It’s common for players and coaches to tell reporters how simple basketball is at its core: you move the ball around, and you try to throw it in the basket. They’re oversimplifying things, of course, since any game with 10 men moving in patterns around the floor can be pretty complex to sort out. Sometimes even fundamental decisions are difficult, including: Where should the five guys on a team be when it starts a given offensive possession? Who belongs on which slice of the court?
The Knicks’ wild 2011-12 season provides a window into this question. Charles Oakley can talk all he wants about how Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire need to play better defense – he’s right — but the basic fact that defined New York’s crazy season, and the one that will define its future, is this: New York scored only 98.5 points per 100 possessions with Anthony, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler on the court together. That’s a mark that would have tied Toronto for 25th in points per possession, per NBA.com’s stats tool. The Knicks spent most of the season as one of the league’s 10 worst offensive teams and one of its 10 stingiest defensive teams. If the offense doesn’t improve, especially when all the high-priced stars play together, the Knicks have a limited ceiling.
Last season, New York became one of 10 teams to purchase a multi-camera system from STATS, LLC that tracks every movement in an NBA game — of the players, the ball, the referees, etc. As I’ve written before, you can use it to measure player speed, the height of the ball on a particular rebound, how well a player shoots from a precise position on the floor, how well he shoots after one or two dribbles and lots of other things. Plucking out the useful data and making on-court adjustments based on it will be a giant challenge for the growing number of teams subscribing to a system that provides more information than any one person can handle.
But there is useful data in there, including info that does more than simply confirm what we already know (i.e., Tony Parker is fast, or Kevin Durant shoots better immediately after the catch than he does after a few dribbles). One thing that seems handy to know: How do particular players function when they stand in a certain area, or catch the ball there? And how do their teams function in those situations?