The Importance of Data Analysis for Basketball

Jan. 5, 2024, 4:11 p.m.

The Importance of Data Analysis for Basketball

In the history of sports, numbers, statistics, data and records have always been present: goals scored, points scored, seconds taken to complete 100 metres, and so on. But their function was merely for results, to magnify a sporting milestone, or simply informative, to record a fact.

As time went by, tactics, scouting and analysis of the opponent began to be discussed and analysed more and more. It is in North American sports that statistics began to be seen as a tool from which to draw certain conclusions and help in decision-making. The clearest example is the case of the Oakland Athletics of the MBL baseball league at the beginning of this century, who, thanks to advanced statistics, formed a squad of undervalued players and managed to practically equal one of the most spectacular streaks in baseball history with 20 consecutive victories. And although they did not win the title (eliminated in the 1st Round that year), they laid the foundation for what would be the future of sports for years to come.

Just one year after this feat, Dean Oliver, statistician and assistant coach in the NBA, published "Basketball on paper", a book in which he statistically analysed the factors that conditioned success in basketball. Among some of the formulas he presented in the book (which are still used today to measure the performance of teams or players) he introduced the so-called "Four Factors" (eFG%, TOV%, O/DRB%, FTr) which, according to his study, were the factors that most influenced the outcome of a game. 

Such was his impact that in 2004 the first position of statistical analyst in the NBA was created for him.

From here began a revolution based on statistics, video (which came before) and data (which continues to grow to this day) were reaching more and more competitions and levels. If before, teams had assistant coaches who were in charge of video or analysing the statistics of players or opponents, without having a very extensive knowledge of data processing, nowadays each and every NBA team has entire departments dedicated to data and analytics. 

However, in Europe, it is still difficult to find teams that have this type of departments or even employees of this profile in their organisational charts, as the lack of financial resources and reluctance to these new techniques has made it difficult to implement this way of proceeding. It is true, however, that in recent years there has been an accelerated development in this area.

Nowadays, the importance of data and new technologies is crucial. They can never replace human knowledge, but they are necessary to achieve the best possible results as they help to level the playing field and give teams the opportunity to improve their performance, if they are able to find the advantages that will differentiate them from the rest.

In this day and age, data and new technologies are used in almost every department of a club, as they can add value in a number of ways which we will explain below:


  1. Analysis of the Rival: Thanks to data, a SWOT analysis can be created with the strengths, weaknesses and threats or opportunities of the opposing team's game in order to complete the video analysis that, with tools such as Longomatch, is carried out to prepare the game system for the match.
  2. Player scouting: Another of the applications of data is to be able to make individualised analysis of players, being able to have a visual of the player's performance in a single click, saving time for the coaching staff and being able to focus on seeing on video the most relevant aspects that the data has uncovered for you.

  3. Player replacement: One of the biggest advances that has come about thanks to data and artificial intelligence is that franchises can now evaluate the performance of their rosters based on different algorithms, and find players on the market who can replace the players who leave, ensuring that their performance is as close as possible to what the coaching staff is looking for.

  4. Contract setting: Yet another aspect where data can play a very good hand for owners and general managers of clubs is when evaluating the current, past and future performance of players, as well as the contracts they have signed over the years in order to not overvalue players or lose players by undervaluing them.

  5. Injury prevention (load control): One of the issues where there is still a long way to go but is still one of the most important for teams to take care of is injury prevention. Not only because of the influence on the team's success, but also because of the money that can be involved in losing players for several games. This is why load monitoring and the use of data to detect anomalies is highly valued nowadays.

  6. Marketing and other club-related areas: Without going into too much detail, another area where data is helping clubs to expand and generate revenue in different ways is preceded by analysing and contextualising with data many of the marketing or business efforts that are made.


These are some of the main examples where data is helping clubs to deal in different ways with the challenges they face: choosing systems, tackling matches, making decisions at all levels and even changing course.

Data is not the only path to success, but it can play an important role if the right questions are asked and used to help contextualize how and why things happen on the court. 

As the Warriors' slogan in their successful run in the 2015 playoffs said: "Strength in numbers" (referring to the fact that the statistics reflected during the season that they were the best team) but always with a human team behind that is able to rely on data to be able to achieve the goals that they have set for themselves.


Luis Cordero
Sales Analyst at Longomatch
Basketball coach and analyst