Teams try­ing to turn data into wins

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Tim Reynolds

Data is pored over by coaches and staff of the Or­lando Magic on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. They’ll dis­sect how far a player runs dur­ing prac­tice, how quickly that player ac­cel­er­ates and de­cel­er­ates, how his per­for­mance changes as the work­out goes along, bio­met­ric mea­sure­ments like his heart­beat or when his work­load is par­tic­u­larly heavy.

The charts and graphs are de­tailed and pre­cise.

But how it’ll help the Magic win, that’s still an un­known.

Wear­able tech­nol­ogy — chips worn dur­ing prac­tice to col­lect in­for­ma­tion that an­a­lysts churn into re­ports — has been around the NBA for the past sev­eral sea­sons. It’s not per­mit­ted on game nights, and any­thing spe­cific about pro­cesses the 30 teams are us­ing falls into the cat­e­gory of closely guarded se­crets. And when it comes to coaches de­cid­ing what play to call in the fi­nal sec­onds with a game on the line, it doesn’t seem to have an im­pact quite yet.

“It’s all very ben­e­fi­cial stuff,” Magic coach Steve Clif­ford said. “But I can only di­gest X amount of in­for­ma­tion. And it has to be the right amount of in­for­ma­tion.”

That’s one of the chal­lenges that NBA teams are fac­ing in this in­for­ma­tion age.

Every­one knows an­a­lyt­ics can help in count­less ways. But the ques­tion re­mains sim­ple: How?

“You’ve got to take it and use it as best you can,” said New Or­leans coach Alvin Gen­try, who said he re­sisted us­ing some data that he was pre­sented sev­eral years ago when he coached in Phoenix — and wound up tak­ing that Suns team to the Western Con­fer­ence fi­nals. “But at the end of the day, I think the in­stincts that you have as a coach be­come just as im­por­tant, re­ally.”

There are some con­sis­ten­cies in what’s be­ing col­lected. Re­gard­less of what hard­ware a team is us­ing, ev­ery­thing ba­si­cally tracks the same things: dis­tance of move­ment, speed of move­ment, ac­cel­er­a­tion and de­cel­er­a­tion, work­load and heart rate. Teams work on their own, largely with­out NBA over­sight ex­cept for some rules laid out in the Col­lec­tive Bar­gain­ing Agree­ment.

It’s al­ready been a boost in how teams mon­i­tor a player’s re­cov­ery from in­jury or surgery.

But some also have won­dered if the data col­lec­tion is too in­va­sive, or could be used against a player — some­thing that isn’t sup­posed to hap­pen un­der league rule.

“It seems in­her­ently geared to ad­van­tage the team,” Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois law pro­fes­sor Michael LeRoy said in com­ments posted to his blog last year. “When it’s not linked to per­for­mance and not ac­tu­ally linked to in­jury, just cor­re­la­tion ... it’s hard to see where that data can be used to the ad­van­tage of a player.”

The NBA has put to­gether a list of what brands (like Cat­a­pult and STATS­ports ) and types of prod­ucts that teams can use, much in the same way it ap­proves knee braces and other ac­ces­sories. Teams aren’t man­dated to share the data they’re col­lect­ing from the wear­ables with the league, al­though that may change once de­vices are per­mit­ted to be used dur­ing games.

“Data col­lected through wear­able de­vices has the po­ten­tial to have a num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions to im­prove player health — but it’s not a sil­ver bul­let,” said Dr. John DiFiori, the NBA’s med­i­cal di­rec­tor. “In­for­ma­tion from wear­ables can add more de­tail on each player’s load­ing, which, to­gether with a team’s over­all tool­kit, can help de­velop more in­di­vid­u­al­ized in­jury preven­tion pro­grams, and as­sist teams in pro­mot­ing safe re­turn to play fol­low­ing an in­jury.”

There could be ben­e­fits to stan­dard­iz­ing the data, but that seems a long way off — es­pe­cially since teams are still fig­ur­ing out how to best go for­ward in­di­vid­u­ally. The league and the NBA Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion are work­ing on fi­nal­iz­ing a val­i­da­tion pro­gram will be in place to en­sure that de­vices are mea­sur­ing what the man­u­fac­tur­ers say they’re mea­sur­ing, and that they do so ac­cu­rately.


At­lanta Hawks rookie guard Kevin Huerter (3) goes to the bas­ket past the de­fense of New Or­leans Pelicans for­ward Julius Ran­dle dur­ing the sec­ond half of a pre­sea­son bas­ket­ball game in At­lanta. Wear­able tech­nol­ogy has been around the NBA for the past sev­eral sea­sons. It’s not per­mit­ted on game nights, and any­thing spe­cific about pro­cesses the 30 teams are us­ing falls into the cat­e­gory of closely guarded se­cret. Huerter said in his short time as a pro, he’s learned a ton about his body that he didn’t even know be­cause of what he’s gleaned off what his team has col­lected.

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