The annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, created in 2006, has become something like Bonnaroo for sports nerds. And if there was a breakout star at this year's gathering, held at MIT this past weekend, it may have been Kirk Goldsberry, an assistant professor of geography at Michigan State (and currently a visiting scholar at Harvard). At Sloan, Goldsberry—whose dissertation "investigated real-time traffic maps" and who has also used geography to examine "access to nutritious foods in urban areas"—considered the ways that sophisticated statistical mapping can illuminate the game of basketball, in a paper called "Court Vision: New Visual and Spatial Analytics for the NBA."
You only have to glance at the maps Goldsberry produced to know that stat-friendly teams will pounce on these things. As the New York Times basketball blog Off the Dribble noted over the weekend, "about a third of the league’s arenas have recently installed camera systems that capture and log the position of every player on the court 25 times a second." As a result, many teams now have incredible amounts of data they can visualize in some of the ways Goldsberry suggests.
For the map above, for instance, Goldsberry divided roughly half an NBA court (from the baseline to just past the 3-point line) into 1,284 "shooting cells." Then he plotted every shot taken in an NBA game from 2006 to 2011, and color-coded the results. The areas which yielded the most points per shot appear near the red end of the color spectrum; those that yielded the fewest are at the blue end.