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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2012 2:55 pm 

Joined: Mon Feb 16, 2004 10:18 am
Posts: 13774
Location: boston
Redoing thread idea done last year.. ... more-15838

Importance of space in NBA analysis
MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference | Comments

BOSTON ג€” Twenty-seven NBA teams are represented at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, easily a record and the latest evidence that your team has fallen behind if it isnג€™t at least tinkering with advanced stats, data plotting, visual tracking, cutting-edge models to deconstruct the impact of fatigue on a player, and much, much more.

Visual tracking is among the most intriguing of such technologies. Ten of the leagueג€™s 30 teams have now fully invested in a high-tech multicamera system, created by STATS LLC, that allows them to track every movement on the court ג€” of players, ball and officials ג€” in precise ways.

Analyzing space in a sophisticated way is one of the next crucial areas of NBA statistical development. Basketball is a spatial game in ways you donג€™t easily notice unless you re-watch film. Shooters create openings for teammates just by standing on the court. Non-shooters close those openings, but the smart ones, such as Shawn Marion, figure out how to use the space defenders give them to create other openings that didnג€™t exist before.

Defenders who operate well ג€” and in unison with their teammates ג€” in open space can close gaps that inferior defenders donג€™t anticipate. Watch the way Nick Collison, for instance, slides off his man at the elbow to close off passing or cutting lanes before they come open. Or watch how the Dirk Nowitzki, an allegedly weak defender, slides just a few feet up from the baseline to help cut off a driving lane without moving too far so as to be unable to recover to his original position in time.

Quantifying stuff like this is very difficult, and it involves a huge combination of manpower and tech power. But teams that do it sooner ג€” and more thoroughly ג€” will learn interesting things.

All of this brings me to a research paper presented Friday that seeks to find the leagueג€™s best shooter. Harvard professor Kirk Goldsberry did this first and foremost by trying to quantify space. He took the section of the court from which about 98 percent of field goals are attempted ג€” roughly a few feet behind the three-point line and in ג€” and divided it into 1,284 squares, each comprising exactly 1 square foot. He then examined all field-goal attempts from the 2005-06 season through the 2010-11 season, placed each one of the 700,000 qualifying shots within one of those 1,284 squares and went about asking two questions:

1. Who has attempted at least one shot from the greatest number of squares? In other words: Who is confident he can score from basically everywhere?

2. Who can actually score efficiently from the largest number of those areas? For this second question, Goldsberry crunched the numbers to find every square from which a shooter averaged at least one point per shot attempt over those six seasons. He used points per attempt rather than raw shooting percentage to properly account for the higher degree of difficulty ג€” and the higher point value ג€” of three-point shots.

The answers are both surprising and unsurprising. The player who has attempted at least one shot from the greatest number of those 1,284 squares? Kobe Bryant, who has jacked shots from 1,071 of them, better than 83 percent. Dwight Howard, not surprisingly, has attempted shots from only about one quarter of those squares. The rest of the top 10 after Bryant consists of eight wing players with range and one power forward. The wing players, in order from top to bottom: LeBron James, Vince Carter, Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala, Ray Allen, Kevin Durant and Danny Granger.

The outlier? Clevelandג€™s Antawn Jamison, who has attempted shots from more squares than all but five of the above players. It makes sense, when you think about his combination of three-point range and awkward flip shots.

But does Jamison actually shoot efficiently from a lot of those places? Does he hit the one-point-per-possession minimum that Goldsberry used to find the players who shoot most effectively from the most squares?

The leagueג€™s top shooter, by this second measure, is Steve Nash. The Sunsג€™ point guard hit the one-point-per-possession minimum from 406 of 1,284 squares, or 31.6 percent, during this six-season span. Allen is next, with 386 qualifying squares, followed by Bryant at 383. Bryantג€™s presence here is a reminder that despite his occasional selfishness and questionable shot selection, he remains a prodigious and varied scorer the likes of which we rarely see.

Three names appear on this efficiency top 10 that did not appear in the shot distribution top 10: Paul Pierce, Nowitzki and Rashard Lewis. The first two are not surprising. Pierce and Nowitzki are fantastic shooters, and Pierce has gotten more efficient from three-point range since the Celtics surrounded him with All-Star teammates in Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo.

But Lewis? If you watched him in Orlando regularly, you saw that he was a bit more than a spot-up three-point gunner even in a system that essentially asked him to be a spot-up three-point gunner. He has a nifty post game that he can use against smaller players, and he loves to work with his back to the basket from the left baseline. Still, Lewisג€™ appearance in the No. 5 slot on this list is surprising, even if the database includes his last two seasons in Seattle, where he worked as a more traditional all-around scorer.

Also a mild surprise: Gay, checking in at No. 9. Read a piece of data like this, and you can see why Memphis has real hope that the 25-year-old forward can emerge as a legitimate scoring star.

