Smarter Basketball

When the Brooklyn Nets made its 2015 NBA draft picks, Glenn DuPaul ’14 joined the executives and scouts in the team’s inner circle, providing input to those deciding who to draft and who to trade. As the Brooklyn Nets’ director of basketball analytics—the first person to hold that title for the team—DuPaul applies his analytical skills to help inform the team’s personnel processes and other decisions.

"I don’t feel like I go to work," says DuPaul, who graduated from Lehigh with a degree in economics. "It’s sports, and it’s interesting, and it’s what I like."

DuPaul broke into the world of sabermetrics (think Moneyball) as a Lehigh student. He interned with Baseball Info Solutions, a national baseball analytics firm in Coplay, Pa., and wrote for trade publications such as Beyond the Box Score and The Hardball Times. One of his articles, Controlling the Strike Zone and Batting Average, was nominated for an award by the Society for American Baseball Research. He later interned for two seasons with the Kansas City Royals.

As the NBA began to embrace advanced analytics, DuPaul recognized his expanding options. He landed his job with the Brooklyn Nets in November 2014 and now takes raw data to run models for the team to evaluate and project player performance. He not only looks at the team’s players but also at the bigger picture, evaluating college players and those on other NBA teams. If an executive asks about a potential trade or a coach asks about opponents, DuPaul uses his ongoing research to answer their questions.

"It’s trying to objectively evaluate talent and to do it better than other teams," he says. "Analytics are a tool. The general manager has to make player personnel decisions, and he gets as much information as he can to help him," including salary, medical and scouting information. "Analytics are a piece of that puzzle. You can weigh them more—or less."

All along, DuPaul’s goal had been to apply his Lehigh degree and his sports knowledge to land a job with a professional sports team. He got help at Lehigh from his adviser, James A. Dearden, department chair and professor of economics, and Larry Taylor, also a professor of economics. Both guided him in choosing classes and internships so that he could eventually turn his dream into reality.

"I wanted to use the resources at Lehigh to mold myself into becoming the best candidate possible to get a job like the one I have," DuPaul says.

Given the dynamics of basketball—the motion of the sport and the teammate effect—the analytics can be more challenging than in baseball. He’ll look at such things as which players can get to certain spots on the court and take shots they’re most likely to make, or which players will force others into bad locations. He gets support from his colleagues.

"There’s a lot of strong basketball knowledge and basketball talent here," says DuPaul. "I bring something to the table that they really didn’t have, and that gives me confidence."

DuPaul, who as a student would reach out to professional teams for guidance in breaking into the field, is trying to pay it forward. He routinely gives advice to students, pointing out the need for a strong coding and statistical background to do the work he does. "It can be a dream industry," he says.