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John Beilein's history with analytics makes him intriguing fit for Cleveland Cavaliers

On Monday, the Cleveland Cavaliers announced the hiring of Michigan's John Beilein as their new head coach.
Credit: AP
Michigan head coach John Beilein gestures from the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

CLEVELAND -- As his end-of-season press conference came to a close, Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman provided an interesting answer in regards to the growth and development of rookie point guard Collin Sexton.

"He's become efficient. He's starting to play 'moneyball,' which is incredible," Altman said. "Which means he's taking 3s or getting to the paint or getting to the foul line. He largely eliminated the inefficient shots of the mid-range game. He was hard-headed at first but give him credit for learning and taking the coaching and listening to analytics."

The subtext of Altman's comments wasn't hard to find.

As the Cavs set out on their coaching search after parting ways with Larry Drew, it was clear that analytics was going to play a major role. Marc Stein of The New York Times reported as much weeks later, stating in his newsletter that Cleveland had "made it pretty clear that they are looking for a young head coach who will embrace analytics and try to replicate the heavy-on-development atmosphere that has birthed such good results in Brooklyn with Kenny Atkinson and in Atlanta with Lloyd Pierce."

Credit: AP
Michigan head coach John Beilein directs his team during a practice session for the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Friday, March 30, 2018, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Ultimately, the Cavs' month-long head coaching search came to an end on Monday with the team announcing it has hired John Beilein, who spent the past 12 seasons as the head coach of Michigan. And while the 66-year-old Beilein may not exactly fit the youthful profile many believed the Cavs' next head coach would fill, his analytics-based approach helped to check off one of Cleveland's biggest boxes.

In a feature for MLive.com last January, Andrew Kahn detailed the Wolverines' use of Catapult Sports, an Australian analytics company that specializes in uniform technology used to track how hard players are working on the court. Beilein credited the device for aiding in the development of guard Derrick Walton Jr., who he found was working too hard in practice thanks to the data.

"This whole Catapult system is changing our world," Beilein said.

While monitoring player movement in practice may not be the same as altering a player's shot selection -- as the Cavs did with Sexton -- it does show a willingness to both listen to and incorporate new ideas. Furthermore, Beilein is so highly thought of as a creative offensive mind that unlike other coaches, he's opted to keep his playbook unpublished to the general public.

"Maybe there's something in that video that we do that maybe one of the Big Ten opponents doesn't know we do, and they end up countering it," Beilein told Kahn in a story earlier this year. "It didn't make much sense to me. What's ours is ours and we like to keep it that way."

Credit: AP
Michigan coach John Beilein yells during the first half of a second round men's college basketball game against Florida in the NCAA Tournament, in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, March 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

That, of course, hasn't stopped others from studying and emulating Beilein's offense, which heavily relies on the Princeton system, 2-guard sets and 4-out, 1-in motion concepts. Some of the same principles have been adopted by the Golden State Warriors during their recent run -- although it goes without saying the Cavs currently possess significantly less talent than their former Finales doe.

Nevertheless, when you consider Beilein's openness to new ideas and an approach that already mirrors an NBA style, it's not difficult to see what made him such an attractive option for the Cavs. 

In the same aforementioned press conference, Altman said he was seeking a "culture driver." We now have a more clear look at what he meant.