Shaq Williams

F(Williams): The Function of Shaq Williams
by Jourdan Rodrigue @JourdanRodrigue

You’ll rarely see new assistant coach Shaquala “Shaq” Williams without her clipboard and a pen tucked behind her ear.

She’s constantly in motion, even during practice, pacing the baseline, pulling aside players for fundamental work and always scribbling notes and numbers or checking statistics on her clipboard.

Williams is a self-described “stats nerd” who hated math until she saw what it could do.

“In school, I felt like math was so abstract,” she said. “Now, because I’m interested in what the numbers mean, I like it more.”

She doesn’t quite group herself into the class of the Nate Silvers and Dean Olivers of sports, but what she probably doesn’t realize is that she just might be an example of what the future of analytics could look like: A clipboard-toting former player in basketball shorts and a team warm-up jersey with a brain the size of the Hyundai shipping barge spouting off numbers in one breath and tweaking a player’s shot in the next.

No longer is the idea of a “perfect” statistician a pale, pimply, glasses-wearing kid hunched behind a computer crunching numbers in Excel.

Now coveted in professional sports is the idea of a Swiss-Army-Knife style of coach—a person who can crunch numbers but also blends analytics with knowledge and experience. The former star guard at the University of Oregon and former member of the Los Angeles Sparks can break down stats, but simplify them in a way that players and personnel can understand and accept them—she knows what makes sense to players and what knowledge they’d appreciate because she was one herself.

“I do a lot of research into tendencies and anything that might help us with game preparation,” said Williams. “At the same time I know (head coach Brian Agler) doesn’t like to get overwhelmed with stats. He appreciates certain numbers, especially if they help us in our preparation, but I definitely can’t just go off and rattle numbers. I think in the (current) analysis you really have to break down what will be important and you only have a couple opportunities a day to share that. In my own time I do tons of research and analysis, but I only convey a small percentage of that.”

As she settles into her new role, she’ll be utilized more and more to point out patterns and advanced stats. Yet since she understands the game from a player’s perspective, she can blend the “intangibles” that occur each game with hard data.

Realistically, the WNBA does not have the resources to introduce the same types of analysis technologies as the NBA, such as SportVU, or hire MIT stats gurus to break down film and data points.

“A lot of the ‘intangible’ factors can be quantified now in the NBA, using plus-minus statistics, but that field isn't nearly as advanced in the WNBA, both because there are fewer people working on it and because the season is so much shorter,” said stats whiz and basketball writer Kevin Pelton.

Therefore, scouting and basketball knowledge is still extremely important. And a person with a mixture of experience and analytical prowess becomes a precious resource to a team.

So Williams will keep introducing new statistics each day that will benefit the Storm across the box score; she’ll keep studying and learning and finding patterns and scribbling them down on her clipboard—and improving the team data point by data point.

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