The NBA sphere, in many respects, drives its conversations with
numbers. They can range from the simple eye-popping box score to
the intricate advanced data that power decisions and add context
about the evolution of the game.
However, we often lose sight of just how those statistics get
noted and validated. As evidenced by this weekend's buzzing Jaren Jackson Jr. Reddit
conspiracy, most fans and even insiders don't fully grasp how
complicated the league's record-keeping process can be. The NBA is
far removed from the days of one-person, hand-tracked stacking;
technology and checks and balances help keep the league on top of
its array of tracked data points.
Neema Djavadzadeh spent the 2021-22 season working as a stats
auditor for the NBA and G League. He worked over 400 G League
contests and approximately 20-30 NBA games as part of the gameday
statskeeping crew. The G League's process is a bit more
straightforward, but it still requires a team of auditors.
"With the G League, it involved watching game film
and making sure stats were correct," Djavadzadeh told
Basketball News. "We had an audit-review system that
involved one person on the team auditing the stats, and then
another reviewing the audits and making changes accordingly. Then,
someone higher up would comb through all the edits to make final
confirmation. In total, it was six people working on this for the G
At the highest level, the tracking process has several layers.
Here's how Djavadzadeh describes the repetition of recording stats
throughout an NBA game:
- A play/tracked
event occurs on the court.
- A courtside
"caller" alerts a "primary" person who inputs basic
- The primary logs
a basic stat, while a "secondary" notes descriptive
characteristics, such as location on the floor.
- One or two
"tertiaries" then watch a slightly delayed recording of the play to
confirm or correct the stats entered.
- After that, a
crew in the league's Seacaucus, NJ, headquarters double-checks and
corrects stats. They can discuss corrections with the courtside
team. If both teams agree on a correction, it is made, and if they
disagree, no change is made at first. Either way, those
communications are logged and then again checked by a "Kirk"
"Everything is basically confirmed 4-5 times," Djavadzadeh said.
"The Kirks are also normally watching the game on their own and
following along with the stats, but they have multiple game
responsibilities, versus the auditor having one. There’s normally
about two people per game, so on a big night there was about 30 in
the [league] office, or on a slow night, about 6-7. There's also
technical support from Genius Sport in house as well, in case
anything goes wrong courtside or in the office."
So how much can one statskeeper influence a single stat?
Djavadzadeh says barely.
"Maybe straightforward plays like a field-goal attempt and
rebound," he said. "I’d normally watch those at max three times,
normally to just confirm shot location or play descriptor. Most
plays are combed over at least 3-4 times if it’s not just a shot
Technology also plays a huge role in providing accurate
perspective on a play, particularly at the NBA level. The league
has player-tracking capabilities and 12 camera angles for any given
event, whereas the G League just uses one angle. Auditors can also
look at a check-box system that confirms which stats have and have
not yet been locked in.
With that being said, there is still room for interpretation.
Djavadzadeh said that in his experience, recording blocks and
steals specifically at the G League level was a challenge with one
"It was kind of a universal thing of, 'Well, we don’t have the
tech to make it perfect right now, but we can spend the time and
effort to make it as close as possible,'" he explained.
Different challenges arise in the NBA, where assists are
actually more subjective than in the G League. The G League has a
strict rule on assists: A scorer must use two or fewer dribbles,
and three or fewer seconds between catch and shot attempt, to
qualify as receiving an assist. That guideline does not exist in
"I’d get into one or two arguments a game with courtside
starters over assists, but eventually you realize some crews just
see them a little differently," Djavadzadeh said.
"Steals are a bit tough too with the NBA, but once you
understand the variety of steals it becomes easier," he added.
"Like, saving a ball from going out of bounds and a controlled pass
back in bounds is technically a steal. A tipped pass that your
teammate recovers is a steal for the person who tips it. If another
offensive player tries to control the ball after it’s been tipped,
then whoever recovers the ball after the second offensive player
touched it gets the steal. Little rules like that. Each possession
is different, so there’s some interpretation that has to happen,
but for the most part, six-plus people are agreeing on the outcome
of an event."
Where can the NBA improve its process? Djavadzadeh believes the
league could better utilize its tracking abilities to more
accurately portray shot location data by automating that part of a
process versus relying on human judgement. While such automation is
harder to achieve with most box-score stats, he says, shot location
tracking tech already exists and is more plain to understand.
One of the key "motives" in the alleged Jackson blocks
conspiracy was the idea that statskeepers who have a financial
stake in the game could help make themselves some money by rigging
the numbers. To Djavadzadeh — who does support legal and
federally-regulated sports betting — that's just an unrealistic
"The NBA’s no-gambling rules are extremely strict, and knowing
sports politics, something like that isn’t something you can come
back from," he said. "Any kind of conspiracy that statskeepers have
money on it or something is crazy, because that’s their career in
"I don’t think there’s an issue with gambling... I think, if
anything, it puts an emphasis on getting things more accurate
because there’s so much money at stake. And also, if you’re bad at
your job, you’ll get fired in an industry like this, and nobody
wants to get fired."