Again, this paper is just the tip of what is being discussed here in terms of space and basketball. Another paper looks at hundreds of thousands of rebounds to see where they go, who snares them and how high the ball is off the floor when someone finally grabs it. One little nugget from that paper: It appears the conventional wisdom that corner three-point attempts are more likely to rebound over the opposite side of the rim is incorrect. Corner threes have a seemingly random rebound distribution, like any other three-point shot.

Another tidbit: Mid-range shots are least likely among all shot attempts to result in an offensive rebound. That makes some intuitive sense. Shots taken near the rim tend to fall close by, where lots of big men, including the original shooter, can pursue them. And three-point shots, with the speed they gain in the air, really do seem to result in longer rebounds that offensive players are more likely to get. But the decline in offensive rebounding rate for mid-range shots is larger than weג€™d expect, a conclusion that could lead a coach to minimize such attempts even more.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 13, 2012 1:47 am 

Joined: Mon Feb 16, 2004 10:18 am
Posts: 13774
Location: boston ... ba-history

How the Starks dunk changed NBA history
March, 12, 2012
By Beckley Mason

John Starks posterized Horace Grant, but that isn't even half the story

After winning 60 games and the top seed in the East, the 1992-93 Knicks were still underdogs when they met the two-time defending champion Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. New York guard John Starks had been an underdog his entire improbable career, but found himself with the ball and a chance to take a commanding 2-0 series lead over the champs.

With 50 seconds left in Game 2, Starks dribbled on the right wing as Patrick Ewing rushed over to set a screen intended to spring Starks into the middle of the court. But instead of using the screen, Starks hesitated, feinted middle then exploded into the wide open space along the baseline. Bulls forward Horace Grant rotated to meet him outside the paint but arrived a step late. Starks gathered off of two feet and rocketed into the rafters of Madison Square Garden to deliver a violent left-handed flush that dislodged Grantג€™s goggles and the sanity of Knicks fans everywhere. For good measure, Michael Jordan appeared in the poster to futilely swipe at the ball as Starks flew by.

Nothing and everything made sense; Starks was up, Jordan was down. The rim-rattling dunk shook the basketball world to its core.

Over on the New York bench, a young assistant was startled -- not by the outrageous dunk, but by a strange mutation in Chicagoג€™s pick-and-roll defense. What Jeff Van Gundy saw on that play would change the series, and inform the evolution of NBA defense over the next 20 years.

ג€œThat was the first time, late in the fourth quarter, that I had ever seen in the NBA any team force the ball to the baseline in the side pick-and-roll,ג€ says Van Gundy.

ג€œI know they werenג€™t well-coordinated and thatג€™s what led to that dunk, but I think it turned the series around for them.ג€

The Bulls' defense had adapted right in front of the world and almost no one noticed. Though the adjustment led to an iconic moment for their opponents, the Bulls continued to use this new coverage on side pick-and-rolls to dismantle the Knicks, and particularly Starks, who averaged more than six turnovers in four straight losses while his scoring and assist averages plummeted.

NBA defenses built off of this moment over the next 20 years, and todayג€™s Chicago Bulls, coached by defensive genius Tom Thibodeau, are the finest example how this simple idea has evolved into a devastating strategy for defending pick-and-rolls.

On every pick-and-roll, the Bulls send the ball handler away from the middle of the court. On side pick-and-rolls, that means forcing the ball down to the baseline, where the offenseג€™s options quickly diminish.

A detailed examination of the Bulls' pick-and-roll philosophy gets pretty granular pretty quickly, but the guiding principle is dictating where the ball handler can go -- or more fundamentally, canג€™t go -- and loading up the help defense accordingly.

Against Starks and the 1993 Knicks, Horace Grant was a step or two late. But todayג€™s Bulls, aided by altered illegal defense rules that allow for Thibodeauג€™s signature strong side zone defense, are virtually always on time.

The history of NBA strategy is a conversation, or argument, between styles. Chuck Dalyג€™s Bad Boy Pistons were a response to Pat Rileyג€™s Showtime Lakers. While Thibodeau, then an assistant with Van Gundy in Houston, was designing defenses to chew up pick-and-rolls, current Knicks coach Mike Dג€™Antoniג€™s spread pick-and-roll offense provided the counterargument.

The goal of Thibodeauג€™s pick-and-roll coverages is to ג€œkeep the ball on the strong side to limit how much the weak side has to help and protect, so youג€™re not getting caught up in long rotations,ג€ according to Van Gundy.

