Oklahoma City Thunder v Miami Heat - Game Four

Former missile tracking technology revolutionizing NBA stats


People who dismiss the NBA’s statistical revolution as a bunch of nerds in front of computers with Google-like algorithm don’t get the real picture.

The reality is that a stats-loving coach who incorporates them into formulating his game plans is about to win an NBA title in Miami. The reality is pretty much every team has an advanced stats guy in house.

And those stats are going to the next level now thanks to former missile tracking technology that can literally track a player’s every move on the court. Teams are already paying for the next level of advanced statistics and the early results have wowed statheads at places like the SLOAN conference at MIT.

There’s a great story on the technology at fastcodedesign.com (go read the entire thing).

Now, SportVU systems hang from the catwalks of 10 NBA arenas, tiny webcams that silently track each player as they shoot, pass, and run across the court, recording each and every move 25 times a second. SportVU can tell you not just Kevin Durant’s shooting average, but his shooting average after dribbling one vs. two times, or his shooting average with a defender three feet away vs. five feet away. SportVU can actually consider both factors at once, plus take into account who passed him the ball, how many minutes he’d been on the court, and how many miles he’d run that game already.

A perfect example of this principle is in how SportVU can track assists. Traditionally, the NBA will award a player with the assist if they pass the ball to a player who immediately scores a field goal. It’s a human calculation, a judgment call based more on feel than science (much like a foul). Aside from clear issues of accurate counts, think about everything that generalized “assists” stat misses: What if the best passer in the world is on a team of people who can’t shoot? They’re making the correct play but getting no credit because they’re surrounded by mediocrity. But put this playmaker on a good team, and that team might excel.

SportVU can track these potential assists, and even track the person who passes it to the person who makes the assist. Now scale this level of assessment to every single skill in basketball, and our view of players could change as we know it.

The next level of challenge for coaches is to turn this data into something the players can assimilate. It’s one thing to tell a player “Kobe Bryant shoots X percent less if you force him to go left for two dribbles into a pull-up jumper” and another for a player to really grasp it and apply it in a game.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra (among others) tries to put these tips in video packages — don’t tell the player, show the player. Most of us are visual learners, if we see it we process it faster.

But the revolution is here to stay, and with companies like SportVU there is only going to be more and more data out there to mine for an edge. And teams will pay and do just about anything to get an edge.

Mark Cuban suggests supplemental draft for undrafted free agents

Mark Cuban
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A lot of people around the NBA have ideas to improve the draft, free agency and the D-League, and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has never been shy about sharing his. His latest idea seems pretty logical: a supplemental draft for undrafted free agents.

Via Hoops Rumors:

“I would have a supplemental draft every summer for undrafted free agents of the current and previous 3 years,” Cuban wrote in an email to Hoops Rumors. “If you are more than 3 years out you are not eligible and just a free agent.”

The supplemental draft would have two rounds, and teams would hold the rights to the players they select for two years, Cuban added. Players can opt out and choose not to make themselves eligible, but those who get picked would receive fully guaranteed minimum-salary contracts when they sign, according to Cuban’s proposal.

“That would make it fun a few weeks after the draft and pre-summer league,” Cuban wrote. “It would prevent some of the insanity that goes on to build summer league rosters.”

It’s an interesting proposition. Most undrafted players who sign during the summer don’t get guaranteed contracts, so when deciding to enter this supplemental draft, they would have to weigh the value of having guaranteed money versus getting to decide where they sign. It’s unlikely that anything like this could happen anytime soon, because of all the hoops to jump through to get the league and the players’ union to sign off on it, but it’s a worthwhile idea that deserves some consideration in the next CBA negotiations.

Kevin Love to practice with Cavs on Saturday

Kevin Love
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The Cavaliers’ training camp has so far been filled with bad news and uncertainty, from Tristan Thompson‘s continuing contract holdout to Iman Shumpert‘s wrist injury (which will sideline him for up to three months) to Kyrie Irving continuing to be limited. But here’s some good news: Kevin Love will fully participate in practice with the team on Saturday for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury in last year’s first-round series against the Celtics.

From Cleveland.com’s Chris Haynes:

Head coach David Blatt announced on Wednesday that power forward Kevin Love will make his first full practice debut on Saturday. The three-time All-Star has been rehabbing ever since undergoing shoulder surgery in May.

“He’s coming along real nice,” Blatt said.

On Monday Love was cleared to participate in 3-on-3 basketball workouts. Prior, he was only allowed to do individual work that consisted of absorbing contact from a pad in the post.

It’s unclear when Love will be able to play in a game, but the fact that he’s been cleared to return to practice is undoubtedly a good sign for Cleveland, and there’s hope that he’ll be able to play on opening night against the Bulls on October 27. With all the bad breaks the Cavs have caught this summer, it’s nice to see some good injury news for once.