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Report: NBA to install data-tracking cameras in every arena

Exciting news in the world of NBA geekery: STATS LLC, the company responsible for the optical tracking data set to create a brave new world of basketball analysis, has reached a deal with the league to install cameras in all 29 NBA arenas for this season, according to Grantland's Zach Lowe.

Things were trending in this direction after half of the league's teams subscribed to the service last season (at a cost of roughly $100,000), but the league's unexpected willingness to foot the bill has completed that expansion process and dramatically widened the resulting data set. The more games that the cameras observe the more useful they become, and now every interested team will have the raw data from every regular-season game to manipulate and filter as they see fit.

This is a boon for every team willing to invest resources in making something of the data (in its raw form, it reads like The Matrix, a seemingly endless stream of x-y-z coordinates indicating the positions of all players on the court and the ball). Previously, the limited number of subscribers had created some notable sample size issues. Because data was collected only from home games of subscribing teams, a huge chunk of the season was unaccounted for, to the point that some players and teams couldn't be reliably analyzed. This solves that problem in one fell swoop. Any team will now be able to learn more about its own players, potential trade targets, matchup problems, playoff opponents and more.

The cameras open up the potential to track things as basic as the distance run by a player in a given game. They also enable teams such as the Raptors to create complex systems to evaluate their defense against an ideal model.

At this point, active, engaged teams that have been multiyear subscribers will likely be ahead of the curve. Others will look to catch up, while some could remain completely uninterested. That last group should ultimately suffer for it, as teams will gradually find more and more sophisticated ways to exploit this technology and the possibilities it creates.

In theory, individual defense might eventually be measured more accurately and play designs and spacing more thoroughly analyzed. Teams will grow to have a better understanding of how all the variables on the court relate to one another. From those findings, they will be able to acquire the right kinds of players and build the right kinds of systems.

We're still a few stages of development away from teams being able to harness the data in some evolutionary way, but getting cameras in every arena is a big step toward that eventual end.

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