The Golden State Warriors are now one game away from capturing the NBA championship, but to get there, they’ve been making adjustments throughout the playoffs, greatly aided by a massive database.
why does it matter: While professional teams are increasingly relying on technology to improve their performance, getting specific insights from a sea of data remains a challenge.
How does it work: In addition to in-game footage, the Warriors also capture every shot a player takes in practice, even those taken in warm-ups, thanks to a system called NOAH, which uses facial recognition to match each shot with a player.
- The system detects whether missed shots were too long or too short, even measuring whether shots taken were slightly shorter or longer.
- Another system called Catapult collects biometric data from players.
- The team feeds all that information into a massive Google Cloud database. (Google Cloud is a team sponsor, though Lacob said the Warriors started using it before the business deal closed.)
The panorama: All of that data has been valuable during the playoffs. The Warriors are where they are despite a couple blowout losses along the way. In each case, the team was able to turn things around in the next game and avoid back-to-back losses.
- Warriors executive vice president Kirk Lacob said the analysis made possible by the team’s cloud data storage has helped identify specific player advantages and trends, though he declined to go into detail.
- Pabail Sidhu, director of basketball analytics and innovation for the Warriors, added, “The intersection of computing, knowledge of the X’s and O’s of basketball, and communication is powerful. I can accurately aggregate and calculate large data sets to answer questions in real time when asked by our coaching staff, and provide insights that give us an edge on the field.”
- Klay Thompson, meanwhile, turned to a different technology to get out of a losing streak: watching a video of himself on YouTube.
Between lines: Lacob has been working for years to get to this point, having hired Sidhu in 2017 to create a data operations effort when that was a novel concept.
- “I even told him at the time, ‘The first few years are going to be tough. I’m going to ask you to do a lot on your own.’ “
- Early on, even before the Warriors were playoff contenders, Sidhu and Lacob were able to identify that a defensive slump boiled down to a specific rotation issue that left opponents open to 3-point corner kicks.
- These days, Sidhu has a whole team to work with, as well as a new stadium packed with sensors, cameras, and other tech. “Now we can contextualize a lot more player rotations, lineup changes,” Lacob said.
Some players have gravitated to new tools more than others. One of the most enthusiastic users of the technology is veteran Andre Iguodala, which is not surprising given his interest in technology.
- “He’s still playing there at 37, that’s not a mistake,” Lacob said, adding that he was also one of the more skeptical athletes, wanting to make sure he understood what technology could and couldn’t help.
- Steph Curry is also always up for anything that might give him a new edge, or a new mountain to climb, Lacob said. “His team of him does a great job of continuing to find new ways to challenge him,” Lacob said.
- For younger players, Lacob said shot-tracking technology can help identify who, for example, might be a promising 3-point shooter with a little help.
yes, but: All that data can be a double-edged sword, says Lacob. “Certainly, there is a point, for many, where analysis paralyzes them,” Lacob said. With so much data, “it’s very easy to get lost in it or see false prophets.”
Whats Next: Lacob said he would like to see more player biometrics accessible without forcing them to use a device.
- “I’d love to see things become less usable if that makes sense…more stuff that doesn’t impact a player,” he said.