SportVU: An Inside Look, Part II

Editor's Note: The Minnesota Timberwolves are one of 10 teams who used a new computer-based scouting software called SportVU last year. In Part 2 of this three-part series, Timberwolves.com takes the reader through a night up in the rafters with a team assistant, operating the SportVU camera equipment.

Alex Conover
Web Editorial Associate

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Far above each Timberwolves home game, basketball operations associate Derek Eddie is in the Target Center rafters, capturing each movement and development with a bird’s eye view.


He isn’t up there with a pen and pad. Instead, he and an assistant are running a system of video cameras that relay information to the complex yet revolutionary SportVU database.

SportVU, a new scouting technology developed by STATS, LLC, uses six cameras to track movement within a basketball game and turn the raw data into deep statistical analysis. Rather than simply tracking rebounds, for instance, SportVU can determine a player’s best rebounding spots on the floor. Is he better on the left or right block? How do his rebounding chances compare with his success rate? The information that comes from SportVU can go far beyond a box score. 

 

Before this information can be analyzed, it first has to be collected. Two individuals are in the press box for every game, making sure everything runs smoothly.

A recent graduate of nearby Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Eddie was assigned to oversee gameday camera operation during last season as the front office got adjusted to this exciting new technology.

Eddie and the other operator first must set the parameters of the court before the game, a process that takes more than an hour. The Wolves staff adjusts the camera coordinates to monitor only motions that occur in bounds.

“Our job is to make sure the cameras work right,” Eddie said. “We track players during (pregame) shoot-around, and we make sure the cameras know where the ball and hoop are.” 

 

After the initial set-up, Eddie sits up in the press box, close enough to the cameras that he can reach them if there’s a problem during the game. An employee from STATS, LLC is on video chat for tech support.


Since the cameras rely completely on visual recognition, STATS, LLC has had to make some adjustments along the way while they continue to improve their system.

 

“The technology is all about tracking objects,” said Brian Kopp, vice president of STATS, LLC. “We want to track movements optically, rather than putting a chip or GPS onto it. It comes from military and missile-tracking technology.”

 

 

One roadblock that the Timberwolves encountered was the particular color of the Target Center court. The area between 3-point lines near center court is darkened enough that the cameras had trouble seeing the ball.

 

“The ball is a similar color to a section of the Target Center court,” Kopp said. “We had to make changes to the algorithm to see the ball.” 

 

Kopp and his team are now working on a database of numbers and jerseys to better identify players for next season. With all of the different styles of jerseys, it can be difficult it is to teach a computer how to recognize one from the other.

 

“We built up a font catalog that says, ‘This is what a No. 2 looks like,’” Kopp said. “Before the games, operators take samples. Throwback jerseys make things harder, like New Orleans’ Mardi Gras jerseys that are two different colors front-and-back. Washington’s new jerseys have a bar going right behind the numbers which make them hard to read.”

During the game, the data is stored on a hard drive in the rafters. That hard drive relays the data in real time to ICE, where it is available for instant analysis.

 

As teams continue to invest in SportVU and more and more operators like Eddie are being trained in, STATS is growing and creating a bigger team to help serve the needs of their clients.


“We have a development team and a programming team,” Kopp said. “They work for STATS and do a few projects. We also have a growing operations team that runs the equipment side, along with training operators.

“We want to bring this new data and new technology to life. Whatever you want, we will supply it.”


For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter.