SportsVu, Tactical Diversity, and Beating Dead Horses

Zach Lowe reported yesterday that the NBA will be contracting for all 30 arenas to install SportsVu cameras; the ones that track everything that moves during a basketball game. (Players, referees, the ball.) Up to this point, the technology was optional and only available at the team’s expense. (Apparently, cameras cost about $100K.) Half of the teams used them, the data was therefore incomplete, and the organization of that data was entirely the team’s responsibility.  With the news that the league will be manning the SportsVu wheel going forward, video analysis will undoubtedly progress. Team strategy will evolve, as will our ability to assess player performance. Talent will always be the top indicator of team success, but NBA franchises — right now — will have an opportunity to locate and exploit the game’s existing inefficiencies that are revealed by SportsVu.

A Concern

The NBA is very much a “copycat” league. People like Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich come up with great ideas, win tons of games with them, and then everybody else takes notice and tries to do the same. With this massive weapon of video technology added to the scouting arsenal of all teams, I suspect the winning strategies of the day will be imitated more quickly and effectively than ever before. If every team plays offense like the Spurs and defense like the Bulls, won’t it all get boring in a hurry?

I think of golf, where the combination of advanced club technology and the perfection of Tiger Woods’ swing (first revealed in the mid-90s, copied ever since) has made most of the players seem exactly alike or at least interchangeable.

I beat this dead horse a lot. The SportsVu news just reinforces my concern that the league will become less interesting. You could argue my view is anti-intellectual; I’m essentially trying to cling to a stage of less information and more room for doubt. More experimentation. I just enjoy greater game-to-game differentiation in my 82-game season.

Why this isn’t a *grave* concern

It’s not a grave concern because — as I said — talent will always be most important. A team takes the identity of its best players. There is far too much diversity of size, speed, skill and style among the league’s best players for every team to actually look the same. A team with James Harden and Dwight Howard will operate differently than one with Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. A defense anchored by Anthony Davis will be afforded certain gambles that one with Al Jefferson will not. You get the idea.

I don’t want to overstate the concern, even if I think it’s legitimate.

The Solution

More beating of dead horses: SportsVu is another reason for the league to abolish the defensive three seconds rule. While modern, post-Illegal-Defense defense is more complex than it used to be, it’s still pretty uniform across the league. It’s a man-to-man league, just with more shading and weakside help than there used to be. (And less hand checking.) With SportsVu adding *even more* data to the scientific breakdown of What Works, there will just be further regimentation and less tactical diversity. I’d love to see what a pure 1-3-1 trap looks like on an NBA floor. That isn’t possible, if the last “1” can’t stand under the hoop.

I hope the Wolves are dumping money into SportsVu. Having the brightest minds conducting this new field of research seems like the way ahead.



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2 responses to “SportsVu, Tactical Diversity, and Beating Dead Horses

  1. Ryan T

    Have you gone back and read this since you wrote this? I would say not much has come to fruition of what you predicted. Not taking a dig at that. I’m glad it hasn’t. I love the advance stats as a fan of the game. Has your opinion changed?

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