Posted March 04, 2013

Court Vision: MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference roundup

Ben Golliver, Ben McLemore, Court Vision, Daryl Morey, Dwight Howard, Kevin Johnson, Michael Jordan, Sloan Sports Analytics Conference
Rockets GM Daryl Morey hosted the annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference this weekend. (Bill Baptist/Getty Images)

Rockets GM Daryl Morey hosted the annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference this weekend. (Bill Baptist/Getty Images)

By Ben Golliver

• MIT’s annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference — an annual conference hosted by Rockets GM Daryl Morey that discusses the role of analytics in sports — was held this past weekend. There’s no better place to start reading about it than Rob Mahoney’s dispatch for The Point Forward.

•  Dan Devine notes at Ball Don’t Lie that a recurring lament — that there’s a communication disconnect between the “nerds” and everyone else — reared its head again.

“We need better people not at doing the stats, necessarily, but at communicating the stats — at building the bridges,” said Kirk Goldsberry, who co-wrote a paper with behavioral analyst Eric Weiss that uses the SportVU data to examine interior defense, long one of the under-explored elements in analytical work, during a late Friday panel.

Goldsberry has made a name for himself over the past couple of years for being one of those bridge-builders, combining his academic training in spatial analysis and visual analytics (he’s a visiting scholar at Harvard and cartographer, by trade) with his passion for basketball to introduce new ways of visualizing what happens on the basketball court. His work, both on his own CourtVision site and on ESPN’s Grantland, relies heavily on clear, colorful shot charts and heat maps to quickly communicate information like shooting accuracy or defensive efficiency that’s culled from the plotting of thousands of individual shot attempts. It’s one of the most enticing parts about Goldsberry’s work — yeah, the analysis on topics like who shoots well from where is interesting, but more importantly, it’s easily digestible in a way that most of the rest of what you see here doesn’t quite match.

•  Paul Flannery of SB Nation argues that local television broadcast crews could play a huge role in helping the spread of advanced statistics.

There is no more direct link between teams and fans than their local telecasts and it’s not as if hometown announcers need much prodding to rally the fanbase to the cause. If they can convince the fans that the refs have it in for them, they can just as easily explain why the mid-range game is deader than the ’90s and the corner three is king.

Let’s start small. Per-game numbers are more informed when adjusted for pace. Rebounding percentage is more telling than raw totals. If the broadcasters narrated the game with a few of these basic concepts in mind, fans would get a more complete picture of what’s actually happening on the court and it wouldn’t seem so mysterious.

•  Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com (Insider) notes that video tracking of NBA games continues to grow, opening up new possibilities.

For the third consecutive year, the weekend’s star was the optical-tracking data collected by Stats LLC for SportVU. Three of the four research papers that focused on the NBA used SportVU’s numbers to address a variety of different questions about the game.

SportVU, now in its third year in NBA arenas, is building a more robust data set all the time. Fully half of the league’s 30 teams have subscribed to SportVU and installed tracking cameras in their arenas, meaning every other game is captured with information on where players and the ball are on the court at all times.

•  Ian Levy writes for TrueHoop that Rajiv Maheswaran, a USC computer science professor, has started to dig into the SportVU data.

Maheswaran and his partners have built a software system that allows for incredible filtering and the creation of uniquely informative visualizations using data gleaned from the SportVU camera system. In a manner of seconds, he filtered data to show that Tyson Chandler is among the league’s most efficient scorers under the conditions of being close to the rim, with a defender less than one foot away and having taken a shot off the dribble. From there he quickly transitioned through filters related to movement of shooters, shot selection for teams, proximity of defenders, charting of screens set during a game and the movement of all 10 players on the floor.

•  Zach Lowe of Grantland interviews Rockets GM Daryl Morey. Among the topics of discussion: the Rockets’ trade for Thomas Robinson.

•  Steve McPherson of Hardwood Paroxysm writes that getting lost in (or misdirected by) the numbers is a real concern for even the most sophisticated statistical models.

[Jeff] Ma went on to say that something as basic as a small rule change can dramatically affect the models you’ve designed. For example, any model designed before the change in hand-checking rules in the NBA wouldn’t give you the same quality of data used now. It has nothing to do inherently with the model, but rather with things the model couldn’t have accounted for when it was created.

•  Now, to non-Sloan happenings … Michael Jordan declined to comment on a paternity suit filed against him last week and the Associated Press reports his lawyers are moving to dismiss it.

Jordan’s lawyer John Mayoue said in a document filed in Fulton County Superior Court that the six-time NBA champion is not the father of Pamela Y. Smith’s 16-year-old son. The paternity of the teen was “conclusively established” in divorce filings between Smith and her ex-husband, Jordan’s attorney wrote.

“Public records show that the paternity of the child was established in a prior case in this same court many years ago and that Michael Jordan is not the father. He also filed a counterclaim seeking sanctions for the false claims made against him. It is unfortunate that well-known figures are the target of these kind of claims. Michael Jordan will vigorously defend himself and his reputation.”

•  Eric Prisbell of USA Today Sports with a detailed profile of Kansas guard Ben McLemore, seen as perhaps the top prospect in the 2013 NBA draft. McLemore opens up about going hungry as a child.

“It’s a hard feeling — just starve,” McLemore says. “Dang, what are we going to do? Dang, how are we going to eat? How are we going to put food on the table?”

McLemore and younger brother Kevin would disperse throughout the neighborhood to cut grass, move trash, clean cars, fix motor scooters and bikes, anything that would yield a few dollars for hot dogs or Hot Pockets.

“You get those hunger pains,” McLemore said. “I am so hungry. We don’t have any food. What are we going to eat? Your stomach hurts. Then you get so upset and mad, like, no food. You start having tantrums and don’t want to do anything. You get mad at everybody because you don’t have any food. That’s what happens when you don’t eat. You are so sluggish. It’s just bad, man.”

•  Mike Prada at SB Nation looks at how LeBron James shut down Carmelo Anthony on Sunday.

•  Ken Berger of CBSSports.com floats Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is fighting to keep the Kings in his city, as a possible candidate to replace Billy Hunter as executive director of the National Basketball Players Association.

In fact, Johnson’s name has come up in the tight circle of those contemplating who would be a viable replacement for Hunter as the next head of the NBPA, two league sources with knowledge of the discussions told CBSSports.com. People active in the union have been inquiring privately as to whether Johnson would be interested in being considered once his second mayoral term is up in 2016 — one year before the owners or players can opt out of the current CBA.

•  Josh Smith tells the Los Angeles Daily News that he expects his friend, Dwight Howard, to remain with the Lakers.

“I can’t pick his brain and be in his head but to me, I don’t see him going anywhere,” Smith said before the Lakers hosted the Hawks at Staples Center. “It would be a shock to me.”

Why?

“Dwight is a loyal athlete and loyal person,” Smith said. “He’s not a quitter and doesn’t run from situations. That’s why I believe with this franchise and the way he’s talked so well about it, I can’t see him going anywhere.”

•  Finally, take a moment to gawk at Yao Ming at a Chinese parliamentary session, thanks to Trey Kerby of The Basketball Jones.

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