As a small market NBA team, the Bucks need to look for advantages, however subtle, any way they can get them. Milwaukee may be getting a leg up on some competition with their implementation of SportVU, an extensive player-tracking database that uses a multi-camera system. According to Zach Lowe, of SI.com, Milwaukee is one of just 10 NBA teams who utilize its services.
Here’s how Lowe described SportVU:
“The system, called SportVU and run by STATS, LLC, tracks every movement during an NBA game. It can generate an almost infinite amount of data, on everything from how fast a player runs to that player’s shooting percentage from 19 feet away on the left wing after three dribbles to his shooting percentage with a defender less than two feet away.
The subscribing teams — New York, Toronto, Washington, Golden State, Houston, San Antonio, Boston, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City and Minnesota — can look through the raw data themselves and/or have STATS generate specific reports.”
Milwaukee can use SportVU in several intriguing ways. For one, it can help enhance player evaluation. Lowe’s article brought up Jennings’ inefficiencies as a rim-attacker and traditional creator on offense.
“Jennings averaged just 4.8 drives per game last season (using the 20 feet/10 feet definition). Among point guards who started at least 30 games, only Jrue Holiday (4.6), Darren Collison (3.3), Jose Calderon (2.4) and Isaiah Thomas (4.4) averaged fewer drives per game. Again, lots of things — roster context, team/coach philosophy, individual skills — are at work for each of these guys. Jennings shot just 37 percent on shot attempts that came via these drives, one of the lowest numbers among 91 players with at least 30 recorded qualifying drives.”
That isn’t any sort of revelation, but it does confirm our doubts about Jennings. And, who knows, perhaps this type of hard evidence could give the Bucks slightly more leverage over Jennings in the contract extension negotiations.
SportVU can also help the Bucks further evaluate players who they plan to pursue through free agency or trades. For the Bucks, who like to target team needs, this system can help them identify roster deficiencies and target players who provide the skills Milwaukee is lacking.
As you can see, the possibilities seem endless with all this player-tracking data at Milwaukee’s fingertips.
Perhaps what is more important than the tangible things SportVU can provide is the Bucks’ willingness to embrace this type of system. It shows they’re doing *something* proactively. It shows they’re willing to be open-minded and forward-thinking. It shows they’re open to doing something against the league norm, with only one-third of the league jumping on the SportVU ship.
Am I reading a bit too much into this? Probably. Although this isn’t a huge development, by any means, it’s something (especially in early September, the Siberia of the NBA offseason). The Bucks’ fan base has scoffed at the front office for resisting change under Herb Kohl’s supervision the last 25 years. This proves otherwise. Again, that’s *something.*
This isn’t a completely new development, however. The Bucks have shown a willingness to delve into advanced statistical analysis previously.
After ESPN published this article in May about SportVU, I remember asking Nick Monroe, Milwaukee’s senior sales representative, on Twitter whether the Bucks utilized SportVU or a similar statistical database. He confirmed they did. (Our editor, K L, pointed out to me the Bucks almost certainly had cameras for player tracking at the Bradley Center last year, because of the notable sample size (29 games) available for Brandon Jennings in this article).
I also remember Steve von Horn, of Brew Hoop, pointing me toward the role of Jon Nichols, who the Bucks hired to be the manager of basketball analytics. Alex Boeder (with Brew Hoop, at the time) had an exclusive interview with Assistant General Manager Jeff Weltman to discuss, in part, Nichols’ hiring prior to last season.
In the interview, Weltman explained Nichols’ newfound role with the organization.
“So obviously we try to stay current, we try to communicate as much as we can with other teams, and figure out what is on the cutting edge and where we want to be. But we don’t try to compare ourselves to other teams. What we try to do is say, we believe in this, and we are going to push it to the extent that we feel is appropriate. And that is what we have done.
And don’t get me wrong, we are still learning ourselves even on the analytics front, so we are still growing that part of the operation. So Jon will have interns working for him as we will all become more fluent in his language. We just want to grow it just at the right pace. We don’t want to just jump in, just for the sake of being ahead of the rest of the league. If we are not really immersed in it, that doesn’t make much sense to do. We have to step by step believe why we are taking this next step and why we are taking this next step.”
The implementation of SportVU and Nichols’ innovative position with the Bucks are certainly encouraging signs. But, in the end, all that matters is how seriously John Hammond and the rest of Milwaukee’s front office take this type of extensive data accumulation. When the Bucks go out of their way to sign the Drew Gooden’s of the world, as well as trade for the Corey Maggette’s and Monta Ellis’ of the world, (i.e. players who advanced statistics don’t generally shine brightly on) it certainly makes you wonder.
But, then again, Ekpe Udoh – an advanced statistics wonder – was a significant part of the Andrew Bogut trade, and Nichols expressed his high endorsement of Milwaukee’s two draft picks this year.
Love the way the draft turned out for us. Top 5 player on my board and one of the most efficient players in the NCAA (and a champion).
— Jon Nichols (@jon_e_nichols) June 29, 2012
So, maybe things are truly changing. I think all Bucks fans, optimists and pessimists alike, can agree Milwaukee’s willingness to embrace SportVU is a positive development for this franchise. And that, too, is *something.*