Orange is the Ball Color: the 2014-2015 NBA Season in Review

I must confess I violated one of the ultimate commandments for sports fans: it’s never over before the final buzzer. I wrote a large portion of this post during the 3rd quarter of the Warriors game. Granted, the Warriors had a fifteen point lead and were perfect on the season when given that advantage. The furious final minute got me a little scared but I’m glad I didn’t jinx it for my many Bay Area friends.

Congratulations to Golden State and here are my memories from another wonderful season of basketball.

Tip-Off: The 2014 NBA Draft and Off-season:

It all started with new commissioner Adam Silver announcing the Cleveland’s selection of Andrew Wiggins, the second Canadian to ever be taken first overall (Anthony Bennett in 2013, also by Cleveland). Of course, he would be traded to Minnesota along with the aforementioned Bennett for Kevin Love,  becoming the second number one pick since NBA-ABA merger to never play for the team that drafted him (the first being Chris Webber). Perhaps the most touching moment of the draft was when the NBA drafted Isaiah Austin with a ceremonial pick. Baylor center Isaiah Austin was projected to be a first round pick until he was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, ending his basketball career. The NBA made him an honorary draftee and offered him a job to continue working in the sport, a touching gesture.

The NBA selects Isaiah Austin!

The NBA selects Isaiah Austin!

Phil Jackson tried to take his championship magic to the New York Knicks along with his old PG Derek Fisher as coach. All in all, we had nine brand new coaches, including Dave Blatt and Steve Kerr who would go on to become the first “rookie” head coaches to face off in the NBA Finals since 1946. Assistant coaches don’t usually make headlines, except for 16 year WNBA star Becky Hammon, who joined the Spurs as the first woman to serve on an NBA coaching staff. Oh yeah, we also got rid of an awful and racist owner.

The First Half: The Stars are Out

So Close. The only preseason predictions I saw with Warriors in finals

So Close. The only preseason predictions I saw with Warriors in finals

The intense start of the NBA season saw stars being out, both literally and figuratively. The injury bug impacted the likes of Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant, and Paul George, highlighting the need to potentially scale back the NBA season as a countermeasure to steadily increasing injury rates. Other stars like James Harden put up insane scoring numbers (45 points on just 18 FGs in one case!)  while relative unknowns Kyle Korver and Meyers Leonard shot their way towards the exclusive 50-40-90 club. We witnessed a 37-year record toppled by a 37 point quarter, a second round pick throw down the best dunk of the season, and a journeyman center record a triple double with a season record 12 blocks. Not a bad form of entertainment to get through our favorite named winter storms (ie: Juno).

Halftime show: The Rise of Sports Analytics

One definite thing I’ve noticed this year is the increased emphasis on analytics and advanced statistics during broadcasts and game recaps. As a huge fan of sports analytics, I couldn’t be happier with ESPN/TNT showing me numbers on things like hot zones or game pacing. It’s also a fantastic way to introduce more traditional fans to data beyond points per game and number of triple doubles. Of course, there’s always resistance from Charles Barkley old school basketball analysts, as highlighted in a rant where Barkley refers to Daryl Morey (GM of the Rockets) as a talent-less guy who couldn’t get girls in high school. Ironically, advanced analytics is one of the great supporters of Barkley’s Hall of Fame career. 

Kyle Korver's insane shooting (from Grantland)

Kyle Korver’s insane shooting (from Grantland)

On the practical side of things, NBA teams are embracing analytics more and more for roster and coaching decisions. ESPN’s great analytics rankings identifies 21/30 teams as having at least “one foot in” the door of analytics, with four “all-in” teams. Even more impressive is the fact that all four conference finalists are considered strong believers. Right around the time of the NBA All-Star Game, an entertaining affair with MVP Russell Westbrook throwing down some dunks, was the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. There were two discussions I particularly enjoyed: the future of analytics with representatives from three major leagues and the basketball specific panel featuring one of my favorite players, Shane Battier. I’m hopeful that the NBA watching experience continues this analytical transformation.

Also, Shaq takes a fall, no explanation needed.

The Second Half: At The Buzzer!

