists will tell you the focus on the individual led to the league “fixing” the fate of certain teams based on the marketability of a certain player. Much like the WWF when Hulk Hogan arrived. The NBA can script itself in a certain direction to satisfy the hunger casual fans have for larger than life personalities to increase ratings. Integrity be damned. NBA now prides itself on what they call a “total entertainment experience”. Ie athletic competition is only a part of the package and unbiased, fair and balanced treatment of stars, teams, owners, fans is not even an illusion they feel a need to front. They are completely unashamed about the “man behind the curtain” running it all.

  3. Lunchbox45 4 years ago

    its funny though, every one complains about the inequalities of baseball. . but nba is probably the most unfair sport (outside of certain european soccer leagues)

    only like 8 or 9 teams have won a championship in the last 30 years. embarrassing really.

    • You mean La Liga…

      • Lunchbox45 4 years ago

        and champions league and serie A, amongst others.

    • alphakira 4 years ago

      In the last 8 seasons there’s been 6 different teams to win it all. Unlike baseball, you can’t spend an unlimited amount of money on any number of players you want.  The sport is built off of free agency and drafting, not who can buy the most players – regardless those that win in spite of that fact.

      Why are the Yankees one of the most dominant teams of the decade? Because they can afford to be. Why were the Lakers? Because they chose an underrated shooting guard out of high school with their 13th pick.

      Last I checked there’s only 1 sport that’s had a lockout cancel their entire season…

      • Lunchbox45 4 years ago

        lol thats the biggest load of crock of i’ve ever heard.

         

      • Lunchbox45 4 years ago

        lol thats the biggest load of crock of i’ve ever heard.

         

      • David X 4 years ago

        Last NBA postseason aside, you rarely see a big underdog win an NBA postseason series. The good teams are just too good and that makes the sport a lot less interesting. And what sport is it that had a “lockout cancel their entire season”? Please cite.

    • alxn 4 years ago

      Sorry, but you should attempt to look a little bit deeper than that before you spout off ridiculous and ignorant statements. 
      There is a difference between equality and variation. The NBA is inherently more fair than MLB due to the structure of the league. There really is no arguing that. Case in point: your statement about so little teams winning championships. When a team gets it right, they are awarded over the course of several seasons and often times with multiple championships. Part of this is because there is less variation and luck involved in the NBA than there is in MLB. It is more fair for the best team to win a championship. That hardly ever happens in baseball. Another reason is that the league is star-driven, and, contrary to the belief of some, structured to encourage stars to stay where they are drafted. 

      Kobe Bryant was passed on 12 times before being taken by the Lakers. That is hardly an unfair advantage for them. In fact, if you had done any research, you may know that every NBA champion in the last 30 years except for one was led by a star that the team had drafted (Nowitzki for Dallas, Bryant for L.A., Pierce for Boston, Duncan for San Antonio, Jordan for Chicago, Olajuwon for Houston, Thomas and Dumars for Detroit, Magic for L.A., Bird for Boston). The lone exception is the 76ers in 1983, who were led by Moses Malone (acquired via trade) and Julius Erving (free agent signing).

      • Lunchbox45 4 years ago

        I love this, calling people ignorant while completely overlooking the biggest aspect of the ability of teams being able to compete fairly.. Anyone can draft a good player, but few teams CAN KEEP a good player. which you conveniently left out..

        I’m sure that if bryant was drafted by toronto, cleaveland or any of the other have not teams, that he would have stayed right??

        give me a break.

  4. NYBravosFan10 4 years ago

    Lol, great pic. The DURANTCHULA!!!!

  5. Lanidrac 4 years ago

    Basketball (and football) need to look at baseball for advice on labor relations. In retrospect, the 1994 strike that cancelled the playoffs and World Series actually became a positive, as the owners and labor union became much more willing to cooperate and compromise to make sure it never happens again. The result has been (and will be) over 2 decades of labor peace. It would be nice for football and basketball to learn from baseball’s mistake without losing their own championships for a season (or even worse, a whole season like hockey did).

    • Backup_Slider 4 years ago

      The NFL is just about a fail-proof sports business model. It doesn’t need to look to MLB for advice on anything.

      • Lanidrac 4 years ago

        An extended lockout that nearly cost football part of its season this year sounds like a pretty significant failure to me.

  6. Dynasty22 4 years ago

    As a MLB and NBA fan, I enjoyed this piece a lot. Thanks BNS.

  7. grownice 4 years ago

    Nice article Ben! 

  8. 95isOver 4 years ago

    Oh, it’s the guy that made the Sonics good after they were stolen.  Cool of you to bring it up bro.

  9. Dynasty22 4 years ago

     I don’t know you, but you have become my favorite user for 2 reasons.

    • cubsfanraysaddict 4 years ago

      Failed re to mlbtr user ‘grow nice’.  

