Thanks to player tracking technology NBA fans, coaches and players have access to dozens of new statistics — and a deeper understanding of the game.
For basketball fans, this year’s NBA Finals are a dream matchup between two superstars. But while Golden State’s Steph Curry and Cleveland’s LeBron James are the focal points of this series, new player-tracking technology paints a broader picture of how each player performs.
SportVU is owned by STATS LLC, the world’s largest sports technology, data and content company. In 2013, the NBA partnered with STATS to have them set up their SportVU player tracking cameras in all 29 NBA arenas.
This has allowed teams and coaching staffs to access stats that were never previously available.
“We are a league driven by data, and our expanded partnership with STATS provides our teams and fans with access to uncover groundbreaking statistics,” said Steve Hellmuth, NBA Executive Vice President of Operations and Technology, in an interview with NBA.com.
“In this new era of statistical information, SportVU will be an invaluable resource for basketball executives and our passionate fans,” he said.
Did you know, for example, that while Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard led all playoff players in total rebounds, he only gathered 69% of his rebounds per rebounding opportunity?
Compare this to Lebron James, who is fifth in total rebounds in the playoffs but first in rebounds per opportunity. James boasts a rebound per chance percentage of 78%.
Why does this matter? Well, it means that Howard’s high rebounding totals are a bit misleading. Even though he’s number one, Howard could actually improve on his total rebounds statistic.
Rebound-per-chance percentage is just one of the informative statistics fans can now access on the NBA.com/Stats page, which is powered by SportVU software.
SportVU works by using six cameras installed in the catwalks of every NBA arena. These cameras click 25 times per second, recording the movements of every player, including speed, distance, player separation and ball possession.
Teams have added analytics departments and experts to make basketball sense of the data.
“The data will be there for every team to use however it wants — including making mistakes,” wrote ESPN’s Dean Oliver. “Decisions will continue to be made, some using ‘gut,’ some using data and the best ones using the right blend of both.”
Regardless of how the coaches use the information to make decisions, SportVU-generated statistics help tell the whole story behind which individual players are performing well and how they fill important gaps on their team.
Curry may score 35 points in a game. But who got the offensive rebound that lead to him hitting a big three? Which of his teammates has run a full mile further than everyone else and might need more rest time in the third quarter?
Here are five stats that highlight the inside story as the Warriors and Cavaliers duke it out in the finals:
Percentage of Rebounds Per Chance
Lebron James has been outstanding during the playoffs, rebounding the ball at every chance. But rebounds are not created equal. Stats help measure if this “chance” is won by gritty hard-fought rebounds or happenstance (“cheap”) rebounds.
Leandro Barbosa, a shooting guard for the Warriors, is the fastest player in the Finals, with an average speed of 4.5 mph.
This type of analysis was anecdotal before, but the ability to quantify it is extremely valuable for coaches and staff when scouting opponents, because they can quantify how much a player pushes the ball on a fast break and what to expect when they are on the court.
Field Goal Percentage on Drives
Knowing a stat like this helps reveal a player’s tendencies and his mindset in approaching an opposing defense.
Shaun Livingston leads the Warriors and Cavs in field goal percentage on drives, shooting a remarkable 70% on drives to the hoop.
By tracking his movement and successful shot attempts within a few feet of the basket, the Cavs can limit Livingston’s impact by forcing him to shoot jumpers and not biting when he pump fakes.
Points Per Touch
It’s one thing to be a high scorer. But it’s another to score efficiency with as little effort and lost opportunities as possible.
This is what points per touch (really more accurately described as points per possession) calculates. It’s crucial for evaluating players’ ability to score without requiring a large slice of the team’s overall offensive pie.
And it’s not Curry or James who are their team’s most efficient scorers in the Finals. The Warriors’ Klay Thompson earns this title.
He scores .418 points per touch. James, by comparison, scores .28 points per touch.
Distance Traveled Per 48 Minutes
This is one of the most important stats to come out of the SportVU technology. When coaches know how far their players have traveled in a game, they can better track fatigue and limit minutes and mileage.
This helps teams avoid preventable injuries like muscle cramps and soft tissue strains that can be deadly in a seven game series.
By combining a player’s distance traveled over 48 minutes with average speed and overall distance traveled per each game, training staffs and coaches can also know when a player is exerting maximum effort compared to previous distance and speed statistics.
This helps a training and coaching staff know if a player is tired, injured or just unmotivated. This type of information can even go beyond the court and start to play into contract negotiations.
This could be the ultimate game changer. When this technology originally came on the scene in 2013, Grantland’s basketball expert, Zach Lowe, described it this way:
“Imagine a player entering the final year of his rookie-scale contract and his agent beginning contract talks only to hear a team official open with something like, ‘Our camera data shows you really don’t hustle in the fourth quarter. Your running speed slows down. You just stand around instead of going for rebounds. These are some of the reasons we are offering you only $7 million per year.’”
Photo credit for featured image: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images