Should NBA coaches be using computers to draw X’s and O’s?


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Imagine that there are just seconds left in the game. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is scrambling to diagram an inbound play on his whiteboard. Across the court, the defending team watches as their coach hurriedly scrawls his marching orders on another whiteboard.

Meanwhile, in the bowels of Staples Center, a media crew already has assembled a vast library of video -- including clips that show what each team traditionally has done late in the game when an inbound play can mean a victory.


Coaches are free to use the NBA’s storehouse of video in the locker room, and players regularly watch DVDs filled with game video while traveling to the next game. But, at present, NBA coaches aren’t allowed to use much in the way of digital technology while on the bench.

That may change, however, as the NBA and Hewlett-Packard roll out a technology agreement. Here are a few ways in which Steve Hellmuth, executive vice president of operations and technology for NBA Entertainment, envisions the technology being used:

During the aforementioned time out, Jackson could pull up video of the five most recent inbound plays that the opposition has run. He’ll use the stylus to point out where each of his players should be positioned -- and use the video to reinforce what to watch out for. Rather than waiting until halftime to show a rookie why he’s getting burned in a given situation, a Lakers coach will be able to pull up real-time video on the tablet PC to show the player what he needs to do to get back in the game. Jackson’s coaching staff will be able to use the data-crunching capability of the computerized database to instantly figure out which way an opposing ball handler is likely to turn at the top of the key -- and then compute whether he’s more likely to score if it’s to the left or to the right.

Won’t the league risk reducing its coaches to number-crunching, data-hungry robots?

Not so, according to Hellmuth: ‘Coaches are already breaking down video and data, but it all still comes down to the art of coaching ... it’s still going to be up to the coach to determine the [strategy] on the sideline.’

The NBA won’t introduce the sideline technology this season. ‘At this point there is no video allowed by the competition committee,’ Hellmuth said. ‘And we’re not going to introduce it until we can make it available to all teams all at once across the board.’

-- Greg Johnson