Big Data meets big-time basketball

Sports   |   
Published May 18, 2014   |   
Troy Wolverton

Not long ago, if the Los Angeles Clippers had wanted to figure out how to best defend Warriors star guard Steph Curry, they might have sent a scout to a game or watched video clips. For their recent first-round playoff matchup, they had another way.

As of this year, every NBA team has access to sophisticated tracking data that can tell them the position of the ball and every player on the court for every second of every game of the season. The data, provided by a system of cameras developed by a company called SportVU and installed in every NBA arena, is starting to revolutionize professional basketball, influencing everything from game strategy and player conditioning to how fans interact with the sport.

“It’s a real game changer,” said Ben Alamar, a professor of sport management at Menlo College in Atherton who works as a consultant to the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. “It’s allowing us to ask questions that we really couldn’t ask before.”

The NBA’s new camera system is only the latest example of the power and pervasiveness of big data — the collection of large sets of small tidbits of information to explore everything from the farthest stars to individual consumer desires.

“All sports are at that point where, like in a lot of businesses, they’re using a lot of (data) to make better decisions,” said Brian Kopp, senior vice president for sports solutions at Stats, a Chicago-based sports data company. “Basketball is pushing the front edge of that conversation.”

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