In coming years, hanging cameras and sophisticated tracking systems will offer NBA coaches troves of new data on their teams--information that could yield new metrics for evaluating players and fundamentally reshape how we think about the game. For now, though, the standard stats will have to do. And while looking up a player’s averages for points, blocks, steals, and the rest is informative enough, visualizing them all together is much more fun.
That’s just what Rami Moghadam did for the players of last weekend’s All Star Game. Moghadam, who spent four years as a designer at Pentagram and has been an NBA devotee since childhood, plotted various stats for each of this year’s All Stars on the same circular charts, resulting in 24 shapes that offer rough visual summaries of those players’ careers.
Each footprint is anchored by the player’s average minutes per game, at 12 o’clock. From there, the statistics are grouped around the circle by type. Activity in the top right quadrant reflects good scoring; the bottom left includes defensive tallies like steals and blocks. Glancing at the East’s lineup, you can tell LeBron James is dominant. Not only is his scoring section nice and thick, but he puts up significant numbers in rebounds and assists, too. His teammate, Dwayne Wade, gets a remarkably similar shape. It’s no wonder that the Heat are so good.
Other players’ shapes reveal particular strengths. Tim Duncan’s rebounding prowess can be seen as a sharp downward tentacle; point guard Chris Paul has one jutting off at a different angle for assists. "The idea was that you can step back and appreciate the poster as a colorful visual," Moghadam explains, "but at the same time look closer and dig into the information and learn more."
Of course, the visualizations don’t show the whole picture. Teams are shaped not just by the numbers their players put up but also by things like chemistry and morale. And even in terms of individual players, the box scores can capture only so much. There’s no statistic for tight D, say, or overall hustle. At least not yet.