The season drew to a close with a down to wire finish for the last playoff spots. The Western Conference once again dominated the top-heavy Eastern Conference (+76 games above .500) for the 15th time in the last 16 years. The imbalance resulted in three Eastern teams making the playoffs without a winning record, and the 45-37 Thunder being left out. The Warriors grabbed an NBA best 67-15 record, the best since Dallas in 2006-2007 season. Meanwhile, the Hawks grabbed the best record in the East playing with one of the most balanced teams in history.

Steph Curry takes home the MVP

Steph Curry takes home the MVP

Once the playoffs started, we were treated to a flurry of buzzer beaters, 34 agonizing free throw attempts while debating rule changes, and of course Riley Curry. It all wrapped up with two of the greatest NBA Finals performances of all time: the MVP-worthy individual efforts of Lebron James and the team shooting/defense of Golden State. It would not have surprised me if Lebron became the second Finals losing player to win MVP (after Jerry West) and the NBA updated their logo correspondingly. I can’t wait to see all the teams reload once again to chase the dream. The next season is just around the corner beginning with the NBA draft on June 25th (which we could change in following years with some crazy proposals).

Finally, let’s not forget that basketball is all about the spectacular plays produced in moments of pure genius. This is without a doubt my favorite move of the season….enjoy! What are your highlights?


How to avoid being fired: Pro sports coach edition

Let’s start with some classic sports trivia: who are the longest tenured coaches in the NBA, NFL, and MLB respectively?

With yet another MLB manager firing this weekend and the usual coaches carousel following the NBA/NFL season , I decided to look at just how much winning it took to avoid the sack. This graph looks at the regular season win percentage for each head coach and how long they’ve continuously coached their team. Coaches who have left their team within the last season are circled in red.

The data collection was fairly straightforward. I gathered the win/loss/tie records for all coaches as of 5/15/2015 and normalized the tenures based on the standard season for each league. For all coaches yet to complete a season, I included their predecessor instead. In most of these cases, the coaches were fired at the end of the 2014 season, but a few exceptions parted ways by choice (ex: John Fox, Joe Maddon).

Starting with the far right of the graph, we have the answers to our trivia question: 48 total seasons and 10 champions for the current runs of baseball’s Mike Scioscia, basketball’s Gregg Popovich, and football’s Bill Belichick.

The next group over consists solely of MLB managers and NFL head coaches. The high rate of NBA coaching changes have been attributed to a lack of long term patience  or just the perfect storm of shorter contracts/retirements. Perhaps merely making the playoff with a winning season isn’t enough for NBA front offices given that 16 out of 30 teams make the playoffs each year. This group is highlighted by coaches with playoff success though surprisingly, Marvin Lewis remains with the Cincinnati Bengals despite never having won a playoff game in 12 seasons.

In general, it takes a winning percentage above .500 (surprise!) to remain in charge for more than half a decade. The one exception is the San Diego Padres’s Bud Black, who has somehow remained manager for eight seasons with a 0.477 win percentage and never making the playoffs. It’s no shock that Sports Illustrated included Bud Black on their preseason hot seat list, along with Terry Collins of the New York Mets who is quickly approaching the five season limit for managers with losing records. Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals is already there but presumably a World Series run is worth at least a few percentage points. Now the real question is: will one of these managers be fired first or will the the Oakland Raiders randomly fire a head coach first?

I love to hear your comments and feedback! I’m also taking requests for fun data sets to look at now that I’ve gotten back to writing.

My Thesis in Three Minutes

Last week I did the Three Minute Thesis competition at Vanderbilt, which is basically a contest where graduate students present their research topic to a general audience in three minutes. You have to keep the science simple yet intriguing enough for the audience to want more. The organizers advertise it as great practice for elevator conversation but let’s be real, people are going to awkwardly ignore each other and check their phones in the elevator. Plus, a three minute elevator ride only happens in a skyscraper or an old, run-down building.

Anyways, I didn’t win it but I do want to share the most awesomest feedback I have ever gotten:

The Highest of Compliments!

Because of this, I’m still running high on my newfound motivation to do more science outreach. I’ve got a few good ideas so I will keep you posted on what comes out of it. I also remembered I need to catch up on COSMOS, which I hear is amazing thus far.

