The Memphis Grizzlies have hired ESPN columnist and basketball sabermetrician John Hollinger to be their vice president of basketball operations. Hollinger, who had been with ESPN since 2005, continues the march of teams across all sports to become more data-driven and analytic by hiring prominent Internet columnists and analysts, including Mike Fast and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus by the Houston Astros (who also courted ESPN's Keith Law last winter).
In a world where Rob Parker gets his rocks off going all-out criticizing statistics on ESPN, it's not the columnists and debate enthusiasts getting jobs with professional teams, it's the people who actually analyze data and come to informed conclusions based on that data. The divide between old school and new school analysis seems to be shrinking in front offices of sports franchises, who are moving towards a more analytical approach to their sports and actually recruiting employees based on their knowledge of those evil, terrible stats that are apparently ruining sports and turning them into a spreadsheet (or something like that).
The hiring of Hollinger (along with those of Fast and Goldstein) is a step in the right direction for franchises that are looking for new ways to evaluate players and their skills. But unlike the Astros, who had the worst record in the MLB in 2012, the Grizzlies are surging so far this season with a 14-5 record that has them near the top of the Western Conference, a season after they went 41-25 before bowing out to the Clippers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Hats off to the Grizzlies for not just resting on their laurels despite recent success and trying something new. Next stop… Bill Simmons?