Contemporary Analysis

Data Science

Grant Stanley

Missiles, the NBA and Predictive Analytics

Ask any Cubs fan. Sometimes life just isn’t fair. Conventional wisdom in sports says that the teams with money to buy talent win more games. For example, The Yankees, they will always have the best talent money can buy. In basketball it’s no different. The teams stacked with expensive talent always seem to have the advantage. Well, they use to anyway.

A few innovative NBA teams asked themselves a question: How can we win more games against teams that have more money? The answer: predictive analytics and missile tracking technology. Yep, you heard me right, math and missiles.

It might seem a little radical for an NBA team Oklahoma City Thunder to cover the roof of their arena with tiny little cameras originally designed to track inbound missiles, but what these gadgets can record is nothing short of amazing. The device record each player’s movements at a rate of 25 times per second. The technology gives the Thunder data beyond the traditional stats other teams collect.

They can now see how much time each player spent on the floor, how many steps they took and the total distance they ran (or walked.) Where they shot the ball or how many times they passed to a teammate. They even have heat maps that show where each play spent the majority of their time on the court. The cameras can also record how many times each player dribbled! It all adds up to a mountain of data after each game.

Did I mention the camera system doesn’t play favorites? The opposing team is recorded as well. Now they have data on competitors. Sneaky.

All of that data is nice and tells them what happened. But what if they could see what will happen? This is where predictive analytics comes into play. Using this special kind of math, patterns are uncovered and can be used to predict outcomes.

The patterns show the relationships of each player’s actions and how it affects the outcome of each game. Now the coaching staff has a holistic view of what happened and a peak at what could happen.The patterns feed into a computer to simulate games against oppenents. Using this information, the coaching staff has the added advantage tailoring each game plan for every team they face. The data doesn’t tell them exactly how to play, but it gives them a better chance to achieve their goal...more wins.

Does it work? Well, the Thunder got to the NBA finals for the first time in their franchise history. So yeah...you could say it works.

You might be saying to yourself, “This is interesting and all, but how does this relate to my business?” Do you buy some missile tracking cameras and point them at your customers? No. It’s not the technology you need, its the steps the Thunder followed: 1) Ask a questions. 2) Collect data. 3) Uncover patterns. And 4) Apply the actionable information.

1. Ask Questions
What question should you ask? The Thunder wanted to know how they could win more games. What needs to be asked will differ for every industry, but it usually starts with the same question: How can we be more competitive and more profitable. A suggestion, clean off the whiteboard, order some pizza and have a productive discussion about what would help your company get ahead. Don’t worry about the data at this point, just focus on what needs to be answered. Would it be valuable to find out what customer are about to leave? How about knowing which customers are profitable and which aren’t? Would it be to your advantage to have a clear picture of customer activity and predict future activity? How about shooting missiles at the competition? Lighten up...It’s was a joke.

2. Collect Data
Once you know the question, or questions, that need to be answered - just like the Thunder - you’ll need data. Yes, there is a chance you won’t have all the data you need, but at least you will know what you should be collecting. As we find with most of our clients, you probably have more data than you think.

3. Uncover patterns
Sit back, relax, let us do the heavy lifting for this part. This is where your data is handed over to some really smart people with pointy hats to let them do their wizardry. (Honestly, what we do isn't’ magic...it’s more like sorcery.) We will dig deep and find those patterns and make predictions. While we can’t give you a heavily modified Delorean with a flux capacitor that will propel you into the future. We can give an much clearer picture of what to do next.

4. Apply Actionable Analytics
Now it’s time to put the analyzed data into action. The Thunder used the patterns they found to execute a tailored game plan. A business might change marketing campaigns for certain segments, give their sales team scored leads or pursue up-sales and cross-sales with customer ready to buy.

We have helped clients through this entire process and can say with confidence this works. So, what are you waiting for? Like the Thunder, it might be time to ask yourself, what can we do to win more?

Thoughts? Post a comment.

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