NBA entering era of too much information? – Sun

   The information superhighway is now 94 feet by 50 feet.

   Erik Spoelstra’s pace and space is about to become quantifiable.

   Looked like a player was merely going through the motions last night? Hold on, let’s go to the video data.

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   A league that only now appears to be getting serious about performance-enhancing drugs is about to make a move to statistics on steroids.

   The question is whether we are about to enter the era of too much information.

   With the NBA announcing Thursday that it has expanded its partnership to install SportVU Player Tracking technology in every NBA arena, the league not only will be able to track points, rebounds and assists, but also how the ball is moving, how players are moving, and, as the NBA announced, “a continuous stream of innovative statistics based around speed, distance, player separation, and ball possession for detailed and targeted analysis of players and teams.”

    We could bemoan sports turning into math, but there also is an appreciation that simplicity will remain in place, as well. The ultimate truth will remain scoring more points than your opponent.

    In announcing the expansion to league-wide coverage with the fullcourt motion-capture technology, NBA Executive Vice President of Operations and Technology Steve Hellmuth said, “We are a league driven by data.”

    And that’s the rub. If any NBA executive truly views the game that way, then the game is becoming less of a game.

    We’ve seen it already in football, where many choose to stay home on Sundays to book-keep their fantasy teams rather than actually track game scores. Of course, the NFL long has moved past actual results, which matter little without the betting line figured in.

   In an earlier era, when Pat Riley was more into sharing insight with the media, he would offer glimpses into his defensive rating system, where remaining true to the Heat’s defensive precepts meant more than any steal or blocked shot. Under that system, all of Dwyane Wade’s dramatic steals and blocks might have left him with the negative grade for freelancing.

   More recently, Spoelstra has raved — utilizing one of the data bases at his disposal — how Wade has emerged as one of the most efficient players in the league in terms of productivity on lane cuts without the ball. Such insight showed Wade how he has grown into a more proficient presence alongside LeBron James.

   In the statement released by the NBA, Hellmuth also noted, “In this new era of statistical information, SportVU will be an invaluable resource for basketball executives and our passionate fans.”

   Depending, of course, on what is released, and how it is released, how complete the “complete transparency” will be. Will the NBA release that a game’s leading scorer actually was loafing, not maintaining proper spacing, utilizing less effort on the defensive end than on offense? What exactly will remain public and what proprietary?

   Riley used to offer his defensive ratings to make a point with his players. Will such truths now become de rigueur? For that matter, do we want science finding a way to contain those scoring binges by LeBron, Kobe and Carmelo? Isn’t there something to be said about the simplicity of NFL teams still scanning black-and-white photos on the bench, instead of viewing video on iPads?

   If such data encourages players to play harder, better spaces the floor for more fluid offensive sets, upgrades the overall quality of the game, the system of six cameras and proprietary software will more than pay for itself. With players bigger, faster, stronger, it might only make sense to take the next step with technology.

   But if the eyes in the sky become too intrusive, turn the NBA into a spreadsheet of stats, measurements and readings, then the technocrats have won. Performance-enhancing data (PED, if you must) certainly stands to change the game.


   PAYTON’S PLACE: To a degree, Gary Payton’s shining moment with the Heat will forever be overshadowed by Dwyane Wade leading the Heat back from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit in Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. But without Payton, who Sunday will be enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame, there instead might have been an 0-3 series deficit and no parade down Biscayne Boulevard a week later. Largely forgotten in the 98-96 victory was Payton, at 1 of 8 in the series to that point, knocking down a 21-foot jumper from the left wing with 9.3 seconds to play that put the Heat up 97-95. “I’m not going to hooray and all that stuff right now. It’s not the time,” Payton said at the time. “We saved a win, you know, not to go down 3-0, and now we’ve still got a lot of work to do.” Three games later, Payton would have the lone championship of his 17-season career. A year later, after averaging a career-low 5.3 points for the Heat in 2006-07, he was out of the NBA.

    RASUAL’S RETURN: Gone from the Heat since 2005 and out of the NBA for a season, Rasual Butler, at 34, will attempt a comeback in camp with the Indiana Pacers. Butler played for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s D-League team last season, but the 3-point shooting forward never made it to the parent squad. “They made some different moves around the trading deadline to get Ronnie Brewer instead,” the former Heat second-round pick said. “Indiana said they were looking for some shooting and a veteran, so it was an opportunity.” In a league where shooting remains valued, Butler, who last played in the NBA in 2011-12 with the Toronto Raptors, sees hope. “Absolutely,” he said. “I take good care of myself and shooting is at a premium. I can defend. And I’m a veteran now, so I have some experience to share.” Of being out of the league last season for the first time since his 2002-03 rookie season with the Heat, he said, “It was a little surprising. But everybody has their own story. So you’ve got to stick with it.”

     BEASLEY BUST?: In the wake of the Phoenix Suns’ release of Michael Beasley comes a fact that might surprise those who saw the No. 2 overall 2008 NBA Draft pick struggle at the outset with the Heat: Beasley’s productivity never was better than with the Heat, and never better than during his rookie season. Based on the widely cited player-efficiency rating, Beasley’s PER in his five seasons, with the first two of those seasons with the Heat, has dropped annually from 17.1 as a Heat rookie in 2008-09 to 16.1 in his second and final season with the Heat, to 15.5, 13.0 and 10.8 over the past three seasons. The league average is 15.0. Whether the erratic forward’s career can be viewed as a bust is another story, considering, when factoring in his Suns buyout, that he has earned $33 million so far as a pro. Beasley, in fact, has never earned less than $4.3 million a season in the NBA, a reality that surely will change if there is a next contract.


   7. Married players on the Heat’s current 15-player roster once LeBron James ties the knot next weekend in San Diego (Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, James Jones and Rashard Lewis are the others). Follow him at

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