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Did You Know the NBA Is Using Missile-Tracking Cameras? Here's Why (And It's Not What You Think)


"...entering into the equation data no one had before."

Technology first developed for tracking missiles is now being used by the NBA. As of right now, only 10 teams in the leage are using it, but this year four of them made it to the playoffs and one of them made it into the finals.

Fast Company profiles this technology -- SportVU -- calling it "Moneyball 2.0." If you're unfamiliar with the reference, it refers to the true story turned Brad Pitt 2011 drama of the Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, who hired a man to use analytics to help him pick players best suited to actually help win baseball games.

SportVU uses analytics to track each players' shots, passes and running patterns. As Fast Company points out, SportVU can tell you not just a player's shooting average, but "his shooting average after dribbling one vs. two times, or his shooting average with a defender three feet away vs. five feet away."

SportVU and other analytic cameras and software like Sportvision have the Moneyball-like ability to potentially change the how sport is "coached, to how it’s recruited--even to how we calculate a player’s worth."

Still, even with the Moneyball comparison, Fast Company states this mindset sells the technology short:

“What’s interesting about the Moneyball analogy is that they were using data everybody else had and putting a new twist on it," says Brian Kopp, a vice president at Stats, the company that owns SportVU. "We’re doing that, but also entering into the equation data no one had before. It’s almost Moneyball Plus.” Stats pretty much owns the IP on player stats across sports. Whether it’s the NBA or the NFL that you’re reading about on ESPN or CBS, all those player metrics are being provided by Stats (which is oddly enough, half owned by News Corp and AP). And what they don’t track themselves, they license exclusively from the pro sports themselves.

But technology has been getting smarter. A few years back, Stats realized the importance securing the future technologies in stats tracking, so they acquired an Israeli company called SportVU, that had already repurposed military tracking technology for use in international soccer. “It was an offensive and defensive play,” Kopp says. “The defensive was, another company could automate what we did. The offensive was, we can collect all sorts of new data.”

Simultaneously, this shifted Stats’ relationship with the industry overnight. Whereas they’d once paid leagues for their data, Stats began approaching the teams themselves to supply it.

An example of where SportVU can come into play, according to Fast Company, is with assists. It explains that assists are usually attributed to the person who passes the ball to the person who then scores next. But what if the person doesn't score, even though good passes are being made? As Fast Company puts it: What if the best passer in the world is on a team of people who can’t shoot?

In this case, analytics like SportVU can identify these players who may be better suited for teams with good shooters but would otherwise be overlooked because they were never getting official assists.

The SportVU technology is currently only used by the NBA but the company is looking into modifications for the NFL as well.

Read more about the technology and its analytics capability here.

(H/T: Popular Science)

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