The Next Step
First a disclaimer.
The National Basketball Association is an incredibly giving business in the field of statistics. Not every sports association gives the general public access to the kind of detailed scouting data that the NBA does. They allowed us to have mySynergySports, and now then they made some parts of SportVU data available like that wasn’t enough. This is an extremely awesome way to give back to the die-hards who buy league pass, tickets, and merchandise in a not so conventional way. I want to stress that I am very thankful for that, and will not be taking any of the giving for granted.
After all that, with the release of SportVU data, there was one major takeaway a couple days later. “Man this is really cool, but there is still so much out there that remains numerically undefined” was the thing that went through many heads as they parsed through the data. Is this a start? Of course. Seeing things like which player leads the league in creating fouls for others by passing and who is the best at stifling opponents at the rim by using location data and field goal percentage together will be useful tools is learning more about which players are the best at certain skills. There will certainly be many articles put together using the data, thus creating more well informed media members and more informed fans.
It is just the inability of escaping the feeling that this is just a slice of the pie. While this is a very delectable slice we thoroughly enjoyed, wandering eyes are still scurrying over to what else is in the pan. There is a hunger for more, and with us not knowing when more will come, the analytic curiosity kills the cat. Here are a couple things that aren’t on the initial data that I would love to be added at some point.
First of all, more than anything, box out percentages. The information we have in the rebounding tab is limited to “contested rebounds,” “uncontested rebounds,” “rebound opportunities,” and combinations and variations of the aforementioned. The thing is, it tells us who is the best at grabbing the easy rebounds but not why they were easy rebounds. Twenty-one of Dwight’s opening night twenty-six rebounds were marked under the “uncontested rebounds” category, but we don’t know why. Could it have to do with the fact Howard is a rebounding maestro and he is so skilled that is able to get the kind of separation to make a rebound uncontested on his own? It easily could, with Dwight most things having to do with rebounds aren’t regarded as impossible. But it could also have something to do with Omer Asik — whose rebounds numbers were nine contested versus five uncontested that night — boxing-out other teams rebounders freeing up Dwight to operate in space which allowed him to suck in all of the boards.
At a level of basketball like this, rebounding can become a complex team effort. It isn’t always about the guy that comes down with the ball, and sometimes that is the least important part of the rebound. Putting value on the guys who are keeping away some of the best glass-eaters in the league with a solid box-out while giving a teammate the opportunity to rebound in space could be a huge development of how the entire world looks at rebounding.
When Zach Lowe detailed James Harden‘s SportVU drive numbers back in February, there was one number that stood out. Harden turned the ball over on four percent of his drives in the piece. Fast-forward to Friday, and we sadly didn’t get a turnover percentage number in the drives tab provided to us. Imagining how we could utilize this data would be astounding. Knowing which players are the best or worse at coughing up the ball while barreling through the lane would not only be useful for knowing who is the best players at driving, but what kind of turnovers certain players are suffering from would amplify analysis of a player’s ball protection issues beyond simply knowing they cough it up.
In fact, the word turnover doesn’t pop up once in what was provided on NBA.com, interestingly enough. Knowing where a player coughs up the ball surely is interesting. Backing analysis such as “player X is unable to go left” would be much simpler if turnovers were broken down by type and location. At the very least tracking the notorious “live-ball turnover” that the Miami Heat made famous last year would be insightful.
Many players are talking about it to the press, and the fact that screens aren’t defined by any number that is easily accessible to all is frustrating to all parties involved. The grittier players that aren’t getting a fair shake in the box score seem to complain, and the fans who are looking to try to explain why a certain player is better at opening the game for the team’s point guards by putting their body through contact. The two-man game has been an integral part of basketball before the NBA was even a league, the player who is making the sacrifice to facilitate this type of offense could see some number love.
Defensively, the information is certainly useful but feels incomplete. While sticking a value on the big defensive pillars modern day centers are, how often does a certain player have help at the rim? We can derive from David West‘s success in the defensive impact tab on NBA.com is impacted by Roy Hibbert‘ presence beside him, but to what degree? Maybe West isn’t as protected as some believe and great defending the rim in one-on-one situations also. Also, showing help percentages can aid in showing why some players aren’t successful as we like. Serge Ibaka‘s numbers aren’t too kind in the early showing, but he also could be flying around the court more than he likes out of necessity. Also what about wing defenders? They remain completely untouched by the new information. Future developments could go in many directions. Close-out distance and speed, average amount of distance away from the player they are guarding, missed rotations, and drives allowed come to mind quick, and could help us evaluate wing defense from both a player and team level.
It’s awesome what kind of information was presented to us Friday, but there is just so much more out there to explore. While this is a good step progressing the education of NBA obsessives worldwide, the next step is equally enticing. The here-and-now is good, but here is to hoping this isn’t the end of data releases through this particular piece of technology.