As a young sports fan growing up in Hungary, David Bencs had a passion for two things: basketball and stats. NBA games would often air after his bedtime on Hungarian television, so Bencs would rise first thing in the morning and analyze the box scores as he ate his breakfast.
"I would always try to figure out why certain teams won or lost," says Bencs, remembering the time he spent reviewing stats like turnovers and field goal percentages. "That gave me a different view into the sport. And then when analytics became more mainstream and there were more studies out there, I could apply my prior knowledge to the game to understand it better."
Today, Bencs is the Director of Basketball Analytics for the Orlando Magic. But if you had told him when he was young that his curiosity about the numbers side of the game could lead to a career in the NBA, he would have thought you were crazy.
"Even 10 years ago my job didn't exist," says Bencs. "I think there were only a handful of teams that had any analysts focused on the sport in basketball. But there has been a tremendous growth in data and that requires a lot more analysis."
Now, almost every team in the NBA has an analytics staff that advises coaches, players and general managers. "The role of analytics really has grown over the years to impacting performance," explains Bencs. "We work very closely with our coaching staff and our front office."
Curiosity Across the Board
Who else is analytically curious at the Orlando Magic? According to Bencs:
Alex Martins CEO: “Alex is a thought leader and he’s always encouraging the organization to push the envelope.”
Jeff Weltman, President of Basketball Operations: “When he came to the Magic from Toronto, one of his main objectives was to build a top analytics team.”
Steve Clifford, Head Coach: “Steve is very open minded and very curious generally. His main focus is understanding our team. We try to help him improve upon our weaknesses and make sure that we exploit our strengths.”
The players: “One player on the team even attended the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference before he became an NBA player. He’s very open minded about analytics. He’s always trying to improve his game and always trying to learn more and more about the game itself.”
The challenge for analysts and data scientists, says Bencs, is figuring out how much information to provide to leaders and players to make sure the most important messages are heard. Problem solving and predictive analytics are two of his team’s biggest strengths.
“Solving problems is very satisfying to our team,” says Bencs. “You know, we’re trying to predict the future. We’re trying to make recommendations that make the team better. Every time we succeed, it’s a great feeling.”