Testing and experimenting in Austin

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No that's not a sports bra, it's the latest in athlete analytics that the Austin Toros will be testing out for the Spurs this season. (Photo courtesy of the Catapult Sports website)

When you first think of the NBA D-League, you’re far more likely to think of NBA teams developing young players at the minor league level. What’s not thought of as frequently, though may be just as common, is the development of new ideas and protocols for NBA teams. The NBA as an entity has used the D-League to test out rule changes and new jerseys, among other things, but we don’t hear as much about individual teams doing the same.

Last season at Austin Toros media day, I quizzed new coach Brad Jones on if the Spurs had any plans to use the D-League as something of a petri dish. I didn’t put it to him that way, however, I can’t imagine Coach Jones feeling comfortable thinking of his new gig as a petri dish. Jones mentioned that the Spurs planned on testing out a new nutrition plan via the Toros, but didn’t seem to know the specifics of said plan. As little time as I spent with the Toros last year, I didn’t have much of a chance to follow-up with Coach Jones on whatever eating plan the Toros implemented.

This year at Toros media day, I was prepared. I mentioned to Coach Jones what he had told me last season and asked him if the Spurs had anything new they wanted to try in Austin this season. Sure enough, Coach Jones gave me what I was after.

“It’s a load meter and it’s a new sports science thing,” he said. “It’s like a vest you put on underneath [your clothes] and you wear it in practice and it keeps track of the energy you’re burning.”

What this load meter is, specifically, is from Catapult Sports, “a world leader in wearable athlete tracking technology” based in Australia. What the system does, according to my basic understanding of it, is track almost everything imaginable on the player wearing it. Think of it like Google Analytics for athletes.

“Everything: speed, heart rate, distance covered,” Toros trainer Nixon Dorvilien said. “By gathering all that information, sometimes you’ll be able to tell if an athlete is being overtrained or how they’re recovering.”

According to Coach Jones, the Spurs heard about it from one of the English Premier League teams. On Catapult’s list of clients, several EPL teams are listed including Liverpool and Everton. Also listed, are the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks.

The product minimax as the one designed for basketball teams:

minimax allows you to move beyond one dimensional heart rate analysis to measure the workrate of your athletes. How can you tell if a guy with higher heart rate is actually working harder – or isnt as fit? minimax provides the answer by enabling you to choose from an array of metrics that give you the complete picture of how hard your guys are working and whats its costing them to produce this effort.

Use Catapults PlayerLoad™ to quantify total effort on a minute by minute basis or over the whole game. Coupled with physiological parameters like heart rate, you get to understand the balance between an athletes external load and internal cost.

Investigate the balance between vertical (jumping) workload and horizontal (court movement) effort.

Access basketball specific software reports, including Catapults cardiovascular efficiency index (CVI) to see how well your guys are going the distance in a game or over the season.

Much like every other form of analytics, it’s all about how you use that information. By tracking how players are performing on a day-to-day basis, you can tell if individuals are recovering slower as the season goes on, if players aren’t training enough and their performance is suffering, and a multitude of other scenarios. There’s a plethora of research information on Catapult’s website that goes way over my head and security clearance.

It’s exciting stuff, and the kind of thing you like to see from the D-League. It’s easy to focus on simply developing players and moving them up to the big league, but this goes to show there are other ways to use the D-League to improve your NBA team. If the Spurs deem this product worth their investment, they could soon implement it in San Antonio.

“It’s supposed to get a lot of information to us on new and innovative ways to approach training techniques, helping players recover, that type of stuff,” Dorvilien said. “It’s gonna be fun, I’m excited.”