Ball Don't Lie

Eight NBA teams are considering utilizing a beeper-sized device, worn by players, to track movement

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Mark Cuban wishes he had a device of some sort (Getty Images)

For years NBA teams have been staffing their arenas with an ever-increasing number of statisticians working with advanced metrics, on top of the working scouts that are already three steps ahead of the team’s schedule. Recently, smarter squads have outfitted CourtVU technology to their arenas, in an attempt to track and chart each and every move the team (and its opponents) make with a series of cameras.

What’s left, besides silly Google Glasses, beyond that? Monitors, apparently, to stick on players in order the document their literal every move. Monitors that players can stick on their back – like that one spot between a cat’s shoulder blades that it can’t reach, the place where you put the tick and flea medicine – that can add to the wealth of knowledge.

Eight teams are experimenting with such a thing, as created by Catapult Sports, with the Dallas Mavericks (smart), San Antonio Spurs (smart), Houston Rockets (smart) and New York Knicks (umm) going on record with NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan to explain why:

The device, called OptimEye, is roughly the size of an oldfangled beeper and athletes wear it inside their jerseys on the upper back between the shoulder blades. The device records literally every movement the player makes, accurately measuring exertions such as distance, velocity, changes of direction, acceleration, deceleration, jumps, heart rate and more.

These physiological and physical performance parameters are then uploaded to a computer to be analyzed, allowing coaches, trainers and the players to understand their individual workload levels. These are conclusions that once could only be subjective, say, by reading a player’s body language, to now being totally objective. By wearing the devices during practices, teams can monitor their players’ physical output and closely watch their load levels to ensure each player is not being overworked and ensuring ultimate preparedness to play in each game when performance counts.

Worn during workouts, the device can provide real-time data alerting coaches and trainers if a player’s exertion rate is too high, the moment when a player is most vulnerable to injury, allowing coaches and trainers to pull back.

Caplan also reported that the NBA (and NFL, which has also experimented with the device) doesn’t currently allow for such technology to be used in games. The league did not respond to an inquiry from NBA.com asking if recent events (the Spurs used OptimEye with players on their Summer League squad) had changed the league’s opinion. Apparently the Australian Football League has used Catapult Sports' product for a while now.

Either way, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is considering outfitting his players with the device during the exhibition season. From Caplan’s column:

“We just want to be able to get smarter about our players and how to train them and how to put them in a position to succeed,” said Mavs owner Mark Cuban. “So that’s just one component of a lot of different things that we’re doing.”

Just one component amongst many. Not the end-all answer, just another batch of influence to add to the arsenal.

(All before signing Monta Ellis.)

(We kid.)

According to Caplan, the Knicks used OptimEye last season as it prepped Jason Kidd to return from injury at 40 years of age. And we’d be well in favor of legalizing it for NBA play, if the players were given a chance to decline the option to wear the thing. Not only are privacy issues a concern, but the idea of a beeper-sized object lodged onto your back during actual play seems awfully restricting. Sleeves, to me, are a pain in the ass, so I can’t imagine trudging around with a beeper on my back.

Beyond that, though, the information that could stem from advancement like this staggers the mind a wee bit. This can help players refine their actual movement on the court, encouraging efficient action and eliminating wasted strides; helping with the wear and tear of what for some players can be a nine-month season. Even scheme-ier is the idea that information gathered from OptimEye could be used against players that decide to head elsewhere during the offseason. Cuban’s Mavs could stave off a Chris Kaman attack in ways that can’t be charted by scouting or camera-work.

We’re in the initial stages. Though that doesn’t make the prospects of something like this even more fascinating.

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