For any of you interested in learning more about the 3MT competition, please visit their website . For those of you interested in what my three minute thesis was, here’s the draft I made for my speech. The title is Dock It Like It’s Hot: Challenges of Modern Drug Discovery. I did my best to be funny but unfortunately on the day of, I had to go after a talk on childhood cancers.


I’m a big Doctor Who fan so let’s time travel for a moment back to Elizabethan England, to the height of Shakespeare, the Renaissance, and crazy medical practices. If you had a sore throat, you might be prescribed slime from a garden snail. A toothache is treated with paste made from a mouse. Yuck! It’s no wonder these remedies didn’t work because doctors had little knowledge of how medicines worked. Fortunately, we’ve since learned a thing or two about both WHAT we should take and about HOW those drugs worked. Modern drug discovery though still has its own challenges, thanks to a few very large numbers.

It is estimated that there are 10^33 potential drugs out there. That’s 1 followed by 33 zeros! If we were to make a single pill for each of those drugs, the total would weigh as much as the sun.

Understanding how a particular drug works isn’t easy either. We know drugs act by binding to specific microscopic machinery in our body called proteins, similar to the way a key opens a particular lock. What makes it difficult is that there are 100,000 different types of proteins in our body. Imagine trying to figure out which lock a particular key opened in a building with 100,000 doors. What a nightmare. This makes it impossible for scientists to test everything by hand.

Enter the computer. The smart phone in your pocket is a computer capable of performing a billion calculations every second. There are supercomputers out there that are even faster. Why wouldn’t we harness this immense resource to help us find and understand the next generation of therapeutics?

Researchers have developed two separate set of computer software for drug discovery. Virtual screening help us filter down the near infinite list of possible drugs to a testable list of thousands. Molecular docking helps us understand how a specific drug unlocks a target protein.

My research focuses on bridging the gap between the two sides. I want to integrate our knowledge of WHAT drugs work from screening to help us figure out HOW they work through docking. For example, this morning I woke up with allergies and had to take a Claritin before coming here. Some of you might have had a similar experience but took an Allegra or a Benadryl instead. If we compare and contrast these drugs, we can gain insight into on how they work to treat the same symptoms. Let’s tackle the challenges of modern drug discovery by combining the WHAT question with the HOW question.

I like to leave you with some lyrics from the Snoop Dogg song that inspired the title of my presentation, “You should think about it, take a second. Matter fact, you should take four. “

March Madness (or Mayhem in case that’s copyrighted)

The theme song for this post is Queen’s Under Pressure

March was a pretty long month. I got a pair of new projects, both related to drug discovery for G-Protein Coupled Receptors. For my readers that don’t know what that is, roughly 50 percent of all drugs on the market right now work by binding to proteins in our body called GPCRs. These GPCRs are like the doorbells for our cells….you press the button, and things start happening. I also got a couple of proposals and mini-reviews to write now, so Microsoft Word has become my new best friend.

I’ve also picked up playing tennis and soccer more and more, which means watching more YouTube videos on learning how to play. Laugh all you want but they are actually a great resource for learning the basics of a new sport. It’s also a good place for learning kitchen skills or how to fix up your car. Just be careful because the internet has made everyone an expert on everything.

I obviously can’t get through a summary of March without talking about March Madness. My bracket didn’t do too well after the Sweet Sixteen. I had Virginia beating Michigan in the Championship and that’s out in a pair of nail-biters. As of today, a bracket where the high seed wins every time is 82 percentile on the NCAA website. That means most Americans would be better off not calling any upsets at all. I’m really thinking about using machine learning and neural networks to make a predictor for next year. I know other people have tried it but in research, you have got to believe you can do it better. My dream here is to present something like that at the MIT Sloan Sports Conference. I wouldn’t say no to $100,000 or however much you get for the top bracket.

That should wrap it up. I will try to get back to blogging more often and writing on some stuff besides updating my life, which unfortunately isn’t particularly exciting.

