The technology was originally developed to track missiles. Now, SportVU systems hang from the catwalks of 10 NBA arenas, tiny webcams that silently track each player as they shoot, pass, and run across the court, recording each and every move 25 times a second. SportVU can tell you not just Kevin Durant’s shooting average, but his shooting average after dribbling one vs. two times, or his shooting average with a defender three feet away vs. five feet away. SportVU can actually consider both factors at once, plus take into account who passed him the ball, how many minutes he’d been on the court, and how many miles he’d run that game already.
It’s big data in a relatively small pool, and it has the potential to impact everything about basketball, from how it’s coached, to how it’s recruited--even to how we calculate a player’s worth. Sportvision, another sports data collection system based on the same underlying big data idea, has already massively impacted baseball since it came into play in 2006. Now SportVU is generating more basketball data than anyone ever has. And its potential has only begun to be tapped--health care researcher Kirk Goldsberry, who recently wowed the stats geeks at MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference with his spatial analysis to determine the best shooters, has begun mining SportVU’s data for new insights. But only 10 teams in the NBA are currently using SportVU. Four of them made the playoffs. One even made it to the finals: The Oklahoma City Thunder.