Cutting-edge ‘tracking’ technology helps NBA teams better evaluate players
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org February 21, 2013 9:23AM
BULLS BIG DATA --Luol Deng
--Luol Dengis the Bulls’ most efficient scorer, averaging .367 points per touch, well behind some of the more efficient scorers in the league, Kevin Durant (.462) and Carmelo Anthony (.430).
In 10 SportVU-tracked games this season, Deng has shot 9-for-29 (31 percent) in pull-up jumpers while shooting 27-for-59 (46 percent) in catch-and-shoot attempts.
--Richard Hamilton has been the primary defender on 56 shots in 10 SportVU-tracked Bulls games, only allowing conversions on 14 of those shots for 25 percent. Hamilton has been the primary defender on 56 of 391 defensive possessions (14 percent).
--Ten percent of Taj Gibson’s rebounds come from missed free throws, well above the league average of 6 percent. Joakim Noah’s free-throw rebounds account for 5 percent of his total rebounds.
--Carlos Boozer averages 7.3 post touches per game (within 12 feet of the basket), shooting 69 percent on these touches and shooting 62 percent of the time he touches the ball.
SportVU reveals that Boozer has 14.5 rebound chances per game (any time he is within 3.5 feet of a rebound) and hauls in 74 percent of them.
Updated: March 22, 2013 10:47AM
Two years ago, when STATS provided a sneak peek of SportVU, Houston Rockets executive vice president Sam Hinkie didn’t gush about the revolutionary player-tracking technology.
Instead he thought, “About time.”
“We’ve been yearning for something like this for several years,” Hinkie said. “We were excited to see someone step up and take a leadership role and be ready to step out there.
“We’ve been talking about this issue with folks in the league for years and talked to companies that were dabbling with stuff. From our point of view, if someone else would have done it better and faster, we would have supported them. But STATS seem to be the one that had the right incentive and, honestly, the right technology.”
These aren’t your grandfather’s statistics.
SportVU uses six palm-sized computer cameras that track the movements of every player on the court and quickly produces real-time — and highly complex — statistics to complement the traditional play-by-play.
And while the Bulls don’t subscribe to the service, information gathered by STATS when the team has played in other arenas shows that Luol Deng is his team’s most efficient scorer, averaging .367 points per touch. Guard Richard Hamilton has been the primary defender on 56 shots in 10 SportVU-tracked Bulls games, only allowing conversions on 14 (25 percent). And Deng leads the Bulls by running an average of 2.82 miles per game.
The Rockets were the first to sign up. Northbrook-based STATS has added half of the NBA’s 30 teams, and it hopes to have the entire league on board soon.
Hinkie does, too.
The Rockets’ home, the Toyota Center, is outfitted with SportVU cameras, but there are limitations to how Hinkie can use the information because not every NBA arena has the technology. And although many other clubs have followed the Rockets’ lead, Hinkie is still thankful for the statistics SportVU generates for them.
“I don’t have keys to the other 29 buildings, so it’s necessary for some company to create this,” said Hinkie, in his eighth season with the Rockets. “If the company creating this were the Houston Rockets, there would be obvious challenges.”
The most notable challenge is getting permission from the other NBA teams to install the cameras in their rafters.
“At some level,” Hinkie said, “you make the trade-off for things that are proprietary and some things you can gather collectively.”
In 2008, STATS purchased SportVU, which was developed by an Israeli scientist and initially used to track the movement of soccer players in Europe.
“We saw potential in other sports,” said Brian Kopp, STATS vice president of strategy and development. “One thing I was tasked with was, ‘How can we do this in other sports?’ ”
The most notable, of course, is football.
STATS has had preliminary meetings with NFL officials but there are many challenges, including more than double the number of players to track.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” Kopp said diplomatically. “It’ll take awhile to sort it out.”
For now, Hinkie and his counterparts who are accessing SportVU are enjoying the benefits.
“If you like big data, you can’t help but like SportVU. It allows you to have a sandbox to play in that’s much bigger than anything you’ve ever had,” Hinkie said. “In lots of situations you run into, you’re limited in the data you can access to try to be able to answer a question. But in this case, you’re more limited by the questions you can come up with because there’s enough data out there.”