NBA

'There's a significant place for it' – Coles' Celtics embracing AI and data

By Sports Desk May 25, 2020

Boston Celtics executive director of performance Phil Coles believes there is a "significant place" for artificial intelligence and data in the NBA.

The use of machine learning and AI has helped revolutionise sport and basketball in recent years, as professional teams look for any advantage they can get.

Analytics goes way beyond recording basic stats such as points, rebounds and assists, the new metrics and data are able to more accurately quantify and predict player and team performance.

Asked about AI and data in the world of basketball, Coles told Stats Perform News: "I think there's a significant place for it. But with everything, it's about using that data well.

"There's two aspects to how well data is used. Firstly, how good is the data you collect, what's the validity and the reliability of that data? Secondly, what is the practical outcome or the improvement you can gain from that? There's no magic bullet or right answer as to how to do that. We're always looking at anything that might help us.

"Certainly, in the performance world, collecting physical data is a huge component of that. But, it's not necessarily we're looking to find a magic bullet. It's trying to have as much information as we could possibly have and try to use it as appropriately as we can in our situation."

The Orlando Magic became the first NBA team to use AI player tracking data when they signed a deal with Stats Perform in 2019.

Orlando use tracking data produced by AutoSTATS to analyse collegiate players and improve evaluation and decisions for the NBA Draft. The first-of-its-kind technology in sports, AutoSTATS delivers comprehensive player-tracking data directly from video through patented AI and computer vision technology.

The 2020 NBA Draft is scheduled to be take place on June 25, though that could change amid the coronavirus pandemic.

How will Coles – who heads the performance team – and the Celtics approach the draft?

"Our performance team is involved in the sense of giving as much of a full physical profile to the decision-makers as we can," the Australian said. "Obviously, [general manager and president of basketball operations] Danny Ainge leads that field and the basketball analysts are involved, a number of coaches, scouts and all of the front office.

"Our role in that is to give them as much information as we can on the physical qualities of each player, the injury histories of each player. Predicting the future in those things can be fraught with danger, but that's where having as much data as possible is useful and being able to interpret that data wisely is useful.

"Ultimately, we are one small component of a really large process. Our component is to try to define as much as we can the physical qualities of the players they're looking at."

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