The best thing about the NBA’s summer league in Las Vegas is that everyone is there — players, scouts, executives, agents, writers and hangers-on. The basketball itself often gets lost amid endless opportunities to chat with team employees and others sitting in the reserved sections of the stands at Cox Pavilion and sitting in random places all over the bigger Thomas & Mack Center.
There were also various consultants hanging around, including a group from STATS LLC, the guys who build and sell the fancy tracking camera systems installed now in 10 NBA arenas — with more teams likely to buy in at a low six-figure price before next season. I’ve written about the data the systems provide several times. The cameras track every movement of player, ball and referees, giving teams that subscribe access to a trove of data — player running speeds, how often particular players hit their highest running speeds (Kevin Love blows everyone away by this measure), how often players dribble, shooting accuracy based on how many times a particular player dribbles the ball before firing away, and a million other things. Teams also hope to learn a bit more about fatigue and health via a news STATS partnership, and one unnamed team already found last season that an early injury to a key starter resulted in the other four starters suddenly exerting a lot more energy — sprinting more, and reaching peak cutting speed much more often.
The challenge for teams is going to be sorting all the data, finding the useful bits and then settling on ways to actually make use of it. Some teams are already ahead of others in that regard.
Over the last year, STATS has been kind enough to give SI.com previews of new data as they get it (and as teams, always so secretive, allow STATS to discuss it publicly), and Brian Kopp, a STATS vice-president, visited courtside with me in Las Vegas for a bit during summer league. He showed me a preview of this must-read charting work by Kirk Goldsberry, currently teaching at Harvard, who used the STATS data to chart whether the location of a shot attempt influences the location of the eventual rebound. (Hint: It does, and more than some prior studies suggested. Go read it).
One fun tidbit Kopp shared: Information on the trajectory of three-point shot attempts for some of the league’s high-volume long-range shooters. This strikes me as the kind of data teams would find relevant, depending on what it shows. Is a guy’s trajectory too high? Too low? To line drive-ish? Does it vary more dramatically than average between makes and misses? This is stuff coaches can use to teach and change behavior; coaches have always worked to teach proper mechanics and shot trajectory, often using sophisticated machines that measure shot arc, but the STATS data provides harder numbers — and more of them from in-game situations. Read More…