Welcome to the future, everyone. Starting next season, each NBA team will be using SportVU cameras that only 15 teams used last year. The Boston Celtics were one of the 15 teams that installed the technology.
SportVU is a tracking based technology that is able to keep track of everything that happens on the floor. These cameras know where the players are, the ball positioning, how many times the ball is dribble, and they even track where the officials are when they make calls. SportVU was founded in Israel in 2005 and was purchased by STATS, LLC in 2008.
For a more in-depth demonstration of what these cameras can do, I highly recommend that you take a look at this Zach Lowe piece on the Toronto Raptors and how they put their cameras to use last season.
Grantland broke the news today that every team in the league would carry the $100,000 equipment. The cameras will be installed in each of the league’s 29 arenas. Here’s a bit more info on it:
Subscribing teams have used the data to get at some of basketball’s deepest questions — how many players should crash the offensive glass; where missed shots actually fall after hitting the rim; the best strategies for defending various players in the pick-and-roll; how each player should approach transition defense in specific situations; and many, many others. The possibilities, big and small, are basically endless. Reports released by STATS include information on how fast players run, how often they dribble, how far they run during games, which players touch the ball at the elbow most often, and which players drive from the perimeter to the basket most often.
The cameras cost about $100,000 per year, and the expense is one reason 15 teams hadn’t yet subscribed. Some of those teams were waiting in hopes the NBA would foot the bill, and the league has apparently decided to do so sooner than many of those teams expected. Installing the cameras in all 30 arenas will expand the data to include every game played, providing teams with a more complete and reliable data set. It also raises the possibility of the league using statistical nuggets from the cameras during television broadcasts. A few teams have used in-game data at halftime to show players specific examples of things like rebounds they didn’t contest aggressively, or evidence they weren’t running as hard as usual. A few more will likely do the same next season.
This should liven up some of the broadcasts that we watch in the NBA and it will definitely make for some interesting research papers at the Sloan Sports Conference next year. With the cameras now in all 29 arenas instead of only 15 of them, the sample size for data will now dramatically increase. We’ll get more consistency with the data and sabermetrics will take off because of it.
Even for those of you who don’t like advanced stats but love basketball, this should make you excited because you’ll get to learn more about your favorite players. We can answer questions like “What does Rondo look for when he passes?” or “How many dribbles does it take Jeff Green to get up the floor on the fastbreak?”
Your favorite player’s tendencies now become accessible to you because of this data. This is a glorious day for the future of basketball.