As the NBA begins to experiment with more and more technology to help teams better understand the game and player performance, many are betting that injury prevention could be the next big analytic breakthrough in basketball.
Injuries remain the great unknown across sports: they often seem random, the samples are generally too small to provide reliable information, and it’s impossible to conduct experiments to learn more.
However, the introduction of player tracking technology - first through SportVU player tracking cameras, then Catapult and Zephyr player GPS units that are allowed in practice but not in games - may provide a major breakthrough in injury understanding and prevention.
A large step forward was taken this week, with STATS Inc. and Catapult agreeing to a partnership “that will integrate SportVU 3D-tracking data from games and Catapult GPS-tracking data from practices into one package for teams.”
As ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh explains, the pairing is a data match made in heaven, though it’s short of perfect at present:
SportVU and Catapult can help answer those questions and open up new fascinating questions thanks to the marriage of data sets. If a player works extra hard in practice, does fourth-quarter fatigue set in quicker? How taxing is it to run 100 pick-and-rolls in a game (which SportVU can track) and then do shooting drills the very next day? Are floor sprints in practice a waste of time when 80 percent of in-game movement is in the lateral or backward directions?
For this reason, teams won’t be able to say exactly how much energy a player has burned in a week’s time or how much strain he has placed on his body. Not until the league loosens restrictions on the in-game wearable technology. But that’s a small gripe in the big picture.
The next step would be the NBA allowing the GPS devices to be worn in games, something they experimented with in the D-League this season but is currently not allowed at the NBA level. That would provide teams with the richest information on player biomechanics they’ve ever had - it may not mean the elimination of ACL and meniscus tears, but even a 10 percent gain in injury understanding is worth investing in.