Not coincidentally, those long rotations and closeouts are precisely what Dג€™Antoniג€™s offense is designed to create. In fact, Van Gundy credits the system Dג€™Antoni developed in Phoenix with helping to advance defensive schemes around the league: ג€œThe high pick-and-roll with Phoenix with four shooters and Stoudemire rolling to the rim made it so you couldnג€™t show,ג€ meaning the help-and-recover schemes teams had been using for years simply werenג€™t tight enough to prevent Phoenix, with their extra shooter (the now endemic Stretch Big Man) from getting wide open looks.

At its maddening best, Dג€™Antoniג€™s offense generates wide swaths of space around the paint by stationing three shooters around a pick-and-roll involving a dynamic ball handler and an aggressively rolling big man.

During New York's magical seven-game winning streak in February, Jeremy Lin, Tyson Chandler and sweet-shooting Steve Novak perfectly embodied these roles. Not pictured: Carmelo Anthony and (for the most part) Amare Stoudemire.

But since returning their full complement of players, the Knicks have struggled, winning just three of their last 11 games. It comes as no surprise that the Knicks are also running far fewer pick-and-rolls.

The outlook is gloomy in Gotham, but remember that Euro-influenced drive-and-kick offenses that spread the floor with multiple attacking wings has historically been as successful as any against Thibodeau defenses. The Orlando Magic bounced the Celtics from the 2009 playoffs (while Thibodeau was the defensive assistant) with that strategy, and the Knicks have enough versatile scorers to exploit the Bulls' defensive rotations.

But to do that, to overcome Chicagoג€™s strong-side pressure, the Knicks must adhere to the space and movement principals of Dג€™Antoniג€™s system. They must keep the ball whipping around the perimeter, with either the dribble or the pass. Holding the ball, even to fake, and even when the fake is effective, only allows Chicagoג€™s help defenders time to get in position.

This is one of the few NBA games in which the name on the front of the jersey matters nearly as much as those on the back. There's a historical backdrop of bad blood, but tonight also puts a fine point on a broader philosophical conversation between Dג€™Antoni's spread offense, at its best the most productive system yet developed, and Thibodeauג€™s league-leading defense.

The echo from that roaring Starks dunk along the baseline can be heard throughout this game, in the howls of its passionate fans, and the tactical grappling of its coaches and players.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue May 22, 2012 7:07 pm 

Joined: Mon Feb 16, 2004 10:18 am
Posts: 13774
Location: boston
naturalborn103 wrote:
Special plays
Abbott By Henry Abbott

On Hardwood Paroxysm Ian Levy has pretty pictures of teams' most effective plays, compared to how often they run them. Some lessons:

Cutting big men: Nice if you can get 'em

The first thing you notice is that big men cutting are most teams' most efficient plays. Fantastic.

But that's only so useful. By the time a big man catches the ball on his way to the hoop, the defense is already in dire straits.

In other words, "really easy plays when the defense is broken and the ball's in the paint" are good. But of course, most teams can't decide to run that play every time down. It's simply not available without the defense cooperating. Those plays are rare even on the most efficient teams.

Too much Kobe Bryant

The Lakers have some plays that they use way more than they evidently should. The first is (surprise!) Kobe Bryant isolations. Levy writes:

Of the Lakersג€™ five most productive offensive outcomes, none occurred more than 200 times on the season. Meanwhile nearly 1,100 Lakersג€™ offensive possessions were used by Kobe Bryant in either isolations, post-ups, or pick-and-rolls. The offensive efficiency the Lakers received from those possessions fell in between what they got from Metta World Peace in the post (0.84 ppp) and Ramon Sessions in the pick-and-roll (0.88 ppp).

Ouch. (Note: Ian is a very nice man, and he's telling nothing but the truth. Please be kind.)

Not enough Kobe Bryant

Here's the thing, though: Those 1,100 or so inefficient Bryant plays Levy spoke of? Those are the ones -- isolation, post-ups, as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, where Bryant gets the ball and then the action begins. Those are the plays where Bryant is in total control. Those are from the "in my teammates I do not trust" playbook.

Those are also the plays where the defense gets to say "oh, look, there goes Kobe doing his thing, let's load up on that."

However, the Lakers' best plays? Many of them are Bryant too. But they're Bryant relying on team actions to get him the ball where he can be more effective.

Look at Levy's charts! Bryant spotting up: Fantastic! Bryant coming off a screen: Among the team's best plays.

Those are plays where neither Bryant, nor the defense, can be sure Bryant will get the ball. Both struggle with that uncertainty.

Meanwhile, when Phil Jackson unloaded in his book on Bryant's over-reliance on his own scoring abilities, he didn't specifically complain that Bryant shot too much. He complained that he craved too much control, for instance by breaking plays to catch the inbound pass late in games, instead of working team actions to try to get somebody, Bryant or otherwise, open.

Bryant wouldn't work off the ball like Jackson -- and, now we learn, efficiency statistics -- demand.

Too much Andrew Bynum in the post

The Lakers' other play that seems to be run more than can be justified by its efficiency, is Andrew Bynum in the post. It is the Lakers' most common playtype, but their ninth most efficient.

These statistics all come from Synergy Sports Technology, where you can watch video of those plays.

Here's an informed guess, after watching lots of Bynum video for a post last week: All Bynum post-ups are not created equal. When he catches the ball close to the hoop, he is deadly. But he is not averse to catching the ball with a man on his back 15 feet or further from the hoop. And there, things don't look nearly as fluid. The spin move that, from good position, would have led to a chop shot, now ends with a spinning, off-balance big man deciding between dribble-probe and jumper, neither of which is a specialty.

Bad Bynum post-ups bring no joy at all. The good ones, though ...

The power of open shooters

The Spurs ended the regular season with the most efficient offense in basketball.

Their most common playtype was Tony Parker handling the ball in the pick-and-roll. That is no surprise at all. But would you believe that Richard Jefferson, Danny Green, Matt Bonner, Gary Neal and Kawhi Leonard spotting up were all more efficient per possession?

What I'm getting at there is: Look at how the Spurs managed to squeeze offensive productivity from inexpensive players. Asking players like that to create doesn't appear to work very well. But asking them to play alongside stars like Parker and Manu Ginobili, and to catch-and-shoot the open jumper ... that just works.

(Side note: One of the Spurs' least efficient options, and most over-used, is Tim Duncan posting up.)

Similarly, the Lakers have been getting excellent productive from Steve Blake and Matt Barnes spotting up.

James Harden, oh my

The Thunder finished the regular season with the league's second-best offense. And while these charts generally make ball-dominant guards look pretty inefficient (Bryant and Parker, for instance) ... Harden is amazing. Three of the Thunder's five most efficient playtypes are Harden , whether spotting up, isolating, or handling the ball in the pick-and-roll. He's a very rare player in that even when he is essentially a ballhog, flying solo, he's still, as the Mavericks will attest, very tough to stop.

That no doubt has a lot to do with the many potent offensive players he plays with. The defense can't just load up on James Harden with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka around. But still -- lots of players have great teammates, and very few produce like this.

I love Harden.. and article above is referencing this post. ... e-geometry

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue May 22, 2012 7:09 pm 

Joined: Mon Feb 16, 2004 10:18 am
Posts: 13774
Location: boston
naturalborn103 wrote:
Sorry to spam this thread, but this is interesting... ... tard-seed/
Kobe Bryant and Faith as Small as a Mustard Seed
ג€œClutchג€ is a pretty hot topic on the basketball Internet these days and the reason is plain: inasmuch as thereג€™s some kind of basketball war going down between the advanced stats-heads and the old school, itג€™s over this notion that when the pressureג€™s on, certain guys are going to make that key shot and certain guys are going to shrink. Exhibit A: Kobe Bryant. Exhibit B: LeBron James.

But this isnג€™t going to be something thatג€™s in defense of either of these approaches, precisely, but rather a look at how the whole idea of the ג€œclutch narrativeג€ influences our understanding of the game as it unfolds. Let us take, for example, last nightג€™s game between the Thunder and the Lakers, a game the Thunder came back to win 103-100, giving them a 3-1 lead in the best of seven series.

Now, after Game 3, a game which the Lakers won and in which Durant missed a long jumper that would have tied it, Bryant had some choice words about how he plays the game, as reported by Yahoo! Sports:

ג€œI donג€™t give a [expletive] what you say,ג€ Bryant told Yahoo! Sports late Friday. ג€œIf I go out there and miss game winners, and people say, ג€˜Kobe choked, or Kobe is seven for whatever in pressure situations.ג€™ Well, [expletive] you.

ג€œBecause I donג€™t play for your [expletive] approval. I play for my own love and enjoyment of the game. And to win. Thatג€™s what I play for. Most of the time, when guys feel the pressure, theyג€™re worried about what people might say about them. I donג€™t have that fear, and it enables me to forget bad plays and to take shots and play my game.ג€

Well, no one ever accused Kobe Bryant of being charming. And thatג€™s not why people who love Kobe Bryant and those who want him to have the ball with the clock winding down think heג€™s great. Itג€™s precisely stuff like the above quotes, which sound great after you win, but less good after you lose. And thatג€™s sort of the funny thing about the whole clutch narrative because it actually isnג€™t predicated on results, despite its insistence on focusing on what really matters and not on numbers. The story of one playerג€™s ability to make the tough shots overwhelms what weג€™re seeing in the moment.

