In sports, just like in most industries, information is king. Organizations look for any advantage they can gain over their rivals, and typically the ones that can harvest and intelligently utilize the most data are the ones that come out ahead.
The NBA is currently undergoing a data revolution not unlike that seen in Major League Baseball during the mid-to-late-2000s. More and more teams are leaning more heavily upon objective measures to better inform their decision-making, from advanced analytics used by front offices and coaching staffs, to the rise of sports science techniques that empower teams to make smarter medical choices with players.
Nearly 10 years ago, Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in a road 122-104 win over the Toronto Raptors. It was a mark second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s legendary 100-point performance against the Knicks in 1962, and it came mere hours after eating a pregame meal that consisted of pepperoni pizza and grape soda. Today, everything that players put into their bodies, particularly on game days, is carefully selected by team nutritionists and specially catered to their needs.
Bryant played 42 minutes that night and averaged 41.0 per game during the 2005-06 season. He was one of nine players that year to average over 40 minutes played per game. Last season, not a single player hit that mark; 2014-15 minutes leader Jimmy Butler would have ranked 18th in 2005-06 with his mark of 38.7.
The point is teams are getting smarter. They’re not only discovering how to take advantage of market inefficiencies within the league to gain edges, but they’re also learning how to increase the durability and performance of their players using similar analytics.
The challenge, as it so often is, is getting one’s hands on the data. But with the rate of technological advancement in the field at an all-time high, it’s becoming easier and easier for teams to arm themselves with information. One of the greatest tools at the disposal of teams is wearable technology, and the NBA is not only embracing it, they’re beginning to test the boundaries of its utility.
In a recent article penned by Grantland’s Zach Lowe, he noted that the NBA is currently funding a study at the acclaimed Mayo Clinic in Minnesota on potential uses for the devices. Last year, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Development League became the first team in a major American sport to wear these devices during a regular season game, and Lowe believes their parent league is gearing up to collectively bargain with the player’s association for their use during NBA games in the near future.
Here are five ways that wearable technology has, and will continue to, change the landscape of the league moving forward: