On Friday, the NBA launched the public database based on tracking technology from STATS LLC's innovative SportVU cameras. While there are limitations to what's available to fans, the release is certainly an upgrade and another level of insight into the league.
Though many of the statistics won't be helpful with so few games played so far in the 2013-14 season, the accuracy and importance of each will surely grow. Here's what you need to know.
What is it?
SportVU is a six-camera system operating in the rafters of every NBA arena. From above, the cameras collect data at a rate of 25 times per second and follow the ball and every player on the floor. They calculate players' distance, speed and the relation of those to where the ball is and in what time spans.
Context is important
Half of the league's teams used SportVU last season in an attempt to get a leg up on the competition. Now, it's standard. But the majority of the data available to teams will of course be hidden to the public. The public database is simply a means of putting together the context rather than the context itself.
For example, Detroit Pistons forward Gigi Datome, through two nights of league-wide action, is leading the league with an average speed of 4.7 mph. If you know Datome, you'd know this is a shocker because he's: 1) Not the fastest guy around, and 2) Will drop his average by doing what he does best -- standing around the three-point stripe. Here, the context is that Datome played one game and 0.3 minutes of that game. Thus, context is always important.
The data is also available for total distance traveled, distance per game and distance per 48 minutes. The Phoenix Suns Goran Dragic leads the per game category and in his only game played ran 3.1 miles. Of course, this gives us a good picture of how much effort a player is putting in, but it discounts the pace of the game, the number of possessions and the defense Dragic is playing. For example, if it's zone a player will move much less.
Statistics are also available for rebounding in a breakdown of how well players fare in grabbing boards when there is an opportunity -- opportunities are balls within 3.5 feet of players -- and with opponents in the vicinity. Dwight Howard's 26 rebounds in his first game came at an impressive rate of 74 percent per chance, though only five of those were contested. Going back to context, it's important to consider Howard's rebounding statistics will be altered whenever he's playing with another very good rebounder in center Omer Asik. In short, it's always more complicated.
What else is available?
Frontcourt touches are a way to see which players touch the ball and where. This gets as specific as time of possession per individual. Numbers are also available for how many points players are scoring per touch and where they are touching the ball. Detroit forward Greg Monroe owns the elbow, as NBA.com's John Schuhmann discovered.
And through just a few games, Chris Paul leads the NBA with 93 frontcourt touches per game, scoring 0.27 points per touch.
Speaking of Paul, the Clippers point guard also pops up a bit on the passing category. The data includes passes per game, secondary assists (assists leading to assists) and assists that lead to free throws, which are positive plays discounted in traditional assist numbers.
Judging interior defense is also enhanced by SportVU. Blocks tell only part of the tale, and opponent field-goal percentages at the rim are a stat tracked by the service.
The type of scoring opportunities are also broken down by distribution and efficiency in the categories of drives, catch-and-shoots and pull-ups.
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