How Data Analytics is Revolutionizing the NBA

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    Feb 1, 2021, 12:43 pm614 pts

    Basketball fans who watch NBA on TNT have no doubt heard plenty about data analytics and how dramatically it has changed the game of basketball over the past decade. Even if you haven't heard any of Chuck Barkley's legendary rants against analytics, Daryl Morey and the Rockets (and you really should, by the way - seeing Shaq's reaction to them is hilarious!) you've probably heard something about this topic whilst listening to game commentary.

    basketball stadium full of fans

    So, what exactly is data analytics in regards to the NBA and the game of basketball? And is it changing the game for the worse, or for the better? We took a deep dive around the web, to see what we could find out about this divisive topic.

    How the Revolution Began

    Those with a deep knowledge of basketball would no doubt insist that the game played on the court today is virtually unrecognizable from that which we saw a decade ago. There's no doubt that this change is the result of the boom in the use of data-driven strategies and analytics. It's a controversial topic right now, but team performances on the court do appear to prove that data analytics are a reliable tool – and one that is capable of turning a hanger-on team into a championship contender in a remarkably short period of time.

    To back up this claim, let's take a look at the NBA's top team right now - the Golden State Warriors. The warriors had some success in the early 20th century, but failed to deliver any top-level successes throughout the 1990s. Fast forward to the turn of the millennium, and the teams struggles continued throughout the entire next decade, a period that is now described as being their "Wilderness years".

    Hacking the NBA

    The Warriors began their ascent to greatness with the drafting of Stephen Curry in 2009. The team made gradual improvements over the next five years, but it was the 2014 hiring of Steve Kerr which really set the team on fire. Kerr hired new data analyst employees and began using their work to scout new rookies, spot undervalued players, calculate the most effective shooting positions, and even decide when to rest his players.

    The success of these analytical techniques did not go unnoticed – nearly every team in the league has now created a data analytics department. Players are encouraged to use wearable tracking devices, heart and sleep monitors, and other gadgets to supply data to these departments and enable them to make more effective decisions.

    The NBA themselves also took note of the huge strides some teams were making through the use of data analytics. In an effort to ensure a level playing field, the league held a Hackathon event with the aim of attracting talented young hackers with an interest in basketball to find new strategies and techniques. The Hackathon was a huge success, and is now held every year.

    How Analytics has Changed Basketball

    The most obvious change to NBA over the past decade has been the huge rise in the number of three-point shots per game. In 1998 the average number of 3-point shots per game was around 13, but that number has been rising consistently ever since. Today, the average is almost 30 3-point shots per game.

    Why? Analysts considered all of the shots made during a season, and noticed that players were making far too many inefficient 2-point shots. If you are going to take a risky shot, the data indicates that you are much better off moving back to the 3-point line and shooting for the additional point. Statistically speaking, a good shooter will find the basket with one third of his attempts, and the 50% bump in return makes it worth the loss of possession.

    We regularly see breakdowns of player movements throughout each game, and those are made possible by a six-camera system from STATS. The system tracks all player and referee movements at 25 frames per second, and the data collected by the system then allows coaches and teams to make countless improvements to their strategies and increase their competitiveness.

    How to Take Advantage of these Changes

    Some argue that analytics is making the game dull and predictable. One area where this is potentially not a bad thing is when it comes to sports betting – it is now easier than ever to make predictions regarding your favorite team. Bookmakers such as Unibet Indiana use their own data to determine their odds, and you may be able to take advantage of their hard work by using their numbers to place a winning bet on the next NBA game.


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