Page 1

10/1/12

Grad student uses physics to analyze basketball | mndaily.com ‑ The Minnesota Daily

OCTOBER 1, 2012

MONDAY

SECTIONS NEWS » CAMPUS

Grad student uses physics to analyze basketball Brian Skinner’s use of Nash equilibrium has intrigued the basketball community.

By Jayme

By Brent Renneke

Share

Topics

April 26, 2010

A graduate student in physics at the University of Minnesota recently had a research paper recognized at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology conference, and it had nothing to do with matter, forces or energy. It was about the game of basketball and used theory rooted in the heart of physics

www.mndaily.com/2010/04/26/grad‑student‑uses‑physics‑analyze‑basketball

1/7


10/1/12 Athletics

Grad student uses physics to analyze basketball | mndaily.com ‑ The Minnesota Daily Authors

Science/Technology

Research

Related Coverage U study finds sports drinks largely unnecessary U researchers find way to clean fracking wastewater Medical Device Center plans $2.2M expansion More in Campus »

U labs aim for a safer environment Hawkeyes embarrass Gophers 3113, win back Floyd

to analyze the game in a truly unique way. Brian Skinner, graduate student in the physics and astronomy departments, presented a research paper last month at the 2010 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. The paper compared a basketball offense to a traffic network in a way that rethinks basic offensive strategy. In the research paper, Skinner said the most talented offensive player benefits his or her team by shooting less, because concentrating the offensive production on one player lessens the offense’s efficiency as a whole. To make this point, Skinner looked at the phenomenon in traffic where jams occur because each vehicle is taking the path of their best interest. Skinner found that a similar phenomenon occurs in basketball when teams repeatedly run the play with the highest percentage of success by having the player with the best chance of scoring shoot the majority of the time. He made this argument using Nash equilibrium, which describes a point in a game where each player looks for the best possible outcome, which, according to Skinner, does not lead to the best outcome overall. For an example, Skinner looked at Boston Celtics shooting guard Ray Allen and the variation in the amount of shots he’s taken season-to-season. According to Skinner, Allen was the most effective when he took fewer shots. Using the theory, Allen’s effectiveness reached its highest level when he took 20 percent of his team’s shots. “The result of limiting Allen’s shots keeps the defense from focusing too intently on him, and it pays off,” Skinner said. Nash equilibrium shows that the more Allen shot the basketball, the more his effectiveness fell, until he was as effective as his less-talented teammates. Thus, the decision of who shoots no longer matters. “It is the job of the coach to prevent this from happening,” Skinner said. “Allen was the primary scorer, but he was also the second and third option,” Skinner said. “Over his career, he had a wide range of shot volume.” With the team’s offense continuing to utilize Allen as their best scoring option, the team reaches the Nash equilibrium with Allen shooting 40 percent of his team’s shots. John Hollinger, writer for ESPN Insider on ESPN.com, uses quantitative analysis to analyze basketball. Hollinger, who was in attendance for Skinner’s presentation, said the representatives from NBA teams and others involved in basketball strategy were very interested in the premise behind the presentation. “The presentation got noticed,” Hollinger said. “There are teams that are going to be looking at this.” Jim Peterson, assistant coach for the Minnesota Lynx and former NBA player, said things like the positioning of Allen’s shot attempts are more important than the actual number attempted. “If you are having Ray Allen take shots on the floor where he is not effective, he will not be as good,” Peterson said. However, having a star player’s shot attempts be proportionate to the rest of the team does have some value, Peterson said. Peterson’s own effectiveness as a player was influenced by his talented teammates getting the majority of the shot

www.mndaily.com/2010/04/26/grad‑student‑uses‑physics‑analyze‑basketball

2/7


10/1/12

Grad student uses physics to analyze basketball | mndaily.com ‑ The Minnesota Daily

attempts, he said. “If I had the same courage to take shots without regard, I think I would have been a more effective player and help the team more,” Peterson said. Hollinger said it is tough for former and current NBA players to accept Skinner’s research in the way he intended, because they are not used to looking at it that way. “They are not in the NBA because they are mathematicians,” Hollinger said. However, Hollinger said former NBA players like Brent Barry, a 14-year NBA veteran, were very receptive of the presentation. “I think he would find a surprising number of converts even if he made that presentation to a room full of NBA players,” Hollinger said. Skinner and Hollinger both said statistical analysis is becoming more popular in the NBA. “Right now, basketball is sort of a revolution of analyses,” Skinner said. “More and more statistical analysts are going into the game.” Peterson agreed and said “higher math” does have a place in basketball and is becoming popular in how organizations think. “Teams are crunching numbers and trying to quantify player effectiveness,” Peterson said. “They try to make players see the statistics are trying to make them become better.” Skinner said it is this group of people he had hoped his paper would stir up interest in. “All I intended to do was get people talking,” Skinner said. “Then maybe some smarter people would find out how to run with it.” Hollinger said one way Skinner’s research could be used is the predictable behavior of teams late in the game. Teams are very predictable about getting the shot to their best player, according to Hollinger. “Brian’s paper does a great theoretical premise in that coaches are hurting themselves by doing that,” Hollinger said. Printer-friendly version Share

