Professional athletes have gotten better, faster, stronger, and smarter over the years. A lot of that is because humanity seems to be breeding more genetic freaks than usual. But it's mostly because a bunch of nerds are flooding the world of sports with a ton of statistical data and technological advancements which are forever changing the way people throw balls at each other. The quantification of every detail that occurs on the playing field is trying to dethrone gut instinct as the reigning king of sports wisdom.
Brains are changing the world of brawn, and it's all thanks to such geeky developments as ...
Ray Allen, Steph Curry, LeBron James, and Dwayne Wade are either former or current basketball legends who've all had their shots made better by a nightmarish screaming black box on a wall called Noah.
Developed by three Silicon Valley scientists, Noah measures the degree angle of a player's shot. One could say that Noah measures a shot's arc. Noah's Ark. I'm so sorry. Don't shoot the messenger.
Ideally, players want to keep their arc somewhere around 45 degrees, which is the most optimal angle for a shot to make it through the basket unobstructed. They'll get there by building muscle memory through constant repetition as they try to replicate the physical feeling of a numerically perfect shot. By the time the ball touches the bottom of the net, Noah's almost-human voice shouts out the angle of the arc from its built-in speakers. "Forty-one! Forty-six! Forty-three! Forty-five!"
Dwayne Wade's career free-throw shooting percentage was 77 percent. Eventually, the number dropped to 71 percent. After using Noah, he found out he was shooting free-throws at 39-degree angles. Within weeks, he was shooting at 45 degrees, and his free-throw percentage jumped from 71 percent to 82 percent.
As of the 2015-2016 season, only four teams use Noah -- the Dallas Mavericks, the Golden State Warriors, the Utah Jazz, and the Miami Heat. Since 2006, the Mavericks, Warriors, and Heat have made it to the NBA finals a total of nine times and have won five championships between them. The Jazz, not so much. Get your shit together, Jazz.
Israeli scientists applied their previous work in the field of missile tracking to soccer, and wound up developing technology which translated on-field actions into data points, thus offering them a chance to shift careers to one with a lower risk of exploding. Their tech is called SportVU, and it's biggest impact could be felt in the NBA.
It begins with the positioning of six cameras on the catwalks of every NBA arena which track all player and ball movement on the court 25 times a second and turns every detail of a game into numbers. The cameras basically watch sports the way Neo from The Matrix would.
From there, anything that happens can be quantified. It's up to each team's analytics specialists to interpret the information and convert it into winning strategies. For example, it can tell coaches that a player's shooting percentage is at, say, 47 percent when a defender is three feet away, 42 percent when an offender is two feet away, and 97 percent when a defender is one foot away, because the player's sweat stank confounds the minds of defenders who get too close. One major impact it's had on the game is in the rise of the three-point shot. The numbers are telling teams that since a three-pointer is worth more, and since shooting percentages don't change much between mid- and long-range shots, the reward of taking more threes is worth the risk. The NBA today is shooting more threes than ever.
The data can be translated into video recreations of the game, like the one below. In the video, you'll notice there are three sets of circles moving around the court. The blue and white circles represent the Indianapolis Pacers and the Toronto Raptors, respectively. The clear circles are "ghosts," the nickname given to the actions the Raptors should have taken to prevent number 21, David West of the Pacers, from getting a wide-open shot -- at least, according to a ton of numerical values the Raptors analytics team put into the system that are based on their overall team strategy.
SportVU is not only telling players what they did wrong, it's also showing them how they could've done things correctly. Sounds crazy-advanced, like we're living in a science fiction future, right? Well, just as SportVU had finally been put to use by every team in the NBA, the league decided to go with another company called Sound Spectrum, which is doing the same thing, but with artificial intelligence, which somehow makes it better. The switch will happen sometime in 2017.
Soon, the games won't even need to be played anymore, and basketball fans will huddle around screens to watch little dots predict with 100-percent accuracy every action and outcome of a game. Players won't have to lift a finger, but will still make more than any of us ever will.