Technology Is a Game Changer for the NBA

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As a new season approaches, solutions such as data analytics, mobile apps, and augmented and virtual reality are proving a slam dunk for basketball.

When Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors takes a pull-up 3-point shot in the team’s season-opening game on October 16, he’ll be unleashing what ESPN writer Kevin Pelton has identified as “the most important shot in the NBA.”

For decades in the past, most attempts taken off the dribble behind the NBA’s 3-point line — at 23 feet, 9 inches — were considered terrible shots. Coaches implored shooters to get closer to the basket and decried long-distance shots off the dribble as reckless. But more comprehensive statistics show that Curry (perhaps the most proficient shooter in NBA history) scores on average 1.09 points every time he shoots a pull-up 3. That’s significantly higher than the leaguewide average of 1.027 points per shot, according to Pelton, and it yields an efficiency that requires defenses to account for Curry more closely than nearly every other player in the NBA.

This attention opens up opportunities for other Warriors to score more easily (leading analysts such as Pelton to extol the shot’s importance). Other great shooters, such as James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers have also made the pull-up 3 a weapon rather than a liability.

Detailed analyses of pull-up 3-pointers (and every other shot) are changing the way observers – everyone from grizzled coaches to couch-bound fans – see the NBA.

The ability to analyze action on the floor for insights (such as the value of a shot that coaches for years thought was a mistake) has been fostered by the emergence of technologies such as SportVU, a camera system (developed by a company named STATS) that shoots 25 frames per second and feeds into data analytics solutions. This and other technologies are having a major impact on every aspect of the sport.

When the NBA regular season begins this week, technology will play a role in how coaches break down the game, how players prepare for competition, how teams do business and even how fans see the action.

Advanced Analytics Enter the Court
The installation of SportVU cameras in every arena in the NBA (the first major sports league in the U.S. to make a major investment in motion tracking technology) has had a major influence on analysis of the action. The cameras track every movement of every player on the court for every game, delivering data such as how fast players move, how many passes they make and what kinds of shots they take.

This has enabled the league to develop statistics that have never been possible before, information that helps teams determine which players perform more effectively and which strategies work better. It also helps the league scrutinize the performance of referees and provides deeper engagement with fans.

“We are a league driven by data, and our expanded partnership with STATS provides our teams and fans with access to uncover groundbreaking statistics,” Steve Hellmuth, NBA executive vice president of media operations and technology, said in a league press release. “In this new era of statistical information, SportVU will be an invaluable resource for basketball executives and our passionate fans.”

Teams Shoot for Better Games with VR and AR
The NBA also is incorporating virtual reality and augmented reality technology into various operations. AR and VR solutions can help players improve their games and help teams improve their relationships with fans.

The Washington Wizards have been at the forefront of player training with VR. The team uses VR headsets to help players work on the mental aspects of the game. For example, reserve center Ian Mahinmi used a VR application to work on his free-throw shooting. A career 61-percent foul shooter, Mahinmi improved to 70 percent last season and has shot at an 87-percent clip from the foul line during this preseason.

The NBA also has used AR to engage fans, launching an NBA AR app in October 2017. The app, which is available for both iPhone and Android devices, includes 360 Portals, a feature that allows fans to experience significant moments from the 2018 NBA Playoffs and Finals.

“360 Portals will bring NBA fans behind the scenes and onto the court, providing a new way to experience the game through augmented reality,” said Melissa Rosenthal Brenner, NBA executive vice president of digital media, in a press release.

As the 2018-2019 season gets under way, technology will play an important role in nearly every facet of the game.

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