Back in Town and Back to Work

I decided on a random whim I’m going to attach a theme song to all my posts, and since I just got back from a week and a half in California, let’s go with: Boys Are Back In Town (Thin Lizzy)

The conferences were pretty awesome as was San Francisco of course. I talked enough about the Biophysical Society meeting since I was a guest blogger so you can read my posts here if you are interested. I had lunch/dinner with a number of old classmates and made some friends out of people that I previously only known by their username in our programming collaborations. I caught up on some craft beer at the 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco (highly recommended), and met my semi-annual quota of hole in the wall Mexican food. I also had Sushirrito, which is basically sushi, but in burrito form….but sushi, in a burrito…..I can’t emphasize it enough times, it was awesome (See picture).

Raw fish, avocados, spicy mayo...what more can I want?

Raw fish, avocados, spicy mayo…what more can I want?

I’m glad there are hipsters/creative people hard at work coming up with new ways to fuse my favorite foods from different cultures. Combining food groups, not just in those chain fusion restaurants, is just plain awesome. If you need another example, see bacon wrapped shrimp (which I plan on making in the near future).

Now that I’m back in Nashville, I have been mostly catching up on work and putting my luggage away. I did however, manage to get myself to the Vanderbilt Florida game. I had season tickets last year and this year but I never actually been to a game…a matchup with the #1 team seemed like a good opportunity. It was surprisingly less packed than I expected and I wished the student section were actually LOUD the entire game, but hey…at least I got some good seats. It was a really close game even though we lost; I think it was surprisingly more enjoyable and high energy than the football games.

Game on at Memorial Gym!

Game on at Memorial Gym!

Off to San Francisco!


I’m off to San Francisco for a pair of conferences today through next Monday. I’m pretty darn excited for the food….I mean, for the conference. The first is the Biophysical Society National Meeting, for which I will be a guest blogger over on their blog ( The second is Rosetta Developer’s Meeting, which is essentially for the community of graduate students/post-docs that writes all the code for the software we work with. It’s a good balance between presentations on everything you can think of in studying cells/macromolecules to presentations on deciding what sort of log messages to write.

Graduate School: The Movie Soundtrack

I was sorting through my Spotify “Liked from Radio” playlist (it was getting out of hand) when I realized that a lot of my favorite lab jams could easily be about graduate school. There are at least a few lines in each song that could caption a PhD student’s life. Of course, Nostradamus and the Bible have taught us that you can pretty much interpret words to match anything given a large enough dataset. However, I still find myself singing along in my head (or out loud when it’s late at night) to the relevant lyrics. Besides, they are all good songs one way or another.

In other news, I will be off to the Biophysical Society National Meeting (and blogging from there!) soon…..more on this later. Here now then are my favorite songs from Graduate School: The Movie Soundtrack, also known as a list of songs I would love to parody:

PS: I would also love to hear your suggestions! Let me know if you got any good lab jams or songs that could be about grad school.

Blue Collar Man- Styx

My mother and father, my wife and my friends
I see them laugh in my face
But I’ve got the power, and I’ve got the will
I’m not a charity case
I’ll take those long nights, impossible odds
Keeping my eye to the keyhole
If it takes all that to be just what I am

Chances- Five for Fighting

Chances are when said and done
Who’ll be the lucky ones who make it all the way?

Chances are we’ll find a new equation
Chances roll away from me
Chances are all they hope to be

The Scientist- Coldplay

Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be this hard
Oh, take me back to the start.

I was just guessing at numbers and figures
Pulling your puzzles apart
Questions of science, science and progress

Still Alive- Portal Video Game Soundtrack (Suggested by a colleague)

This was a triumph.
I’m making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS.
It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.
Aperture Science
We do what we must
because we can.
For the good of all of us.

Peace of Mind- Boston

Now if you’re feelin’ kinda low ’bout the dues you’ve been paying
Future’s coming much too slow
And you wanna run but somehow you just keep on stayin’
Can’t decide on which way to go

Be Good To Yourself- Journey

Runnin’ out of self-control
Gettin’ close to an overload
Up against a no win situation
Shoulder to shoulder, push and shove
I’m hangin’ up my boxin’ gloves
I’m ready for a long vacation

Rocket Man- Elton John

And all this science, I don’t understand
It’s just my job five days a week

To wrap it up, I’m going to finish with a few parodies that are actually about grad school stuff:

Get Data – UCSD Neuroscience’s Parody of Get Lucky by Daft Punk 

Biotech Lab Life – PhDiddy