Letג€™s take a look at Bryant in the fourth quarter of Game 4. Again, Iג€™m not out to refute the idea that heג€™s clutch, Iג€™m just trying to point out how the idea that heג€™s clutchג€”an idea that he himself reinforces with quotes like the aboveג€”dictates the way that we and he and his teammates understand his play.
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In the above possession, Bryant backs down James Harden and takes a very difficult turnaround jumper that he misses. The Lakers are up 11 at this point with 8 minutes to go in the game. For future reference, itג€™s important to note that this appears to be a Bryant isolation play from the very beginning, with no activity intended to get any other teammate open or involved. His miss leads to a Jordan Hill rebound which he puts back up and in. (Note that a foul could easily have been called on Hill for clearing Kevin Durant out with his elbow on the rebound. Bryant didnג€™t draw the attention of the defense to allow Hill that rebound.) So Bryant takes the Thunder on on his own with a big lead, misses, and Hill cleans up the mess.
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Three minutes later, with Oklahoma City having cut the deficit to 7, another iso is called for Bryant, again without any kind of secondary action to get teammates open. Bryant sizes Harden up and shoots over him, missing the shot.
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Following a three on the other end to cut it to 94-90, Bryant doesnג€™t use the screen Gasol sets, but instead once again backs Harden down in almost the exact same play as the first clip above. Bryant once again takes a tremendously difficult shot but this time he makes it. But pay some special attention to commentator Kevin Harlanג€™s reaction: ג€œOHH! What a shot by Kobe Bryant!ג€ And thatג€™s a story we understand as the game is unfolding: Bryant is taking command to stave off this Thunder run, taking and making the difficult shots, shots many players might shrink from. As he said the night before after the Laker win, ג€œI donג€™t have that fear, and it enables me to forget bad plays and to take shots and play my game.ג€ He missed that same shot earlier and made a poor shot choice the possession prior, but he can forget that and play his game. Iג€™m less sure his teammates can forget it, though. Already, you can see reticence setting in when the ball comes to Bryant; itג€™s clear that itג€™s ג€œKobe timeג€ now.
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After the Thunder get it back on the other end, Bryant gets it at the top of the arc, takes the screen from Pau Gasol, gets chased over the top by Durant, and then tries to take Durant off the dribble. Durant keeps him in check and with the shot clock winding down he forces up a long jumper that misses badly. Again, the rest of the Lakers basically stop trying to get involved in the play once Bryant gets the ball. Gasol meanders into the paint and Metta World Peace drifts out to the three-point line, but no oneג€™s really trying to get open and why should they? Itג€™s Kobe time.
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With the score still 96-92, Bryant takes Steve Blakeג€™s screen (which Durant easily handles), then drives the lane, missing the shot as he runs into the teeth of the Thunder defense. If you look at this still, you can see that Blake, World Peace, and Gasol are all open:
But theyג€™re not going to get the ball. We donג€™t expect it and they donג€™t expect it. And this is one of the interesting things about this narrative about Kobe being clutch. In the above interview he said ג€œIf I go out there and miss game winners, and people say, ג€˜Kobe choked, or Kobe is seven for whatever in pressure situations.ג€™ Well, [expletive] you.ג€ But heג€™s not shooting game winners hereג€”his play is actively driving the game towards a situation where he will have to hit a game winner. And if he does, heג€™ll be the one who took on the pressure, who doesnג€™t give a [expletive] what you think about how he plays.
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With the Thunder down by two, Durant gets the ball with Bryant defending him. This is a good matchup for Durant with his back to the basket since heג€™s got a couple inches on Bryant. He backs him down, Bryant reaches, Durant spins baseline and Gasol canג€™t close out. Itג€™s a smart, savvy play that shows off Durantג€™s growing comfort with his back to the basket. Itג€™s a much better shot than the one Bryant pulled off over Harden and yet thereג€™s no reaction from the commentators. Durantג€™s play was just good basketball, while Bryantג€™s was a circus shot that reinforces the story about his stone-cold clutchness. But now the game is tied and what does Bryant do? He takes the quick screen from Gasol and launches a three that clanks off the back rim.

Hereג€™s the key possession that decides the game, where Gasol turns the ball over on a bad pass:
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Now Iג€™m not absolving Gasol of blame here; he makes a bad play when he gets the ball by trying to throw that pass. But thereג€™s also been nothing in every play leading up to this one that would make anyone believe Bryantג€™s going to give that ball up. Any other player getting doubled up like that might pass out of it, but Bryantג€™s already shown in previous possessions that heג€™s taking it on himself to score. Maybe Gasol was ready for the pass in something more than just a pro forma way, but his reaction and decision to pass seems to indicate that maybe he was taken a little off guard.

