2017 Sloan Conference: 5 questions with Nate Duncan

Apr 13, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and guard Jason Terry (31) looks at a tablet while on the bench during the first half against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and guard Jason Terry (31) looks at a tablet while on the bench during the first half against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2017 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is a gathering of some of the smartest and most engaging basketball minds on the planet. While we’re here Nylon Calculus is going to try and pull a few of these brilliant minds aside for some short Q&As. Also, check out our running blog for Day 1 of the conference.

Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) is the host of the Dunc’d On NBA podcast, and the co-host of the Twitter NBA show.

Nylon Calculus: It’s early on the first day of the conference, but what are you looking forward to?

Duncan: Larry Coon, I’m his associate in Sports Business Classroom. He’s going to be doing a presentation on the 2017 CBA and any time Larry talks about something, you need to listen.

Nylon Calculus: You’re someone whose audience has grown tremendously over the past few years. Do you feel like your audience has gotten hungrier for stats? More savvy about them?

Duncan: That’s an interesting question because the best I think I’ve heard from people who listen to my show is that listening to the show makes them hungrier for that type of information. You know, I’m not at the level of the people at Nylon Calculus or some of the great people who are here where I’m coming up with my own stuff but we try to be fascile with that stuff and use it to educate the audience.

My approach has always been, I’m going to try and tell people what I’m interested in and I’m lucky enough that enough people are interested in the same stuff that we’re able to have a show.

Nylon Calculus: You used to be primarily a writer but now most of your work is audio and video. What are some of the challenges to incorporating stats in this different medium. 

Duncan: I think it can be difficult to just list stuff off, you run the risk of eyes glazing over a little bit. So I’ll just try to incorporate in some context for the stats. Even if it’s just something like, they’ve been really bad defensively — they have a 110 defensive rating, instead of just saying they have a 110 defensive rating. Just to kind of give you some context. I’m going to state a principle and I’m going to give you some evidence.

That’s really it, starting with a general proposition and than backing it up. I think you need to do more of that in an audio medium. Usually fine that if I do some work, I let people know it. That’s just the nature of our show and the nature of our podcast medium. For example, we do the “15 in 60” episodes where we talk about 15 teams in, theoretically, 60 minutes, usually more like 120, on a bi-weekly basis.

For those, we get our most listens for that because fans of those teams will want to know what we have to say about those teams. I think having more detail there is nice and it’s not like we’re running out of space. It’s a podcast, we can go on as long as we want to.

Nylon Calculus: What’s next for The Dunc’d On Podcast and the Twitter NBA show?

Duncan: The Twitter NBA show is really our next thing. Danny [Leroux] and I have started doing this second screen thing where we actually comment live during the game, so the idea is basically that you’re just watching the game with us. That’s been really fun to do. We’ll take questions during the breaks so you have some entertainment during the commercials. It’s basically the audio version of my tweets during the game.

That’s really fun and we’re hoping we’ll get some more support from Twitter, they’ll start promoting it and it will really take off during the playoffs. It’s a little bit difficult because of the logistics of doing it from the [Oracle] Arena, we obviously can’t do that if we’re covering the game live. It will have to get big enough that we’ll want to forgo going to the games. So if you want us to do it during the Finals, listen! And enough people listen and watch it will be worth not going to cover a Finals game.

Next: Previewing the 2017 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

Nylon Calculus: A pure basketball question, with Kevin Durant’s injury, do you think the San Antonio Spurs can catch the Golden State Warriors for the No. 1 seed? Will they want to? Does it matter?

Duncan: They’re going to want to, I think, especially because your first round matchup is so much easier, and then having home court against the Warriors, if they were to play, if Durant comes back, is key. I think it really depends on whether Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can get back to what they were doing last year without Kevin Durant. The early returns on that have not been particularly impressive but it’s only two games.

One of the reasons that I was a little down [this season], just from the point of my own personal NBA fandom with the Durant signing was I wanted to see — Steph Curry had this unbelievable regular season last year, and then he got hurt in the playoffs, LeBron James surpassed him, he got a lot of criticism — how is he going to respond to that. And the signing of KD really took that away as a storyline and now that’s back. We get to see whether what he did last year was real, is it repeatable, is he really that good? So know we get to find out the answer to that question and I’m really interested to see that.