Toronto Raptors, Maple Leafs hope the latest technology can help them both get back to the playoffs

The Toronto Raptors are focusing on the future and no, that’s not in reference to the increased playing time rookies Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross have received in the team’s last four or five games.

In this context ‘the future’ isn’t alluding to any specific player on the Raptors roster. Rather it’s in reference to the organization’s use of SportVU, an innovative camera-tracking system that Grantland NBA writer Zach Lowe says ‘records every movement on the floor and spits it back at its front-office keepers as a byzantine series of geometric coordinates’ and ‘will change the way we understand basketball.’

According to Lowe, the Raptors are at the forefront when it comes to the use of this technology and they’re making some serious progress with it.

He wrote in a story for Grantland earlier this week:

In simple terms: The Raptors' analytics team wrote insanely complex code that turned all those X-Y coordinates from every second of every recorded game into playable video files. The code can recognize everything — when a pick-and-roll occurred, where it occurred, whether the pick actually hit a defender, and the position of all 10 players on the floor as the play unfolded. The team also factored in the individual skill set of every NBA player, so the program understands that Chris Paul is much more dangerous from midrange than Rajon Rondo, and that Roy Hibbert is taller than Al Horford.

For those who need a visual to help come to an understanding of exactly what the program is capable of doing for a basketball team Lowe included this YouTube clip in his piece as well.

You’ll notice the video shows the Raptors (white circles) defending the New York Knicks (blue circles), but the ‘ghost’ players (non-coloured circles) also pictured on the screen are perhaps the most important and interesting part of this new technology. The 'ghost' players represent how the Raptors would ideally be defending the Knicks on that specific possession and by dissecting that part of the SportVU technology the Raptors may in turn be able to improve how they play on the defensive side of the ball.

How does the system know how the Raptors would like to play defense? Well that’s where the relationship between the team’s analytics staff and coaches comes into play.

As Lowe writes:

The coaches in Toronto helped the analytics team build the ghost system, and the analytics team sends the coaching staff regular e-mails with advanced numbers on upcoming opponents — e-mails the coaches read.

All of this is obviously still in the early developmental stages, but Lowe believes the team that finds synergy between coaches and statistical experts will gain a real competitive advantage on the court in the future.

The Toronto Maple Leafs on the other hand are using a much different and simpler piece of technology to improve their performance.

Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment recently purchased the ‘Rapid Shot’, which is essentially the hockey version of a batting cage that gives players the ability to fine tune their shot while having pucks automatically fed out to them through a machine.

As Kevin McGran wrote in the Toronto Star:

It measures the players’ speed in accepting the pass, their velocity in shooting the puck and their accuracy in hitting targets. The targets, by the way, appear in the form of lights (in all four corners and the five hole) only at the last possible moment when the shooter receives the puck.

“You work on quickening reflexes and you work on your shot and getting it off quicker,” says John-Michael Liles. “There are different things you can do and different things you can play. It is a great tool.”

Each player has his own swipe card. When it’s his turn, he logs in with the card.

“It tracks you and your trends, if you’re getting more accurate, which one is your weakest corner to pick, different things like that,” says Liles. “I think it is a great way to warm you up to get your body and muscles firing . . . You spend a lot of time in the gym and this is a good way to mix it up on your body.”

But aspiring NHL players who think this might be a great birthday or holiday gift idea are better off continuing to fire pucks at the garage or foam targets in order to improve their shot as this piece of fancy equipment cost the Leafs organization $100,000 (there is a scaled-down version for the tidy sum of $20,000).

Maybe that’s why ticket prices are going up again next season.