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On heels of Justin Zanik hire, Bucks adding more analytics muscle with Seth Partnow

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucks drew some headlines last week by swiping up-and-coming Utah Jazz assistant general manager Justin Zanik. On Tuesday they swiped another up-and-coming basketball brain, this time from the ranks of the NBA analytics community.

Nylon Calculus editor Seth Partnow announced on Tuesday that he has been hired in a consulting role with the Bucks and will thus be scaling back his writing; bad news for anyone who likes to read about basketball but great news for fans of Milwaukee's hoops franchise. Here's an excerpt of his explanation at Nylon Calculus:

Earlier this month, I began consulting for the Milwaukee Bucks. Obviously, this means the majority of my "work" is not going to be public.  For which I am somewhat sad, as I've enjoyed exploring, promoting and discussing the statistical side of basketball a great deal.

But the tradeoff between contributing to the public discussion and working with proprietary data to contribute directly to a team -€” not to mention having some tiny influence on actual decision-making! -€”  is an easy one to make. Also, NBA rules and regulations regarding discussing free agents or potential draft picks place additional restrictions on my ability to write and share information for public consumption.

I'd say this was a dream job, but that would imply that I had considered such a thing possible when I started doing this as a hobby a few years back.  I have to give a hearty thanks to the Bucks organization and specifically to Mike Clutterbuck, the team's Director of Analytics, for this opportunity.

This doesn't mean Nylon Calculus is going away. I'm staying on as an editor for now; with one important caveat: Anything discussing the Bucks specifically is going to be handled by Ian. It is probably obvious, but needs saying anyway, that nothing written here by others should be taken to reflect any sort of official opinion or analysis of the Bucks, nor should anything I've written, said or tweeted about the team prior to this point. I stand by everything I wrote or said based on what I knew at the time, and my opinion may or may not have changed in the interim, but that's between me and the folks here in Milwaukee!

Many of you are probably familiar with Seth's work running Nylon Calculus, which he's built into the web's foremost analytics-centric site over the past couple years (note: they also more or less predicted the Bucks' struggles this season). Among other things, his work has included innovative studies of possession usagerim protection, and playmaking, often blending traditional statistics and SportVU location data to provide new ways of quantifying what we see on the court. Having met Seth a number of times over the years, I can also confirm he's a hoops junkie who is as pragmatic as he is analytically capable, which is of course essential in an age where teams are wrestling with how to find actionable insight from the massive amount of data being generated by companies like SportVU, Synergy, Vantage, and Second Spectrum.

It's also worth pointing out that hiring Partnow doesn't seem like an outlier; while the world of NBA analytics is generally cloaked in secrecy, the addition of Partnow reinforces a multi-year trend by the Bucks in building out a more sophisticated approach to player performance and health. Bucks Director of Analytics Mike Clutterbuck has carved out a strong reputation among league types since joining the Bucks in 2013, leading the franchise's internal analytics work while providing the intellectual muscle behind the franchise's SportVU and Vantage systems. Last summer, the team sought to bring a similar level of sophistication to its training efforts, hiring new Director of Performance Troy Flanagan and strength and rehab guru Suki Hobson, who subsequently oversaw the implementation of Catapult Sports' physiological tracking system.

Of course, hiring smart, analytically-inclined people only matters if it leads to smart, analytically-inclined decision-making, and in that regard the Bucks (and the rest of the NBA) remain something of a black box. We don't know how much any of these people, tools and systems have weighed into specific decisions the Bucks have made over the years, but the fact that they keep investing money into them suggests they're not putting their heads in the sand.

The addition of Zanik to the executive suite could prove especially important in that regard, as he brings with him a reputation for being analytically-inclined (having an economics degree from Northwestern probably helps, eh?). For more on Zanik, check out SLC Dunk's post on his departure and this 2014 interview he did about the Jazz's involvement with the D-League.  Note that Zanik has been widely credited as overseeing the Jazz's D-League efforts, which dovetails nicely with the Bucks' efforts to add their own D-League affiliate in the next year or two..

2016 NBA Future Power Rankings | ESPN
The Bucks rate poorly in ESPN's latest "future rankings" (a projection of wins over the next three seasons), which shouldn't worry anyone because a) rankings like these are always fairly arbitrary and b) Chad Ford apparently believes Khris Middleton had a down year. To which I would respond, "Hahahahahahahahahaha."

Milwaukee moved up a whopping 13 spots in our 2015 edition of the Future Power Rankings and then promptly plummeted 12 spots here. A year ago this team looked like one of the top up-and-coming young cores in the NBA. Now, it's hard to discern in which direction the Bucks are going.

Despite another season of improvement for Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks' roster score dropped from 11th to 23rd. Jabari Parker is still a question mark as he recovers from last year's ACL surgery. He was solid this season, but next season will be a much better gauge of his future. Khris Middleton reverted back to the mean a bit, and Michael Carter-Williams and Greg Monroe both really struggled.

It's clear that the Bucks have plenty of work to do in building out a roster around Antetokounmpo, Parker and Middleton, and I certainly don't expect the Bucks to be an elite team over just the next three seasons. They also got dinged for their market size and management, which is fair given the decisions made over the past year. But it just strikes me as odd to imply the Bucks' young core is in a worse place than it was a year ago, or for that matter that we can't tell "which direction the Bucks are going." They obviously got worse in the standings this year, and making the playoffs next year is hardly a certainty. But is it difficult to tell who they're building around? Is anyone expecting them not to be better next season? Is anyone not feeling better about the triumvirate of Giannis, Jabari and Khris today compared to a year ago? Anyway...

Which teams have the brightest future? | HoopsHype
If you actually care about these sorts of things and feel bummed out about the ESPN piece, take solace in the voters at HoopsHype ranking the Bucks second in terms of teams with the brightest future. Reminder: none of these things really matter, but they do make for good things to argue about in the summer.

Kristaps Porzingis joins Antetokounbros in Greece |
Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo wrapped up their barnstorming streetball tour of Greece with a guest appearance by Thanasis' former Knicks teammate Kristaps Porzingis, who wore sunglasses during the game. The perils of playing outdoors, you know? Also, everybody danced on the court and the Antetokounbros scored a combined 133 points. Good times. Afterward, Kristaps said some nice things about Giannis:

"What Giannis is doing on the basketball court is unbelievable. Those long steps, Euro-steps, I don't think that there's anybody who can do those moves that well that he is doing it. His length and athleticism all together, he is pretty much unstoppable. He is getting better every year so it's pretty scary".

The NBA's Best Closers | Nylon Calculus
Say what you will about Greg Monroe's defense, but give credit where it's due: Monroe was an incredibly efficient clutch scorer last season. Khris Middleton...not so much.