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October 21, 2013

The NBA’s Newest Data Collection Technology Ready For Action

Isaac Lopez

As the NBA season kicks into gear, the league is set to debut its newest big data upgrade aimed at getting fans more involved in the intricacies of the sport and driving added interest. The upgrade will come in the form of a new video tracking technology that will quantify every movement made during a game.

The new technology, called SportVU, essentially amounts to a sophisticated camera system with algorithms that give the cameras the ability to track player motions and drive an unprecedented stream of new data into NBA databases. Originally used in missile tracking, the advanced camera technology was retrofitted to be used as a sophisticated player tracking technology by STATS, LLC. 

The system consists of six cameras and proprietary software that measures everything from speed, distance, player separation, and a myriad of other stats that can be used for in depth analytics by team managers. The new data stream will be used to augment data that is already being collected and presented for fans on the website (which coincidentally is run by SAP’s HANA in-memory real-time analytics engine).

According to pop-sports site Grantland, the technology, which costs about $100,000 per year for an installation, has already been in use by 15 teams in the league tracking all the X-Y coordinates of games for internal analysis. To this end, these teams are reaching new levels of technology sophistication to take advantage of the new streams of data.

Per Grantland:

The [Toronto] Raptors’ analytics team wrote insanely complex code that turned all those X-Y coordinates from every second of every recorded game into playable video files. The code can recognize everything — when a pick-and-roll occurred, where it occurred, whether the pick actually hit a defender, and the position of all 10 players on the floor as the play unfolded. The team also factored in the individual skill set of every NBA player, so the program understands that Chris Paul is much more dangerous from midrange than Rajon Rondo, and that Roy Hibbert is taller than Al Horford.

While player analytics may prove to be a big part of how this advanced technology deployment is used, it appears that referee tracking may be part of the impetus to take the technology from the spot implementation it had seen previously, and expanding it across the entire league.

In a recent follow-on article, Grantland notes that

The cameras represent the most precise way to grade the three on-court officials based on how consistently and early they get into the league’s three set positions — called “lead,” “slot,” and “trail” — and whether they make appropriate calls from those positions based on their exact sight lines. This is the next stage in seeing which officials are the best, and thus deserving of high-stakes assignments, and in quantifying that in ways that are hard to dispute. “We will use whatever data and means we can to improve our referees,” says Steve Hellmuth, the NBA’s executive vice president of operations and technology. “The refs haven’t been tracked before. Now for the first time, they will be.”

The new SportVU installation will presumably feed its data into the already installed SAP HANA implementation that the basketball league uses to power the statistics on its website. The league installed the real-time data platform over the last offseason, delivering an enhanced statistical outlay, giving fans access to real time game stats, as well as statistics going back through its entire history.

The SportVU technology will be in action next week when the 2013-2014 NBA season kicks off on Tuesday, October 29th.

Related items:

Playing Stadium Tycoon with HANA and Hadoop 

Giving Big Data a Sporting Chance 

Big Data in the Big Game