NBA will track 'hustle stats' during playoffs for first time

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For the first time, the NBA will track a new batch of "hustle stats" in the playoffs and post them online within hours of the end of every game, league officials told ESPN.com.

The NBA tried this in a pilot program at Las Vegas Summer League last season and distributed the numbers to media and teams there. The reaction was positive, and the NBA decided to compile the stats in games that count.

"We decided to take this to the next level," said Evan Wasch, the NBA's senior vice president of basketball strategy and analytics.

The league will track how often defenders contest 2- and 3-point shots, deflections by defensive players, charges taken, which players recover loose balls, and so-called "screen assists," which the league defines as picks that lead directly to a made field goal attempt by a teammate. The "screen assist" category will not include picks that result in a teammate drawing a shooting foul or that free up someone for a shot one or two passes down the chain, officials said.

Fans will be able to monitor rankings in each category through the playoffs -- the first time we'll really get public confirmation that, say, Draymond Green tears away an unusual number of loose balls. "It's another way for us to engage fans," Wasch said.

League-appointed scorekeepers tabulated the hustle stats on-site in Vegas. This time around, the league will staff the replay center in Secaucus, New Jersey, with trained personnel counting hustle stats via video.

It is somewhat ironic that the quest for advanced stats is leading everyone back to basics. Most teams track some of these stats, and perhaps all of them, on their own -- in ways both basic and mega-advanced. Assistant coaches count deflections during games, and will also grade defenders, often in real time, on whether they execute the team's defensive game plan -- including properly contesting jump shots.

Meanwhile, officials in the analytics department can verify those numbers using visual data from SportVU cameras that monitor every movement on the court at a rate of 25 frames per second. Teams that invested in SportVU early and committed resources to it have since built sophisticated models to track and grade almost every player action imaginable and can place those numbers within the larger context of team schemes, league trends and player salaries.

But fans don't get to see that stuff, and the hustle stats will give everyone an interesting window into the kind of beyond-the-box-score data that teams value. That information means more fodder for debate and more tweetable nuggets -- the social media noise on which the league thrives.

Plus, categorizing all these stats for every team will allow coaches to check the tendencies of opponents instead of just counting deflections and contested shots for their own teams, Wasch said. The SportVU cameras handle some of that, but they can't yet tell if a defensive player approaching a shooter has his hands up, or even if he's facing the right way. The Secaucus-based monitors will be able to see all that, and will award contested-shot hustle points accordingly, Wasch said.

Fans and media might have to dig just one layer deeper in some cases to parse those numbers. If during a postseason series one player defends a non-shooter, he will record fewer contested shots than a teammate chasing Kyle Korver around. Even so, the league believes that more data is better, and that fans will enjoy seeing it.

The league is also launching a new "defensive hub" on its website -- a portal where fans can sift through every defense-based stat that the league will make public. Some of those might be new. "The more data we collect," Wasch said, "the more we want to disseminate."