Implementation of Artificial Intelligence in the National Basketball Association

Gregory Walfish
9 min readOct 14, 2020

The National Basketball Association is a forward-thinking organization and is always looking for the best new technological advances. For example, data analytics has become a huge part of basketball. The use of statistical analysis, wearable technologies and computer vision are a vital part of a team’s strategies. A current use of data analysis enables teams to optimize their gameplay by picking the smartest play with the optimal players. Data use has become a part of scouting, calculating the best shot positions and scenarios and used to benefit the health and safety of players.

The shift towards incorporating technology into the game accelerated in 2013 when the league installed cameras in all 30 arenas. This system captures more than 16,000 data points per minute for teams to analyze. Coaches now have access to insights on offensive and defensive pain points and then base strategies off them, a tactic that has improved teams game play [1]. The league is constantly seeking new ways to improve the game through technology. Just last year, in 2019, the NBA hosted a hackathon to build more tools and accelerate innovation.

As more tools and predictive strategies become available, some fans and players have become widely critical of this data focused approach. The greatest critic is that of the 3-point shot, which thanks to analytics, has seen a huge increase because of its risk-reward ratio [2]. We are now seeing a game that is dominantly 3-pointers and in turn losing other aspects of the game [3].

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a technology so powerful it can perform cognitive tasks. By using neural networks, it is intended that AI can mimic the way the human brain works [4]. Such cognitive tasks could come to include recommending different plays and strategies in real-time [5]. This could be used as an assistant to help coaches decide when to rest a star player or what play to use in crucial game moments. The use of AI will surely propel the current use of data and elevate it to a much higher level of predictability as much more data can be analyzed: posing a threat to the game as we know it. The NBA must take a stance on how it intends to proceed with AI; by either imposing guidelines and rules or allowing for freedom of exploration and use. Both approaches may impact the thrill and culture of basketball, provide insights on the health and well-being of the players and impact fans and the community.

--

--

Gregory Walfish
0 Followers

McGill Software Engineering Student