A couple weeks ago, we brought you the report that the NBA would be paying to install the STATS SportVU cameras in the half of NBA arenas that do not yet have them. Expect that to become official in the next 24 hours.
With those cameras that track the position of the ball and every player on the court three times a second you get a wealth of data — how fast a player is, how well they shoot off one dribble versus three, detailed looks at team defensive positioning, the possibilities are virtually endless.
Also, the league could use it to track referees and see who is making calls and from what position on the court.
It won’t tout it, but one reason the league acted fast was to immediately enhance its ability to monitor referees — always a touchy subject. The cameras represent the most precise way to grade the three on-court officials based on how consistently and early they get into the league’s three set positions — called “lead,” “slot,” and “trail” — and whether they make appropriate calls from those positions based on their exact sight lines. This is the next stage in seeing which officials are the best, and thus deserving of high-stakes assignments, and in quantifying that in ways that are hard to dispute.
“We will use whatever data and means we can to improve our referees,” says Steve Hellmuth, the NBA’s executive vice president of operations and technology. “The refs haven’t been tracked before. Now for the first time, they will be.”
My guess is there is no way the league shares this data with the owners (despite Mark Cuban’s fervent wishes) as it tries to keep all its referee evaluations out of the public eye.
But it could help the league — are particular officials making a lot of calls where they do not have a good sightline? Are they missing certain things (the league used the cameras it had to look at defensive three seconds calls last season)? There will be other specific calls looked at with the cameras as well.
If it brings about better officiating, I’m all for it. I just think as usual it will not come with more transparency from the league.