How We Benefit From the NBA’s New Motion-Tracking Cameras

NBA cameras

How many marriages did last year’s All-22 NFL tape ruin? Realistically, it has to be in triple digits. I spent the majority of September using it to try to justify Russell Wilson’s sucking. I’ve since spent the past seven months using it to pick apart Joe Flacco. I once spent 45 minutes on it trying to convince myself that Austin Howard was good. Needless to say, my social life is on life support.

So naturally, the NBA decided to pull the plug. Every NBA Arena will feature motion-tracking cameras this season. So basically, I won’t be seeing sunlight until next July. I’ll be too busy figuring out whether or not Shane Battier can still defend quicker small forwards.

But suppose you’re not like me. Let’s say you’re a casual fan rather than a junkie. You’re probably not going to spend hours watching over Milwaukee Bucks film. You have a job, a spouse, maybe a few kids you’d like to see every now and again. You’re going to benefit from this just as much as I am, even if it requires just a teensy bit more effort from you.

So what do these cameras do for us? Here are the main things we’re going to get out of them:

A universally accepted defensive metric.

This is a MUCH bigger deal than people realize. There is no stat that can accurately determine how many points someone is worth on defense, because there’s no way to account for the level of his teammates and how active they are not just throughout a game, but on every single possession. Guess what? With these cameras, now we can track what players are doing on every single possession.

J.R Smith not getting back on defense? Now we can prove it. Carmelo Anthony letting perimeter slashers get to the basket? We can count every instance. Andrea Bargnani doing Andrea Bargnani things? Didn’t need the cameras for that, but I wanted to stick with the horrible Knicks defense motif.

Point is, these cameras are going to do wonders for defensive analysis. That’s a big deal because, you know, DEFENSE IS HALF OF THE GAME! Contenders love stealing undervalued defenders for less than market value because they know that dumb teams are too busy focusing on scorers. Matt Barnes makes like three grand more than I do. Nobody was telling OKC to amnesty Thabo Sefolosha to keep James Harden. Bruce Bowen was basically an overworked Spurs intern.

Look at every contender, and they all have a cheap defender to throw on the other team’s best player. Miami has Battier, OKC has Thabo, the Clippers have Barnes, the Spurs have Danny Green, the Pacers have Lance Stephenson, and Memphis has Tony Allen. None of them are making market value. That’s going to change in the next few years.

Off-ball offense will get more respect.

Remember how I wrote that Dwight Howard goes on large stretches without doing anything on offense? Remember how I said that Kevin Durant is the exact opposite? Nobody ever talks about this!

Dwight Howard could create so many open shots for teammates if he’d just master the classic KG moving screen or develop a shot outside of the paint. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant steals at least two free shots per game by positioning himself to take advantage of Russell Westbrook’s freak athleticism. Now casual fans will have a way of noticing this themselves without actually sitting in the arena and focusing on the movements of specific players.

This is going to kill “stand and shoot” guys like Steve Novak and reward players who can actually move around and create space for themselves like Kyle Korver. You need to be able to offer value in more ways than hitting perfectly open shots because perfectly open shots don’t come around that often. Teams are going to take more notice of the guys who can move around and create space for themselves.

We’ll have better ways to determine how healthy someone is.

I’m a bit dubious of this one, but the NBA has been pushing it so I’ll give it a shot. At the very least, it’ll be easier to track how tired someone is. If they aren’t moving as much as they usually do it might mean that they’re hurt, or it might just mean that they need to get out of the game. Either way, it’s meaningful information.

The key here is just how far these cameras go. Can they detect a slumping arm? Can they tell if someone isn’t cutting as hard? These are the questions that need to be answered. If the data provided is entirely quantitative it could be very helpful in regards to health. Otherwise, it gets pretty dicey.

But overall we’re going to get a lot out of these cameras. Even if you’re not an analytics person, getting more information always helps. This is going to help analysts explain the game in more meaningful ways. Even if you only read one basketball article per year, that should be exciting.

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