www.mndaily.com/2010/04/26/grad‑student‑uses‑physics‑analyze‑basketball

3/7


10/1/12

Grad student uses physics to analyze basketball | mndaily.com ‑ The Minnesota Daily

0 comments

1 Star

Leave a message...

Discussion

Community

No one has commented yet.

ALSO ON MNDAILY.COM

RECOMMENDED FOR YOU

Students react to 'Draw Mohammed' protest

How TV and Film Industries Are Adapting Online Contently

40 comments

Alumni69 — Any group that attemts to silence the opinion of others has no place on a college campus.

A Different Debate

As social media and online platforms change how we view television and movies, networks and studios are trying to adapt.

The evolution of the ad campaign

1 comment

Distancebiker23 — Wow, this was well said! It's hard to tell what is real news anymore, I can definitely agree with th…

A call for a smoke-free campus

What's this?

5 comments

jimbrowski — Smoking outdoors presents absolutely none of the secondhand smoke exposure health concerns. Only in…

Inappropriate pictures of UMN students

Central Desktop

Over the years, the integration versus unbundling debate has raged on within the advertising industry.

Blogging and Android: The Tools I Can't Live Without My Life Scoop When I first approached this topic, my thoughts were focused on writing up all of the Android apps that I use on a daily basis in order to run a successful Android site.

2 comments

Catherine Larson — When I read this comment, the first thing I thought of was 'If you are afraid of being raped, maybe …

Search

Daily Poll How do you feel about the wave of luxury housing around campus? I like having options besides old, rundown houses. These kind of apartments are taking away or harming a lot of the charm of campus neighborhoods.

www.mndaily.com/2010/04/26/grad‑student‑uses‑physics‑analyze‑basketball

4/7


10/1/12

Grad student uses physics to analyze basketball | mndaily.com ‑ The Minnesota Daily

They are too expensive and not worth the money. I don't care. To each, his own (apartment). Vote

On the web... Read how Dr. William Lipham is at the forefront of new eye reconstructive surgery techniques in Minnesota. If you have been involved in a car accident call a Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyer for a free consultation.

Latest Issue (PDF) »

www.mndaily.com/2010/04/26/grad‑student‑uses‑physics‑analyze‑basketball

5/7


10/1/12

Grad student uses physics to analyze basketball | mndaily.com ‑ The Minnesota Daily

News

Sports

A&E

Blogs

Archives

Campus Metro & State World Nation Politics Projects

Baseball Men's Basketball Women's Basketball Briefs Cross Country Sports Features Football Men's Golf Women's Golf

Art Fashion Film Food Music Theater Weekend

A&E Blog Filed Under Politics The Newsstand Tech Corner Through the Lens Unfit for Print Upon Further Review

PDF Archives Special Issues

Backtalk

Editorial

Opinion Editorials

www.mndaily.com/2010/04/26/grad‑student‑uses‑physics‑analyze‑basketball

About Us Who We Are History Leadership Awards Minnesota Daily

6/7


10/1/12

Grad student uses physics to analyze basketball | mndaily.com ‑ The Minnesota Daily

Columns Letters to the Editor Cartoons

Rowing Soccer Softball Men's Tennis Women's Tennis Track & Field Volleyball Wrestling

Dr . Date Overheard Crossword Solutions Sudoku Solutions

Multimedia Photos Slideshows Videos

Policies Corrections

Business Advertise With Us Buy Textbooks Classifieds

Alumni Association

Affiliates CampusAve Text Links

Twitter @mndailynews @mndailyae @mndailyopinions @mndailypromos @mndailysports @DailyontheIce @DailyontheMat @DailyintheBarn @DailyattheBank

RSS Feeds Main RSS News Sports Opinion A&E Multimedia Blogs Backtalk

Serving the University of Minnesota Community since 1900

www.mndaily.com/2010/04/26/grad‑student‑uses‑physics‑analyze‑basketball

© 1900 – 2012 The Minnesota Daily

7/7

Grad student uses physics to analyze basketball  

Grad student uses physics to analyze basketball

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you