And whatג€™s his reward for turning it over? Bryantג€™s misplaced trust in him is revoked on the next possession. With the Thunder up 101-98, Bryant again takes a screen from Gasol but itג€™s just clear thereג€™s no way Gasol is getting the ball again, not even with this much space:
A few more Bryant misses and that was all she wrote. Bryant went 2-10 in the fourth and his postgame comments were considerably less cocky. ג€œIt was a bad read on Pauג€™s part,ג€ he said. ג€œPau has got to be more assertive; heג€™s got to be more aggressive.ג€ Apparently heג€™s not as quick to forget his teammateג€™s bad plays as he is to forget his own.

But in the end, this game doesnג€™t prove that Kobeג€™s not clutch anymore than the win in Game 3 proves that he is. The numbers say one thing, the hordes of admirers (many of whom are smart basketball coaches and analysts) say another. But whether you believe Kobeג€™s rep as a closer is deserved or not, the rep itself can become a dangerous thing in a situation like Game 4. When he starts forcing shots as he did in the fourth quarter, he believes in it, the commentators believe in it, the crowd believes in it, but worst of all, his teammates believe in it. The force of that belief in that moment is stronger than numbers and weirdly, not even failure seems to be able to shake it.

Thereג€™s a reason why the numbers will never convince a true believer in Bryantג€™s clutch credentials and thatג€™s because clutch for them is not an accumulation of shots made versus shots taken but an article of faith. The argument against it is like Smerdyakovג€™s reasoning in a debate from The Brothers Karamazov. In the book, thereג€™s a newspaper story about a Russian soldier being captured and forced ג€œon pain of agonizing death to renounce Christianity and convert to Islam.ג€ He refuses and is killed gruesomely, but Smerdyakov canג€™t understand why this should glorify the soldierג€™s faith.

ג€œ[I]t is said that if you have faith even as the little as the smallest seed and then say unto this mountain that it should go down into the sea, it would go, without the slightest hesitation ג€¦ If at that moment I were to say unto that mountain: ג€˜Move and crush my tormentor,ג€™ it would move and in that same moment crush him like a cockroach, and I would go off as if nothing happened, praising and glorifying God. But if precisely at that moment I tried all that ג€¦ and it didnג€™t crush them, then how, tell me, should I not doubt then, in such a terrible hour of great mortal fear?ג€

To Smerdyakov, miracles should provide evidence that proves faith, but a true believer doesnג€™t see the failure of the mountains to move according to his or her belief as evidence against their faith anymore than those who believe that Bryant is clutch think missing shots is evidence heג€™s not. Itג€™s both the beauty and the difficulty of faith, both its strength and its weakness.

And so one side puts its faith and heart into it, believing itג€™s the most important part of a playerג€™s basketball DNA while the other side tries to show that itג€™s an illusion, a phantom, something that misleads us in our understanding. Heck, maybe the greatest trick the devil ever pulled wasnג€™t convincing the world he didnג€™t exist, but convincing us that clutch does.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue May 29, 2012 4:15 pm 

Joined: Mon Feb 16, 2004 10:18 am
Posts: 13774
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Player tracking transforming NBA analytics

You ever wonder what NBA assistant coaches are scribbling on their clipboards during games?

Theyג€™re taking down stats. But not the stats youג€™ll read in any box score. Theyג€™re logging numbers like touches in the paint, passes per possession, three-pointers off kick-out passes, secondary assists, fouls drawn ג€“- information central to a gameג€™s outcome but not found anywhere near a traditional box score.
This is how itג€™s been for years.

But the stats being tracked by these blazer-wearing NBA lifers -- both during the game and in the film room -- are nothing compared to whatג€™s being done by tiny cameras in the rafters of a number of NBA arenas.

Those cameras are part of a system called SportVU, and it has the potential to change everything we know about analyzing NBA basketball.

ג€œThis is everything weג€™ve been charting, all-encompassing, and so much more, and itג€™s all sortable,ג€ says one Eastern Conference executive. ג€œThis isnג€™t something I ever thought possible.ג€

It was used by ten teams this season -- up from six last year and four in 2009-10 -- and with a third of the league now using SportVU and sharing data with each other, we can begin to draw conclusions about areas of the game previously left up to conventional wisdom.

SportVU tells us, with relative certainty, which player has the fastest top speed in the NBA. It tells us not who scores the most, but who scores the most per touch. It tells us who dribbles the most per game, and who dribbles the most compared to how many shots they take. And thatג€™s just the surface.

If youג€™re wondering, the leaders in those stats -- and many more -- are dispersed throughout the words below.

Some of this dataג€™s useful. Some of it isnג€™t. Some confirms conventional wisdom, some challenges conventional wisdom. But itג€™s all fascinating.


If youג€™re wondering about how serious this system is, know this: This is technology that was originally made for military use. SportVU was created in 2005 by Israeli scientist Miky Tamir, whose background is in missile tracking and advanced optical recognition. He used some of that same science to track soccer matches in Israel, spitting out similar fitness and movement stats now being tracked in the NBA.

