2018-12-06

How Big Data Is Transforming the NBA (video)

How data transformed the NBA

The Economist (economist.com) video above published Dec 4, 2018:
NBA teams are changing the way they play basketball. The Houston Rockets, who boast stars like James Harden, have used data analytics to help them become championship contenders in recent seasons.
An invisible powerful force is lifting professional basketball to new heights, transforming how this multibillion-dollar sport is played and, crucially how to win. In elite sport the difference between success and failure is often the finest of margins. The Houston Rockets are one of the top teams in NBA basketball. They boast some of the sport's biggest stars, including the NBA's most valuable player in 2018.
In the past decade the Rockets have risen from mid-table mediocrity to serious NBA championship contenders. But it's not just big names that have fueled this dramatic ascent - it's big data.
The Rockets recent success owes much to their pioneering decision to start crunching data about every aspect of their game - and this is the man responsible. Computer scientist Daryl Morey is the sport's foremost data and statistics guru among NBA bosses. Ten years ago Daryl set out to find that winning formula. The Rockets were one of four NBA teams to install a pioneering video tracking system which mined raw data from games. What they discovered changed the way teams try to win. 
In the 1990s, long two-point shots from just inside the three-point line were common but Darryl's data analysis showed that statistically these shots provided the worst return.
In the 2017-18 season the Rockets made more three-pointers than any other team in NBA history and this was a major reason they won more games than any of their rivals. 
Professor Rajiv Masheswaran co-founded Second Spectrum (secondspectrum.com), The analytics company gathers and codes a vast range of increasingly granular data for all 30 NBA teams. Cameras now track and record 3D spatial data for every player and ball movement at 25 frames per second. Machine learning technology uses this huge volume of data to produce interactive visualizations allowing teams to analyze the minutiae of their performances and achieve marginal gains on court.
There is a particular focus on all important data around player movement and the probability of making a shot. Qualitative data analysis has even changed the type of players that successful teams like the Rockets have players today are on average leaner and more agile. When it comes to recruiting new players from the college draft each season, poring over data on player performance has given the Rockets a winning edge. Basketball has constantly changed but it's about to enter a brave new world where data could be courtside in the hands of coaches, helping to swing a game as it happens.


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