Basketball's analytical revolution

Zach Lowe's breakdown earlier this week of what the Toronto Raptors are able to do with SportsVU data is incredible. Using expected point value from the each player on the opposing team and where they are situated on the court, the Raptors are able to simulate ideal defensive positioning for each player on the court. By comparing the ideal to the actual defensive positioning, the Raptors are able to coach their players on why they should play where on the court.

Lowe's analysis of the computer's recommended positioning of the Raptors' defense on several pick and rolls run against them by the Knicks offers insight into why the Bulls are so good on defense. The computer recommendation on defending the pick and roll always seems to be to send more help sooner on the strong side. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has always preached that, even when he was the defensive coach of the Celtics.

The other strategy the computer recommends almost universally is that teams shoot more 3-pointers. Granted, if you don't have good 3-point shooters, it's no guarantee of success, but the salient point is that most teams should swap out more mid-range jump shots for 3-pointers.

Baseball has changed a lot due to better analysis, but the sport that has made the greatest strides the past several years is basketball. SportsVU being used to simulate ideal player movement takes it to another level, it feels like SimCity but for sport.

I wonder how long it will be before we see a version of SportsVU used for analyzing football. If you can simulate the ideal defense in basketball, there's no reason you couldn't also simulate the ideal defense against various offensive formations and personnel packages.