iPad is NBA’s New Best Friend
NBA teams use the tablets to improve scouting, player development.
Software companies provide video, statistical analysis
There may very well be far more teams who use iPads than what was admitted to SLAMonline. For instance, XOS Digital, a software development firm co-headquarted in Orlando and Boston, works with 11 NBA teams on a number of products. Most notable among those products is XOS Thunder, a four-part editing and scouting tool that includes the Playtools diagram program. Also used in the NFL, Playtools enables teams to compile video playbooks, said Blaine Patterson, the basketball marketing specialist for XOS Digital.
“The idea is it being a replacement for paper playbooks where a coach, from his Thunder machine, can draw up all the plays, organize them into what we call binders, which are just groups of plays, upload them to a secure server and then each player can have his individual log-in,” Patterson said. “He can log in to his iPad and immediately view the plays the coaches have drawn.”
With the Thunder system’s ability to play back video for scouting purposes, XOS Digital recently updated the system so that video can be run in HD. Patterson, himself a former college basketball coach at the men’s and women’s levels, said the first benefit to coaches viewing video in high-defition versus standard-definition is the more noticeable appearance of a player’s number. The ability to see how plays form, how many fingers a player holds up to call a play and what hand signals he uses is enhanced by hi-def. And the iPad 2′s new inclusion of an HDMI output means teams can bring up Thunder on their iPad and connect the device to a projector, enabling them to view edits in hi-def on a larger screen.
John Cho of the Rockets mentioned his excitement at another XOS Digital product – a remote logging tool. Patterson explained the system, which is available on laptops and which he and XOS are trying to add for iPad use, allows teams to insert a timeline of the play calls they make each game and input that into a video. This way, teams can view videos of past games with the specific call they made for each possession overlaid on it, perhaps speeding up a team’s ability during a timeout to discover a play from a past game that could work for the one in-progress.
Being able to overlay the text of a play call and timestamping it into a video so that teams can quickly see all plays each team is running is a feature that the Timberwolves’ Adam Johansen singled out. He said a disconnect between available scouting software and what could be inserted onto iPads meant that overlaying text onto a video was time prohibitive. “You basically need time to do something like [convert text overlay onto video for an iPad] whereas time is not always something we’re afforded,” said Johansen, who noted players could benefit from text-enabled teaching points, like showing on a pick-and-roll or practicing good ball movement.
That kind of specific information is often quickly put together by NBA video coordinators using software from another company which offers video analysis solutions to NBA teams. SportsTec Inc., located in Camarillo, Calif., serves 18 NBA teams with products such as SportsCode and Coda. The programs allow teams to gather statistical information and video highlights and present them in for review during halftime of games.
“That’s pretty standard in the NBA, where after the first half you log in all the content at halftime,” said Anwar McQueen, Vice President of Sales at SportsTec.
McQueen explained iPad demand is growing as coaches realize it’s an ideal conduit through which to relate information to players. “It’s a way for the coaches to get the message they want to the players,” he said.
The Hawks’ Mike McNeive stated a slow acceptance of iPads from the team’s coaching staff also helped drive their iPad-related efforts toward college scouting. That aligns with his thought that teams need another offseason to work with iPads so as to understand the its benefits.
Garrick Barr said coaches are already enthusiastic to tap the potential of iPads. Barr, a former Phoenix Suns video coordinator, is Founder and CEO of Phoenix-based Synergy Sports Technology, an online statistical and video analysis service to which 29 of the NBA’s 30 teams are subscribed. Coaches can visit the site to review any NBA player and find practically any kind of split stat of him imaginable – how many times he turns to his right to shoot a jump hook on either side of the basket, how often he drives to his left when at the top of the key…all of it accompanied by video shots of the player in that specific situation.
The system is one which Cho uses religiously. He said that if Terrence Williams wants to see Shane Battier’s last 100 defensive stops, he can make that available by going to Synergy’s website, where the company’s staff edits and posts all the video, rather than team video coordinators doing it.
“It used to take us hours and hours and hours of going through a game and picking [Battier's] good defensive clips,” Cho said. Now, they can log onto Synergy’s website, go to Battier’s profile (or that of any other player) and find his forced turnovers.
While teams can visit Synergy through their iPad, they haven’t been able to view video on the site through the device. That’s about to change, Barr said. “The next step that Synergy is taking – we’re building it right now – is an HTML5 video player so that you will be able to also play the video on the iPad,” said Barr, who hopes that system will be released by the NBA Draft.
And that would help Cho, who said that he would download the Windows Media files off of Synergy’s website and use third-party software to convert it to an iPad. Even though that process takes Cho and his staff 25-30 minutes, Synergy’s emergence toward iPad-enabled video should make it more efficient for a video coordinator to collect edits for players.
Patterson said video coordinators have been asking XOS Digital for HD-quality editing systems, which they’ve provided with Thunder. A complement program to that, XOS Lightning, will also enable basketball video coordinators to wirelessly provide video highlights to their players.
Already available on football, Lightning’s basketball product will give video coordinators the ability to create edits and publish them to the Web. Players can then log in and watch edits; college ballers wouldn’t have to shuffle during the dead of winter from their dorm room to the basketball facility just to watch video. The same would go with NBA players. They could watch video clips from their hotel room, charter flight – anywhere. And if a player is traded, the video coordinator can set an expiration date on the video so that players can’t take the valuable team information with them to another club.
Some of those tools are already available from SportsTec. McQueen wrote in an email answer to a follow-up question that SportsTec’s software lets users export edited video content via the Web or to drag and drop onto an iPad, for a player’s viewing pleasure during a flight from one city to the next.
Scouting information and player development in the NBA has become sophisticated to the degree that many team personnel feel as if the tipping point from paper to technology has already occurred. McNeive summed it up most clearly when asked what his preparation ritual is for when he scouts games.
“It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even bring a pen and a paper to the game anymore,” he said. “I just make sure my iPad is charged 100 percent.”