Data analytics in basketball

Recap of my lecture at 16th SFI IT Academic Festival (Online). Conducted on 17/04/2021.

On virtual stage.

Basketball – what does it mean? There is no perfect answer for that, I must assure you. How one could summarise in on sentence the most beautiful team sport. The ideal connection between: strength, speed, agility, accuracy, stubbornness and charisma.

At this moment, I’d like to introduce You to the creator of the sport – James Naismith. A Canadian chaplain, physical educator and coach. Sounds like a paladin to me. He wrote the original book of rules for basketball. Also, he founded the University of Kansas basketball program. Funfact: he is the one and only one coach of said program that archieved a sub 50% winning percentage. I guess You can say that his legacy outlived him.

And now, to the main point of interest of this lecture – national basketball association, or in short NBA. The best, largest, wealthiest, most popular, superb in most categories basketball league. In contrast to football, in which several leagues contend for the name of the best – english, spanish, french, german, italian, in the world of basketball there is a hegemony.

In 2021, the league consists of 30 franchises. There are some rumors about possible expansion to Las Vegas and Seattle, but as for now, we will settle with the number 30. Also, there is no possibility of relegation from the league, nor for the promotion from lesser league.

How the league was created? Here are some key dates & takeouts from the history of NBA. From the beginning:
1946 – date of founding of BAA (basketball association of america)- progenitor of today’s NBA. As a side note: out of eleven (11) teams from the very first season, 6 play in the NBA to this very day.
1963 – Michael Jordan’s birthday. Without him the NBA would not be the same nowadays. Nothing more, nothing less.
1976 – founding of the NBA – the date of merge between NBA and ABA(American Basketball Association).

First things first – citation. As an introduction to the whole analytics matters – a saying from Charles Barkley. This brilliat player from the 90s, formulated a thought about analytics.
‘Smart guys wanted to fit in so they made up a term called analytics’. During couple next minutes, I’d like to show you, that this term called analytics is not a empty cliche. The insights drawn by sports analytics rapidly change the landscape of NBA.

Let’s take a look at how the shooting preferences changed over the years. As you can see, the trend is crystal clear. At this very moment, I’d like to remind You that 2013/2014 was the season that NBA started installing cameras for tracking possesions. Coincidence? Most likely.

Please, let me show it a little bit different: the rise in importance of three pointers among the seasons. A quick question to all of you: what have happend in 1998/99, 2011/12 and 2019/2020? For everyone that answered: lockdown – you were really close. In 2019/20 – season shortened due to pandemic, 1998/99 & 2011/2012 we had another event – lockout. In short – no agreement on salaries between players and team owners. Takeout from this: the one and only phenomenon that can slow down the rise of threepointers is .. shortened season.

The chart for attempts rises more rapidly – so, can we say that players who historically would not even try to make a three pointer, started to do so? As it turns out – yes. I’d like to also point out that in shorter seasons, the accuracy dropped as well.