SportVU: An Inside Look, Part III

Photo by Getty Images; design by Sam Flood

Editor's Note: The Minnesota Timberwolves are one of 10 teams who used a new computer-based scouting software called SportVU last year. In the final part of this three-part series, Timberwolves.com looks at where this revolutionary scouting technology may be headed in the future as it is developed and fine-tuned by its operators.

Alex Conover
Web Editorial Associate

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The SportVU scouting technology is working towards revolutionizing how professional sports teams analyze their game. With a network of cameras and complex algorithms, parent company STATS, LLC has created a system that can dive deep into data and pull out helpful nuggets for any front office or coaching staff.

What’s most impressive about SportVU, however, isn’t what it can do right now. It’s where this technology might go in the future.

The first key is making SportVU the industry standard across the NBA. The more teams that use cameras to record their home games, the better and more comprehensive the ICE database will become.

“It’s tough, because you’d like to be able to get information from every game, but not every team has the technology,” Timberwolves basketball operations associate Derek Eddie said. “Last season, we got all 33 of our home games. But since only 10 teams were using SportVU last year, we missed out on over half of our away games.”

Houston, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Boston, Golden State, Milwaukee, New York, Toronto, Washington, and Minnesota all used SportVU last season, and STATS, LLC is in talks with more teams. Their numbers could double in time for next season, making the database stronger and more helpful to everyone.

“We’re still in the process of figuring out next year,” STATS, LLC vice president Brian Kopp said. “We will have somewhere between 15-20 teams; we’ve had a lot of good discussions this summer. If we can get half of the league involved, Minnesota can have three-fourths of their games in the database. Until we get everyone, there’s always going to be that gap; hopefully it’s just a matter of time.”

Along with more teams joining the fold, some of the analytical features that SportVU is beginning to offer are simply fascinating.


“One thing we have been looking at is ball arc,” Kopp said. “We looked at (Heat guard) Ray Allen’s shooting arc, and we saw that Ray had the exact same arc as a make or a miss. (Ersan) Ilyasova has the highest average arc on his shot, and it’s working well for him.”

There is also a whole side of SportVU that could benefit a team’s training staff. Tracking a player’s movement on the court can produce reports on speed, distance, and fitness. 


“We’re starting to work more closely with the training and medical staffs,” Kopp said. “Some teams are beginning to measure heart rate to see what kind of effort is being exerted during practice. A great example would be Ricky (Rubio) coming back from injury and the Timberwolves staff making sure they are bringing him back up to speed.

“We want to combine game data with training data. So when Ricky comes back, they could know more at halftime than just his points or rebounds — they could see how much he accelerated and decelerated. They could see how much time he spent in a high-intensity zone.”

Kopp and his team are determined on supplying the Timberwolves and the rest of the NBA with data that is relevant and useful.

“The fun part is that there’s almost a limitless amount of things you can do with this data,” Kopp said.

“There are 50,000 things you could do, but what are the five most helpful?”

Regardless of where this technology goes in the future, the Timberwolves have been highly satisfied with their experience as an early adopter of SportVU and ICE.

“A few years ago, our scouting database was an area that needed significant overhaul,” Timberwolves basketball operations assistant Matt Bollero said. “As we began looking at companies that could help with our overhaul, STATS was the one company that provided an opportunity to not only upgrade our scouting database but to supply camera analysis as well. Having both features centralized on one platform made this the most logical choice for us as an organization.

“We couldn't be happier with how things have worked out.”


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