Frank Li ‘20 Advanced to 2019 NBA Hackathon Finals

Frank Li ‘20 Advanced to 2019 NBA Hackathon Finals

Frank Li, a senior who is double-majoring in Sport Management and Computer Science, advanced to the final round of the NBA’s official 2019 Hackathon. Li’s team consisted of students who, like Li, had completed an internship in the NBA’s headquarters. For the Hackathon, Li’s group developed a metric that measures coaching quality independent of player performance.

Frank Li '20 advances to NBA Hackathon Finals

The Hackathon offers a business analytics track and a basketball analytics track; Li’s team was competing in the basketball track. After completing the Hackathon’s first round, which required Li and his team to calculate offensive and defensive ratings from a data set given to them, they were invited to submit a proposal for the second round. They were asked to come up with a brand-new metric and decided to investigate coaching quality using the NBA’s spatial data – which tracks the location of players on the court – to pinpoint shot creation and effective use of coaching plans.

“The core idea was that right now, how we pick the Coach of the Year and colloquially evaluate coaches is based on team records,” Li said. “If you look at Coach of the Year award winners, 9 of the past 10 are from top-three regular season teams. A coach could raise a bottom-tier team to a medium team and we think these types of coaches are underappreciated. The job of the coach is to come up with the best strategy that is the best fit for your current roster, no matter what roster you’re given.”

The proposal was accepted in August and Li and his team were flown to the NBA offices in Secaucus, New Jersey, in September to present their new coaching analysis program. While at this final round, Li had the opportunity to network with executives from every team in the NBA and other analytics industry leaders like FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver as well as former Deloitte CEO and current WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

“We coded, competed, and presented in front of front office executives, executives from the NBA league office, Li said. “The judges included Nate Silver, Cathy Engelbert, and some other really big names. Every team had one or two representatives at the Hackathon just to chat with us and share their experiences doing analytics in the NBA and with their team, and to see if there’s any potential fit for an internship or full-time job opportunities.”

Li is the co-president of the Rice Basketball Department of Sport Analytics, which is a student-run organization. He has interned with the NBA in Global Media Distribution, with the Houston Rockets in business strategy, and with SponsorUnited in business analytics. Li hopes to work in an NBA front office after graduating in May 2020.

Nathaniel Askanase, a sophomore from New York, New York, is double-majoring in Sport Management and History.