(Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images)
Folks, we’re in a new age, an age of vast amounts of information and quantification. No, unfortunately hovercrafts are not an affordable means of transportation nor has time travel been made available. But important steps are being made in the realm of basketball analytics.
SportVU cameras are now available in all 30 NBA arenas. Essentially, they provide overhead looks at the movement of the players and basketball during all 1230 regular season games this season. This means every movement of the ball and all 10 players on the floor is tracked and recorded, making so more information about every game is logged for future analysis. The below gif is courtesy of the NBA.com stats page and is represented of the what the camera sees.
There’s only so much our eyes and brain can take in and comprehend when watching the game. We’re only limited to what data we have available. How can we make the most informed opinion with only our flawed memory to rely upon? Maybe it didn’t seem like Player X had a great game but glancing at the box score after the match revealed some interesting findings, for example.
Over the course of an 82 game season, we cannot discern just by watching the game who logged the most points, rebounds, or played the most effective defense. These recordings allow us to consolidate this types of tendencies we see from the players and team and help resolve them into areas of strengths and weaknesses by combining what we see and what is recorded from the games.
How does it relate to the Atlanta Hawks? Now, the public can see how far and how fast Jeff Teague has travelled in the games. Who’s faster on the court, Teague or Dennis Schröder? Well head on over to NBA.com/stats and compare. How many touches did each receive, and how long did they hold onto the ball? That information is hosted there as well.
We could, until this season merely, guess at some statistics we otherwise wanted in concrete. For the hockey and soccer fans out there, there was no such thing as the “hockey assist”, or a recording of the times a player’s pass lead to an assist. With these omnipresent SportVU cameras, we now can, under the “secondary assists” column at the NBA headquarters website. How many points were created from those assists? How many potential assists would a player log if his teammate made the shot? How many totals passes did a player make during the game? All these questions can be answered by referencing a nice table format containing the NBA’s official statistics.
Recently, measuring rebounding ability by weighting percentages over purely offensive and defensive rebounds per game was considered forward-thinking. But why is a player penalized for not grabbing a rebound when he could be 20 feet from proper rebounding position? Now these cameras can measure a percentage of rebounds grabbed per chance, which the NBA defines as within 3.5 feet. They even separate them by whether the board was contested or not. You say Reggie Evans poaches a lot of uncontested rebounds to pad his stats? Go ahead and back that up with the data.
Schröder grabbed all 4 of the rebounds he had chances on against the Mavericks Wednesday. All were uncontested. For that single game, Paul Millsap equalled Al Horford with 5 rebounds. However, Millsap had 11 chances to Horford’s 9, making Al the victor in that battle in terms of rebounding as a percentage of chances.
NBA stats also measures drive metrics. Here’s is their qualification: “Any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks. Measures the total number of drives as well as the points, assists and shooting percentages on drives to the basket.” We used to only talk about who are the more effective slashers versus pull up shooters versus spot up shooters, but now there is irrefutable evidence to aid us in those claims.
All of this sheds new light into areas that were previously simply left for debate. Think of the many forays of data gathering and trend fitting to help quantify, rank and differentiate teams and players in the many areas contained in the sport of basketball.
There exists a small sample size caveat as always. With more and more data to sift through, the interpretation of that data will be paramount. Random statistical fluctuations are normal, natural occurrences. Cartier Martin drilled a trio of three pointers to lead the team in that area Wednesday night but not even his parents would believe that would be a continuing trend.
It’s a great time to be a fan of hoops and numbers. Maybe you don’t subscribe to this type of analysis. To each his own. These metrics bring no harm to those who choose to see the game in a different way. But for those who like to breakdown the sports with raw data, the NBA stats page is a form of Mecca.