NBA Shoots and Scores With Data Analytics Platform

By Michael Vizard

For the most part, big data projects have been an exercise in computer science that, while being of enormous potential benefit to the business, has had little relevance to the consumer.

SAP, in partnership with the National Basketball Association (NBA), is out to change that. The NBA just launched, a new service on the NBA website that allows fans to instantly analyze all the game data the NBA has collected since 1947 up through the last minute of the last game.

Powered by the SAP High Performance Analytics Appliance (HANA) platform, NBA CIO Michael Gliedman says the project’s goal is to provide fans with an immersive online experience that not only gives them access to every box score, but also provides advanced shooting charts that provide visual shot displays for “hot spots” on the court for individual players; the best two- through five-man lineup combinations over the last six seasons; in-depth statistical breakdowns that identify possession, clutch, efficiency and player/team comparisons; and individual statistical pages for every NBA player in the league’s 66-year history.

Gliedman says the NBA has been trying to make these types of statistics available to fans for years. However, it was only with the advent of an in-memory computing platform such as HANA that the league thought it could provide such a big data application to its fans.

“The big issue for us was concurrency,” says Gliedman. “During a big game we’re talking about tens of thousands of users.”

Gliedman says the NBA expects to support as many as 4.5 quadrillion queries from those fans. “There are just lots of permutations,” says Gliedman. “Every query can wind up being the basis for a new query.”

With fans increasingly watching games on high-definition televisions while simultaneously engaging with friends on social networks, Gliedman says televised sports has become a two-screen experience. “Fans want to engage in digital trash talking with their friends while watching the game,” says Gliedman.

Setting up SAP HANA as a database required some effort, but Gliedman says it was a fascinating project. “SAP HANA is not a traditional OLAP database, nor is it a completely denormalized database,” he says. “The transformation process requires some effort.”

But once that task is completed, Gliedman says the ability to optimize queries in memory creates a whole new range of possibilities. “Your mind starts to think about all the things you could be doing with HANA,” says Gliedman.

The NBA began working on deploying HANA last July, but Gliedman says the visualization tools that the NBA is deploying on top of HANA have been developed for years. “The challenge was delivering tools in an iterative user interface that even the novice basketball fan could use,’” says Gliedman.

In addition, the NBA data has to be accessible for mobile computing devices, such as tablets, that place a premium on how data is presented.

Naturally, SAP wants business and IT executives who are basketball fans to start thinking about how SAP HANA might be applied to their business. Customers are demanding more insight and analytics from their perspective business partners than ever, and the organization that most readily provides such information usually has the inside track to the next sale.

In addition, SAP HANA provides a platform through which analytic applications can be applied to identify the needs of new and existing customers before those customers even realize what they may need themselves.

In the meantime, advanced analytics applications are heading into the mainstream via the NBA, which has been collecting reams of data ever since its first scorecard was printed.

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