The American company STATS purchased SportVU in 2008 and turned its focus to basketball. Soccerג€™s a second-tier sport in America, baseball was already in a statistical revolution of its own and football had too many players and not enough flow (although the leaders at SportVU havenג€™t ruled out pursuing the NFL).

With constant movement, a controlled environment and only 11 moving parts, NBA basketball was perfect.

So STATS, led by vice president of strategy and development Brian Kopp, sought out the most tech-savvy NBA teams for a test run during the 2009-10 season. He convinced the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs to be the systemsג€™ guinea pigs. The next year, the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors jumped in.

This year, ten teamsג€™ arenas were fitted with SportVU: Boston, Golden State, Houston, Milwaukee, Minnesota, New York, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Toronto and Washington. And that number is expected to grow into the teens next year.

How does it work?

There are six computer vision cameras set up along the catwalk of the arena -- three per half court. These cameras are synched with complex algorithms extracting x, y and z positioning data for all objects on the court, capturing 25 pictures per second.

Each picture is time-stamped and automatically processed by a computer, which connects the data to the play-by-play feed and delivers a report within 90 seconds of a play. This is the part of the process the STATS people are so proud of ג€“ the proprietary algorithms in the software, which they call the ICE Platform.

Almost instantly, coaches and stat guys have this information at their disposal on their computer or iPad.

They donג€™t always know what to do with the information -- yet -- but they have it.


Not all players get the same number of rebounding chances, so total rebounding numbers can be misleading. Here are the NBA leaders this season in rebounding percentage, defined as percentage of rebounds gathered when within 3.5 feet of the ball.
Player Rebounds Chances Rebounding percentage
Kevin Durant, Thunder 308 422 73%
Carlos Delfino, Bucks 119 170 70%
Kevin Garnett, Celtics 297 450 66%
Chase Budinger, Rockets 124 189 66%
Marcus Camby, Rockets 157 240 65%


Think of a stat within the boundaries of a game. Seriously. Any stat. Doc Rivers tried. He asked the Celticsג€™ stat guy, Mike Zarren, what the Celticsג€™ offensive efficiency was when Rajon Rondo held the ball for more than five seconds on a possession. At the time, Zarren didnג€™t know. Now he knows.

SportVU tracks every player movement, every pass, every shot, every touch -- everything. At this point, it tracks more information than teams know what to do with. Every executive interviewed for this article agreed they werenג€™t even using 10 percent of the information this system could provide. And they all agreed this is the future of advanced basketball analytics.

Here are a couple facts we learned from SportVU from this season:

* Paul Pierce averaged 4.5 assists this season, which is pretty good for a scoring wing. But that number doesnג€™t tell the whole story. According to SportVU, Pierceג€™s teammates shot a higher percentage after his passes than any other player in the NBA. This shows Pierce is passing at the right time -- heג€™s giving his teammates mostly layups and open shots.

* Nikola Pekovicג€™s breakout season was largely helped by Ricky Rubio. Pekovic made 76 percent of his field goals off Rubio passes, compared to 56.4 percent overall.

* The NBA-wide shooting percentage is significantly higher when the shooter doesnג€™t take any dribbles. This confirms what any basketball observer suspected: ball movement equals offensive success.

How do teams use this information? Well, that depends on the team, depends who you ask and depends what theyג€™ll tell you.

ג€œA lot of this stuff, because itג€™s brand new, they donג€™t want other people to figure out how theyג€™re using it,ג€ Kopp says. ג€œWe know theyג€™re using it, but it varies by team. Everyoneג€™s still figuring out the best way to use it.ג€

Itג€™s competition. The executives interviewed for this story spoke slowly and cautiously, careful not to share anything with the teams trying to beat them.

A Western Conference executive said, frankly, ג€œWe know what weג€™re doing with it, but we donג€™t want other teams to know what that is.ג€

The potential benefits to coaches and observers is apparent, simply by taking a look at what the system can tell us about the basic areas of basketball.

Shooting: Shoulders square. Elbow in. Flick the wrist. Donג€™t force it. Thatג€™s what shooters have always heard from their coaches. With SportVU, coaches can track things like a playerג€™s shooting arc on made shots vs. missed shots, or shooting percentages off the dribble or off the pass (hint: itג€™s always better off the pass). They can learn Shane Battier should only shoot threes from the corner, while Dirk Nowitzki shoots better from the wing and top of the key.

Rebounding: Throughout the history of basketball, the players considered the best rebounders were the players who averaged the most rebounds per game. But that doesnג€™t tell the whole story. What if thereג€™s another elite rebounder on a playerג€™s team hogging all the rebounds? Or what if a guy plays for a bad defensive team that doesnג€™t produce as many missed shots? SportVU allows teams to deeply analyze rebounding by generating never-before-seen stats such as rebounding chances (described as when a player is within 3.5 feet of the ball and, yes, that measurement is exact) and rebounding in traffic (when opponents are within that 3.5 foot circle).

