Over the summer I read about the new SportVU player tracking technology that the NBA would be implementing league-wide. Up until this season, only about a third of the league had gone down that road and used it for their own purposes, but now, by the looks of it, the data is available to anyone who simply punches NBA.com into their browser.
What is it? From the link above:
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.
I’ve visited the site to check out these stats a few times over the past couple days, and the first thing that jumped out to me was that this looks very-much applicable to hockey. Not really surprising, since both sports, along with soccer, are free-flowing with a similar goal of putting a piece of rubber in a piece of mesh stretched around some iron.
Some of the categories you’ll find for these basketball stats include touches per game, front-court touches, points per touch, and even rebound opportunities (number of times a player is within 3.5 ft of a rebound).
The opportunities idea is interesting. It’s also applied to assists, as you can track assist opportunities based on shot attempts, whether they were successful or not.
Of course these categories would not all directly apply to NHL games. From what I can gather, the cameras used to bring in this data basically capture every movement in every game, so the number of categories that could be created for hockey are endless. This kind of thing could really help add context to the shot attempt analysis that’s been gaining popularity in the past few years.
In terms of implementation, I guess where I would see the most hangup is really in the league itself. As we’re all aware, most NHL teams haven’t exactly embraced all the ways to evaluate on-ice events to date, so it would be tough to imagine them jumping into using this type of tool in the immediate future. However, things could go the way of the NBA, and a few teams may start to set up this sort of system for their own purposes, with the rest eventually following. That would be great for fans and writers, as it would give a more complete picture, with access to it all right there on NHL.com.
Would it be effective? I always joke that the Raptors were one of the teams to start using this before it went league-wide in the NBA. Did it give them an edge? I’m not sure there’s any amount of technology that can save the Raptors. Not even RoboCop. But jokes aside, the more information you have at your disposal, the better you’re prepared for games and personnel moves.
I tried to think of a hockey example, and this is probably a poor one, but let’s say James van Riemsdyk touches the puck primarily at five places on the ice. Outlets, really. But at two of those outlets he’s much worse at getting the puck into the offensive zone afterward. Over a number of games this trend would show up in the data and Carlyle could address it, and have him avoid trying to use those areas as an outlet, or find out why he’s not as effective when doing so. I’m guessing it’s hard to see that type of thing game-by-game on tape.
With the way this type of technology can capture a game like basketball, it seems like a no-brainer that it will eventually make its way to the hockey rink. But of course there’ll be some bumps along the way. The old boys club in the NHL likely doesn’t see a need for this sort of thing right now, but I’m sure there are folks left in the NBA that feel the same.
Don Cherry certainly won’t like it.