Put yourself in the position of an NBA coach. Imagine you can track every movement, play, and decision performed by every one of your players during a game and be able to statistically analyze the efficiency and inefficiency of every on-court action. You could have real time updates of Russell Westbrook’s field goal percentage after he takes five dribbles versus his field goal percentage after he takes two dribbles. Or you could have up to the minute measurements of how many miles Kevin Durant has run and what his average speed was half way through the third quarter. For the Oklahoma City Thunder and nine other NBA teams, this type of analysis and much more has become a reality with the usage of missile tracking cameras.

Ten NBA teams, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, are using a missile tracking technology to record every single player movement twenty-five times per second (72,000 times per game). The cameras are known as SportVU systems and they are installed in the catwalks of arenas. SportVU systems are made up of inconspicuous webcams that are easily run by an operator who simply calibrates the cameras before games by identifying each player.

Potential applications for SportVU are only limited by the imaginations and strategies of the teams who choose to use it. The enormous amount of data generated by SportVU during a game gives coaches nearly unlimited ways to analyze a player’s performance. The teams that have begun to implement it in to their scouting reports are still trying to figure out how to exactly use the data for their game plans.

If you think that using statistical analysis to squeeze out every last drop of player efficiency sounds familiar, you are not alone. Many have compared this new SportVU technology to the Moneyball approach made famous by Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. Brian Kopp, vice president of Stats, the company that owns SportVU, says “What’s interesting about the Moneyball analogy is that they were using data everybody else had and putting a new twist on it. We’re doing that, but also entering in to the equation data no one had before.”

The true value of SportVU still remains to be seen. It certainly seems like it has the potential for analyzing basketball on a whole new level. General managers could theoretically be able to better understand the value a player has on the court and therefore be better able to offer appropriate contracts and understand which players will fit together the best. Coaches could gain a better understanding of the idiosyncrasies of their players. This would allow them to draw up plays in the huddle that will put their players in a position with a higher rate of previous success.

A sample display of Kevin Durant’s open shot attempts with SportVU technology

Critics of the SportVU have voiced concern about over thinking the game of basketball and getting lost in statistics and unnecessary data. Many feel that nothing can ever replace a coach’s intuition and knowledge of the game. The Heat have some extremely talented players who were hungry from a loss in last year’s finals. If the Thunder had analyzed more deep statistical game analyses could they have stopped Lebron and company?

Ultimately, SportVU seems like it could one day have a potentially significant impact on NBA teams. It will be interesting to see if more NBA teams adopt the SportVU camera systems and continue this technological trend. Teams, coaches, and players are always looking for a leg up on the competition and professional sports are copycat leagues. If anyone feels that they can gain a competitive edge over the competition by using SportVU, then their strategies will be duplicated and this technology will be here to stay.

(Photos Courtesy of http://harazquack.blogspot.com)