Passing: Itג€™s tough to analyze passers from team-to-team because two players can be in such different situations. Maybe Steve Nash was a better passer than Rajon Rondo in 2012 -- although thatג€™s like picking between the cheerleading captain and dance team captain -- but Rondo has better teammates who hit a higher percentage of their jumpshots, which leads to more Rondo assists. But SportVU provides statistics that give context to assists, such as total passes, secondary assists (if Derrick Rose passes to Joakim Noah who quickly finds a wide-open Carlos Boozer under the hoop for a layup, Rose would receive a secondary assist), and shooting percentage after a particular playerג€™s pass.

Athleticism: Perhaps the most revolutionary part of SportVU is its ability to measure playersג€™ speed and leaping ability within an actual game. It can tell how quickly a player closes out on a shooter, or if heג€™s running full speed down the court. Pace is traditionally measured by the amount of a teamג€™s possessions, but now teams can find out literally how quickly theyג€™re getting the ball up the floor and learn exact time of possession stats.

Fitness: Body language usually tells coaches what they need to know about a playerג€™s fatigue level, but that can be misleading. These days Tim Duncan looks like heג€™s rushing to the front of a nursing home cafeteria line while getting back on defense, but heג€™s still putting up double-doubles and controlling the paint. With SportVU, teams can learn a playerג€™s average speed, so they can judge his fatigue level based on movement, not if there's color in his cheeks. And say a player is coming off a knee injury. Doctors could limit him to running two miles during a game, rather than giving a minute limit, which is a bit ambiguous in terms of how much stress is being put on a knee.

And, again, all of this is in the early stages.

Like when Harvard students were toying with home computers in the early 1980s, thereג€™s no telling where this player tracking technology might take basketball analytics.

A great point guard will often set his teammates up for assists, but the point guard doesn't get credit in the box score because his teammate made the extra pass. Not anymore.
Player GP Secondary assists per game Total assists per game
Rajon Rondo, Celtics 32 1.3 12.4
Jose Calderon, Raptors 31 1.0 10.3
Steve Nash, Suns 11 1.5 10.2
Derrick Rose, Bulls 11 1.7 10.2
Ricky Rubio, T'Wolves 26 0.6 8.6

Many teams have turned Kopp down when he made his pitch.

Some teams donג€™t see a use for it right now. Other teams think itג€™s too expensive (SportVU costs ג€œmid-five figures to low-six figures per year,ג€ Kopp says, or about $8.8 million less than what Lamar Odom made this year). One team, the Mavericks, stopped using SportVU this year to use their own system (which many believe tracks similar data to SportVU, but Dallas wonג€™t share).

But STATS is still meeting and working with the teams it doesnג€™t have.

ג€œThe best thing for me to do is show them data of their own players, and theyג€™ll ask, ג€˜How do you have this?ג€™ג€ Kopp says. ג€œBesides Dallas this year, there hasnג€™t been anybody that said no. Theyג€™ve all said something like, ג€˜Weג€™re not ready yet.ג€™ג€

The ultimate goal -- and wide belief -- is the NBA will purchase the technology and the data will be available to all teams and broadcast networks.

And that could lead to even more changes in how we view basketball.

For instance, the box score. Right now a box score isnג€™t of much use to NBA statheads. Besides the addition of plus-minus and shot attempts blocked, the NBA box score hasnג€™t changed for decades. And simple totals of points, assists, rebounds and the like donג€™t tell the whole story.

Thatג€™s why those assistant coaches are scribbling on their clipboards during games.

When this information becomes widely available, thatג€™s when things will really start changing from the box score to advanced scouting to MVP voting.

ג€œWe need all 30 teams to get a true gauge on some of these statistics,ג€ says Matt Bollero, a basketball operations assistant who works with SportVU for the Timberwolves. ג€œUntil we have 30 teams, we still think weג€™re in the 5-10 percent range of what we could be doing with this. Itג€™s a really neat system and itג€™s really going to change the game. But until we get to that point, itג€™s just a great thing to envision.

At the very least, itג€™s a lot more than what fits on an assistant coachג€™s notepad.


SportVU allows the first-ever tracking of how many miles players run over the course of a game. Here are the players who traveled the farthest per game this season.
Player GP Distance Distance per game
Luol Deng, Bulls 13 35.35 2.72
Rudy Gay, Grizzlies 12 31.63 2.64
Kevin Love, T'Wolves 32 83.23 2.60
Brandon Jennings, Bucks 41 103.68 2.53
David Lee, Warriors 35 88.41 2.53

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