Behind the Code: Ken Pomeroy

Behind the Code is an interview series centered around the sports-related web sites we use every day.

For many college basketball fans, Ken Pomeroy’s kenpom.com is the first–and often the last–word in statistics and analytics.

Pomeroy’s efficiency-based team ratings have received praise from the likes of Nate Silver and have led Pomeroy to consulting opportunities for several college and professional teams. Yet they only scratch the surface of the info “KenPom” provides, including player comparisons, posts on college basketball trends, and preseason game-by-game projections — the latter of which just went live for 2015-16.

TechGraphs writer Brice Russ spoke recently with Pomeroy about what’s new and what’s next for kenpom.com.

Brice Russ: What’s new on KenPom.com for the 2015-16 season? It seems like every fall, there’s another half-dozen features on the site. What should we be looking for this time around?

Ken Pomeroy: The main offseason addition was expanding the player stats to break out performance against different levels of competition.

Marcus Paige stats

Marcus Paige career stats breakdown by level of competition

That is an extension of the conference-only player stats and minutes tracker that I added towards the end of last season. I’ve added some search boxes to the navigation bar so people can find teams and coaches a little more quickly.

There are some other things on the burner for this season, but they’ll be surprises for people when they appear. I’m usually reluctant to call my shots because I don’t want to over-promise something.

BR: What’s your motivation when you’re adding new stats to KenPom? Are you looking to incorporate what you think will be most popular? Most useful? Anything you’ve added as a result of your consulting work?

KP: There’s definitely a selfish motive. Usually, I’m thinking of things that I’d like to see, but that’s also consistent with doing something that will be useful to an audience interested in analytics.

I’m not opposed to adding what I’d call trivial stats that have little analytical value. I mean, I have team free throw percentage defense on the site. But I try to avoid adding trivial stats that might be misconstrued as useful. I always get a few requests for home/road splits and largely the differences in home/road performance over the course of the brief college hoops season is noise and not useful from a predictive standpoint, so that’s why they aren’t on the site.

BR: KenPom is unquestionably one of the oldest and most well-established sports analytics sites around, particularly in the basketball arena.

How have you seen the perception and role of analytics change in sports over the years, especially in the public eye? Has the field grown more competitive, or does it feel like there’s still plenty of ground for everyone to cover?

KP: It’s definitely more accepted than it was a decade ago. A lot more people understand the concept and utility of points per possession. But then again, almost every broadcaster and coach still cites regular field goal percentage to measure shooting accuracy, so it’s not like there has been a revolution.

As far as competition, there are certainly more people coming out of college with the goal of working in sports analytics. But it seems like most of the people interested in basketball gravitate to the NBA level, where the data is so much more granular and there are fewer teams to cover.

BR: One of the biggest stories for the upcoming season is the introduction of the new 30-second shot clock. Presumably, this will lead to an increase in tempo, but how else do you expect this to change the game from a metrics standpoint?

You took a brief look at the clock before it was tested in last year’s NIT; have you had a chance to look at the data since then?

KP: I haven’t looked at it any further, although my series of blog posts over the summer was partly inspired by trying to develop a theoretical framework to figure out how we got to this point. And what I found was some evidence that the offense deserves a good chunk of the blame for the slowing of the game.

The cool thing is that with 200+ games during the opening weekend we’ll get a real good idea of the impact of the clock (and the expanded charge circle) fairly quickly.

BR: 2015 will mark the fifth season that team-level KenPom data has gone behind the paywall. Is it fair to say this has been a successful experiment at this point? Any data or trends you can provide about subscriptions?

KP: It’s worked out well. I had a choice between appealing to a mass audience and blasting people with ads, or putting up the paywall and keeping the site clean and limiting the audience to folks who really wanted a source for advanced stats.

BR: What’s next?

KP: Usually the events of the season dictate this, so it’s difficult to say.  But I’m sure it won’t take long for something interesting to happen.

Thanks to Ken for speaking with us! You can follow Ken on Twitter at @kenpomeroy and, of course, at kenpom.com.



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Brice lives in the Washington, DC area, where he does communications for linguistics and space exploration organizations. Brice has previously written for Ars Technica, Discovery News and the Winston-Salem Journal. He's on Twitter at @KilroyWasHere.

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