Paying to lose vs. investing in the future!


A lot of the articles coming out about the recent Sloan Sports Analytics Conference — a conference that was attended by our own Andres Alvarez and Arturo Galletti — have focused on the SportVU tracking system. Using a system of cameras, SportVU tracks the position of the ball and all active players throughout the game. The data could be used to track the locations of on-court events — shots, rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers, and blocks — or learn about player movement, or field goal defense, or a myriad of other things. While the sample sizes are small for now, there is great promise that SportVU can contribute to the statistical analysis of basketball.

The number of teams electing to install SportVU increases every year. Right now exactly half of the league’s 30 teams have not installed SportsVU. The system currently costs between $75 000 – $100 000 per year. That got us thinking: how does the cost of SportVU compare to some of the salaries that these non-SportVU teams pay? Below are salaries of 15 players — one from each of the 15 non-SportVU teams — as well as the number of years of SportVU each player’s 2012-13 salary would cover:

Team Player 2012-13 Salary ($ millions) SportVU Coverage (years)
Atlanta Hawks Jannergo Pargo $0.14 1.7
Brooklyn Nets Tornike Shengelia $0.47 5.5
Charlotte Bobcats Cory Higgins $0.19 2.2
Chicago Bulls Vladimir Radmanovic $1.35 15.8
Denver Nuggets Julyan Stone $0.76 8.9
Detroit Pistons Khris Middleton $0.47 5.5
Indiana Pacers Miles Plumlee $1.07 12.5
Los Angeles Clippers Trey Thompkins $0.76 8.9
Los Angeles Lakers Devin Ebanks $1.05 12.3
Memphis Grizzlies Dexter Pittman $0.85 10.0
Miami Heat James Jones $1.50 17.5
New Orleans Hornets Matt Carroll $3.50 40.8
Portland Trailblazers Shawne Williams $2.60 30.3
Sacramento Kings Travis Outlaw $3.00 35.0
Utah Jazz Raja Bell $3.48 40.6
Total:   $21.22 247.6

These 15 teams are paying these players a combined $21.2 million dollars this year, which would cover about 247.5 years of SportVU. And how much on court productivity are these teams getting from these 15 players? A paltry 1076 minutes played and a pathetic -1.4 wins — not quite as bad as Norris Cole or Glen Davis, but close. I’ve put together two visualizations to illustrate how ridiculous this is:

Our 15 players are paid a combined total of $21.2 million, which is a more salary than every individual NBA player not named Kobe. Despite the money going to these players, they’ve only played 1076 combined minutes this year. This is way fewer minutes than Kobe, who is the current NBA leader; the same number of minutes as Keith Bogans; and fewer minutes than Jeff Taylor, who is apparently an NBA player who plays on the Bobcats. Which should tell you how much of an impact these players have had this year.

You’ll REALLY have to squint to see the little yellow dot on the left. We assure you it’s there!

Instead of using that $21.2 million to pay for 1076 NBA minutes, these teams could install SportVU and pay for 2,676,049 minutes of SportVU. Another way to think of it is 16.5 years (including playoffs) of SportsVU for each of these 15 teams — a period of time longer than the Hall-Of-Fame careers of Larry Bird (13 years), Magic Johnson (13 years), and Michael Jordan (15, if you count the last two in Washington).

Instead of signing creaky veterans like Jerry Stackhouse and Grant Hill, or adding that ever-important 13th man at the minimum, these teams could be gathering data that might give them a competitive edge. While the full benefit of SportVU on a team’s wins has yet to be cracked, surely it would be greater than that of players who usually sit on the bench (and who tend to hurt their teams’ productivity when they do play). One thing’s for certain, though: it would definitely be cheaper. In addition to costing less per season, money going to SportVU has the added bonus of not counting against the salary cap or luxury tax line.

– Devin

Editor Dre: One last note. At bare minimum installing SportsVU would increase stats to give to hardcore fans. This is something most of us want. I’m fairly certain that pleasing some of your fanbase, even a very tiny segment, is a better investment than paying players to sit or lose

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