      • Dynasty22 4 years ago

         Yeah…though how did you know it was for “grownice”?

        • cubsfanraysaddict 4 years ago

          Cause we’re on a baseball trade rumor website, discussing the NBA. You obviously weren’t going to be talking about the pairing of Russell Westbrook and the Duranchula.  I don’t need some gender obvious name to know you are probably an undersexed and overly stimulated male, who is likely disinterested in the NBA, saw BOOBS, and got excited.

          • grownice 4 years ago

             Lol you’re definitely on top of things

          • cubsfanraysaddict 4 years ago

            Ya and I obviously didn’t get my nap in yesterday, apologies to dynasty and emo glasses

      • grownice 4 years ago

         Yeah how did you know? Creepy…

    • grownice 4 years ago

      Im guessing two BIG reasons? Am i right?!

    • JacksTigers 4 years ago

      Who? Me?

      Yeah you.
      Who walks in the classroom cool and slow?
      Who calls the English teacher ‘dadio?’
      Charlie Brown!

      Seriously though, who is this to.

      • start_wearing_purple 4 years ago

        Why is everybody always pickin’ on me?

        Love that song. The Coasters were awesome.

      • grownice 4 years ago

        <<< Her.

  10. Lunchbox45 4 years ago

    Is the NBA trade site still looking for writers?

  11. LayerCake 4 years ago

    Personally I would be happy to see a general soccer trade rumor,that encompassesthe most popular leagues, that would definitely spark my interest and many internationally

  12. Fizpig 4 years ago

    The two sports couldn’t be any more different.  In baseball there are plenty of players waiting in the wings waiting for their chance, the NBA is diluted to the point that every team has outright stiffs filling out the rosters.  Baseball is still the thinking mans sport while basketball is clearly not.

  13. Couple thoughts…

    This post is not a promotion for the new NBA site.  We are, however, going to promote that here plenty.  If you’re not interested, it is something you will have to skip over.

    The commenting policy mentions that we don’t want comments about how you’re sick of a topic or it’s not newsworthy.  I removed a lot of comments that fell into this realm…we aren’t interested in hearing about how you don’t care about a post we wrote.  That doesn’t add to any interesting conversation.

    A new addition to the policy is that no one should write in all or mostly caps.  I’ll try to mention that a few more times as fair warning.

    Thanks.

    link to mlbtraderumors.com

    • twenty1thirteen 4 years ago

      “A new addition to the policy is that no one should write in all or mostly caps.  I’ll try to mention that a few more times as fair warning.”

      This is very refreshing to see. Thank you Tim.

    • WhiteOwl1972 4 years ago

      I hope you’ll make an exception for Bleacher Creature; I feel like he’s made that part of his personal style on this site.

      • David X 4 years ago

        Really? Maybe in the same way that dingleberries and eau de urine are part of a homeless guy’s “personal style.” Obnoxious is obnoxious.

      • twenty1thirteen 4 years ago

        I believe it’s pronounced “trolling.”

        • Phillies_Aces35 4 years ago

          I wouldn’t call him a troll. Maybe at first but since then he’s been kind of entertaining. He’s had some solid posts.

          • twenty1thirteen 4 years ago

            First definition of “Troll” on urban dictionary: 

            “One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.”I would certainly say that qualifies. What you call entertaining, many people call obnoxious.

          • Phillies_Aces35 4 years ago

            I guess if you take him seriously then, yes he is a troll.

      • My fault for letting that get established as someone’s personal style, but we won’t be making exceptions.

    • gradylittle 4 years ago

      Well there you go, MLBTR crew AREN’T fans of Bleacher Creature..what a surprise! 

    • Snoochies8 4 years ago

      droppin’ the hammah, i like it!

    • redsx968 4 years ago

      Yes Tim! There is a God, and his name is Tim Dierkes! Suck it Bleacher Creature!

  14. T Morgan 4 years ago

    This is a general reply to most of the posts on this article. First off, there are a lot of things that the GMs can learn from each other and yes that includes scouting. There is more to scouting than watching arm angles or how a hitter takes his hands to the baseball. If that was everything, then no one would miss on prospects. There are things such as attitude, room for improvement, coachability, etc.. And these types of things cross the boundaries of sports. If someone is having success, like Presti, you don’t think someone in the MLB wouldn’t want to know the general strategies he used to take a team from the laughing stock to one many are picking to win the title in a couple of years?

    And speaking of Preti and the OKC Thunder, I understand that Seattle fans are still upset about it and probably will be forever. (kind of like Brooklyn Dodger fans) But, at some point it starts looking like jealousy. The Thunder are having succes while the Seahawks and the Mariners aren’t. When the Sonics left, they were a joke and now that they are good, you just look like your whining because a winning team left. Anyways, you guys can stay mad, you have you right, but anyone that follows the NBA knew Stern was going to find a way to get a team to OKC after how well they hosted the Hornets. It just happened to be your team that moved. Sorry.

