These are the kinds of detailed NBA statistics that people may soon see and analyze as more teams start using the company STATS’ advanced tracking system known as SportVu, a system developed in Israel using technology originally for tracking missiles.
>+thunder%29″ rel=”nofollow” title=”Read more on Oklahoman”>“The world of player tracking for me is the ultimate stat system,” said Steve Hellmuth, executive vice president of operations and technology for the NBA, in an interview outside Chesapeake Arena during Game 2 of the NBA Finals. “It enters the NBA into the world of big data.”
The technology was originally developed to track missiles. 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.
You could call SportVU the new Moneyball, but that would probably sell SportVU short. “What’s interesting about the Moneyball analogy is that they were using data everybody else had and putting a new twist on it,” says Brian Kopp, a vice president at Stats, the company that owns SportVU. “We’re doing that, but also entering into the equation data no one had before. It’s almost Moneyball Plus.” Stats pretty much owns the IP on player stats across sports. Whether it’s the NBA or the NFL that you’re reading about on ESPN or CBS, all those player metrics are being provided by Stats (which is oddly enough, half owned by News Corp and AP). And what they don’t track themselves, they license exclusively from the pro sports themselves.
Their system captures the X/Y coordinates of all the players and refs–along with the X/Y/Z (3-D) coordinates of the ball–25 times every second (or 72,000 times a game). Algorithms take into account all sorts of variables to keep the system accurate, from the lines on the court to the reflections of flashing billboards. Another layer of software at a central server puts this raw data together into something meaningful. Information as specific as player ball touches and dribbles can be calculated within 60 seconds of being spotted by SportVU cams. Stats can generate these values in simple, automated reports. And then there’s a third layer of what’s going on: a layer of deep connections. NBA staffs have access to all their own raw data (think huge spreadsheets), and in an information sharing agreement, they have access to everyone else’s raw data, too. That means every team can mine all of the information collected in 10 courts worth of home games across the NBA. This layer is where the teams get very quiet about what’s really going on. Because if sports are about getting an edge, no one wants to broadcast any edge they’ve discovered.