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NBA introduces next-level analytics with SportVU Subscribe via RSS

The next frontier in basketball analytics has become public – finally.

SportVU cameras, which track the movement of every player on the court every night, have been installed in all 29 NBA arenas this season (both LA teams share the Staples Center). The data the SportVU software processes and spits out can be used to measure, among many other things, a player’s defensive effectiveness at the rim, a player’s average speed, the number of touches a given player receives per game.

The software is relatively new, and the technology was actually pioneered by the Mavericks during the 2009-10 season. But the NBA has committed to using the program in a forward-thinking move, and fortunately for the fans, the league has released much of this data publicly at stats.nba.com.

The sample size is small, as no team has played more than two games this season. But in case you’re curious, here are some Mavs figures through the first game of the season that stand out:

  • Dirk Nowitzki scored 18 of his 24 points on catch-and-shoot opportunities, which is the most in the league. He was 7-of-10 (70 percent) from the field in catch-and-shoot situations against Atlanta, and his eFG — a metric that weighs made 3-pointers as 1.5 times more valuable than a 2-point shot — was 90 percent. That’s higher than all but two players who take at least six catch-and-shoot shots per game.
  • Samuel Dalembert moves around the court at an average of 4.8 mph, faster than any other player who averages at least 20 minutes per game. The next qualifying player on that list? Jose Calderon, who moves at an average of 4.7 mph. Gal Mekel moves at the same average speed.
  • Only three players in the league have averaged more distance covered per game than Monta Ellis, who traveled 2.8 miles in over 36 minutes against the Hawks. Ellis, in case you’re curious, moves at an average of 4.5 mph.
  • Calderon and Ellis are two of 12 players who average at least 70 touches in the frontcourt (in a team’s offensive half of the court) per game. Of those 12, no players average less time of possession per game than the two Mavericks. Calderon controlled the ball for 5.4 minutes in the opener, while Ellis maintained possession for 4.8 minutes. By comparison, Portland’s Damian Lillard averages 8.0 minutes of possession per game on just 10 more frontcourt touches than Calderon. That means the Mavericks guards are moving the ball around quickly in their pass-happy offense.
  • Speaking of passing, Calderon passed it 71 times against Atlanta, ninth-most in the league. He finished the game with 11 assists, but also finished with three secondary assists, a new stat that’s similar to a hockey assist. For example, if Calderon passes to Ellis, who then immediately passes to Dirk, who makes a jumper, Calderon gets a secondary assist. The Mavericks scored 26 points off of Calderon’s 11 assists, which is the fifth-best total in the league.

Again, all of these stats are based off a tremendously small sample size, but all of them are worth tracking throughout the season. Does Dalembert really move that well throughout the entire game? Will Calderon and Ellis continue to move the ball as quickly as they have? Is Dirk as good at spotting up as his performance against Atlanta suggests? We’ll find out more as the season progresses.

SportVU is the future of analytics in the NBA, and it’s great that fans now have the opportunity to track their favorite players themselves.