NBA Is Set for Player Tracking Across the League

When the 2013 NBA season tips off in October, it will become the first U.S. sports league to embrace player-tracking technology on a league-wide basis, with the help of the STATS SportVU tracking system.

A Prosilica gc1600ch camera mounted above the court captures images for the STATS SportVU player-tracking system.

A Prosilica gc1600ch camera mounted above the court captures images for the STATS SportVU player-tracking system.

Each NBA arena will have six Prosilica gc1600ch cameras mounted on the catwalk above the court to capture images that are passed into the STATS ICE (Interactive Collaboration and Evaluation) software system. Deploying two operators to tag players on the screen so they can be tracked as moving objects on the court, the system gives coaches, players, media, and even fans greater insight into the performance, plays, and strategy that can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

The SportVU system will provide detailed player and team statistics, including speed/distance, shooting information, passing details, touch breakdowns (drive, elbow, post, etc.), and new defensive statistics still being developed. And it will be a game changer when it comes to advancing NBA analysis and the fan experience both at home and in the venue.

For example, ball-tracking information and content will provide new insight into the game, delivering accurate shot trajectory and speed, automation of dribbles and pass recording, and defensive/offensive alignment relative to ball location.

Steve Hellmuth, EVP, operations and technology, NBA, says the league began investigating player-tracking technology during the NBA Finals in 2009. At that time, the system was able to track players and the ball on the X, Y, and Z axes. Since then, deployments grew to 15 teams last year and then to a league-wide initiative for all 30 teams this year.

“The first reason,” he says, “was to level the playing field with analytics as the platform will make the data intelligible for all teams.”

What those teams do with the data is up to them, adding a new layer to pregame preparations that may even lead to some new career opportunities for those especially adept at detecting statistical trends and quickly sorting through data points.

“There are a lot of things that can be pulled out immediately with spatial, visual, and frequencies data,” says Hellmuth. “For example, one thing I would like to figure out is the ‘Bermuda Triangle,’ the defenders who, when they are on the court together, are the most effective at reducing shooting efficiency and percentages.”

Tracking players 25 times a second (when players collide, they do need to be retagged), the system will soon be defining the league’s most effective defenders, fastest players, and best players in the paint. And traditional statistics, like rebounds, will have an additional layer of specificity so that contested rebounds vs. rebounds in the clear or rebound proximity to the hoop can be tracked.

Players will have access to the data so that they can better understand their own strengths and weaknesses.

Hellmuth says there is still some work to be done to integrate the data with broadcast graphics systems. “We are not quite there yet to incorporate stats into graphic and animation systems so that they can produce animations that explain the game of basketball and can be incorporated into the telecast.”

But the data will be available on handheld devices and PCs as information like player possession details, player and team dribbles and passes, player-usage information, and play animation to be dynamically delivered to fans.

Says Hellmuth, “The information will be available on NBA.com and NBA TV and NBA Gametime to start conversations.”