    • popfisher 4 years ago

      Mr. Morgan. You are absolutely right regarding non-physical or game attributes. However, there is NO mention of this in the “article”. Not by people from either sport. And evalutating these attributes is not some new development as all teams in all sports have been evaluating these attributes forever. So there is not new info there. If these guys did not know that when they applied for their jobs, how did they get them? It is standard stuff which you have correctly pointed out. There are elephants in the room these guys don’t see or know are there, and, again, it seems most of these guys are straight numbers guys. Nothing else. They seem to be searching to tie the numbers back into the how they came to be in the player, instead of determining what makes the player generate those numbers.

      • T Morgan 4 years ago

        You’re right there is no real mention of that, so I guess I was adding to the article. I know I didn’t write it, but those were some things that I probably would have included. As far as the use of numbers all the time, I’m a math guy, but even I know that there is SO much more to all statistics than just the numbers themselves. There are also so many different ways to arrive at different statistics and to interpret them. If you have a very analytical MLB GM and another NBA one, I’m sure they can both break it down some and help with understanding it. I really think this (the articke) is a SMALL part of what these GMs actually discuss. Just adding my two cents.

  15. Marktown 4 years ago

    People still watch the NBA?

    • RationalSportsFan 4 years ago

      The average ratings for the 5 opening day NBA games were about the same as the average ALCS and NLCS ratings this year (4-5 million).

      The NBA Finals last year averaged 17.3 million, while the World Series averaged 16.5 million.

      Neither compares to football (ratings-wise), of course.

    • grownice 4 years ago

       Why wouldn’t they?

  16. BlueSkyLA 4 years ago

    What, no mention of revenue sharing? This is one area where MLB can learn a lot from the NBA.

  17. Enjoy this 100 influential Canadian in Baseball while you have him.

  18. Red_Line_9 4 years ago

    Not a big fan of Smith’s writing style.  He seems to like to insert himself into the articles.  He’s constantly stating “he told me recently”….of course he told you recently…it’s your article.  It comes off as unprofessional and seems like name dropping.

  19. grownice 4 years ago

     Why wouldn’t you just cheer for the city they moved to? It would kill me if my team moved as well but i’d almost have to cheer for them because i love the sport itself too much.

  20. Lunchbox45 4 years ago

    Vancouver is close to seattle, just cheer for the grizz… oh nevermind.

  21. cubsfanraysaddict 4 years ago

    the-convergence-of-baseball-and-basketball.

    Good God, the title was so esoteric (people who wear your glasses word), if only there was a subtitle……………………
    What MLB can tell us about the NBA and vice versa. GMs from both sports offer insight to MLBTR.  

    There have been dozens of articles (just search Houston Rockets +sabermetrics, and watch the magic), on this very topic. These two subjects are related.  This site should run a frickin’ ad for women’s wear, if they can get this caliber of executive to give exclusive quotes about it.

  22. Well, your guess is inaccurate, because Ben began work on this article well before the NBA site was even conceived.

  23. cubsfanraysaddict 4 years ago

    +10000 (personally wimpers about the Charlotte/San Antonio Rays of 2025)

  24. Infield Fly 4 years ago

    No,  you do NOT digress! The fact that this website is multicultural, and that not everyone here is American is right on target. Thanks for putting it into the mix. :)

  25. David X 4 years ago

    That’s insane. I’d take Anthopolous as my GM every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

  26. popfisher 4 years ago

    then take him. He is a stiff. You have to be a Blue Jays fan. Delusional. This guy has messed up Kyle Drabek, destroyed Travis Snyder, overvalued the players he has, and talks like he is the second coming of Connie Mack. Take him. And you’ll lose the doubleheader on Sunday.
    And thanks Mr. Dierkes – I am presuming it was you – for taking down my comments. It is obvious that you don’t want discussion. You want people to agree with you. If you thought my comments were offensive, you need to educate yourself on baseball a little more And basketball as well.

  27. misspelled snider by the way… but the rest of your comment makes no sense at all, so i guess it hardly matters. as jim calhoun would say: “get some facts and come back and see me!!”.

  28. David X 4 years ago

    Indians fan here, couldn’t care less about the Blue Jays. Anthopoulos appears pretty brilliant to me.

  29. popfisher 4 years ago

    well Jim – the facts are you violated NCAA rules and you and the university will be sanctioned. FACT. Another fact – Anthopoulos is a stiff. Visible to anyone who knows the game. Stick with hoops and Calhoun. But maybe not it you use his quote as some type of barometer of anything. Then stick with Commander McLaughlin’s sport, maybe you’ll do better. Maybe

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