A math major and starting guard on the Lords basketball team, Alexander Powell ’18 compiles advanced statistics both to prepare for a career in sports analytics and to design solutions for his team’s success on the hardwood.
Reviewing the previous basketball season, Powell took cues from Head Coach Dan Priest and generated possession-based statistics to demonstrate how much the Lords’ progress hinged on things like rebounding percentages and free-throw rates. Individual offensive ratings soon were introduced, and the team began working with Synergy, an analytics tool kit used by professional teams.
“My goal was to get past some of those older, box score-type stats and apply more meaningful data that was specific to our team makeup,” said Powell, who also applied his skills in a probability class, calculating the Bayesian estimates of three-point shooting percentages for NBA guards.
“Analytics have become part of modern-day basketball, and Alexander’s work and insight have allowed us a window into that world,” Priest said. “It’s certainly been beneficial to our team.”
Priest invited Powell to explain statistical trends at a local coaches’ roundtable, and is exploring options for Powell to speak at the highly regarded Jay Bilas Skills Camp. Online, Powell maintains Ninety-Four by Fifty, which he describes as a “blog that uses statistical analysis to bring clarity to sports, particularly basketball, as well as politics and other topics.” (The name refers to the dimensions, in feet, of an NBA-regulation basketball court.)
Powell, who came to Kenyon from Greenville, South Carolina, twice attended the University of North Carolina’s Basketball Analytics Summit and plans to be at the upcoming Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, where he’ll dive into analytics projects alongside professionals. This summer, like the last, he will extend his range as an intern on Michelin’s research campus in Greenville, performing data analysis on worldwide warranty returns and consulting on competitor comparisons for the tire company.
Powell, who also has worked in the College’s sports information office since his first year, feels that the opportunities he has received at Kenyon will give him an edge in the burgeoning field of sports analytics.
“The majority of the people in the field don’t have the on-court playing experience and the ability to communicate that perspective,” Powell explained. “For example, if our field-goal percentage is great when someone is on the court, why is that? In my experiences, coaching staffs and front-office managers are far more willing to receive that answer from someone who has actually played the game.”